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

Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize Lecture

Here’s an excerpt from Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize Acceptance speech:

In 1958 I wrote the following:

‘There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.’

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.
The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States’ actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America’s favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as ‘low intensity conflict’. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued – or beaten to death – the same thing – and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It’s a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, ‘the American people’, as in the sentence, ‘I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.’

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they’re interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.
Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don’t exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. ‘We don’t do body counts,’ said the American general Tommy Franks.

Last Saturday, I was at a pub with my neighbors and friends, having some beers and friendly conversation. All of us were desis- came to the US a couple of years back and have adopted this as the country of residence. I’m not sure exactly how and when we started talking about US politics. My friend was pointing out the general atrocities meted out by the Americans when it comes to other foreign countries. This instigated my neighbor who went on to say “We are not having this conversation. I came for dinner because I want to have some entertaining conversation. I’m not interested in talking to you about this”. It didn’t end there. He denied the fact that racism exists in the US. He denied the fact that having a non-Christian name is not normal in the US. He refused to believe that only recently, African-Americans were lynched in Springfield, MO. I’ve posted an excerpt from Harold Pinter’s speech here, hoping that even if a couple of people read my post, they’ll understand the seriousness of the political situation and become more informed about human rights. If this excerpt has piqued your interest even a little, I would strongly encourage you to watch the complete video or read the entire transcript. Thanks.

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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

America and Her Little Lamb

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It’s a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, ‘the American people’, as in the sentence, ‘I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.’

It quite simply doesn’t give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they’re interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Did I pique your interest enough? Please do me a favor and watch Harold Pinter’s Nobel Speech or read it online. It’s well worth your time. What starts off as a slow recollection of his life and works gather momentum and almost explodes with unflinching energy towards the end. There is such tremendous power at the disposal of writers and poets, something that has already been brought to the foray, thanks to Pablo Neruda in his poem I’m Explaining a Few Things. I wish many more would utilize this power to give fuel to their thoughts and guide others in the right direction.

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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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General ramblings

A Man Kills His Wife on Grounds of Adultery and Cheating

I read stuff like this all the time, but I don’t know why this one’s stuck to my mind since the past 36 hours or so. Some newspapers have built articles based on Orkut scraps left behind by people, known and unknown. Since when has Orkut become an authentic source of information? I remember reading similar articles when Minal Panchal was shot in the Virginia Tech massacre.

Perhaps this is good reason to activate those privacy settings in your Orkut scrapbook- even if you happen to die, people won’t hound your scrapbook. Google, of course, won’t delete your account, unless it has been notified to do so. I don’t know the exact procedure, but I’m guessing that it is very elaborate.

During times like these, I feel happy that I don’t use Orkut and that I’m not much of a Facebook user either.

Coming back to the killing case, does anything ever justify taking someone else’s life? For most of us, the answer would be no. It is only when the answer is a Yes that we get to read about it in the media. If you think that everyone is condemning this act, then think again. You will be surprised to know that there are tons of people out there (mostly men) who support Amit Budhiraja’s killing act. I was reading the scraps left in their Orkut profiles and going by that, people have given various justifiable reasons-

“..If the story is true about the affair, I don’t condemn your decision.. I feel sorry for the pain you must have gone through, insecure or not, there’s no man in this world who is going to have the woman he truly loves even in the thoughts of another person…” – If every man would kill a woman because of adultery and justice is meted out in this manner, then why bother having a judiciary?

“…You saved more than 3 people by killing just 2, you saved your parents, yourself and your relatives from the dowry harrassment!! You set the right example for others.”- Which brings me to the question of Dowry Harassment. The Dowry Laws in India have been deemed inadequate by lots of people, who feel that a woman can always file a false dowry harassment case against her husband and put the husband and her in-laws behind bars. Is it so simple? Of course not. So why exactly are we over-simplifying this issue?

I’m not denying the fact that there are women out there who misuse the law and undermine the genuineness of some other dowry cases. But an eye for an eye will make the entire world blind.

There are others out there who don’t know the couple personally, yet are hasty in drawing conclusions based on shaky premises. For example- Some are accusing Rinku of adultery and of cheating. Do we know her side of story? All that’s come to light is a 6 page suicide note written by Amit. And there are some more who have taken their hatred one step further and have abused Rinku’s office colleague, Arvind Kejariwal, of having an illicit affair with a married woman and for being responsible for the deaths. Why blame him? Why blame anyone?

I came across this quote sometime back, that tries to explain the psychology behind cheating-

“I’ve thought a lot about the psychology of cheating and reckon it flows largely from one thing – you don’t value yourself as a person: if you did, you’d end a relationship that was not fulfilling because, knowing how valuable you are, you’d be sure to find someone else.”

Why not just keep quiet, take a note of the matter at hand and move on? You don’t need to physically end someone’s life. This can also be achieved through mental torture…something like what V.S Naipaul confesses to have done. Isn’t he a murderer then? Why not put him behind bars?

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