Saturday, June 30, 2012

കോട്ടയം 17 - Unni R

It's been long since I read a good collection of short stories in Malayalam. Here is a good surprise.The voice is fresh, the theme is contemporary yet cleverly chosen, the plots are measured , the language is lucid yet attractive. There is no effort to work around the same cliched approach of the baroque and vivid description. Hence the freshness in words. Not that all the eight stories are brilliant, or better to one another. Three of them were fabulous and the rest were good to mediocre. That is besides the point. What Unni has tried to attempt is to look at the current issues of the generation in his own perspective and put them in a voice that is different.

The opening story (thodinappuram parambinappuram) about a blind lady with her grand daughter, seeking unknown lands through her inner vision, The world outside to her was the description of the places by travellers, or the books of legendary travel writers. Their experiences and what they witness become her view and experience. For Sulfath and her grandmother, it is important to imbibe these short sojourn into the world of unknown an escape from their harsh realities.

Anandamargam, follow a group of middle age ladies in their 'picnic' to Munnar. Away from the shackles of life, the office, the family restrictions , the group decides to make the most of it. At the age of mid forties, the social taboo restricts them from expressing themselves and this opportunity let them vent out all that were hidden for a long long time. There is no fellow office staff who despise them, no society to watch them. Their cry of freedom , though, limit to alcohol or few steamy conversations or few shouts to the wild without any inhibition and they are happy about it and content.

The symbolic 'Leela', which I understand is now being made into a movie by Renjith, revolve around the fantasy of a middle age person to have sex to a young girl in the presence of an elephant. In fact, the girl leaning on the trunk of the elephant and he entering her holding on to the tusk. What is needed is the elephant to begin with and then the girl who is willing. He and the narrator begins their trip cross crossing the state following one lead to other.

Rest of the stories, thread the similar track in terms of theme and treatment to a lesser effect. Kottayam 17, another symbolic tale of a childless family, who 'lift' the Infant Christ's idol from the church, 'Enteyanenteyanikkombananakal' on a book lover, trying to come to terms with the selling of his treasured possession are fairly good. Couple of the others are mediocre.

Good collection of stories, and importantly a different voice , in general.
കോട്ടയം 17 (Kottayam 17 -  2010 )

Unni R

96 Pages

Rs 60

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mr Norris Changes Trains - Christopher Isherwood

Couple of years ago, I read " A Singleman" and I was hugely impressed with this writer. It was JP who suggested I should be reading his 'Berlin Stories'. Mr.Norris Changes Trains, is an impressive book, while I have not read the other, Goodbye to Berlin. English born writer spent many years in Berlin, in the early thirties, witnessing the rise of Hitler and the Nazis to power and his books can give us remarkable insight to the socio-political undercurrents of Berlin, prior to the World War II.

Mr.Norris changes trains also focusses on the political scene of Germany, with the increasing influence of the Nazis, the persecution of the Communists, the French and English spy works in a subtle story telling. At the outset this looks like typical fiction focusses on the idiosyncrasies of one Arthur Norris and the narrator William Bradshaw ( the middle name of the writer himself) , the English expatriate in Berlin, who acquaint Norris during a train journey to Berlin. Mr.Norris, with his classy mannerisms, his lifestyle that suits the upper class with his fine tastes of food, drink and women manages to put up a great show to his new friend with all its grandeur. Bradshaw, lives in a small room , earn his living from teaching English, it awed by Norris and his way of living. It was evident that all that was shown up front has some thing cooking up underneath. Norris, supposedly doing some business with his associate Schmidt , seems to be hitting rough weather. Leaving Berlin, norris seems to have found new home at Paris, and it was only after amassing sufficient amount of money, he returns to Berlin.

Schmidt is having his way around Norris, evidently black mailing his and threatening him. Norris, manages to convince Bradshaw for a favour with his aristocrat friend Baron Pregnitz, for a meeting with a mysterious Margot from France, in a Swiss ski resort, which potentially bring fortunes to Norris. Bayer, the Communist leader of Berlin, summon Bradshaw from Switzerland and reveals the secret nature of Norris' business with the French intelligentsia. Newly crowned Nazi leadership is tightening their hook on Norris and the communists ( who, including their leader Bayer were executed by Hitler's police) and Bradshaw prepare Norris for his eventual escape from Berlin. However, as the title reveal, the journey does not end for Norris as he moves from one continet to other from one country to other. Novel ends with a quote from the post card that was sent by Norris, from Rio to Bradwhaw " Tell me, Willian...what have I done to deserve all this ?"

It isn't the mysterious nature of Norris and the revelation of Bradshaw about the clandestine activities of him that makes the book interesting. It is the subtle moods of the situation in Germany at that time of writing the book. The book was written and published in 1935, while Hitler was rising to power. Isherwood does not try to hide the names and places of people in the political and power centers. He also observe the minute changes in the social structure, the Jews, the gaining of Aryan superiority , the dwindling influence of Communists, the spy network and the secret services.

The style and language is perfect, with the characterisation of Norris and his prudent ways. However, you are constantly reminded of the the style that was associated with the first half of the twentieth century. Good book, easy read, but I recommend 'A Singleman' to this.
Mr Norris Changes Trains ( 1935 )

Christopher Isherwood


230 Pages

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Room and The Dumb Waiter - Harold Pinter

The room, originally written and played in 1957 is the first work of Harold Pinter. The familiar absurd, ambiguous yet disturbing plots and scenes did originate from his earliest work itself. Having read a few of his plays already, I guess this was easier to get into. However, the same disturbing conversations( and monologues), the end page twists and the contradicting narratives makes it very interesting to read. While not getting into the summary, one can get the glimpses of the 'suffocating life' that Rose and Bert living in the small room. Her constant reassurance of her life with cosiness and the warmth of the room, is enough to make it obvious that the reality is the opposite. Never leaving her room, she take solace in her state of mind with the status of others. Captive and restrained her movement within the room by her husband, while he takes his evening drive, Bert is trying to protect her from something. The arrival of the mysterious man living in the basement, creates curiosity in her when he sends across his intention to meet her, through the land owner. The Blind Negro Riley, comes up to the room, while Bert was away, asking her to "come home to her father". A possible escape from her detained life to the open world, which she possibly had lived before her living with Bert. In the end, Bert returns after his evening drive and murders the Blind Negro, possibly to protect Rose from her disturbing past ( which few theories associate Rose to be a prostitute and the Blind Negro her pimp).

The dumb waiter, to me is more profound in its arrangement. Two supposedly hit-men are waiting in a room in the basement for their job assignment. The hierarchy of the two member team is clear with Ben acting as the senior member and Gus the junior. The wait is perennial, and while there Gus is questioning Ben on their job, even their role in the assignment, when Ben is immersed in the newspaper, often reading few snippets ot Gus. As the tension mounts, between them , there is a mysterious 'dumb waiter' the floor above, who sends across food orders to the duo down below. Surprised over the choice, two men, sends across the few food items that left with them, which has no co-relation to what was asked. As the tension increases with the wait, the duo gets to physical assault. Through the waiters 'talking tube' comes the signal , while Gus is in the bathroom, about the arrival of the victim. In typical Pinter style, it turns out that, as Gus enters into the room, he is the one who are to be eliminated by Ben. It is sort of evident that the instigators of violence are the victims of the game, at the end. I've read elsewhere that the caste was two Irish actors as the hit-men, giving it a political angle.

Small book, with two of his early plays, is the typical Pinter affair, which I like. Absurd, often comical conversations, the gallant twist to the end and the after effect that linger over a long time. Fabulous.
The Room and The Dumb Waiter ( 1957/1959)

Harold Pinter

Methuen Co Ltd

71 Pages
Wiki - Dumb Waiter, Wiki - The Room , Guardian, The Crimson

Monday, June 11, 2012

ജാഗ് രഹോ - Aniyan Madambu

Aniyan Madambu was once active in the Radio circuit with many radio plays written and directed by him. I understand, that he had also directed few for the local gatherings, be at the schools, libraries or temples. Like many , he too disappeared from the scene busying himself with his personal /family life. It is after a long time that he is attempting to get back to his long lost skill. As the introduction says, this book came into light after an incident at the famous Melpathur Auditorium of Guruvayur Temple and was written at the same venue.

Threading the path of the life and disintegrating social fabric, in the middle part of the twentieth century with the decay of a temple and those who live around the temple surroundings. The old Namboodiri priest 'Musamburi' , the temple supporting ( kazhakam) Varrier family, the Edakka exponent Marar , Nambisan and other representatives of the temple community goes through the decays of their own life as well as the temples ( or the society in general). Built upon the pathos of these struggling families and the exploitation of the others of these simpletons are the theme of this short novel.
ജാഗ് രഹോ (Jag Raho) ( 2012 )

Aniyan Madambu

Samrat Publishers

79 Pages

Saturday, June 09, 2012

She Lover of Death - Boris Akunin

Good light read amongst some of the heavy reading I was having in the recent times. Boris Akunin, is one of the new era writers emerging from Russia and is immensely popular. I haven't read any of is other works, but this isnt one I would hold him in high esteem. A rather simple mystery thriller, weaved around the theme of suicide club, around Russian Capital Moscow in the 1900, Boris Akunin, construct the story typical of any thriller with its twists and turns. He progresst the novel, through the press reports, diary of one of the member of the society and an insider report to the police.

As we comes to know from the press reports in Moscow Couriers and Moscow Gazette during the period of August to October 1900, we come to know the existence of a secret sect 'worshipping Death' , and embracing it at regular intervals, leaving aside a departure poem. Young Marya Miranova, reaches Moscow from the Siberian town, introduced to the club by one of her acquaintance, get attracted to the club and to the powers of its mysterious leader. As the suicides continue , creating newer vacancies in the club, the authorities ( through the informer) and the press continue to bring out the details to public, but with no success in cracking down the group. It's after 5-6 deaths, comes in the hero in the form of a 'Japanese Prince' with his charm. He makes no attempt to hide his intention to Marya ( Now known as Columbine in the society) to dismantle the team. The rest of the pages goes through the typical cinematic fashion with suspects, deaths, and action. The mystery is around the deaths. Are they suicide or serial killing ?

The writing is very ordinary and plain at most places. ,except with the 'Lovers of Death 'and their poems dedicated to death. I haven't read any of the 'Fandorin Mystery Series' ( I think this is the 8th book of the series) and given my liking I'm not likely to read any. I found the characters and the plot very ordinary with no novelty to offer apart from the three way narration. Not sure how a regular crime thriller reader like this book.

In this Interview, Boris Akunin Says 'I finished She Lover of Death and saw that it was like one hand clapping, which is all right for Zen but not good enough for literature'. That is precisely, what I thought about the book. Beyond the structural variation, few good parts of writing , the rest is very mediocre.
She Lover of Death (2001)

Boris Akunin ( translated from Russian by Andrew Bromfield 2009)


263 Pages
Wiki entry, Guardian