Poetry

In this beautiful world, I have no desire to die,

I wish to live in the midst of men.

In this sunlight, in the flowering forests

In the heart of all living things may I find a place

Incessant is the play of life across the earth

With its perennial waves of union and separation, laughter and tears.

Weaving songs from the sorrow and happiness of man

I wish I might build an immortal realm.

Or failing this, I hope I can claim a seat

Amongst you for as long as I live

Composing songs like flowers that blossom ever afresh

For you to gather in the morning and noon.

Accept these flowers with a smile, and then alas!

Cast them aside as they fade and die.

Rabindranath Tagore





Thursday, January 23, 2014

Appendage to Bacon's great aphorism from "Of Studies"



Reading maketh a full man; Conference a ready man; Writing an exact man and Raymonds a complete man

Friday, January 10, 2014

Dan Brown's Inferno

Dan Brown’s Inferno (2013) is quite unlike his earlier books in that here the author turns an environmental activist in that he constantly reminds the reader of the global ecological crisis and the problems of overpopulation. It reads more like GB Shaw’s plays that carry some social message or the other.

Though in the earlier novels, it was possible to suspend disbelief at the kind of code-cracking that Robert Langdon practiced, this time it becomes a little bit tedious with the population problem that is part of the discourse of the novel. He makes use of the character of a slightly eccentric scientist Bertrand Zobrist to offer a solution to the overpopulation problem and this is by creating a virus named Inferno that has got serious consequences to the entire humanity.

The apocalypse is near and the scientist being a fan of Dante has written all the codes in poetry. The allusions and history reveal a lot about the culture and heritage of art work as usual, the fun element is replaced by a seriousness quite unlike Brown. Like all Brown heroines, Sienna Brooks is also quite smart and independent but she turns mushy and cries on Langdon’s shoulder. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Yann Martel: The Apostle of the Other


If you are an Israeli, you should imagine yourself a Palestinian. Then you will understand why the Palestinians are angry. If you’re a Palestinian, you should make the effort of imagining yourself an Israeli, and then you will understand why the Israelis are afraid. If you’re a man and you become a woman, you understand. If you’re white and you imagine yourself black, etc. 

Yann Martel can rightly be called the Apostle of the Other because through his writing he has tried to explore the Other. He says that “in meeting the other that you start to understand, first, that you are different, and then how you are different”. His fiction has always been an attempt to travel through the strange consciousness of the Other with the aims to understand and to empathise.

Born in Salamanca in Spain in 1963 as the son of Canadian diplomats, Martel spent his childhood in Costa Rica, Spain, Mexico and Canada. After graduating in philosophy, he worked as a tree planter, dishwasher and security guard till he took up writing as a full time career. Now he has settled in Montreal with his partner Alice Kuipers and son Theo.

For Martel, storytelling is a way in which the human experience of living in this world is communicated to one’s fellow beings through the unique human tool of language. Without sharing of experiences, a human has no identity; without love, there can never be stories. As Martel says in the Big Think Interview, “the saddest thing in human terms, is to have a human being who has no stories” as “the human who has no stories is someone who has not been loved and has not been able to love”.

His fiction focuses a great deal upon the people who are robbed of their basic dignity. However, he extends his concern to animals as well because he denies the anthropocentric view of Western religion and culture. He points that the Other is important in defining what is normal and also for locating one’s own identity in the world.

His first book was collection of short stories Seven Stories in 1993 but though it was not a grand success, one of the stories was awarded the Journey Prize. Later this book was edited and republished as The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios and Other Stories (1993). There are four stories in this collection namely “Manners of Dying”, “The Mirror Machine”, “The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American composer John Morton” and “The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios”. They are strange stories that deal with the modern experience of life in the midst of illness, death and grief.

Self (1996) was Martel’s first novel and it had for its protagonist a nameless boy who wakes up one morning to find that he has become a woman. However, the protagonist is still attracted to women and is confused by the shift in gender. However, after remaining a woman for seven years, the protagonist turns back into a woman when raped by a neighbor. Martel sympathises with women who undergo a very personal holocausts called rape, which robs them of their basic human dignity. However, Martel explores the gendered Other and also the question of whether the mind has any gender.

Life of Pi (2001) that fetched him the coveted Booker Prize in 2002 is a fantastical tale of Piscine Molitor Patel, a sixteen year old Indian boy who travels with his family to Canada by sea and is shipwrecked in the Pacific along with a spotted hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, a female orangutan and a 450lb Royal Bengal Tiger. There are also two versions of the same story of cannibalism, one with animals and one without them. The animal version is a fantastic one; but the real version is grim and terrible. However, Martel used animals as characters solely for artistic purposes but then began to get interested in animals for their own sake and also for the wonder that they provide.

We Ate the Children Last (2004) is a collection of short stories that deal with medical breakthroughs and their consequences. The environmental Other is considered in this work as human experiments such as an animal to human transplant operation can wreck the environment in unforeseen ways. The stories are dark glimpses into the advances in science and technology juxtaposed against the need for protecting the environment. He advocates prudence in animal-human experiments as the products of these could be more devastating to the world at large.

Beatrice and Virgil published (2010) is a postmodernist novel in which the writer Henry L’Hote meets a taxidermist named Henry, who gives him a manuscript of a play featuring Beatrice, a donkey and Virgil, a howler monkey living on a large shirt in the shape of country. The shirt on which they live is affected by what they call the Horrors. As they travel around the shirt, Beatrice and Virgil tell each other little stories and folk tales, share experiences of food and try to find the right words, expressions and signs to represent the Horrors. The novel is an allegory that works at a primary level to mean the Holocaust and at a deeper level to mean cruelty to animals. Martel condemns both genocide and the killing of animals as both violate the right to live.

Martel’s attempts at being an Apostle of the Other was not limited to his fiction. He was also involved in a book project What is Stephen Harper Reading? from 2007 to 2011, in which he sent the Prime Minister of Canada one book every two weeks with his letters, book selections and responses received to a website devoted to the project. He made his intentions clear when he said in the Big Think Interview that “to lead you must read, because that nourishes your vision”. Though the Canadian Prime Minister did not respond in any way to Martel’s project, consolation and encouragement came in an unexpected manner when the American President Barack Obama sent Martel a handwritten note describing how Life of Pi has greatly influenced his life.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Maddadam Trilogy



Margaret Atwood’s The Maddaddam trilogy that consists of the simultanuels Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood and Maddaddam (2013) explore an extremely common device in popular science fiction- an apocalypse triggered by biotechnological and chemical experiments that destroys the rhythm of nature and produces unforeseen disasters and epidemics such as the Waterless Flood. These novels are called simultanuels (as opposed to sequels) as they co-exist and enhance our understanding of the state of life before and after the apocalypse through the eyes of the narrators Snowman, Ren and Toby.

The strides made in biotechnology such as genesplicing help scientists create new species such as wolvogs, liobams and pigeons with human brain tissue added for intelligence. But the product that starts the epidemic known as the Waterless Flood is an over-the-counter medicine known as BlyssPlus Pills, supposed to provide increased sexual satisfaction, protection from sexually transmitted diseases and to prolong youth. Hidden in the BlyssPlus Pills, is a killer virus that will spread like the plague and wipe out entire continents altogether.

When the attacks begin, radio and television stations from across the world report news of the spreading pandemic. But gradually the stations go dead and cities cease to exist. Gradually, a handful of people survive along with the bioengineered Crakers, who are a gentle humanoid species whose skins have natural insect repellants and whose need for animal protein is minimum. Among the survivors are Toby, Ren, Amands, Zeb, Jimmy and other Maddaddamites who are a group of bioterrorists who were bought by Crake in exchange for the protection of their identities.

The narrator of -awaited conclusion to the Maddaddam trilogy is Toby, who belonged to a green cult called God’s Gardeners. She wonders if there is any future for the human generation:
She’s slipping: she ought to write such things down. Keep a daily journal, as she did when she was alone…for generations yet unborn as politicians used to say when they were fishing for extra votes. If there is anyone in the future that is; and if they’ll be able to read; which, come to think of it are two big ifs (Atwood, 136).

The Crakers and the human survivors together create a new set of babies- Kannon, Rhizomes, Jimadam, Pilaren, Medulla and Oblongata, whose characteristics are yet to develop. But the wonder of all wonders is that Blackbeard, a Craker youth learns how to write and records the history of life after the Waterless Flood and the formation of the new hybrid species from humans and Crakers in the form of history.


Atwood uses the trilogy to express her concerns about the environment, the use of artificially created animal protein, the dangers of biotechnological experimentation, the hidden dangers of medical corporations and the relations between the sexes. She concludes on a note of hope through the creation of hybrid babies who will definitely lead life on earth forward in spite of the Waterless Flood. 

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Dreams in Prussian Blue


Dreams in Prussian Blue (2010) by Paritosh Uttam captures the life of some Fine Arts students in Mumbai. It was recently in the news because Shyam Prasad’s new movie Artist is based on it.

Naina Trivedi, a fresher at Fine Arts College meets Michael Agnelo and his friends Abhinav and Ruchi. Michael’s passion for painting and his charisma sweep her off her feet and she realizes that she has fallen in love with him. To the dismay of her conservative Brahmin family, she leaves home to have a live-in relationship with Michael. The initial plan is that she will write and he will paint. But when they start living together, the responsibility of running the household falls on Naina as Michael does only what he is promised to do- to paint and nothing else.

Caught up in a situation from which there is no turning back, she creates a website for his paintings and calls prospective buyers and art galleries. Michael refuses to turn up for one such meeting with the owner of an art gallery and Naina calls and threatens him with a break-up. Unfortunately, Nicheal meets with an accident on the way and loses his eyesight. It is Abhinav who helps her with the bills and with Michael.

Abhinav and Ruchi live the middle class dream of a secure job, a posh apartment, plans for starting a family and having a car. Naina is distraught that Michael who used to be the best of all has come to nothing while the others are thriving. Inspite of his blindness, Michael continues to paint and she has to work hard to pay the rent and buy new canvases and paints. Abhinav advises her to give Michael used canvases and gives her a box of Prussian Blue that was there at his house.

Michael finishes 24 pictures that depict the history of painting and his exhibition draws people because of the publicity that is given to his blindness. However, Abhinav’s deceit does not stop with the Prussian Blue and Naina is caught up in a fix because of her love for Michael and gratitude for Abhinav. Will she be able to fix her strained relationship with Michael?

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Teaching

Once upon a time, for a short while,
Teaching meant trying to scream above
The aeroplanes taking off nearby
 And the trains that screeched past,

While in this noise girls chatted
On the much prohibited mobile phones;
It also meant counting own mistakes
And losing your voice by Wednesday.

Now it means being silent when it rains
More because it is impossible to talk,
And may be it disturbs the lovelorn dreams
That flit across so many dreamy eyes.

The rain takes them away somewhere
An my voice drags them here back again. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Future

The life of hopes and ambitions is not the life you live,
From the cradle the baby is taught to dream and hope
But when the dark and light of youth decide to fight,
It is often darkness which wins and leaves one lost.

For the ones who have won and moved ahead of others,
Who do not share the burden of your past sorrows,
Who measure you by their own measures of success,
Your dreams are a reason to poke fun and laugh at you.

While you plod against life gathering the missing pieces,
Often having to start again after losing so many times,
The victory that would have tasted sweet in dreams,
Being like a mirage that eludes only you every time.

Yet some day the dark would give way to the dawn,
And if God wills, it will be an everlasting sunshine.

Natural

May be we learnt this silence from nature,
From dormant volcanoes that do not show
Any signs of life; but explode into rages
And passions, creating new terrains,
Blending with the waters of the ocean.
This love hides itself behind a wave of silence,
That sweeps away everything in its path,
But is natural like the merge of streams,
Like the blossoming of flowers in arid deserts,
And the sight of birds in the morning.
It springs natural, magical, dream-like
On the food of silence and nothing else.
For words have no meaning in this love,
And take away the magic of its silence. 

Songs of Sunshine


When the heart chose its path
And burnt all the other roads,
Reason was silent and sore,
But the heart hoped and loved
More than everything else.

In the days of radiant sunshine
Free and uncensored thoughts,
Effortless talk with smiles,
Laughter, kisses and love,
No bitterness was foreseen.

Now the sunshine is gone,
Replaced by the rainy days
Just like the pre-sunshine age
Each day after the other
Again an uneventful life.

The clock has been turned
Back to the mixed times,
Bittersweet and mundane,
Where no dark clouds were,
It is raining incessantly.

The days of sunshine are over,
With no hopes of coming back,
Angry words and accusations,
No daily downloads of news
Only spite and seething anger.

Yet this heart that forgot itself,
Became rougher and tougher
Day after day remembers,
The melodious tunes it knew
In the days of bright sunshine. 

Saturday, August 03, 2013

31

31

You remember dear,
I have reached where you were,
When Humpty-Dumpty broke the wall.

All could be seen for a while was pieces
Of your broken shell that hurt my eyes
And bled my heart for you were gone.

It was a lesson, these long years
To know what you lose in a moment-
A king, his horses and his men. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Kitchen God’s Wife

Name of the Author: Amy Tan
Book: The Kitchen God’s Wife
Place of Publication: New York
Publisher: Ivy
Year of Publication: 1991

Amy Tan’s books are based on the lives and experiences of her parents and relatives, who had migrated to the US from China. She was born in Oakland in California and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has written several books The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen Gods Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses and The Bonesetters Daughter. Her novels serve as cultural documents that describe the immigrant experience in terms of communality and identity. They contain the customs and rituals of China that might get lost in the new country in the process of cultural assimilation.

The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991) is her second novel and presents a mother-daughter relationship complicated by secrets- the mother withholds information about the daughter’s real parentage while the daughter hides her progressive multiple sclerosis from her mother. The novel begins in the present time when the daughter Pearl is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Then the story moves to the past as Winnie, the mother talks about her first marriage in China to a pilot named Wen Fu. All these secrets come out only because Auntie Helen, Winnie’s friend, who thinks that she is dying of a brain tumour, threatens to expose the secrets of both mother and daughter.

Winnie had lost her mother when she was a child and was brought up by her uncle’s family. She discloses her sorrowful past, her unhappy marriage, the deaths of her three children, her meeting Jimmy Louie, her escape from her first marriage and her marriage to Jimmy, whom Pearl calls father. Her bitter experiences at home after her mother’s escape (or death, she does not know the truth) make her angry towards her father. Later, when her marriage is fixed, her father asks her to spend a week with him. He asks her opinion about a painting in his study that she used to dislike. Then he adds: I liked this in you; so unafraid to say what you thought. Then he asks her present opinion on the painting and as she explains why she likes it now, he says:
From now on, he said at last with a stern look, you must consider what your husbands opinions are. Yours do not matter so much anymore (178).

During her times of trouble, she is helped by Auntie Du, Jimmy Louie and Helen. She was like the Kitchen God’s wife, who got no credit for her faithfulness and loyalty to her husband. Winnie, however decides to move and discards the image of the Kitchen God’s wife from her home because she feels that now that she has divorced her husband Wen Fu, this God has no value for her.

Once the secrets are out, both women try to come to terms with what they are entrusted with. Winnie wants to take Pearl to China to find a cure for her incurable disease. She brings the altar that Auntie Du had left for Pearl and finds a new goddess for it, a goddess with no name, obviously a factory error. She names the goddess Sorrowfree and tells Pearl:
But sometimes, when you are afraid, you can talk to her. She will listen. She will wash away everything sad with her tears. She will use her stick to chase away everything bad. See her name: Lady Sorrowfree, happiness winning over bitterness, no regrets in this world. Of course, it’s only superstition, just for fun. But see how fast the smoke rises- oh, even faster when we laugh, lifting our hopes higher and higher (532).

Tan portrays the miserable life of Winnie, who leaves China in search of a new life. She shows the patriarchal Chinese society that values boys over girls and does nothing when a man hits his wife in public. There is no one to stand up for the woman as it is considered to be her fate. Tan also critiques the generation gap that comes out of the prejudices that the old and the young feel toward each other. In the novel, the mother-daughter relationship becomes warm only when all secrets are let out and the prejudices overcome.


Monday, July 01, 2013

Amitav Ghosh's Ibis trilogy




 
In the Ibis Trilogy, Amitav Ghosh has tried to capture the evils of the Opium trade of the nineteenth century. The two novels Sea of Poppies (2008) and River of Smoke (2011) depict the lives of a group of people who escape from India to Mauritius during the time of the Opium wars between Britain and China.

The book Sea of Poppies begins with the life of Deeti or Kabutri-ki-ma, whose husband works in an opium factory and is addicted to it as well. She runs away with Kalua, a lower-caste man. To escape the punishment of their relationship, they join a group of people who are transported to Mauritius as labourers on the ship Ibis. The other people who are on the ship are Zachary Reid, Miss Paulette Lambert, Jodu, Ah Fatt and Neel. Their lives become entwined during the journey and they all wonder about their fate. The first book criticises the British introduction of opium as a compulsory crop in the place of food crops and how it ruined the farmers by pushing them into dire poverty.
 

The second book of the Ibis Trilogy River of Smoke describes the girmitayas’ life on the island of Mauritius and their adventures. This book is set mostly in Canton against the background of the First Opium War. The British and the Indian traders earn fortunes by bringing opium to China until the Chinese government takes steps to prevent the large-scale influx of opium. The government is worried because more and more people are getting addicted to opium. The discontent of the traders is evident when all the opium they have are seized and burnt by the government.

The Ibis trilogy is set on an epic scale and will be completed with the publication of the third and last book of the novel. However, for knowing the fate of Kalua, Jodu and Zachary Reid, the reader will have to wait for the next book.