General ramblings

He was forbidden access; the past refused to admit him. It only reminded him that this arbitrary place, where he’d landed and made his life, was not his. Like Bela, it had accepted him, while at the same time keeping a distance. Among its people, its trees, its particular geography he had studied and grown to love, he was still a visitor. Perhaps the worst form of visitor: one who had refused to leave.

– The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri.

The book’s theme is very similar to her previous works – Bengali immigrant family, struggles encountered while making a life in the US, memories and long lost relations back home in Calcutta. Overall, a storyline that leaves one very dispirited. Somehow, there are nuggets in all her works I can relate to; perhaps one of the main reasons why I continue to read her books, although they are nowhere as great as the first one, “The Interpreter of Maladies”. For example, the quote above.

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General ramblings

A Book Meme

1) What author do you own the most books by?

Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood and J.K Rowling

2) What book do you own the most copies of?

I maintain only one copy for each book.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?

No? Didn’t even notice.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?

None.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life?

Harry Potter series and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?

I don’t remember. Probably something by Enid Blyton or one of the Nancy Drews.

7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?

Not to sound pompous, but I never pick up a book that I know I won’t like. I read extensive reviews before choosing my reading material.

8) What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

The Trial by Franz Kafka. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is good too. I even enjoyed The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. The Stranger by Albert Camus and Leviathan by Paul Auster.

9) If you could force everyone you know to read one book, what would it be?

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?

Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood or Arundhati Roy? I’m heavily biased. Sorry.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?

The God of Small Things again. This meme is getting boring.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?

The Blind Assassin by Atwood. It would be incredibly difficult.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.

I seriously don’t remember. I do remember this dream I had in which I was starring with Imran Khan. 😛

14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?

Ugh..that shit by popular writers like Sidney Sheldon, Jeffrey Archer, Danielle Steel etc. I used to read these when I was in my early teens…not exactly an adult.

15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?

Disgrace by J.M Coetzee

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?

I’ve seen only Macbeth enacted on stage- this was when I was in school and I had free passes for a play that had been organized by Rotaract Club.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?

What kind of a question is this? How is this related to books? I have some Russian friends and they are wonderful people. Never befriended any French person, but I’m sure they are nice too.

18) Roth or Updike?

I don’t really care.

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?

Don’t care

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?

Has to be Milton

21) Austen or Eliot?

T.S ELIOT!!! I am in love with “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?

Has to be the previous 3 years because I’ve been very caught up with academics and my work life.

23) What is your favorite novel?

Same as #9

24) Play?

Haven’t read too many. Dunno what to pick.

25) Poem?

Anything by Pablo Neruda or T.S Eliot.

26) Essay?

I’ve read some really good ones by Paul Auster and Salman Rushdie. Difficult to choose one.

27) Short story?

O. Henry stuff.

28) Work of nonfiction?

Culture and Imperialism by Edward Said.

29) Who is your favorite writer?

J.M Coetzee, Arundhati Roy, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, George Orwell, Paul Auster, Naquiz Mehfooz…so many.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?

Paulo Coelho

31) What is your desert island book?

The Little Prince

32) And… what are you reading right now?

A lot of graphic novels…weird that this meme didn’t ask me for a name. I would highly recommend Blankets by Craig Thompson.

Got this meme from here. Feel free to tag yourself.

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General ramblings

Review: Unaccustomed Earth

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.

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

“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.

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General ramblings

There was no system to soothe the unfairness of things; justice was without scope; it might snag the stealer of chickens, but great evasive crimes would have to be dismissed because, if identified and netted, they would bring down the entire structure of so-called civilization. For crimes that took place in the monstrous dealings between nations, for crimes that took place in those intimate spaces between two people without a witness, for these crimes the guilty would never pay. There was no religion and no government that would relieve the hell.

Kiran Desai; The Inheritance of Loss (2006), p. 200

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General ramblings

Unaccustomed Earth

My mom told me that Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri will be released tomorrow, April 1, 2008. I can’t wait to read it! I didn’t really like The Namesake much. It almost read like a Bollywood movie script (no wonder the movie did so well and found so many takers). The movie was good though. The Interpreter of Maladies was an amazing book and the fact that this unreleased book is also a collection of short stories, makes me excited. The theme is pretty much the same- Bengali family, living abroad and dealing with the typical first generation immigrant family emotions. The treatment is supposedly new. I’ve read a number of glowing reviews on the internet. In fact, the book’s been sold out on Amazon. I’ll probably go to Borders or Barnes and Noble and get a copy tomorrow.

Now…only if Arundhati Roy would write another book. 🙂 I haven’t yet gotten over The God of Small Things, even though I read it more than a decade back, during the time it was released.

By the way, what is it with Google Books? The entire book seems to be accessible? Do no Evil?

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Books, Fiction, India, Indian Politics, Life, literature, Short Stories, Thoughts

The Honest Corporator

Nadkarni had received his transfer order for the 60th time in his 25 year career. His superiors were running out of places to transfer him to. They had sent him to the most arid regions of Maharashtra where water visited taps as sporadically as sense visits an imbecile. They made him live in areas where electricity hadn’t been invented but all their efforts were in vain since in the end, the man remained as stoical as ever. When the politicians, whose campaigns were funded by the restauranters and merchants whose shops bore the brunt of Nadkarni’s honesty noticed that punishments didn’t affect him, they resorted to bribes. After all, it is said that everyone has their own price. Unfortunately for them, they never discovered what Nadkarni’s was. It was said that no deals could be made under Nadkarni’s table because he bred scorpions there. Needless to say, his honesty earned Nadkarni more enemies than friends. Due to the continual shifting, his children suffered; they had changed more than 15 schools and as a result, didn’t make many friends. The pressure of adapting to a new environment once in a few months also took a toll on his wife’s health, especially since she was a diabetic. His family often wondered how life would’ve been if Nadkarni had been venal. Overtly, they gave him great mental support, never complaining about how nomadic their existence had become or how they had to travel in a battered down ambasaddor while his peers rode in air-conditioned Japanese cars like princes but inwardly, they led shattered lives. Their only property was a two bedroom apartment in a seedy area of Pune in a building that wasn’t even occupied anymore. The apartment had been stripped completely-lights, fixtures, faucets and even screws, by its tenants over the years. If they could’ve robbed the walls, they would’ve taken them too.

Nadkarni and his family entered the outskirts of Pune early in the morning. As he had expected, nothing had changed. If anything, the encroachments had multiplied. In the narrow strip of suffocated land that was hardly wide enough for a single bus, the traffic ran two-ways. At the very edge of the road, just as the tar ended and the mud began, shops rose up. Private property invaded public areas like an ominous domestic quarrel pouring out into the neighborhood. The city was a bad joke on its population.

Realizing that his time was short, since big cities had richer places and people, Nadkarni began doing his job, which was to destroy all encroachments on government land. The first one was a high end disco in the commercial district of the city; it was a popular get-away for college students and young professionals and was owned by an MLA. Just as the wrecking crew was setting up, a notice arrived. Without reading it, Nadkarni knew it was from his superiors who always discover clauses and legal barriers at the last minute to prevent the demolition of the property. Sliding the unopened envelope inside his pocket, Nadkarni gave the order for the disco to be torn down as it was occupying land originally meant for a garden. An impeccably dressed man, who looked like the manager, ran towards him and implored him to stop.

“You cannot do this”, he blurted out, “do you know who owns this place?”

Unfazed, Nadkarni told him, “Yes, the Government. Now get out of my way and stop wasting my time”.

The manager frantically pulled out his cell phone and spoke to his master, sweating profusely as he did so.

“yes…yes sir…I’ll tell him…I know, I know…don’t worry Sir, I’ve the situation under control”

Then he spoke to Nadkarni.

“My boss tells me that we could arrange something, come to a mutual understanding, get what I mean?” He said, smiling shrewdly. “a small token of his respect for the government”

“How much is he offering?”, Nadkarni asked him and the manager seemed relieved. It was true, every man had his price.

“We can discuss that inside, over a glass of Scotch or if you’d prefer something else, we have that too. Our bar is well stocked you see, in order to handle contingencies like this”

“ah, nothing like a good drink eh? I see you know how to treat your guests”

“of course, of course. After all this is the hospitality business and we are always hospitable to our guests, even those who threaten to ruin us”, he unctuously said.

“Please lead the way, I’ll follow you” Nadkarni offered politely.

Inside, the disco had a gothic kind of decor with gargoyles springing from every corner and chains hanging from the cieling. The place was unoccupied since it was very early in the morning, an inauspicious time for bars in general as since time immemorial, night has always been the best drinking companion.

The manager took out two glasses from the freezer and began pouring a golden colored liquid into them followed by soda. Then using a pair of silver tongs, he took out some ice cubes from an ice bucket and dropped them inside the glasses. They sank to the bottom producing a steady stream of bubbles that looked like miniature pearls.

The manager lifted his glass and Nadkarni lifted his own. The glasses clinked and the manager said “cheers”. He quickly finished his drink in one gulp and saw that Nadkarni hadn’t touched his drink.

“What is the matter?” He asked him with an air of concern, “don’t you like Scotch?”

“I never drink on the job”, Nadkarni told him matter-of-factly.

The manager didn’t know what to say. It seemed to him that the fellow in front of him was deranged.

“All right then. Let’s get down to business”, he said seriously “name your price”

“You can’t afford it”, Nadkarni told him bluntly.

“You don’t know who my master is”, the manager told Nadkarni arrogantly. “He buys people like you wholesale”

“Then pay me the opportunity cost of not constructing the garden”

The manager didn’t understand.

“Are you joking?”

“Which is”, Nadkarni continued, “the price of the happiness of thousands of people”.

“Are you mad?” The manager shouted, getting up from his seat, “stop talking nonsense”.

“I cannot accept checks. Pay me in cash, right now”.

The manager again pulled out his cell phone and started speaking to his boss.

“Sir, this fellow is completely mad, he is talking all nonsense, some opportunity cost crap…yes..yes Sir, I’ll put him on”.

“hey, you”, he said addressing Nadkarni rudely, “My boss wants to speak with you”.

Nadkarni took the phone from him. The manager wore a sadistic expression on his face that seemed to say, “he is in for it now”.

“yes…yes…I understand…no…of course, I know who you are, thank you, you’re very kind”

He finished talking and handed the device back to the manager.

“So now do you get it? What did the Boss tell you?”

“That he will have me transferred if I touch his establishment”

“Aah, I told you not to bring him into this, we could’ve handled this between ourselves. Anyway, I’ve a lot of work now, its time you and your men cleared off”

“it is. Unfortunately, your master doesn’t know how many times I’ve been transferred”

“What did you say?” The manager asked him, in utter disbelief.

By then, Nadkarni was out in the sun and gave the final go-ahead. The Manager watched them trembling as a bulldozer razed the construction to the ground.

That incident earned him a lot of fame. A photograph of Nadkarni wearing a yellow work helmet appeared in the local newspaper a few weeks later under the letters, “Honest man or Honestly Mad?”. The article was as follows:

“Amit Nadkarni is an icon of integrity in today’s corruption ridden society. Where most people would have given up and succumbed to the pressure, he refuses to back-down. The past few weeks have been hectic for him as he moved from one street to another tearing down all encroachments upon public property. Since he arrived here, he was demolished six hotels (all of them three-star), four dance bars, one disco, four restaurants and twenty three paan stalls! Wherever he goes, he creates an aura of fear and respect around him. He bows to no one, maybe not even God. The world needs more heroes like him”.

The journalist who wrote the article was fired the next day. Someone else replaced him and another article about Nadkarni was written, this time, brutally criticizing him.

“Nadkarni is a menace to society. He thinks of himself as a modern-day Gandhi whose mission is to bring peace and integrity to a troubled world. He takes it upon himself to demolish whatever he sees fit to be demolished. Neither does he obey his superiors nor the will of the populace that has clearly expressed its concerns over the loss of such fine establishments that have been the pride of our city. It isn’t surprising that he has been transferred more than anyone else in this country, maybe this planet even. It is time the people stood up to bullies like him”.

A week later, an international channel broadcasted a program on Nadkarni, praising him in the same manner as the first article written by the journalist who was fired. The entire country suddenly knew about this hitherto unknown government servant who was literally turning the earth inside out to stand by his principles. Everyone said that he would receive a national award from the president of India. The local channels aired his activities all day long. Wherever Nadkarni and his crew went, journalists from TV channels followed behind them closely. But Nadkarni quietly went about doing his job, which was supervising the demolition of private buildings on government land. He neither accepted interviews nor gave speeches. If someone called him a hero, he would politely shake his hand and move on with his crew. During his tenure in the city, he destroyed many more illegal establishments ranging from cheap motels to elitist wedding halls, all of which were brilliant examples of constructive destruction.

Gradually, people started getting bored of watching the same thing over and over again. They wanted something else to focus their attention on, like a crispy sex scandal involving Bollywood actors or an international match between India and Pakistan and within months, Nadkarni was back to anonymity. His brief stint at being popular was over. That was when the bureaucrats decided to sink their claws into him. They claimed that the building in which his apartment was situated posed a safety hazard as it was more than 20 years old and constructed from inferior quality cement. The only piece of property he owned in the world had been given the death sentence. Unfortunately, they couldn’t compensate him for this apartment as the legality of the land on which it stood was questionable in the first place and they pointed to a law suit-“The state of … vs. ….” . Nadkarni read this and in the same non-nonchalant manner in which he had tucked the envelope he received outside the disco into his pocket, he slipped this envelope inside his pant. The next morning, he got news that he had been transferred. He got inside the battered ambassador with his family and as he was leaving the city, everything he had demolished seemed to have been re-built. His wife sobbed silently next to him in the car and the children remained silent.Nadkarni knew it was the opportunity cost of being honest.

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Untitled

nikhilkumar.jpg

Nikhil sent me a copy of his first book, Untitled, by mail. He blogs here at WordPress. He’s an MS student at SUNY Buffalo and will be starting his PhD in Genetics, Cell Biology and Anatomy this Fall, 2008 at the University of Nebraska. Oh, and he’s also an avid chess player and I wouldn’t want to play with him again. I lost to him miserably the last time we played chess. 🙂

I’ve been able to read only two short stories till now. So far, I’m really liking it. According to me, the book dwells on different facets on love. Nikhil proves the fact that a writer doesn’t need to be old or experienced to take the reader on an emotional roller coaster. I’ll try to write a detailed review once I’m done reading it.

“If Love comes to you and says, “I hate you,” you feel sad; but when Hate comes up to you and says, “I Love You”, you start to think whether you are a sadist…”

-Nikhil Kumar

I wish him luck for his PhD program and success for his soon to be released, second novel, which I’ve had the pleasure of reading. 🙂

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