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Posts tagged ‘India’

The End of January

The first month of the now not so new year is over and with it, some of newness of 2019. One month into the year, work is as crazy as ever, like I never went away and the usual cycle of Dad in the hospital made me realize the more things change, the more the remain the same! But the key is not to give into the doom-gloom but believe and hang on and with some good friends and great books, life is not all that unmanageable!

So what did I read this first month of 2019?

Henrietta’s War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942 by Joyce Dennys (Thank You Cleo for the great recommendation!)

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How happy we were, and how little we realized how nice it was to be lazy and happy, without fear and anxiety and horror knocking at the back of one’s brain like a little gnome with a hammer.

Bet Me by Jennifer Cruise

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I’m gonna have to get my eyes checked. I can’t see crap until it’s right in front of me

The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’ Neil

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“I am as flawed as any” he said

“I know, I see you, you know!”

Early Indians by Tony Joseph

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When the first group of modern humans walked into India, perhaps no more than a few hundred people in groups of twenty or twenty-five, trekking all the way from the Arabian peninsula over hundreds of years or perhaps even a thousand or more years, did they have a cosmology of their own that tried to explain the inexplicable? And did they have any inkling that they were entering a special place that more than a billion of their descendants would one day call their home

So I read, one classic, two popular fiction and one non fiction! I can unequivocally state, of all the 4, Joyce Dunning’s book was the best and maybe for the month of February, I should stick to tried and tested, aka, Classics.

Speaking of Classics, I am reading, Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope as part of and Jane and Cleo have joined me for a read along! This book was a personal favorite of Trollope himself and is considered to be one of the best introductions to his work! It is a chunkster at 700 pages, but we take it slow and easy through February and if need be March! So join us for this Victorian sojourn and together, we can enrich our minds and have some fun while doing it!

 

 

India Through The Ink….

It cannot be easy to write about a country or a people, not your own. It becomes even more challenging if you have not lived in the country you are writing about or not interacted with the indigenous population of the same country. Even when you belong to the country, it is becomes difficult to capture the all encompassing details of the land and its people; therefore for someone not belonging to the same land, it remains an arduous and difficult task. And should that country be India, with it melting pot culture, checkered history going back to 7000 BCE and more than 100 languages, this task becomes infinitely more complex, difficult and challenging! And yet, authors, scholars and travelers around the world insist on writing about this country.

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If they have the brilliance of a William Dalrymple then, they settle down in the country and write prodigiously about it. Scholars like John Keay and the late AL Basham study the country for years before penning something so profound as India – A History and Michel Palin treks all over Himalayas before writing a book with the same name! I may not always agree with what they put forth, but I do respect the amount of love, patience and sheer effort into putting together, factually and not fictionally, that is not intrinsically their own. And this is key to the appreciation of these works; these authors do not have the luxury of editing something that they do not understand or cannot explain, into a “creative license”. The nature of their genres makes this impossible and hence my love and respect for these authors increase manifolds, especially for those writing non fiction, even if some of them, get the picture completely wrong!

Fiction however is whole different story; for years, now, India and her people have continued to fire the imagination of the world and especially the West. We have had many authors writing about India for a while, but with the British Colonial empire, India literally exploded into English literature like never before. Rudyard Kipling with all his love-hate for the the country, gave the world Jungle Book and Kim, both novels rooted in every essence to what this country is and stood for. EM Forster brought forth the racial divide, and the mounting tensions in the early 20th century India, in his polemic A Passage to India and Paul Scott captured the pain and the violence that tore apart a nation in the wake of partition of India, in his seminal, A Jewel in the Crown. And then, there stands, my personal favorite and the one author who despite her hereditary, truly was an Indian at heart, for she wrote of this land and her people, like she was one and her books resonate with the very feel and smell of India, as the country comes alive and grabs the reader – the inimitable Ms. MM Kaye. Not all her predecessors or even successors could write like Ms. Kaye wrote nor feel the power of her love, that made her stories authentic and Indian in spirit. But most of these authors belonged to an era where the understanding of the world and all her people was still limited; race and color still made a difference and there was significant paucity of information, which makes one more tolerant on the misses or the misinterpretation, and in case of Mr. Kipling, appreciate the story, without delving too much; not quite easy, but can be done!

This fascination with India in fiction, seems to found new resurgence in the 21st century and suddenly, I am astounded by the number of books based on India, has Indian protagonist or has roots in some way or form to this country. I was presently surprised by East of the Sun by Julia Gregson , tracing the lives of three young memsahibs to India as they set out as part of the “Fishing Fleet” to find suitable husbands. While historically, the book did not always jive, it did capture the society and morals of 1920s India beautifully, but the number of Indians were limited in this novel and I am not sure how the author would have fared with India and Indians as the main theme instead of a backdrop! Let me illustrate my point –  Life of Pi by Yann Martel and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, despite their astounding commercial success, left me cold in so many ways! And herein lies my irritation with modern authors; in these days of easy travel and access to all kinds of information, to constantly cater and pander to what is obvious crass commercialization of the traditional stereotypes of India is just astoundingly disappointing, if not downright infuriating! The first one has Spirituality and Tigers and a peace loving protagonist (gosh! what surprise!) and the second one goes to the other extreme of spirituality and slums and poverty! I am not even getting into books like The Art of Inheriting Secrets, by Barbra O’ Neil that has a Indian woman following her Aristocratic English noblewoman lover to England and then marrying an Indian man in a remote English countryside in 1940s England. In a country where woman are struggling to get their basic rights of education and independence established in 2019, that flight of fancy in 1940s is really taking the “poetic license” to fantasy. I am not denying the existence of strong women in 1940s, several existed including my grandmothers, nor am I denying the existence of homosexuality or marrying a man to keep up appearances, but all of that together in that time and age; that is way far out even for the West, but for the East, that is an impossibility of infinite proportions! Then of course we have the male modern Indian protagonist, who of course has curly hair, as Indian men never have straight hair and his brown ageless skin…what?? Also conveniently, the protagonist sprouts Rabindranath Tagore and his most cliche poems at the drop of a hat, because, of course our author never bothered to find a poet beyond the only one known in outside of India or even his other famous poems, besides the first one that comes up in Google. And just to add more spice, (of course its India so it has to have spice!) we have Indian restaurant and India food popping up every two pages! What really gets me is that even established and justly popular authors like Lucinda Riley fall into this trap of taking on a shallow understanding and wrapping up the story in all the trappings of exotic India. So in her, The Midnight Rose, where we of course have princesses and a handmaiden who has an affair and an illegitimate child and whose grandson again falls into the cliched curly haired brown skin hero. Ms. Riley took the lives of two real life Indian princesses, Princess Indira and her daughter, Princess Gayatri Devi and mercilessly intermixes and changes their lives, which in reality would have changed a very strong fabric of Indian history and Indian feminist movement. Again her protagonist while strong and strong Indian women were a reality but illegitimacy in 1920s India was not something that would have dealt with aplomb that Ms. Riley deals with, especially if the child has mixed parentage. In India where caste and affinity to your ethnic heritage, still form a large part of every day lives, a child of foreign parentage, in the early years of 1920s would have caused a havoc,  no matter which remote hilly village you hide in; infact more so there than in the bigger cities. These nuances, which are critical to understand and then portray the socio-cultural-historical narrative based out of this country is unfortunately getting more and more trampled in the competition to build a intriguing plot line with an exotic enough setting to seduce the reader. These books continue to impress upon the audience of the world, what has been stereotyped a thousand times about this country – tea estates, princesses, animals, slums, spirituality and such like! These books at then end of the day fail to bring forth, the actual India, which is a mix of all these things and so much more – there are good and bad people, there swaths of deserts and snow capped mountains, there is spirituality but there are also scholars, and while we love animals, we also can be kind and mean in equal measures and this has nothing to do with any of us being related to royal ancestry or not!!! To end, if you really want to read to about India, stick to non fiction or Indian authors or English authors circa 1850-1950s!

New Year & New Challenges ….

Happy New Year World! Here’s wishing everyone a joyous, prosperous & peaceful 2019!

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I do not want to go yada-yada-yada about first blank page on the book of 365 days and such like, but I do think that trying to constantly improve and evolve oneself is a journey and whether, we embark on it on Day 1 of the year or or Day 198, really does matter, as long as we move forward with the journey! Now as most of you are aware, moving forward with a evolutionary journey for me especially involves reading and reading good books, that open the world to me, makes me think and generally and hopefully makes me become better! Thus, it is only natural that one of the things that I have planned for 2019, is to read more and read better and as a consequence write more and write better!

However, I am also aware that we should not aim so high that a fall is inevitable; dreaming is good, but it is equally important, to plan the steps to that will help you achieve the dream! Long and short of this meandering monologue is that while I really would want to read and read a lot more (in fact, I have set myself the target of 100 books this year, after spectacularly failing to meet the Reading Goal of 60 Books this year and in 2017 in GoodReads!) I also am expecting a continued heavy work load and now being a year older and wiser, unexpected thunderbolts from powers that be, that suddenly and completely disrupt life! Therefore, in the spirit of being ambitious, with a modicum of sense, I am signing up for only one challenge – The 2019 TBR Pile Challenge, hosted by Adam, over at Roof Beam Reader.

This challenge helped me immensely last year and while I was not able to read all the 12 books I had planned and listed, I still managed to read quite a lot and some of them were absolutely marvelous and enriching! Therefore, I continue the pursuit of excellence again this year and share with you the 12 Books for this challenge with the alternates –

  • January – The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart
  • February – Orely Farm by Anthony Trollope
  • March – Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
  • April – The End of History and The Last Man Standing by Francis Fuokuyama (I had this in last year’s challenge as well, but then gave up!)
  • May – The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (Cleo, NEED HELP!!)
  • June –  A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
  • July – Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • August – Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  • September – Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp
  • October – Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker
  • November – Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy
  • December – Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

Alternates –

  1. And Quiet Flows The Don –  Mikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov
  2. Alaska by James Michener

So that’s my list! I am hoping for a better record than last year, for sure, but even more importantly, I hope to read some enriching and engaging literature. What are your reading plans for this year or any other plans for that matter?

The 24 Hour Madness – Special Summer Edition!

This post should have been up several days back, but work, as always intervened! Long hours and sometimes pretty horrible hours kept all good things at bay, including more reading and talking about a REVERSE READATHON! A Reverse Readathon! What is that, you ask? Ah! Let me enlighten from an explanation directly from the source – the lovely people at Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon : “we’ll start this readathon at 8:00 PM Friday, July 27 and run through July 28 at 8pm, Eastern Standard time, where we normally start at 8:00 AM Saturday. Still 24 hours.” Now for me, situated in between the borderlines of the Equator and Tropics, this is actually a Readthon in straight, normal hours and how in the world could I pass that up? Actually, let me rescind that, I would have never given up an opportunity for any Readathon, but this starting in early morning hours is kind of supra exciting!

Now for the books line up – since work has been so crazy lately, I have not had  the usual luxury to plan and consider and plan! Fortunately, I did manage to sneak in a spate of Book Buying a week before and that alone gives me enough ammunition for the  ‘great read’! So here goes my list –

  1. The Bengalis – A Portrait of a Community by Sudeep Chakravarty – Published in 2017, this book has gained a lot of appreciation for its nuanced and impartial socio-political portrait of a community split between two countries – Bengal in Eastern India & Bangladesh. I am very curious as ethnically, I belong to this community and this history with many of its finer telling on the Cultural Revolution in 1800s and the Partition in 1947, have close links home!
  2. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – A book that has been on my TBR for some time and a book I am very excited to start. Set in the immediate years after the Russian Revolution, it follows the life of Count Alexander Rostov as he stays in Moscow as an unrepentant bourgeois. I have never read any book by Towles but I have heard so many great things about this one, that I cannot wait to get started. Also this is historical fiction and historical fiction, set in a time and a place that I am always interested and eager to read about! So double yay!
  3. Augustus Carp Esq. by Henry Howarth Bashford – Another book lying in my TBR forever and one that I had major problems getting hold off! But finally I have managed to get a copy and I am on Chapter 4 and all I can say was it was well worth the wait! A satire of the best kinds following the life of an middle class Englishman at the turn of the century as he waddles, yes that the word, waddles through life!
  4. We Were The Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter – Yet another historical fiction, following the lives of the three generations of the Kurc family as they struggle in the aftermath of Poland’s conquest by Nazi Jews and are asked to pay the price for being Jews!
  5. Open Book – Always a good idea not to plan for an additional book as we always need that one book on the fly , when the very best laid plans fail!

That now is the plan for tomorrow, when I start for change, all bright and shiny at the early morn! This early morn may be a tad difficult as I am really a night person, but I will be there, by morn, for sure!

As always, I will run an update post and will be going nuts on Twitter (here) & Insta (here)! And now, nothing much left to do,except say, Let’s READ!

All About a Film….

Wener Herzog in his masterful book on art and filmmaking, A Guide for the Perplexed, referring to the filmmaker’s broader cultural responsibility said that, “We need images in accordance with our civilization and innermost conditioning, which is why I appreciate a film that searches for novelty, no matter what direction it moves and what story it tells….”  In an era of increased flash and dash and superimposed imagery, regularly churned from the mills of Hollywood or even from the shores of Bollywood, films which captures such ideals of reflections of civilizations and its conditioning are far and few to come by. If they do, they are often slotted under the broad category of” Cinema” or “Parallel Films” making one wonder, what is the true difference between “Cinema” and a “Movie” and what is parallel to the this parallel films. Rarely, does one come across, a film that combines the reflections of societal norms with a narrative, comparable to the plot lines of the more popular and what is termed as “Commercial Cinema”.

Panchaali, a film made under the flagship  of Pumpkin Entertainment, produced by Shweta Saraf and directed by Saurabh Bali, seems to fulfill this balanced nuance of reflecting the masochist tribal norms that still inflict, the Indian society in many parts as well a gripping narrative, that leaves the viewers breathless with a “what-happens-next” feeling. The film opens with 5 men waiting, for someone, on road, just off the main thoroughfare, of the big metropolis. Through their banter, it unfolds that they are all brothers and deal in land and politics. A white vehicle is then spotted by one of them and within a few minutes, all its passengers’ albeit one are killed due to non-payment of an old debt. This one survivor, the daughter of the family killed is taken hostage by the brothers and taken to their home. There the mother of the five brothers decides the faith of this girl, setting off a chain of events that would forever change this family and its history!

For those familiar, with Indian mythology, the resonance of the Draupadi’s tale from Mahabharata is very clear from the onset; however, that is where the parallel ends! The story then takes on a life of its own, wonderfully combining the details of an ancient myth and the modern day settings and reaction of both society and individual. It conveys the still traditional society of northern India, where a woman count for little and guns and violence still rules the day and makes for what is deemed as powerful.  At the same time, the film smartly in less than 40 minutes takes the viewers through a cataclysmic narrative, all the while clearly delineating the characters of plot, something many fail to achieve even in full length cinema! It is to the credit of the magnificent cast that this nearly impossible feat is achieved and despite an exceptionally talented ensemble, that competes for the viewers’ attention, by turns, outshining one another, with their talent, some callouts are necessary! Manav Mehra, who plays the eldest of the 5 brothers, is an experienced theater actor, who brings all his mastery of the craft to the screen; one cannot quite describe the eerie feeling, every time he looks into the camera. Bhanu Rana is yet another worthy talent and in his portrayal as the second brother, displays such strong raw raging emotions that come through palpably and the viewer feels both sympathy and irritation with him in turns. Nitin Rao as third of brother gives a strong controlled performance as the man, who knows he is better than his brothers and destined to be the king, but cannot quite bring himself to unhinge from the filial binds, though, he knows he stands to gain the most! However, the star of the film remains Nishtha Paliwal Tomar, conveying all the range of emotions that a woman torn from her moorings can convey. She is an absolute genius using  who is able to express a range of powerful feelings sharing with her the viewer her fear, angst and anger, making them cheer her on to survive, as she navigates through the most traumatic experience, that a woman can be forced into. The settings of the film convey exactly what it is meant to convey – vastness, desolation and captivity. The sights and sounds of a semi-rural culture in India, not too far from the metropolis, caught between ancient traditions and modern greed, assaults your senses, in every fine twist of the plot. While, there is much to appreciate in the film, there are some weak chinks in what can be seen as solid armor; most of the cast is tenured and bring all their expertise to camera, but some of the actors fail to emote anything and one wonders, that except for the one standard sly grin, which is expected to showcase everything from anger to lust, what does this particular character want to say to the audience. Also due to the duration of the film, some of the transition and changes of sentiments are not given enough time and the viewers expected to adapt to the changing psychological landscape of the character within minutes, which may make it slightly difficult to follow. But, despite some these minor shortcomings, the film is a brilliant effort, which is a testimony to the fact that with creativity, vision and a talented crew, an old story can be reinvented into a gripping modern tale.

The End of March….

Well, winter is officially over and the mild spring is about to end, and soon we will have the onset of the horrible Indian Summer. But for what it’s worth, March turned out slightly better than the first two months of the year; this was the first hospital free month for my father and though he is far from fully recovered atleast the litany of hospitals, tests, surgery is over and we are now in what seems like recuperating phase! Here’s hoping things continue in the same directions. This turn of events gave me more time to read and in fact, I was able to sneak away for a quick road trip to the mountains for a much needed break. Therefore, the end of March, needless to say, seems more peaceful than her predecessors and fingers crossed it should stay that way!

Now for my March wrap up post, which as you all now by now is a combination of combining from Helen’s monthly post of Commonplace Book post   and O’s ideas of  Wordless Wednesday . Here goes –

From My Date with History by Suman Chattopadhyay

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Such was my initiation to Kolkata ’71, which was neither just a city nor just a year, but a vivacious culture that bore within it everything that represented Bengal in an era which seems almost fantastic today!”

From The Rose of Tibet by Lionel Davidson

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I tell you, everything is melting. The Sun is shining, I swear it! The sun indeed shining, the track wet; the world running with glittering slushy water, and himself evidently, tramping through it, boots turning an endless treadmill, some inevitable burden at his back, constant arching light in his eyes!”

From The Dairy of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

IMG_20180311_171526482_HDR“Have a depressed feeling that this is going to be another case of Orlando about which was perfectly able to talk most intelligently until I read it, and found myself unfortunately unable to understand any of it.”

Scenes of Clerical Life by George Elliot 

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“The daylight changes the aspect of misery to us, as of everything else. In the night it presses on our imagination—the forms it takes are false, fitful, exaggerated; in broad day it sickens our sense with the dreary persistence of definite measurable reality”

From The Provincial Lady in London by  E.M. Delafield

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Pamela, very splendid, announces that I am writer and very literary, statement that has the usual effect of sending all the gentlemen right to the remotest corner of the room, from where they look at me over their shoulders with expressions of the purest horror

From The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

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You don’t know what it’s like trying to eat enough to live on and at the same time avoid fats and carbohydrates.”

From The Secret Books by Marcel Theroux

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“There seemed to be nothing special any more about the enchantments of fiction. On the contrary, in every area of human life, someone was trying to tell a story. Sports commentators, politicians, revolutionaries, religious leaders, business people, accountants, advertisers, actors – all were peddling selective and self-serving interpretations of the world.”

That is all for the month of March! Here’s wishing everyone Happy and peaceful April!

The Ocean of Tales

Yet another post that should have seen the light of the day earlier, atleast 19 days earlier. But then life continues to be challenging and we flow along as well as we can with the changing of the river course! Anyhow, late last year I had signed up for the the The Official TBR Challenge 2018 hosted by Adam at The Roof Beam Reader; and as part of the challenge, I had committed to reading 12 books through the year, that have been on my TBR the longest. The first book in this series was Kathasaritasagar by Somadeva, translated by Dr. Arisha Sattar.

Way back, as kid growing up in early 1990s, before cable and satellite television invaded Indian homes, most of us relied on the state funded Television channel for our information and entertainment. While options did seem limited, the quality was excellent and way better than what we are served today. The news was accurate, up to date and independent of any political influence; and the entertainment was top notch, comedy, drama, romance, all served with quality and sensitivity! One of the series that made an incredible impression, was this series of unrelated stories from what I now understand as ancient India. There were stories in stories, of princes and priests, of jackals and lions which captured an 8 year old’s imagination. My father told me that these stories had been taken from a book called Kathasaritasagar by Somdeva and it took me yet another 26 years before I actually found the book and read it cover to cover!

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Kathasaritasagar literally means Ocean of Stories was written in 11th century by Somadeva as the offering to Queen Suryavati, the consort to King Anantdeva, who ruled all of Kashmir, the northern most state of India. However, the tales are in itself older than 11th century and have been handed down orally, until Somadeva collated them together for this collection. Interestingly, the intent behind this effort was to divert the Queen’s mind even for a while, from the worship of Shiva and acquiring learning from great books!

The Book opens by Goddess Parvati, asking her consort, the supreme God Shiva to tell her a tale, that has never been heard before! As Shiva narrates the tales, they are overheard by one of his attendants, who latter narrates them to his wife, who happens to be Parvati’s doorkeeper! The doorkeeper then re-tells the story to Paravati, who is enraged at the audacity of the attendant and curses him to be reborn as a mortal Gunadhya, where he will remain, until he spreads the tale far and wide! Gunadhya thus eiled from heaven writes his tales Brhatkatha,(The Great Story) the collection of 7 stories and presents it to the Satavahana King who rejects it as inferior work. Scorned and dejected, Gundhaya begins to burn his stories and all but one are destroyed before a heavenly Prince named Naravhanadatta rescues the document.When the Satavahana King here;s this, he is entranced and asks that the  manuscript not only be persevered, but the story spread far and wide!  Thus begins the stories of Kathasaritasagar with beautiful maidens and their fearless lover, of jackals to advise the lion kings, of Brahmans who covet power, stories of statecraft and intrigue, of love and friendship, peopled with kings, mendicants, aesthetics, merchants, princesses, prostitutes, drunkards and gamblers, all who come together for a rip roaring adventure in ancient India!

To begin with, this book, unlike any other work in Sanskrit literature, does not provide any moral judgement; in a unique stand  of each to his own, this book talks of everything under the sun, from infidelity to greed to intrigue and it simply tells the tale. Women are crafty, so are men, but there is no moralizing in these stories! In yet another departure from standard Sanskrit texts. it does not talk about spiritual well being and the need for austerities to attain Nirvana; instead it delights on all earthly pleasures of love and generosity, of power play and intrigue and all earthly emotions! The tales despite being set in an era more than 2000 years ago, retain a sense of universality, with human interactions and emotions being as relevant today as 2000 years back! There is an element of what-happens-next that keeps the reader on the hooks and keeps the page turning! There is some timeline confusion, Nandas, the rulers of 300 BCE India, interact  with Rig Vedic Aryans, the latter preceding the Nanda’s by 1500 years! But considering the time it was written in and the oral narrative sourcing of the tales, such confusion is understandable. One thing that stood out starkly, as a commentary on Indian society is the status of women and those deemed as lower castes in Hindu society. Written in 11th century, it comes out clearly, while women were considered to have fulfilling lives only as wives and mothers, the reality is different – they had affairs, they remarried and even controlled property and finances in the absence of their husbands.  There is also immutability and fluidity in the caste system, the lower castes mingle with the higher castes and even compete for same rewards! Therefore, in yet another testimony that original Hinduism was a liberal institution, changed beyond its original complexion by zealots and subsequent invasions, which narrowed the position of women and lower castes and turned them into oppressed beings!

To end, this is one brilliant book, that needs to be read by anyone interested in India and her history and culture, that also just happens to be an all out entertainer!

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