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My Captain Haddocks and Obelixes

“Think where man’s glory
Most begins and ends
And say my glory was
That I had such friends.” 
― W.B. Yeats

Dedicated to (yes, I am intentionally cryptic here): the one with a pure smile, the mint, the goddess of speech, the lover, the one as beautiful as the moon, the welcoming one, the abode of god, the flame, the dew, the one who never extinguishes, the silent ascetic, the limitless one, the tradition, the calm beauty, the one who unites with god, the king who reigns as a saint, the one who knows and another one who doesn’t have a fancy name

“All Scorpios are highly selective in friendships. They’ll keep the worthy companions through an entire lifetime, and freeze the shallow, the common or the unworthy.” Linda Goodman

I was interested in zodiac signs only after I found people exclaiming, “Oh! You’re a Scorpio!” as if I am something to be scared of. After I had read all that I could get hold of regarding Scorpios, I conclude that this is a trait that fits me undoubtedly.

One of the few chemistry lessons that I had enjoyed was the structure of an atom. That the nucleus is at the centre and the electrons navigate around the nucleus in their respective orbits or shells: ‘s’ shell being the closest one and ‘f’ farthest. I have seen my friends in the same way.

I have no all-conclusive definition of the word ‘friend’. I am mostly a live-in-my-own-world kind of person and do not have too many ‘friends’ in the sense it is generally used. The ones to whom this post is dedicated is the longest list I could make, and the aspect that is common to all of them is care. Now that I am more than a quarter of a century old, I don’t think the list is going to change much. The ones I mentioned may fall out, but I do not foresee much addition from here. I have been completely honest, I don’t intend to hurt any of you through my assessment for I love you all and I believe that I am fortunate to meet you, fellow-sailors, as I sail my little boat in the ocean of life.

Although all relationships require a degree of friendliness to grow, this post is only for those whose foremost identity to me is ‘my friend’. I have left out all those who would get in touch once in a while (mainly when they need me), only to disappear and emerge months, even years, later. And the ones who wish me on my birthday (after seeing the reminders in Facebook), ask me what I am up to these days and then forget all about me. For these two kinds, I remain indifferent and pay back in the same coin- birthday wishes. I neither bear grudges nor expect more of them. I prefer to be a small atom. Aren’t the bigger ones unstable and radioactive?

Only four (or three? I give the benefit of doubt) neutrons and protons inhabit with me in the nucleus. These are the ones with whom I connect both intellectually and emotionally, with whom-as the fox in The Little Prince says-I have established ties at the highest level. I hardly speak unless it is necessary, but when I find a worthy companion, I never stop. They are the ones with whom I never stop. They have the same interests as I do and we discuss everything, from philosophy and religion to Harry Potter. I share with them all that I read and write (even the ones I do not publish) and they take care to respond and criticise, they can be very harsh critics at times. They never seem to tire of my ramblings and will listen both patiently and impatiently. They listen, that is what matters. They care to know what I think. They will push me to write and think and do. Often, I am astonished to see their faith in what I can accomplish. They are the ones who take the trouble of calling me up although I don’t. The ones who will share with me every time they get to do something new or good, to see or to eat, even when I can’t keep my promises. They are the ones who give without calculating what they would receive in return. I am always the one sending them return gifts, they begin it. It seems I am quite selfish when it comes to them! I promise to make amends. These are the closest ones whom I allow inside that impenetrable nucleus. I do not need shields or masks before them and I can tell them whatever I feel, I don’t need to pretend and put up the sham. I do not care if they forget my birthday. But they care enough to make sure that they don’t! Birthdays or no birthdays, these are the ones I treasure most. They are the ‘kindred spirits’, as Anne Shirley of Green Gables would say. Yes, they are the Piglets, Diana Barrys and Gilbert Blythes, Huck Finns, Heathcliffs, Rons and Hermiones, the tunes that sing in harmony to my song. As Walt Whitman says, “I no doubt deserved my enemies, but I don’t believe I deserved my friends,” I don’t believe that I deserved them. The most these friends can do for me is to be my friend for the rest of our lives, which I believe they will.  The nucleus gives the atom mass, so they are the ones that make me what I am in a big way. Interestingly, the Big Four belong to the four different elements- fire, earth, air and water- according to their zodiac signs. No more hints. 😉

There are some who don’t bother to know what I think or read or write. But that does not mean they do not care. They do that in their own way. They would not think twice before helping me out if I am in a fix. I hardly converse with them, often not because of a need to converse, but to show that I care. And I run out of things to say to them. But I know I can turn to them when I need them, and they will be there. They are the sentinels of electrons that guard my atom-fortress. I don’t think they are any less important, it is these that determine the nature of the element, don’t they?

Most mentioned above, however, fall somewhere in between. The ‘s’, ‘p’ and ‘d’ shells. There are variations of many kinds in this group. They confide in me with their secrets and can be great confidantes, too. If they ever read what I write, it is not because they are interested in what I am thinking, but that they do not want to hurt me. Some of them however do occasionally enjoy reading what I write. They too would help me in times of need and can often inspire me, show me the right way and give valuable advice at times when I feel lost. I can discuss many things under the sun with them (but not all) and they will be honest with me. We share a beautiful companionship, but our interests differ, and they do not exactly fit into the mould of ‘kindred spirits’. They care about my well-being and I care about them, but the attachment is limited because we are made of different stuff. They are the particles in motion, constantly shifting from one orbit to another, but they can’t break into the nucleus, however close their orbits hover around. One of them has the potential, I believe, but we do not spend much time together. With some of them, I had shared a close camaraderie at some point of time in my life, but not any more. Despite that, we keep in touch, help each other in times of need and recollect old memories.

This reminds me of another tribe whom I have not dedicated the post to. The ones who had been great companions at some time and have moved on. I have tried to reach out to them many times, but they have not cared enough to reciprocate. They are those autumn blossoms that do not bloom again in spring. I cherish my memories with them, but with a dint of sadness. Although I wish I should have better invested the time I spent to reach out to them with my ‘kindred spirits’, I do not bear any ill-will. I shall like to see them do well in their lives. And there are the ones who need me at times and I help them. But I rarely need them. As long as they do not turn into the fiends mentioned later, which hopefully they would not, my best wishes are with them.

I have no siblings but I have huge extended families on both sides. I have witnessed the hypocrisy and betrayal of the ones I had loved dearly. From estranged brothers to slandering aunts, I have seen it all and I think I know better who my real family consists of. Not all my family is as bad as it sounds here, I love them, but yes, some of them have hurt me much more than any friend ever has. So I need to set my priorities right. It was Arjun, a brother, who killed Karna (and that too, treacherously), not Duryodhan, the friend. My friends are the family handpicked by my soul, not arbitrarily determined by my genes. 

Then, there are the fiends. Shallowness and hypocrisy are my two words for them. They are the ones that pretend to be the most caring, do not hesitate to ask for my help when they require it and again, will not hesitate in bad-mouthing me in public or spreading rumours about me. I can go on, but I do not want to spoil my post spewing venom at them. Instead, I would thank them for awaking me from the slumber, for prompting me to take stock and be grateful to my core circle and henceforth, become completely private.

The last one in the dedication list is a childhood playmate who spent time playing the age-old game of ‘rannabati‘ with me. She was the one who shaped the leaves into ‘luchis’ and brought the fine sand to make rice. Her mother was the maid in our house. I had taught her how to read back then and she listened when I read out the poems. But she hated school and soon dropped out to work with her mother. She was married off at an age when I was still playing cricket in the streets and the only problems that haunted me were geometry riders. (She is hardly a year older than me). Now, she is a mother of two school-going children, has separated from her husband and works as a maid. Even today, she cares to find out how I am doing and wishes me well.

The first one is my Helen Burns. I had always wanted to write something on what she means to me but words have failed me. I befriended this vivacious girl with plaits and ribbons when I was eight. Besides those silly games, sillier quarrels, bitter fights, we shared a unique solidarity. She was the one ‘kindred spirit’ since those days, before I knew the term. She was the one who taught me to imagine and invent. To dream. The one with whom I pretended to be an explorer, own islands (we had chosen the Falkland Islands as they are side by side) and go on treasure hunts in secret tunnels and dungeons under huge castles. Now, I realise that she was the Treasure. My memories of school are incomplete without her smiling face. From my first Famous Five book to Little Women, from discussions on Mahabharat to slambooks, she remains. As we grew up, I knew of that aura of melancholy that pervaded her, but I failed to live up to our friendship. I failed to be Jane Eyre. I had been too selfish and mean to reach out to her when she needed me the most, to make her share her grief with me and I can’t forgive myself for that. Perhaps, I did not deserve her. I guard everything that I still have of her: the photo-frame, an inane game in which we pretended to be super-sleuths, the slambook page and the memories. Dear Suchismita, rest in peace. Indeed, there will be a time when we meet again.

And the rest of you, thank you for being there. I will not let go of you. You won’t either, will you?

Time will answer that better. Till then, I choose to trust you.

Signing off, with love, the one born at the end of the evening

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Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Life and Times, The Age of Innocence, Tributes

 

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

 

Random travels and teaching Santro

A post was long due. But I couldn’t decide on what to write. It is strange that when I was studying for the examinations I found so many ideas of posts wriggling in my head and now, that I have the time to type them down, my mind is absolutely empty. I blame the heat, but I guess that my mind is idle and no ideas would spring forth on it. I need to get back to the daily grind to get those ideas once more. Since I can’t find what to write on, I would take recourse to randomness.

I visited my maternal uncles’ house in Bishnupur, a favourite haunt since childhood. A place where I have the luxury to sleep till 10.30 in the morning. Where special dishes are rustled up in my honour. It is an odd house though. I had found little treasures in the most unexpected of places. But now having grown up, I find much of its old-world charm lost. But more about the house later. It deserves a separate post. I would rather focus on my experience of teaching my nephew, little Santro, who is eight years old and in Class 3. I have noticed that some of my nephews and nieces ( I have loads of them! ) are a bit too fond of me. And Santro is one of them. He remains glued to me as long as he stays with me. But that didn’t help when it came to teaching him.

Santro came with his books to me. He was learning adjectives, he said with an impish smile. When I asked him what an adjective was, he gave me a perfect example. That was the end of studying. His next question was whether I would go to the mela in the evening. And he declared that he was going to have icecream in the evening. I rebuked him gently once to focus on studying. Gave him a few sentences and asked him to identify the nouns and adjectives, which he did with a few mistakes. I explained his mistakes and taught him what a verb was. But I doubt how much he listened to me. Soon, he was imitating the steps of Oppa Gangnam style and dancing all around. Now, I was strict and scolded him. He paid no heed and I told him I am going to report it all to his father. He settled down for a moment after the threat. But only to coax and cajole me to go to the mela in the evening with him. That was the end of the study session.

In the evening, he came to me again because he got stuck on two problem sums. I told him to read the problems and he shouted them aloud. With a little help, he solved those on his own and what pleased me, much to my relief, was that he did not divert to anything else. For the next two days, he did not even sit down to study with me. He told his mother that I was not in the right mind and mood. There ends my journey as a teacher.

I visited Salboni from Bishnupur, the house of Polo, my friend. It was a beautiful place with trees and shade but the heat prevented us from roaming around. I saw the mint and money being printed, it was almost like visiting Gringotts, when I came to know that I was standing over the vault and the ceiling was all metal above. Only there weren’t any gold or dragons.

The rest of it was uneventful. And now I have to be back studying for the mammoth mains. I hope the ideas pop up once again, so that I can write some interesting stuff.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Masumiyet Müzesi

A more serious post. I chose this title over The Museum of Innocence because it has a distinct oriental ring to it which I love.

Ever since I read this book, I wish to visit Istanbul, sit at a Turkish café sipping tea and stare at the last rays of the sun colouring the waters of Bosphorus Strait and the Sea of Marmara, contemplating on Kemal who, according to the ones who couldn’t perceive the depth of his passion, had ruined his life pining after a ‘shop girl’.  Yet, Kemal had the conviction to say at the end when commissioning Pamuk to write his saga (another brilliant method Pamuk uses, making himself a character of this book), “Let everyone know, I lived a very happy life.”

His fulfilment lay in creating the museum for his beloved, he had realised that the ways of the high society to which he belonged was nothing but a sham, since they lived a life of deception and shallow relationships, as that of Mahomet and Nurcihan, or Sibel and Zaim. Under their veneer of happiness, these people deep down know the deceitfulness among them, and not surprisingly, fail to fathom the profundity of Kemal’s condition.  It is when Kemal meets Fusun, a distant cousin who works in a shop, that he can see through the artificial nature of Sibel, who scorns at a gift given with love because it is ‘fake’, not of the original brand. The fake handbag is a metaphor not only of Sibel, but also of the fake Turkish upper class society of the 70s at large, a society caught between the tempestuous culture of the West and the conservative Orient. Kemal finds little pleasures of life in the areas away from the touch of this class, where the ordinary people battle it out for their daily lives. The Innocence, to which the museum is dedicated to, is the innocence of Fusun’s soul, her blithe nature and her charms which do not betray any hypocrisy. Her eyes still retain the light of innocence, not ‘scarred by life’.

As for weaving the ethos of Istanbul, or rather Turkey as a whole, from the description of military coups to the flimsy film world, Pamuk is the master of his craft. I read that he has even created the Museum in reality, and the book indeed has a map and a free ticket stating ‘single admission only’.

But wondering once again on the question at the beginning, I think Kemal is right. Ostensibly, he doesn’t win his beloved and his life takes a tragic route. But Kemal had savoured those happy moments, recollected them, giving more meaning to those moments, treasuring them through the objects (Space), not allowing them to drift away in the linear River of Time. For him, life solely remained in the intensity of these magnified moments which drowned other mundane moments. Museums are meant to store Time in Space and “After all, isn’t the purpose of the novel, or of a museum, for that matter, to relate our memories with such sincerity as to transform individual happiness into a happiness all can share?” Hence, when the novel ends, I silently agree that Kemal was happy.

P.S:  A friend of mine warned me, ‘Don’t go to Turkey now or in near future, until the constitutional amendment issue is sorted out. Erdogan is going mental.’

 

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Falling stars

Sleeping under the stars fascinated me for long. I remember watching constellations mesmerised when I was six or seven from the terrace of our apartment. On a summer night, a power cut made it unbearable to stay inside the rooms, and my dream of sleeping under the stars came true. I had imagined fairies descending on earth from the stars, playing with mermaids in picturesque gardens full of flowers and fountains and departing with daybreak.  Later, the idea of enchanted ceiling of Great Hall at Hogwarts attracted me and I decided to give the same effect to my room, at least in night.

I had bought two packets of fluorescent stars and planets (complete with a piece of Jupiter, a Saturn with rings, and a few ones which served as Mars, Uranus and Neptune) from the pavements of Esplanade to give the starry-sky look on the wall opposite my bed so that can stare at those glowing ‘heavenly’ bodies till I fall asleep. I had to give up the idea of putting them on the ceiling because of the fan. I had pasted them with care, with the planets in proper sequence, a huge pole star and a few comets and smaller stars scattered in between. Things went on well for a month, and now the cheap glue is causing them to fall of the wall. My Mars, Saturn and Jupiter has fallen off, so had the pole star (which I glued back) and two shooting stars. Reminds me of ‘the stars going out’ in Arthur C. Clarke’s The Nine Billion Names of God. Now, I am going to glue them back with Dendrite.

‘This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper.’ – T.S. Eliot

P.S. I must mention that I would have never known The Nine Billion Names of God if Suvro Sir hadn’t narrated the story in one of those mesmerising story-telling sessions in his class. Thank you Sir, for that gem of a story.

P.P.S. I found a poem by W.H. Auden which I would like to add to this post.

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2013 in Uncategorized