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Out of the delirium

It has been a long time. My mains exams are over. And all other mundane official work and shuttling to and from Kolkata. Blogposts have been long overdue. I have taken to writing short stories, which I wish to but I can’t publish here.

The winter may not have been cold enough, but it was all gloom, with ailments and disappointments, as if dementors were breeding.

This is my last attempt. I lack the perseverance and patience and stamina for another gruelling mains exam. I have been so exhausted after this one that I have stopped expecting anything about the results, and right now, concentrating only in reading books and writing.

And it is best not to expect.

Of anything. From anyone. Said many a wise men.

 

Books. The only solace. I have completed Anne of Green Gables series by L.M Montgomery, finished the fourth book of George R. R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and The Storyteller’s Tale by Omair Ahmed. Now, I have begun with The Far Pavillions by M. M Kaye.

Anne series ended tragically with one of Anne and Gilbert’s sons, Walter, an aspiring poet, dying in the First World War. It reminded me of Wilfred Owen.

Omair Ahmed’s book is a fantastic rendering of different persons telling and retelling the same tale. A short yet profound novella, it explores facets of diverse emotions from the eyes of various narrators.

George R. R Martin’s series portrays various characters in a world of Westeros and Essos teeming with various houses and lords and castles fighting over the possession of the Iron Throne. There are intrigues and conspiracies, and no character is purely good or bad. Everyone is endowed with a hamartia that brings about his or her fall. There are dragons and white walkers (kind of zombies), mysterious priests/priestesses and savage tribes, and yet I feel the world portrayed is no different from our world. If you think otherwise, just think about the Peshawar carnage. Once I complete the fifth book, I plan to write a complete post on this series.

 

With this post, I hope to break out of the delirium.

P.S: Some happy tidings. A batchmate from the economics department and a junior from my department of college have together published a poetry book called Prelude to the Horizon. Kudos to you Arindam and Monami. 🙂

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

‘I had a dream’

“Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.”

― George R.R. Martin

I used to believe in this statement. Not any more.
(The first part, I mean. I am a die-hard crusader for fantasy fiction. Period.)

The last three months have been quite eventful for me. I discovered that I am ending up doing things I had never imagined myself doing ever. I have stumbled upon Joycean epiphanies in unexpected corners, which have both made and marred my joy. Mostly, I have been happy, and hence, I am not complaining.

From fabulously spun yarns to pretty castles in the air, from whispers that I chanced to hear to the seeming matters of consequence that I was prodded about, I conclude that grown-ups are an amusing species.

And that reality and fiction are too close to be separated. I had no doubts about it, but this time what I experienced was too direct. I did not expect that things can be so similar. That reality can turn out to be so fantastic and fiction so real.

Do dreams really become smaller? If taken literally, yes. But what about the joy that comes with it? Isn’t it the philosopher’s stone that changes the drab colours of reality into gold and azure?  Is it the length of the shadow that falls between the idea and the reality that makes the dreams smaller? But that’s for hollow men, who perhaps have a wrong vision. When the sun is at its peak, the shadow disappears. The elation itself turns the dreary parking garage into the ancient ruins of a vanquished fortress. Glimmers of fantasy are already entwined in reality.

Sadly, the reverse is true as well. The wings did melt. And Icarus fell.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Life and Times, Uncategorized

 

Why I do not like The Fountainhead

Seldom do I feel like launching a tirade after reading a book. But after reading about 700 pages of The Fountainhead, my temper has flared up and I need to give a vent to it. I have read the book a month ago, but every time I see it on my bookshelf, my temper flares up. More when I see the Objectivist movement in the internet.

This book had figured in the top charts of all my book-lover friends except one. One of them feels that it is a book that can alter everything one has believed. One feels that it is immensely inspiring and has read it six times or more! Two of them have been bowled over by the austere charm of Howard Roark. So when I began to read it, I had great expectations. But I was utterly disappointed. May be I am too old for the book.

I would make it clear that I am no Marxist, I do not believe equality of all can be achieved but I believe that there should be equal opportunities for all. I am a loner and prefer solitude or the company of few to socialising with a large group any day. I was enthralled when a professor told in a class that Joseph Conrad wrote “We live as we dream- alone.” So the book seemed perfect for me, with the back cover saying that it is about the triumph of individualism over socialism.

I agree with individualism to the point that one should set high ideals and ambitions, work hard to achieve one’s fullest potential, not be bogged down by mediocrity, which is often glorified. I believe that one must think independently, instead of blindly following others. I admire Howard Roark’s intense devotion and dedication to his work, the way he forgoes rest and sleep and works till he achieves perfection in the drawings. I admire his determination to move on, not being perturbed by the failures and rejection. The only things I admire about him, and the book.

That is all that I like. And now I don’t know where to begin with what I hate, which one is worse- the philosophy or the literature?

Well, since Rand intended to make it a piece of propaganda, I would consider the philosophy first. I do not believe that a person can live solely by, for and of his own self. Rand’s world is conveniently devoid of babies, because they obviously need someone to nurture them. Even when she shows the past life of her protagonists, both Gail Wynand and Howard Roark are shown as children capable of earning, working at odd jobs. But how did they survive as infants? Even as adults they needed others. An architect needs hundreds of labourers to make his vision come true. How many skyscrapers would Roark build in his lifetime if he had to lay each brick by himself? And the way Gail Wynand runs the Banner. If the editor-in-chief checked every word in every copy of the huge publication house that Rand claims it is, I wonder how the pages of Banner ever reached the press. Aren’t there deadlines in her world? And what about the clients of Roark? How would Roark build if he had no land, labour and capital? And how does one live absolutely by oneself? A person needs food for subsistence and for that he would need to grow crops or hunt animals, all on his own. Are we not dependent in some way to all around us? It is clear that Rand’s philosophy isn’t feasible practically, unless as Aristotle says, one is either a beast or God.

Even from the ideological point of view, she glorifies selfishness when she denounces all acts of charity and kindness. She thinks all those who dedicated their lives to the cause of others have sold their souls. Altruists and philanthropists of all kinds are despicable to her and she preaches for unbridled capitalism. Someone who does something for love, to her, is the basest of all creatures. What if somebody finds happiness in the happiness of others (that’s called mudita, I doubt Rand knew it) , what if others’ pain makes that person empathetic and he works towards a cause for the betterment of other’s lives? To Rand, that person is a vile creature but the one who blows up homes with dynamite because they have some frilly details which do not conform to his conception is the noblest of all. I am sorry, but I can’t buy this logic at all. And I don’t know how anyone with reason and thinking can buy that. Reason and thinking, two things that Rand herself emphasizes on.

Moving on to the next part, reason is man’s only weapon and she has no place for passion. But when Roark works day and night to give form to his ideas, isn’t he driven by the passion to create? And yes, can reason explain all? Kant believed that, “Reason should investigate its own parameters before declaring its omniscience.” But Rand considered Kant a monster! And she writes as if she is omniscient. No wonder her philosophy has generally been rejected or ignored by the academia. And the conservatives pursue it for their own interests.

I do not know why she detests Renaissance architecture so much when she glorifies the heroic in man. Or the way she condemns Oriental philosophy. May be she didn’t know much about either.

And, it is a bad book. It is difficult to read with cumbersome words and I am quite patient when it comes to reading. That’s a bad excuse, I accept.  But I have lot of good ones, too.

I hate didactic books. And here we have one which does not exemplify simple wisdom as in Aesop’s Fables or Panchatantra. Rather, the author tries to shove down her philosophy into the reader’s throats and hammer what she believes to be absolute and true like a nail in the reader’s mind. While reading the book, I felt Rand is Ellsworth Toohey. Like Toohey, she is feeding her philosophy into our minds clothed in high-sounding jargon. Repetitively. Her characters are like Toohey’s gang, who have no life of their own; they are mere marionettes or mouthpieces who say what Rand wants them to say. The plot is inconsequential, so are the characters. None of them develop, except perhaps Gail Wynand, the only character I feel who has a bit of life. They are all a weird bunch of extreme people, painted in pitch black or stark white, with weirder names.

Howard Roark betrays no emotion, no life and rapes a woman who is exactly like him. I don’t know what is so charming about him either. But I wouldn’t argue on that. Ever since I read Gone with the Wind, I find no hero good enough to swoon for except Rhett Butler. I found Darcy too pale. And Roark is nothing but a stone pillar on one of his avant-garde buildings. Ellsworth Toohey is a megalomaniac who wants the world turned into a mediocre’s paradise. Gail Wynand fails to achieve his ideals and succumbs to the ways of the world. Peter Keating is the typical mediocre, a parasite. Dominique Francon is the most frigid of all. She welcomes the rape, and despite loving Roark, writes columns degrading his work and gets married to Peter Keating and then Wynand and then finally calls herself Mrs Roark. I could never identify with this character. In Rand’s world it seems, the heroine is perhaps not supposed to scale the heights of what she can achieve, but rather search for the man who is completely alike her and support him. That’s strange for someone who professes that self-interest should be the sole aim in life. Again, I am no feminist, I just found it strange. I admire heroines like Scarlett O’ Hara and Jane Eyre and Marji in Persepolis much more. Even Elizabeth Bennett, at least, she had some spark.

So that’s why. Because of a bad plot, bad characterisation and bad readability (that’s the term in vogue, I read).

Because even Howard Roark can’t build it alone.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

An attempt at poetry

I consider myself a very prosaic person and although I enjoy reading poetry, I do not think I can ever write one. But then there is Polo. She is attending a creative writing workshop and intends me to slog as well. She insisted that I write spontaneously whatever I can after reading Leda and the Swan by William Butler Yeats. Since I had read the poem before, I do not know how much spontaneous this one is, but I managed to pen a poem (?) within 15 minutes. The title is Polo’s. Here it goes:

Bride Red

And then was born the bride
The one whose beauty swept away
Men of realms far and wide,
And Tyndareus failed to keep her away
From Paris’s roving eyes,

With that shudder of force, the gods unleashed
The dogs of war in the ancient times
O Fleeting Beauty! It’s a joy when you flourished.
But you’re ugly! For you turn men to crimes
When you are won or lost in prize.
 
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Posted by on October 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Odyssey- 8 (Done, finally!)

Wrapping it up

It has been almost two years since the trip and in the meantime, I have already made a fascinating trip to Kerala. In this post, I am determined to wrap up this trip. And I did it!

On the way to Bhopal, we went to see the caves at Bhimbetka. The cave shelters seemed to be comfortable places to stay and there was a statue of a primitive man in front. It was unbelievable that the paintings have existed for so long. I wonder what colours they used! My watercolour paintings seem so lifeless after the water dries up. Some of the pictures reminded me of the ones I used to make on the walls of our apartment when I was a child. I guess these were also made by little children of the ancient times. We stopped at a dhaba on the way and the food was so bad and service so poor that I hardly ate. Due to Baba’s insistence, we had to visit Bhojpur, a long way on a dusty road, to see the ruins of an 11th century temple. I was too tired and didn’t climb up the stairs to see the inside of the temple. I was scared of stairs and gradient after Pachmarhi.

When we reached Bhopal, it was late afternoon. Baba and Sejomama were insisting on visiting Van Vihar, an open zoo. Moonie and I started grumbling as we were too tired and we wondered where they get so much energy at their age. Thanks to my cousin Bapu da, whose place we were going to stay at, ( Bapu da and Chhotu da are identical twins, my Boromasi’s sons) Van Vihar was forgotten for the time being since it was too late and the zoo would close for the day. Bapu da was still at office and we had a hard time finding the house. Our new driver didn’t know anything and he didn’t even have a sense of direction of which was left and right. Since I was in the front seat I had to ask passers-by and vendors and to my irritation, he was slowing down the car at places where there was no one to see. Once I told him to turn left, and he turned the car right. Finally, after crossing innumerable chaurahas, we reached the place where Manju boudi was waiting for us. She guided the driver to the house.  As soon as we entered, we were treated to tea and an array of assorted snacks, all of which Manju boudi had made at home. I hadn’t had lunch properly and I devoured everything, asking for more. My other nephew, little Joydeep, was buzzing with excitement and chatting with us. He showed us everything from his textbooks to firecrackers. When Bapu da was back from office, we spent a good time chatting and Bapu da is best at cracking jokes.

The next day was Bhaiphonta and Moonie and I celebrated it with much fare as this was the first time Bapu da got phonta from us.

We visited Sanchi in the morning. The familiar picture in history books stood in front of me. I imagined Ashoka, one of our greatest kings, giving up war and spreading the message of Buddha. The ruins of the viharas around made me imagine how once this place had been buzzing with monks chanting shlokas in praise of the Buddha, a new kind of faith sweeping across the country. There was also a structure resembled Grecian architectural style. The museum nearby was closed on Fridays and so was Van Vihar. All my hopes of seeing a tiger ended with that.  We visited a museum called Manab Sangrahalaya in the afternoon. It was a scenic place and I admired the tribal huts from all over the country built there. However, the main museum was too boring for me, which described details of anthropology and evolution with statues of numerous Australopithecus-es and Neanderthals around us. I moved around listlessly taking photos of Joydeep, while my Baba and Sejomama seemed to enjoy the museum completely!

We spent a pleasant evening in a promenade by this huge lake in Bhopal called Bhojtal, supposed to have been built by Raja Bhoj, the Parmara king of Malwa. The waters of the lake turned crimson with sunset as the colossal statue of Raja Bhoj watched. This sunset was much more beautiful than the foggy one at Pachmarhi.  A proof perhaps, that sunsets do not need quaint places to be enchanting.

We were back to Bapu da’s place soon and treated to a sumptuous, homely dinner and a peaceful sleep in makeshift but comfortable beds on the floor.

A disappointing birthday

The next day, I was awakened with wishes of a happy birthday. It was my 24th birthday and we were setting off for Ujjain. I have often spent birthdays out in trips. On my 14th birthday, I had taken a bath in the chilly waters of the Ganga at Hrishikesh and when I turned 17, I had spent it inside the caverns of Araku Valley. But this one was the most disappointing.

I had many expectations from Ujjain, after all, it was the capital of Chandragupta Vikramaditya, one of those celebrated ancient cities of which I had read so much in Saradindu’s stories on Kalidas. But I realised after visiting the place that ancient cities are best left as ruins. The interference of life is too much for these cities to bear. Most of them are converted into crowded pilgrimages, and Ujjain was no exception, and to be honest, the place is pervaded with a stinking smell. The Shipra river of which Kalidas had waxed eloquent in his verses is now no more than a huge drain of murky waters, full of garbage. We visited a number of temples here. The caves of Bhartrihari, the Mangalnath temple, the Kalbhairab temple and the Mahakal temple are mostly what I remember. The most interesting was Kalbhairab, the commander-in-chief of Mahakal or Shiva, who feasts on country liquor. Outside the temple, the shops sold bottles of liquor.  Since it was my birthday, my mother had decided to appease all the gods in the universe, Kalbhairab being no exception. She bought one of those liquor bottles and the priest poured some of it in a saucer, held it to the lips of the idol and it disappeared. I wonder where it went. The priest offered the rest of it to us as prasad, but now, my mother would have none of it and declined.

The Mahakal Temple was the best of the lot. But I was disappointed to see cement constructions invading the ancient structures, something should be done about these. The manner of visiting the sanctum of the temple was very methodical and organised with spacious pathways, not crowded alleys. And the besan laddoos as prasad were delicious!

We had much trouble finding a hotel here, and the one we finally settled for was the worst one in the entire trip. Yes, it had a crumbling staircase! When Baba and I came back to our car from the hotel hunt, Moonie was smiling mischievously. “Dekhbi ja…dhoreche police e.” Our driver had been fined by the traffic police. No wonder about that, I thought that he should have been fined in Bhopal itself! That was not the end. This was the day I found out that I had lost Rs 500 from my wallet and Moonie had lost Rs 600.  Since it was my birthday, I was spared from what otherwise would have been a sermon on my carelessness. My mother, however, turned into Sherlock Holmes, made a thorough inquiry where and when both of us had left our bags and in that elementary-my-dear-Watson-like manner came to a very plausible conclusion of who took it, and also when and how.  After that, I decided not to carry money with me if I am travelling with my parents next time, but I wasn’t spared of this responsibility, when we visited Kerala.

Misfortunes never come alone!

The next day, we were on the way to Indore. Our old driver had come back, and we were all pleased. And we were all wondering whether now the other one would travel with us or go back. There wasn’t enough space in the car and more because everyone was annoyed with him (there were enough reasons for that too) and my Baba’s friend remarked, “Indore-e pouchhei eke namiye debo.” But just about 8-9km away from Indore, we got a flat tire. As we waited on a bench in front of a local shop, from out of nowhere a person came (just like the characters of Sukumar Ray’s Ho-jo-bo-ro-lo), guessed we were Bengalis and started chattering away in Bengali, when none of us were interested. Finally, when the tire was changed, our old driver told us that he could not risk it with other worn-out tires and it would take time to change the tire. But our trip was almost ending and we had no time to wait, so we had to change the car when we reached Indore.

Our new driver was completely silent in the beginning. Soon, we realised that he was a worse menace than the previous one. The new car too was not so comfortable, but since there was just two more days left, we had little to complain. We visited Omkareshwar and came across Narmada again. The temple though was too crowded and congested, and I was happy to come outside unhurt. I would have been better off had I not ventured into it. I had a more frightful experience at the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum, and have firmly decided that I am not going to visit any more congested holy places with unruly crowds. We had lunch at an eatery outside the temple. Here, the pungent smoke from the oven made my eyes tear and I came out as soon as I ate a bit.

It was from lunch onwards that our driver began to talk. And, he never stopped!

Shab-e-Malwa

I have read that Subah-e-Benaras, Shaam-e-Awadh and Shab-e-Malwa: the mornings are best in Benaras, the evenings in Awadh and the nights in Malwa. Although our trip had been quite disappointing in its last leg, the only redeeming feature of the trip was the shab-e-Malwa, although it could have been better.

We visited Maheshwar next. A huge fort graced the banks of the Narmada, which once housed the great queen Ahalyabai. The river bank was a pleasant stop. We wanted to spend some more time here, but it was getting late and we needed to reach Mandu/ Mandav, which was quite far from here and the roads were not that great. We also needed to search for a hotel. The car travelled through a moonlit night on the rolling plateau of Malwa. The air outside was cool and pleasant, stars shined through the clouds and the landscape was quiet and lonely with woods scattered around. Although the road was full of potholes and the ride not very comfortable, the journey was pleasant. It was when we were travelling here that I first felt that we are soon going to leave Madhya Pradesh and that I would have to join office again. But what spoilt the experience was the loudmouthed driver, who was interested in asking whether we ate fish and telling us when he had got married and how he had conned tourists (!). Even when none of us answered, he went on and on.

There was a turn on the road which we should have taken to reach Mandu. Although Baba insisted on asking someone around, our driver was more interested in knowing about the actors and actresses of Bengal, he was going on and on about Akshay Kumar and perhaps, Kareena Kapoor, I don’t remember. He didn’t even care to listen to what we said. That made us miss the turn and since it was too late, we stayed the night in Dhar. Everyone was annoyed with the driver,  at least, the previous one did not talk so much! My father was determined to get rid of him as soon as we reached Indore.

Subah-e-Malwa is splendid too. We reached Mandu, early next morning. The beautiful fortress located on a hilltop was perhaps the best historical place in Madhya Pradesh. On one side was the plateau of Malwa and on the other, was the plain of Nimar. The structures were pre-eminently Mughal with green lakes in the centres of huge courtyards and magnificent domes. The palaces of king Baz Bahadur and queen Rupmati were the chief attractions. It is believed that both of them composed many ragas and Malwa had once swayed by the music they created. Nearby was unique buildings called Jahaz Mahal and one of them which seemed to swing in the wind! These had an intricate network of pipelines and fountains and we all marvelled at the beauty of the architecture and engineering. The most remarkable structure was Hoshang Shah’s tomb, the first marble structure in our country. Shah Jahan had sent Ustad Isa to visit this building before building the Taj. I loved the morning spent here, since the car was parked outside the fort, the driver hadn’t come to disturb. 🙂

We were on our way to Indore soon. On the way, we were all hungry for lunch and we asked the driver to stop if a dhaba was to be seen. We passed quite a few of them, but showed no sign of stopping. Instead, he remarked, “I am not hungry at all, we would have lunch at Indore.” I was sitting in the front and couldn’t control my rage any longer, and shouted back in Hindi, “How would you feel hungry, you’ve eaten seven bananas that were kept in front, while we had only one each? And it doesn’t matter if you are not hungry or not, if there’s a dhaba to be seen, you have to stop.” I was supported by everyone, especially my father. And now, he was compelled to stop at one.

After lunch, we had a bit of fun as we neared Indore. The driver got repeated calls from his wife and soon, he was yelling at her. From what we could make out of the one-sided conversation was that his wife had come home from somewhere and couldn’t unlock the door, and the driver kept hollering, “Main kya kar sakta hu? Tala torwao…abhi main kaise jaun. Mujhe phone mat karo!”  (What can I do now? Get the lock broken…how can I go now. Stop calling me!)

Of bedbugs and palaces

We reached Indore in the afternoon and found a relatively decent hotel, at least at first sight. And we did not bother because we were stopping just for a day. Our driver wanted to show us around and stay but we refused. And we thought he had gone. Later, we were going out in the evening to walk nearby. When we came down to the lounge of the hotel, it was almost as if we saw the devil, the driver waiting! We refused him again and took a stroll nearby, only to see local tea-shops and tire shops. The location of the hotel was not a good one, but we wanted one near the station, as our train was at 11pm the next day.

When I woke up in the morning, everyone was complaining about the bedbugs. I sleep too soundly to feel them. But soon Moonie showed me one (this was the first time I saw one of these creatures) and my Sejomama punned, “Bagh dekhte ese seshe bug dekhli toh.” We hired an auto to see the city, the driver was finally gone! The most remarkable place here was a Jain temple completely inlaid with glass and the Lalbagh Palace. Once a residence of the Holkars, the palace is one of the most luxurious houses that I have ever seen. This palace built of Italian marble was strewn with relics of the past, ranging from tiger skins and ivory caskets to a room with a billiards table. Baba, Moonie and I spent the afternoon packing and resting at the hotel, others had gone shopping. What was distressing was the smell of a fumigant that had been sprayed in our rooms, after Baba had complained of the bedbugs. I blamed Baba for that, since we would have left the hotel tonight. After, a light dinner we reached the station and boarded Shipra Express, bidding goodbye to Indore.

The journey was two nights long and boring. In the evening the next day, it seemed to feel that we have boarded the train for a month. When we reached Durgapur, I heaved a sigh of relief. There is no place sweeter than home.

P.S Will upload the photos soon. And beware the drivers of Indore.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

The Garlic Ballads

Since I haven’t been doing much apart from reading, this one is becoming more of a book review blog. The latest that I finished is a translated version of The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan, the Nobel laureate author from China. Although the author has faced criticism from many intellectuals for not showing solidarity for the latter’s struggle for freedom of expression and not signing the petition asking for Liu Xiaobo’s freedom, in this novel, Mo has not left any stone unturned to criticise the high-handed manner in which the Communist government treats its subjects and the plight of the peasants in the place where Mao had called for a revolution of the peasants.

Set in the 80s, this book aptly shows how the fire of the protests are put out with vigorous efforts, but the smouldering embers look for a chance to burst into flames once again, the culmination of which can be a Tiannamen Square. There are two protagonists, Gao Yang and Gao Ma. Ostensibly, both are arrested for inciting the crowds and destroying a government building. However, both of them have a past stained by the atrocities of the state and a rigid society. Gao Yang is an impoverished farmer, his parents had once been landlords who were stripped off their honour and wealth and disgraced after the revolution. Gao Yang’s life has been saturated by humiliation. He was humiliated while in school and later in the prison by fellow prisoners, and he is so distressed at breaking the law that he names his son Shoufa, the law-abider, and wishes that he would grow up to be a party official. That’s the most a peasant can hope for his child. Yang’s wife sells the garlic and he looks forward to a future awaiting him outside the prison, Gao Ma is doomed and chooses to kill himself when he learns that even his dead beloved was not spared. Gao Ma had an illicit affair with Jinju, the daughter of the Fang family, and elopes with her. But they are caught by the hard-hearted Fang brothers (who are guided solely by their own interests) with the help of a government official and Gao Ma must pay a huge sum to marry Jinju. To pay the sum, Gao Ma needs to sell the garlic, the root of all evils, which strikes a tragedy in the lives of many.

Being assured of government’s promises, the peasants had planted garlic, but most of them fail to sell it as there are no takers. The crop rots in the field while the farmers remain hungry and poor, little Xinghua cries for food, old men are crushed by drunk drivers and old ladies are imprisoned for demanding compensation of her husband’s death and Jinju hangs herself, ridden with shame and guilt. This is a land where even the dead are not spared and their remains are dug out to be paraded in horrid ceremonies or to be burnt in the incinerator. The blind minstrel Zhang Kou is the sole person who dares to protest through his ballads, only to be found murdered in the street. The novel is appositely named, the pungent odour of garlic is omnipresent throughout the book, whether in the stench that rots in the fields or in the soup that is a delicacy to the starved prisoners, but most significantly, garlic is present as the common factor binding all the characters. The shrivelled slivers of the plant that are raked up with the dust symbolise the ruined hopes and happiness of the farmers of the Paradise County. The garlic is also used to protest like the ballads of Zhang Kou, when the farmers dump them in front of the government office.

The author uses stark realism, occasionally toned with the magical, to depict the situations, often smeared with sordid, grim details. The narrative technique is interesting, interspersing the past and the present, but it failed to build the required suspense. (Or I might have been a slow reader since I read the ebook version). Mo touches upon several issues apart from the state’s dictatorship, such as the preference for a son, neglect of daughters, society’s rigidity on arranging marriages, lack of education, the inequality among the peasants and the party officials, the horrible, unhygienic conditions of the prison and the sham in the name of justice. What I felt lacking in the novel was a sense of transcendence (except for the some of the arguments of the defence counsel) which is a part of exceptional books. However, it might be that the scope of the novel does not allow for transcendence, the famished, uneducated masses are unable to rise above their conditions and blames their fate. The authorities do not betray any sense of mercy or even realisation, even though they are tied to the monstrous system. Everyone has been portrayed as a villain.

China follows a system, which I feel, has the ill effects of both capitalism and socialism, a free market with focus only on growth and also dictatorship of the state. China had introduced economic reforms in 1978, while this book speaks of the later half of 80s. It shows the real picture behind China’s growth story. Despite being the fastest growing economy, the truth remains that 2/3rd of China’s population depends on agriculture and is largely left out of the economic boom, says this report of South China Morning Post.

Thanks to Nerdilla Book Club members for choosing the book, and special thanks to Arindam for sharing the ebook. 🙂

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Of Afghanistan and Hosseini’s novels

Afghanistan was simply a rugged terrain shrouded by mists hovering over the Hindukush mountains, tucked away in the north-west corner of India to me before I read Hosseini. When it came to the people, all that I could imagine were Kalashnikov-wielding fundamentalists and faceless, veiled women. When I was in my early teens, Afghanistan often made to the news headlines, thanks to 9/11, Osama bin Laden and George Bush’s ‘War on Terror’.  I had even collaborated with my dear friend Suchismita to write a poem called The Afghan Child for our school souvenir. I have lost both the poem and Suchismita, all that I remember was that it described a child in the war-ravaged country and how we had struggled to find the words to fit the rhyme and metre. Like Hosseini’s novels, the pain of losing Suchismita still haunts me whenever I think of Afghanistan.

However, my interest in Afghanistan was triggered long ago, ever since I read Kabuliwala by Rabindranath Tagore. I had always known that loving fathers like Rahmat existed among those Kalashnikov-wielding fundamentalists. Tagore too, deals with loss of innocence but Tagore never gave a first-hand account of Afghanistan.  Later, it was Polo who urged me to read The Kite Runner in the first year of college. The shrouds of mists vanished and I could see the mighty Hindukush mountains, ravaged by years of pain. They housed tales of tarnished innocence and eventual redemption, although smeared by that tragic sense of loss, that yearning for times that were never to come again. The times when Amir and Hassan proclaimed themselves the sultans of Kabul or that pomegranate tree, under the shade of which they recited verses from Rustam and Sohrab. Hosseini’s use of short, staccato sentences makes the pain all the more poignant, makes the reader ask for answers about the brutality of circumstances or fate. I was impressed with the little touches he puts in at the most unexpected of places. Like the serendipitous meeting of Amir and a former professor of Kabul University, who was begging in the streets, who told him much more about his mother than his Baba had ever done. Besides the main plot, Hosseini subtly adds the condition of Afghanistan under the Talibans, where professors have to go begging in the streets. (The film version conveniently dropped this scene, so don’t go by the film only and read the book!) This was the book that gave life to the rugged terrain. Kabul became a bustling city with children flying kites, streets smelling of kebabs, women teaching in universities, Rumi and Hafez being recited often.

After this book, I collected enough facts about this country, the Soviet invasion and the creation of Taliban, the reign of the kings and further back in history, the Anglo-Afghan wars, of how this country has always been a part of the Great Game. And after all the war against Taliban, they speak of reconciling with the ‘good’ Taliban! But, Afghanistan was no longer foreign to me. When I went to the trade fair in Delhi, I enthusiastically purchased walnuts from an Afghan trader. I came to know that a person I have known had been to Afghanistan during King Zahir Shah’s reign, and he fondly described the country and the people.

Reading The Thousand Splendid Suns was a different experience. I have read the book twice and both the time, the description of the pain and suffering numbed me. This book was fraught not just with pain, but the agony which we often fail to imagine and perceive. The misery of existence is beyond the comprehension for us, we who live smugly inside cocoons of comfort, and take it for granted, even when many of our brethren continue to be deprived of the basic necessities, such as anaesthesia.  That subtle touch of Hosseini that I loved the most in this book is Laila’s father taking Laila and Tariq to see the Bamiyan Buddhas. Ancient Afghanistan, or rather Gandhar, a land which had once been swept away by Buddha’s message of peace, has turned into a battlefield where the dogs of war have been unleashed.

Now, we have And the Mountains Echoed. I found a lot of hue and cry over this book. Unlike the other two books, this one deals with multiple narratives, of Pari and Abdullah and the different people who touch their lives at some point of time. The canvas is a much wider one as the novel takes us to different parts of the world. My only complaint regarding this book was that the episode in Tinos, Greece was a bit long drawn and that the characters of the protagonists- Pari and Abdullah should have been developed more. Especially Abdullah, we hardly know about the adult Abdullah except for Pari’s (his daughter) account. I also wanted to know about Roshi, Parwana and wished for a reconciliation of the next-generation people with Iqbal’s children. As some of my friends, I too wonder why the author left all these as loose ends. But again, I argued that life is more about such loose ends which are left untied and novels always reflect life. Instead of the stark daylight showing us all facets of a character, Hosseini chooses to give us a glimpse of each of them, as the moonbeams would of a person, and leaving the rest for the reader to imagine. Apart from that, I loved the beginning of the novel, a folktale which alludes to the rest of the story.  And the sublime note of tragedy that pervades the mind when I feel that Pari should have known what the box of feathers really meant. But if she had known, it wouldn’t have had that touch of transcendence. The transcendence that the author speaks of when he quotes Rumi in the beginning.

All the three novels are united in that they describe the agony of life and end with a glimmer of hope. Amir’s redemption as he runs the kite for Sohrab, Laila expecting the birth of another Maryam and with Abdullah’s daughter finally reconciling with Pari’s children. Although I like The Kite Runner best, I love these two books as well. And I am certainly not disappointed with the third one.

If you call me a Khaled Hosseini fan; yes, I am. Proudly so.

P.S. Thanks to Sir’s blogpost. It inspired me to write this post.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2013 in Life and Times, Tributes, Uncategorized