I read two novels recently- Summertime by JM Coetzee (my favorite author, by the way) and The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.
Summertime is a 2009 Booker Prize Finalist. I chanced upon the novel while perusing through the New Arrivals section at Barnes & Noble. I sat on a plush couch for more than 2 hours and read 100 odd pages. I had a feeling that the store associates will probably kick me out for reading the book for free. Of course, nothing of that sort happens in the US. India, yes. Anyway, I went to the Saint Louis County Library the next day and got a copy of the novel and spent the next couple of hours absorbing each word. Coetzee manages to transpire me to a state of bliss every time. My first book by Coetzee was _Disgrace_- early 2000, probably. Summertime is semi biographical and the third installment of the series; the other two, Boyhood and Youth, I haven’t read. Coetzee comes across as a detached and an intellectual person in the novel. Someone who is not capable of loving anyone. Someone who is very personal. The book is set in 70s for the most part- a time in his life when he had just returned to South Africa from the States, when he was still struggling to find a foothold as a writer. He projects himself as a single man in the novel. In real life, he was married with two kids. (Got to know after doing a quick Wiki check). The book doesn’t disappoint me one bit. Again,this might be because I read a Coetzee novel after a gap of 5-6 years.
The White Tiger was an interesting read. Unfortunately, it didn’t teach me anything about India that I don’t already know- how corrupt the entire system is, how drivers employed by middle class families back home hoodwink their masters, how poor their families are etc. Adiga’s execution is brilliant though. There is a twist in the story and that is what sets this novel apart from many others. Did it deserve to win the Booker? I don’t know. In a match between Summertime and The White Tiger, Summertime wins hands down for me. Of course, Coetzee (two time Booker winner, Nobel Prize in Lit.) versus Adiga (one time Booker winner, budding author) is not a fair race. I guess I’m just mad at the Booker committee for only shortlisting Summertime. I can see why they did that- they do not want to give the general public the impression that they are biased towards one author. They probably want to give new writers a chance. But shouldn’t the slate be wiped clean every year? Shouldn’t each book be judged entirely on its own merit and not on the merit of the author? Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful to the Booker Committee for introducing me to great pieces of Literature. I do wish that the ultimate winners were a little more worthy though. I think Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things was a very well deserved Booker Prize Winner. The White Tiger is not. The book is witty and entertaining even though it is not a literary masterpiece. Something is lacking though. It leaves much to be desired. I have Adiga’s latest work, Between the Assassinations lying on my bookshelf. I will return to him after reading something else.
As the great day approached, Indians thanked their varied gods and rejoiced with special prayers, poems and songs. Poetess Sarojini Naidu set the theme in a radio message: “Oh lovely dawn of freedom that breaks in gold and purple over the ancient capital o . .!”
lessing with Ashes. Even such an agnostic as Jawaharlal Nehru, on the eve of becoming India’s first Prime Minister, fell into the religious spirit. From Tanjore in south India came two emissaries of Sri Amblavana Desigar, head of a sannyasi order of Hindu ascetics. Sri Amblavana thought that Nehru, as first Indian head of a really Indian Government ought, like ancient Hindu kings, to receive the symbol of power and authority from Hindu holy men.
With the emissaries came south India’s most famous player of the nagasaram, a special kind of Indian flute. Like other sannyasis, who abstain from hair-cutting and hair-combing, the two emissaries wore their long hair properly matted and wound round their heads. Their naked chests and foreheads were streaked with sacred ash, blessed by Sri Amblavana. In an ancient Ford, the evening of Aug. 14, they began their slow, solemn progress to Nehru’s house. Ahead walked the flutist, stopping every 100 yards or so to sit on the road and play his flute for about 15 minutes. Another escort bore a large silver platter. On it was the pithambaram (cloth of God), a costly silk fabric with patterns of golden thread.
When at last they reached Nehru’s house, the flutist played while the sannyasis awaited an invitation from Nehru.
Then they entered the house in dignity, fanned by two boys with special fans of deer hair. One sannyasi carried a scepter of gold, five feet long, two inches thick. He sprinkled Nehru with holy water from Tanjore and drew a streak in sacred ash across Nehru’s forehead. Then he wrapped Nehru in the pithambaram and handed him the golden scepter. He also gave Nehru some cooked rice which had been offered that very morning to the dancing god Nataraja in south India, then flown by plane to Delhi.
Later that evening Nehru, and other men who would be India’s new rulers on the morrow, went to the home of Rajendra Prasad, president of the Constituent Assembly. On his back lawn four plantain trees served as pillars for a temporary miniature temple. A roof of fresh green leaves sheltered a holy fire attended by a Brahman priest. There, while several thousand women chanted hymns, the ministers-to-be and constitution-makers passed in front of the priest, who sprinkled holy water on them. The oldest woman placed dots of red powder (for luck) on each man’s forehead.
Tryst with Destiny. Thus dedicated, India’s rulers turned to the secular business of the evening. At 11 o’clock they gathered in the Constituent Assembly Hall, ablaze with the colors of India’s new tricolor flag—orange, white and green. Nehru made an inspired speech: “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge. . . .At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”
And as the twelfth chime of midnight died out, a conch shell, traditional herald of the dawn, sounded raucously through the chamber. Members of the Constituent Assembly rose. Together they pledged themselves “at this solemn moment . . . to the service of India and her people. . . .” Nehru and Prasad struggled through the thousands of rejoicing Indians who had gathered outside to the Viceroy’s House (now called the Governor General’s House) where Viscount Mountbatten, who that day learned he would become an earl, awaited them. There, 32 minutes after Mountbatten had ceased to be a Viceroy,* Nehru and Prasad rather timidly, almost bashfully, told Mountbatten that India’s Constituent Assembly had assumed power and would like him to be Governor General.
The people made it their day. After dawn half a million thronged the green expanse of the Grand Vista and parkways near the Government buildings of New Delhi. Wherever Lord and Lady Mountbatten went that day, their open carriage, drawn by six bay horses, was beset by happy, cheering Indians who swept aside police lines. A Briton received a popular ovation rarely given even to an Indian leader. “Mountbattenji ki jai [Victory to Mountbatten],” they roared, adding the affectionate and respectful suffix “ji” usually reserved for popular Indian leaders.
Now & then Nehru (who sometimes shows the instincts of a traffic policeman) harangued the crowd to be more orderly. Once he espied a European girl caught up in the swirl. She was Pamela Mountbatten, the Governor General’s 18-year-old daughter. Nehru literally slugged his way through the crowd to rescue her, brought her to the platform.
In the Council House the Constituent Assembly heard Mountbatten take the oath as Governor General.†”Regard me as one of yourselves,” he told them, “devoted wholly to the furtherance of India’s interests.” Then he swore in the new Indian Government. Messages of congratulation from over the world were read. The most original was a greeting in verse from Chinese Ambassador Lo Chia-luen. It read:
India be free!
Won’t that be
A Himalayan dream?
How absurd an idea,
That never occurred to me!
Freedom’s Architect. Mountbattenji drew the biggest applause of the day when he said: “At this historic moment let us not forget all that India owes to Mahatma Gandhi—the architect of her freedom through nonviolence. We miss his presence here today and would have him know how he is in our thoughts.”
The Mahatma, who more than any other one man had brought independence to India, was not in New Delhi on the day of days. He was in troubled Calcutta, mourning because India was still racked by communal hatred. (In the Punjab last week, even more than in Calcutta, communal warfare blazed. Nearly 300 were killed.)
Gandhiji had moved into a Moslem house in Calcutta’s Moslem quarter, which had been assailed by his fellow Hindus. He appealed to Hindus to keep peace. Angry young Hindu fanatics broke up a prayer meeting at his house. For the first time, Indians stoned Gandhi’s house. Gandhi spoke sadly to the crowd: “If you still prefer to use violence, remove me. It is —not me but my corpse that will be taken away from here.”
But on Independence Day even Calcutta’s violence turned to rejoicing. Moslems and Hindus danced together in the streets, were admitted to each others’ mosques and temples. Moslems crowded round Gandhi’s car to shake his hand, and sprinkled him with rosewater. For the disillusioned father of Indian independence, there might be some consolation in the rare cry he heard from Moslem lips: “Mahatma Gandhi Zindabad” (Long Live Gandhi).
*Inl London, the King-Emperor became plain George VI, King of Pakistan and of India (just as he is King of Canada and other dominions beyond the seas). Workmen took down the bronze plate in Whitehall, reading “India Office,” replaced it with a painted wooden sign reading “Commonwealth Relations Office.”
† Another colonial power, France, announced that the 203 square miles on India’s east coast which she still rules will be organized as the five free cities of Pondichery, Karikal, Chander-nagore, Mahe and Yanaon, with locally elected governments, within the French union.
Found this meme on Lallopallo‘s blog and got instantly tempted to draw up my list. I’m supposed to make two lists- each in a different language. I’m fluent in only four languages (English, Hindi, Bengali and Marwari), but I listen to a variety of stuff because music really has no language. I’ve come up with my “Indian” list here.
I’m a big fan of Sufi music. I have a big list of Sufi songs that I enjoy listening to. And some old Hindi movie songs. As per the rules, I’ve restricted myself to only ten here. No particular order.
#10- Tujhse Naraaz Nahi Zindagi from the movie Masoom- Gulzar’s lyrics brings out the pain and joy in your heart. Literally. Beautifully sung by Anup Ghoshal and composed by the maestro R.D Burman.
#9- Wedding Qawalli by A R Rahman- This is from the noteworthy show Bombay Dreams. Can’t get more Sufi than this. Sukhwinder Singh is the singer. I don’t really like him, but I think he’s done a wonderful job with this one. You can listen to it here on Youtube.
#8- Silli Hawa Choo Gayi by R.D Burman and Lata Mangeshkar- This is an old song from the movie Libaas, which I haven’t watched. I don’t know when I started liking this song. Not sure if you’ve heard of it, but I go nuts every time I hear it. I’d written about it a long time back.
#7- Tere Bin Nahi Lagda by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan- The man who has given us some of the best Sufi numbers is no more with us and it is almost a tragedy. This is my favorite Fateh Ali Khan song. I’m sure you have heard/seen this song before. It used to be a hot favorite:
#6- Yeh Lamhe Yeh Pal Hum from Lamhe- Maybe it has something to do with the deserts of Rajasthan. Maybe it is Sridevi or maybe it was the controversy that engulfed this movie in the early 90s because of the unconventional theme. I’ve been a big fan of this movie and its songs. This one is my clear favorite.
#5- Gurus of Peace by A.R Rahman and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan- Too good to be true. This is the best thing to have ever happened: two legends of music coming together to give us some of the most unforgettable melodies. You can listen to this song here.
#4- Piya Haji Ali by A.R. Rehman (Movie: Fiza)- I love this area in Bombay. And I love this song too. Didn’t like the movie much, but I haven’t been able to get over this song!
#3- Ae Zindagi Gale Laga Le by Ilayaraja (Movie: Sadma) I’ve been searching for the Tamil version of this song. If anyone knows, please leave me a comment or write an email.
#2- Pachai Killigal by A.R. Rehman and Yesudas (Movie: Indian)- Kashtiya Bhi Ladh Gayi from the movie Hindustani for Hindi movie goers. I prefer listing songs in their original dialects, unless I’m unaware of the origin, that is. I rediscovered this song a couple of months ago on Youtube. I’d almost forgotten this movie’s soundtracks. Kappaleri Poyachi is a close second. I actually like all the songs from this movie. Difficult to pick a favorite.
#1- Bombay movie theme music by A.R. Rehman- One of the best OSTs I’ve ever listened to. I don’t think I can ever get tired of this one. I’ve been listening to it ever since the movie came out in early 90s. I really liked the movie back then and haven’t watched it ever since. I’ll try to watch it in Tamil this time (with subtitles of course).
Like you can see, I have a big A.R Rehman hangover. It has nothing to do with Slumdog Millionaire or his Oscars. I’ve always been like this since I heard the songs of Roja as a kid. My mom knows it all too well. I wish I could meet him once. I don’t know what I would do, seriously. I love his voice and his music. I can’t imagine anyone else singing the songs that he does. Hard to find someone who is more down to earth than him. I planned to write my favorite English songs too, but I lost track of time writing this post and listening to some songs. I’ll be back with Part-II soon. (sooner than four months for sure).
P.S- I have to have to mention this song by Pankaj Udhas that I really love- It’s called “Chandi Jaisa Rang Hai Tera”. Here’s the video:
What happens when a Pakistani blogger says “Mumbai Attacks…Pakistan? I don’t think so!”
About 600+ people descend on his blog to beat him up virtually. Read here.
Here’s the choicest comment:
Who said Pakistan is not involved in Mumbai attacks? Pakistan role is there in every terrorists attack happend in this world. All Pakistanis are terrorists. If i had a given the chance, I Would prefer to bomd the entire pak. No more pakistan in the world. It’s gone. Even Obama wants to hit the pak, because it is epic center for all terrorist activities. What kind of idiots u r? behaving like sadists. No goal nothing. Killing the innocents is the great thing. There is something fundamental wrong in the Islam. U need to correct it.
I’m getting a little sick in the stomach, seeing Mumbai terror attacks coverage on CNN. Most of the times, their news is “stale”, in comparison to the news posted on Twitter.(Just search for #Mumbai). Citizen journalism is turning out to be more comprehensive, well-timed and exhaustive compared to traditional media. Lots of articles on the net that are talking about the power of twitter and bloggers. Lots of bloggers like Arun Shanbag, Vinu etc. have come into limelight because of their responsible journalism- they care for you and me. News channels cover these events only for their own good, to increase their TRP ratings etc.
I have only been a moderate user of Twitter- a couple of tweets here and there. Nothing more. This incident, however, has changed the way I feel about Twitter. It has the potential of becoming a stronger force to reckon with. A force fueled by ordinary people like you and me.
I came across a nicely put Google spreadsheet that has the list of people who are either injured/dead. My eyes welled up with tears. Two of my friend’s friends at Leopold Cafe and another friend of my friend’s younger brother, who was interning as a chef at Taj Mahal Hotel, were shot dead. I was speechless.
Of course, there are haters who talk about the side effects of Twitter and how lots of Tweets were only rumors. I have only one response to these haters- don’t news channels run their business based on rumors too? What’s new?
People have issued statements saying that “people need to tweet responsibly and stop airing all important news on Twitter; this can be used as a weapon etc”. I understand how this can be dangerous, but complainers need to find a way to deal with it! Restricting the use of social networking sites is tantamount to taking away our freedom of speech.
How many citizens sitting in the comforts of their homes and tweeting away to glory have actually done something (donated blood, tried to find information for people who are yet to hear from their loved ones etc.) is questionable. And I’m sure there are others who think this is a great party and a trendy topic to talk about. Leaving such people aside, I do hope that some good comes out of it.
Related Reading: In Mumbai, Bloggers and Twitter Offer Help to Relatives
Happy Diwali to anyone who’s reading/staring-gazing at this post/blog! Look around you and you’ll see how privileged you are to be surrounded by the people who love you. If you are reading this post, chances are that you have a computer or that you can at least afford to pay some money in a cyber cafe. So many in India don’t even have enough money for two square meals. Make sure you share some of those sweets with a kid who is less privileged. Maybe even buy a new dress for that lady who cleans your dirty dishes/house everyday. Spread the love and the joy! Not just today, but everyday. And don’t burst those crackers and pollute the environment and indirectly contribute to child labor. It’s disheartening to see pet dogs, cats etc. suffer because of the selfish interest of some others. Use that money to buy a book for someone. Or just donate it to charity. Sorry if I sound preachy!
Oh, by the way, it’s getting really cold here and this is what I saw on the windshield of my car after I turned on the de-frost:
The ice started melting in the form of a hat! Didn’t really have time for this because I was running late for work. Freebies of life, if you will.
The best way to make a come back is to write about movies! And I happened to watch Sarkar Raj in the theater today. Before I write about my thoughts regarding the movie, let me thank you all for emailing and leaving me lovely comments. I really missed blogging- reading your blogs, writing and reading comments. And a lot seems to have happened while I was away- Nita‘s blog pictures got stolen by Hindustan Times, Nova’s blog got a face lift, Ish’s results came out and he passed with flying colors- these are the changes that I can remember for now. But it’s good to see that things are otherwise just the way I left them! So, I’ll try and play catch up with your posts and comment. Thank you all for sticking with me.
Surprisingly, I liked this movie quite a bit. And I haven’t seen the prequel- Sarkar. This being the first movie post Ash-Abhi’s historical wedding, I decided to give it a try. Plus, I’ve always liked Ram Gopal Verma as a director (even though he has made some very embarrassing movies like RGV ki Aag etc.). The plot of the movie is quite simple- Amitabh and Co. are people’s Gods and they do what’s best for the people of Maharashtra, even though it might mean killing his own son, who stands on his way of achieving his aim.
Aishwarya Rai plays the role of a CEO of an international energy firm and wants to construct a power plant in Maharashtra. She seeks the help of Sarkar (Amitabh Bachchan) and Shankar (Abhishek Bachchan). What follows is a lot of blood shed and power politics. Tanisha Mukherjee also has a small role, as Shankar’s wife. But she’s conveniently killed off a little before the interval, to make way for Aishwarya’s and Shankar’s love story.
Let’s talk about the positives first. Thankfully, no songs. The direction was quite tight in almost every scene. Abhishek Bachchan delivers yet another power packed performance. Tanisha looked really pretty, even prettier than Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Please don’t hate me for saying that. The dialogues are long and windy, but they go well with most of the scenes. Amitabh Bachchan is his usual self- neither too good, nor too bad. He delivers his typical straight-face-better-than-thou type of performance.
The negatives now- I know that Ramu probably tried to get creative with the lighting and his camera angles. But he’s not Wong Kar Wai or Krzystof Kieslowski. He spoiled some really good frames because of this. Most of the times, I was trying to move my head in different directions, trying to see the actors’ faces. But of course, I couldn’t do it because you see, that is what the director doesn’t want you to do. Probably the actors had a bad bout of acne and told Ramu to hide half of their faces?
Aishwarya Rai failed to impress me, despite her designer suits. She looked less like a CEO and more like a model. Even role wise, she doesn’t really have much to do in the movie, except for serve as a dummy in almost all the scenes. She’s just there…to listen to the men rant. And try to look pretty, with tons of lip gloss and kajal to go with it.
The background score could have been much better. There is this particular number called “Govinda Govinda” that keeps playing during every serious scene. The speed at which the chanting of the word “Govinda” increases can only be compared to the speed of your treadmill ramp.
Despite these idiosyncrasies, the movie kind of works and is definitely worth a watch. I’m quite choosy when it comes to Hindi movies and I would say that this is one of the better ones out there.
One of the most impressive things about this book is this opening quote that is being flashed all over the internet-
Human nature will not flourish, any more than a
potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long
a series of generations, in the same worn out soil.
My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far
as their fortunes may be within my control, shall
strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.
“The Custom House”
Other than that, I didn’t see too many positives. Part I of the book has five stories, out of which Hell-Heaven had already been published in The New Yorker. Part II of the book has three short stories, based on the two characters, Hema and Kaushik. The first story from this part, titled Once in a Lifetime, was originally published in The New Yorker too; Jhumpa Lahiri decided to expand on it and that is how we get the other two stories.
I was expecting quite a bit from this book, considering the fact that it’s a collection of short stories. Having previously liked The Interpreter of Maladies, and having not liked The Namesake that much, I felt that this book might just be the literary piece that can seal the fact that Lahiri is a good writer, at least as far as short stories are concerned. I don’t see that happening though. I understand that writers tend to write about people, places and surroundings that they are familiar with. But there are many others who don’t stick to the familiar path. Lahiri seems to have beaten the topic of elite, Bengali Indian American immigrants to death. I can almost predict what her next character will be like- He/she will be a resident in the Cambridge/Massachusetts area, will only attend MIT/Harvard/Stanford, will marry a girl/boy of his parents’ choice in Kolkata and bring her here, go on to get a PhD and then a nice German car. The second generation will soon follow and the Indian immigrant will try his best to get his child into another Ivy a.ka. Envy League. The kid will be the talk of the town if he fails to get into an MIT/Harvard/Stanford. Oh, and the child will almost always marry a non-Indian and then feel awkward around his parents. Throw in some philandering, some desi eccentricities, garam masala and some memories of India and you have a Lahiri novel!
The only stories that I truly enjoyed were Unaccustomed Earth (from Part I), Once in a Lifetime (Part II- Story One) and Year’s End (Part II- Story Two). So, yes, 3/8 is not that bad.
I don’t want to write about every story in detail because it doesn’t make sense to do so. If you want to read about every short story, then take a look at NY Time’s review, which is quite detailed. Or read the book instead.
If Lahiri wants to write another novel, then I think that she might have to get over her comfort zone and pen down something new, something that we already don’t know about.
I’ve realized that majority of the Indians are the same everywhere, be it India or the US. In fact, US brings out the worst in Indians. My first experience with an Indian couple, in fact, was on the very first day I came to the US. It so happened that I was getting late for my connecting flight and being new to this country (just stepped out from the plane that brought me to the US from India) and the system, I was in need of some desperate help. I made the mistake of talking to the Indian couple behind me. This is how the conversation went:
Me: (Really worried and tensed) Hi! I have a connecting flight in less than 30 minutes and this waiting line for the security clearance is very long. Do you have any idea what I should do?
The husband (typical Indian) replied: No.
Yes, that’s it. That’s all that he told me and that too in a very rude tone. His condescending tone was too much for me to take. I really got pissed off. Spoke to an American Airlines employee and then got ahead in the line and managed to catch the connecting flight.
Lesson Learned: Ignore all Indians in the US henceforth. Don’t even look in their direction.
I guess almost all the Indians who come here have similar experiences with other fellow Indians. The end result is that we prefer to stare at our shoes instead of looking at an Indian’s face. Even if you come across a desi by mistake, you need to act as if you didn’t see him/her. And never ever smile or say “Hi!”. Greetings are reserved only for Americans here. You can continue to be your usual rude self in front of other desis. And you have the full freedom of being a kanjoos too. Tip a little less in Indian restaurants. Who cares what other desis think? Correct?
What made me write such a sarcastic post? That’s incident no. 2! I was going through some classifieds because I really need to buy some household items. A desi was selling a very nice vacuum cleaner for a good price. So, I called her up and ask her for a picture and some specifications. She took roughly 50 minutes to email me a picture- something that should have taken only 15 minutes, at the max. I can hear you saying that maybe she couldn’t find her digital camera or maybe she is not very comfortable with the camera! Okay, her being late can be discounted. What happened next can’t be discounted! I called her back and told her that I’ll be there at her place in an hour to pick up the vacuum cleaner and that I’ll pay her in cash.
I got ready and was about to sit in the car when my cell phone rang. Usually, I don’t answer my cell phone, unless it’s a professional call. Thank God I answered it. This is how the conversation went:
She: Hi! My name is XYZ and you spoke to me sometime back regarding the vacuum cleaner.
Me: Of course, I remember. How are you?
She: Fine, thank you. I just wanted to let you know that the vacuum cleaner has been sold.
Me: Sold? Yes, to me right? In fact, I’ll be there at your place in 15-20 mins. I’m about to leave.
She: No no…I mean…someone else came now and they liked the vacuum cleaner and took it.
Me: Took it? What do you mean took it? I thought I told you that I’ll be there at your place in an hour’s time?
She: I thought that you’re not too sure…so I gave it to them.
Me: (Temper rising)- That’s very unfair of you. I was just about to leave for your place. You could have at least called me up once before giving it to someone else.
She: I’m sorry…I really thought that you don’t want it.
Me: Don’t want it? Then why would I tell you that I’ll be coming to get it? I don’t have all the time in the world to do window shopping at your place.
She: I’m sorry…
Me: Thanks a lot. No problem.
(Literally slammed the cell phone).
Lesson learned: Nothing ever changes Indians. They are all the same. Just put them in charge of the US and see what’ll happen to the professionalism level and the corporate structure of this country.
Maybe I’m being very general in my observation, but that’s me. Dealing with a desi here makes me feel as if I’m back in India. It’s only when I enter an Indian restaurant and eat a really horrible plate of pav bhaji for $5.99 that I realize that maybe…I’m not in India. The Indian food here just doesn’t taste the same. It tastes too “home made”. Instead of pav bhaji buns, I was given hot dog buns. WTF?! If only the Indian food level here would improve…