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