Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Pensiamento Fantastico: The Strange Library

 The novel The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami narrates the story of a boy on a visit to the library. He is a dutiful reader and library-user who returns his books on time. He wants to find out how taxes were collected in the Ottomon empire and because such a thought strikes his mind, he wants to find out more about it. On enquiring about it, he is directed to a special section of the library. 
He meets a strange old man who assists him by bringing him three thick tomes on the subject-The Ottoman Tax System, The Diary of an Ottoman Tax Collector, and Tax Revolts and Their Suppression in the Ottoman Turkish Empire- and lets him read them on the condition that he should sit in the library and read them. 

He tells the old man that his mother will get upset if he doesn’t return home on time just like the time when he was bitten by a big black dog. The old man is furious that the boy wants to go home in spite of the assistance that he has provided and reminiscences about the time when he was a boy. The buy promises to sit and read for thirty minutes and he is taken to a “Reading Room”, an enormous labyrinth in the basement of the library. 

He meets  a sheep man who makes good doughnuts and obeys all the orders of the Old man. He discovers that the Old man wants to eat his brains and when he asks the reason for that the sheep man replies because brains packed with knowledge are yummy and grainy at the same time. 

A girl comes in bringing him a sumptuous meal and he is struck by her beauty. She can only speak with her hands and she tells him that her vocal cords were destroyed when she was a child. He finds that the library has turned out be a prison and he is not able to get out. He finds that the sheep man and the beautiful girl belong to two different worlds and that at times their worlds collide and overlap with each other. 

He worries about his mother and his pet magpie. As if to make his fears true he is held a prisoner and his pet magpie is eaten by a dog before his very eyes.  What happens to the boy? 

A little Kafkaesque and absurd, the novel captures an atmosphere similar to The Trial and brings in a sense of terror to the act of  visiting a library. In spite of the  way in which it portrays absurdity, this illustrated novella can make you feel hungry with its pictures of delicacies! 



Pensiamento Fantastico: The Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply

Vandana Shiva, the world-renowned activist and ecofeminist writer is an award-winning writer on issues related to women’s rights,. globalisation and the environment. She has written several books such as Making Peace With The Earth, Biopiracy: The Plunder Of Nature and Knowledge, Monocultures of the Mind, Staying Alive, Water Wars, Patents: Myths and Reality and The Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply. 

In her book, The Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply (2000), she describes the impact of globalised corporate agriculture on the small scale industries, farmers and the quality of food that we consume. In her enlightening book on some of the trends in food supply, she throws light on many of the problems faced by the common people in India such as stealing of the food produced in the country. 

Some of the issues discussed in the book are genetically engineered seeds, the controversy on cattle meat, the unethical ways of shrimp farming and commercial agriculture. She points out that the widespread conversion of land for food crops  into land for commercial crops has managed to wreck nature and also people who are dependent on these food crops. Though there is an increase in revenue, it is counterbalanced by a large-scale and long term damage to the ecosystems and their capacity to conserve soil and water. This kind of economic growth deprives forest communities of their sources of food, fodder, fuel. fibre, medicine and security from floods and drought. 

Vandana Shiva condemns WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement that makes indigenous seed-saving and seed-sharing a crime. She founded Navdanya, an NGO that promotes biological diversity and organic farming after learning more about the ways in which genetic engineering and patenting was destroying the local varieties of food. This organisation has thousands of members and several seedbanks across the country to conserve biodiversity, practise chemical-free agriculture and to save seeds. 

The most important issue that she deals with in her book is about her struggle to fight the multinational edible oil companies and their plan to completely replace the traditional edible oils The Oils produced in the local mills were replaced by cheap imported oils resulting in the destruction of the livelihoods of the local people. 

One central theme in The Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply is the need to have food that is free from genetically engineering and addition of chemicals through fertilizers. She emphasizes how it is the responsibility of the individual to ensure that the food we eat is safe, accessible and culturally appropriate and at the same time not at the cost of robbing the livelihoods of people dependent on traditional modes of food production. 
This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can  apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Pensiamento Fantastico: Inferno

Dan Brown’s Inferno (2013) though in the same mould of a thriller as his other novels such as Digital Fortress (1998), Angels and Demons (2000), Deception Point (2001), The Da Vinci Code (2003) and The Lost Symbol (2009),  is concerned with the global ecological crisis and its consequences.

 Usually, his novels revolve around symbols, codes and conspiracy theories. They follow the similar pattern of a hero who finds himself in a strange and unfamiliar setting, with codes, symbols and mysteries to crack and a beautiful woman to rescue. 

Though he writes thematic novels, Inferno stands out from the rest because of its slightly misanthropic stand on human population. 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 as the mad scientist Zobrist has written down all codes in poetry in the manner of Dante. 

The character of Bertrand Zobrist is a proponent of what is known as the Population Apocalypse Equation which is a mathematical recognition that the earth’s population is rising, people are living longer, and our natural resources are waning. 

He believes that with the increase in numbers, there will be a corresponding increase in human vices as well as predicted by Dante. This equation predicts that the current trend of exponential growth in population will ultimately result in an apocalyptic collapse of society. 

Zobrist held unconventional views on the reduction of population through the spread of epidemics and Black Death. Zobrist praises the role that diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS plays in keeping the population in check. 

He is of the view that the best thing that happened to Europe during the Middle Ages was Black Death. This event was seen as having so many socio-economic advantages as it thinned the human herd and led the way for Renaissance. Though the Black Death destroyed one third of the European population, Zobrist views it as a positive event in history because of its curbing of the human population. 

Bertrand Zobrist in Inferno is no theorist but a genetic engineer who sees a way to put his ideas into practice. He creates a solution to the population problem, a virus named Inferno that is initially suspected to be a plague virus but terms out to be a germ for creating sterility in every third person in the world. He follows the same mathematical equation of one third when trying to create the human sterility virus Inferno. He contrasts himself with the actions of the World Health Organization (WHO) that tries to create awareness about population control and family planning.

Inferno is about the need for environmental conservation and population control.

Pensiamento Fantastico: Reading Agatha Christie

Reading detective fiction has been one of my favourite pastimes since childhood. Many of these still remain my favourites because of the fact that they are so readable and at times so forgettable. Among such books, Agatha Christie’s works stand first and foremost. 

Her detective fiction gives a kind of “aha” feeling, which can be compared to the exhilaration that one feels on putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Now wonder, the historian Romila Thapar advises her research students to read Agatha Christie to enhance gestalt thinking or the ability to see the whole picture. As these books belong to the category of popular fiction, they are easy to read and intellectually stimulating at the same time. 

Her most famous detective is Hercule Poirot who has been immortalised on the small screen by David Suchet. Poirot is a retired police officer from Belgium who is known for his penchant for detecting crime. He is described as short, with his head the shape of an egg, moustache always well-trimmed and shining, and with good manners. He is shown as obsessed about neatness and order, be it solving the case or his attire. The most famous among Hercule Poirot novels are Hallowe’en Party, Five Little Pigs, Elephants Can Remember, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Appointment With Death and Murder in Mesopotamia. 

Miss Jane Marple is one of Christie’s detectives who views human life everywhere the same as in her village of St. Mary Mead. She is an elderly spinster who is very observant and manages to ask the right questions at the right time. Some of the books with Miss Jane Marple as the detective are The Murder at the Vicarage, The Body in the Library, A Murder is Announced, They Do It with Mirrors, A Pocket Full of Rye, 4.50 from Paddington, At Bertram's Hotel, Nemesis  and Sleeping Murder. My favourite is At Bertram’s Hotel, which is about a nightmarish world where some very innocent people are framed for crimes they have not committed and the police recognizes a gang of lookalikes who manage to get away with it.

Though not so numerous as the Hercule Poirot mysteries or the Jane Marple stories, there is the couple Tommy and Tuppence. Her true names are Thomas Beresford and Prudence Beresford and they appear in stories such as Partners in Crime, The Secret Adversary, N or M?, By the Pricking of My Thumbs and Postern of Fate. Tuppence is shown as a charismatic young lady who manages to keep her head in cases involving mafia or espionage. 

Though there are chances of reading an earlier read Agatha Christie by mistake, most of the time, it goes completely unnoticed. 

Pic: www.telegraph.co.uk

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can  apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Pensiamento Fantastico: The Kitchen God’s Wife

Amy Tan’s novels serve as cultural documents that describe the immigrant experience in terms of communality and identity. They con...