Showing posts from 2007
My RevolutionsHari KunzruTo me, the most interesting thing about the book was the context – the England of the late 60s and early 70s was a bit of a revelation. It should have come as no surprise that there would have been a radical Left that threatened the Establishment, that there was something called an Angry Brigade that bombed London and had connections with leftist forces elsewhere and that there was an anti-American movement that culminated in anti-Vietnam protests. Strangely enough it did.
Hari Kunzru finally writes a book that completely captures my attention. Chris Carver alias Michael Frame is interesting in the sense that he has been at the centre of a time in history when people were really hoping for or dreading a (depending on your point of view) ‘revolution’.A time when people actually talked about things like “ The state claimed it was an expression of the democratic will of the people. But what if it wasn’t? What if it is just a parasite, a vampire sustaining itself o…
MiscellanyTwo books, two movies and a long-ish drive. That was my extended weekend in a nutshell.
The City of Falling Angels by Berendt was a kind-of-gripping read; gripping the way Shobha De and Stardust is. You read it with the feeling that this should not really interest you; that it is somewhat voyeuristic and not in any way adding to your grasp of the world and therefore should not be eating into your precious me-time. But read it you will. Because the setting is historic, romantic, beautiful Venice and the characters are people who have made Venice their home. Now that’s a rarity – there are just 70,000 of them! Berendt takes us to the heart of Venetian society, into their drawing rooms and with a fascination for royalty and big names that only an American can have, he gives us a glimpse into a world that is completely closed to a passing tourist. He starts off with an account of the fire at the famous Fenice opera house and in an investigative journalistic style, tries to unrave…
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

By Anne Tyler

My first taste of a contemporary American great. The initial impressions are of a certain quaintness, a chronicle of everydayness turned slightly crooked, of a peculiar sense of irony, wicked almost. It’s an interesting read, one that makes me want to explore further.

Tyler thinks this is her best work (though her most famous is certainly, The Accidental Tourist that was made into a Hollywood movie) and it is a superbly crafted one. The Homesick Restaurant is what Pearl Tull’s second son Ezra runs in American suburbia. It is where an ill-ordered and messy family gather every once in a while for family meals that never get completed. Pearl is a memorable character, proud and prickly, left to fend for 3 children when her salesman husband ups and leaves. She is not a perfect mother and her foibles leave their mark on her children, each of whom grows up to flawed adulthood. Cody the oldest is convinced that his younger brother Ezra is his mothe…
Lazy Poetry II

Slumber awaits
A window turning orange
It is tardy


Noisy shiny night
A thousand dreams flutter
And die in sleep


Mind says silly
Heart begs to disagree
The war goes on


Sun beckons flower
She responds hoping fruition
But withers when he sets


Close ones turn blurry
The world turns upside down
And unreal clarifies
Eve Green

Susan Fletcher
This is a lovely book with a distinctly fresh young voice. Her writing does remind me a bit of Arundhati Roy, though - unapologetically poetic in her use of words, there seems to be no holding back. There is something of the boldness and recklessness of the first novel in it (it is a first novel and a Whitbread prize winner at that). The language combined with the setting – the rough-hewn landscape of Wales, makes for pure theatre.
The plot itself is less electrifying - about a girl Eve Green, now pregnant and 29, reminiscing about the 8 year old she once was, brought to rural Wales from Birmingham when her young mother’s heart gives up on her. It describes her initial years at an unfamiliarly harsh and beautiful place that she grows to love; her slow discovery of her mother’s grand love story, her own conception and her father’s desertion; her friendship with Billy, the village idiot, who knows more than anyone else she knows and who still is in love with her mo…
The sun glinted on the moss-green water. The only sounds were of the oar on the water and the occasional bird caw. It was a long while since she had known this kind of serenity. Her mind emptied out, no niggling task to disturb it. No nagging ringtone, or the ping of the email. This was her time of cleansing her soul, washing out all the dark dinginess that had tainted it through the year. Her two weeks of complete ‘selfness’, where she was just with herself, her books, the water below and the sky above. And that delicious food, the unfamiliar vegetables – raw banana, yam, tapioca; the unpolished rice that was so healthy. She looked towards the shore she was passing. The coir-making looked tedious, but the lives out there seemed idyllic to her city eyes. The lush verdant green, the sloping tiled roofs, the washing hung out to dry; all spoke of a slow daily unchanging routine. She dreamt of that slowness, of savouring the moment, the words in front of her, the wind in her hair…
Life Before ManMargaret AtwoodIt’s ‘70s Canada. It’s a marriage that is not really one, at least not a good one. Elizabeth, Nate and Lesje (pronounced Lashia) are the characters that people it. Not one of them is particularly likeable. Elizabeth is scheming, manipulative and damaged by a nasty childhood. Nate is insipid, a bit of a loser and it’s difficult to see the attraction he holds for the women. Lesje is the most attractive of the lot – with her multi-religious East European background and her almost nerdish fascination for dinosaurs (a time before man), there is a refreshing un-worldliness about her. Yet even she turns nagging, conventional by the end.Life Before Man is a series of short episodes stretching through a time period of 3 years. It is a sharp and tight portrait of 3 people and their relationship with each other. It is a picture of Elizabeth and Nate’s rotten marriage, of her savagery arising out of a painful past that includes suicides of her mother and sister, an o…

Aah, for the lotus-eater life
Sloth-guilty, frown-free,
Head empty of whispered commands
An endless day ahead, maybe more.

Solitude, gathering thoughts
Forming a life of its own
On paper, fresh heavenly paper

Milky sweet tea, a rain-festered pane
The herb-aroma-ed kitchen beckoning,
The reds and the greens and the purple
Waiting for creation.

Aah, what would it take
To just be.
I am Charlotte Simmons
By Tom Wolfe

Wolfe is pushing 75. And he then goes and writes a book about college life at an Ivy League college in America. To write this typical journalistic novel, Wolfe apparently lived in a campus for a while to study life there. I guess I am Charlotte Simmons is what results when an old man observes and writes about young people and their lives – an account of a generation in pursuit of things that a man who has lived through WWII will deem superficial and inconsequential. Charlotte Simmons is a brilliant high school graduate from a really small town Sparta, in the back of beyond. She is the only one from her town who has ever been admitted to Dupont, a prestigious Ivy League college (apparently modeled after Duke). She comes to college armed with nothing more than a suitcase of unfashionable clothes and her mind. And in Dupont, she confronts a world completely different from anything she has ever known. She arrives wanting to live ‘the life of the mind’. Sh…
The Line of Beauty

By Alan HollinghurstHere is, at last, a new writer in my library. But my first encounter with Hollinghurst has been a bit of a shocker. The explicit gay sex scenes and the unabashed depiction of drug use overwhelm first impressions. This mix of coke, sex and exquisite language proves to be a heady cocktail.
Nick Guest is a guest, a paying one at that, at the Feddens, an upper class English family with political ambitions. He is an outsider, an imposter in the Fedden world of power, glamour and wealth. Yet, Nick with his passion for Henry James and his intimate knowledge of aesthetics is the true inheritor of beauty. The Feddens might have a Gaurdi on their mantelpiece but it is Nick who understands its true worth. Nick is intoxicated with the idea of being a part of the Feddens because they represent to him a world that he should truly belong to. Yet in Gatsby-like fashion, it is evident he never does.
Gatsby’s 20-s Jazz-age America is Nick’s 80-s Tory England. It is a…
Temptations of the West: How to be modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond
By Pankaj Mishra
In many ways, this is an uncomfortable book. For English-speaking Indians used to the ‘India Shining’ story streaming out of newspapers, magazines and TV channels, it is disquieting to come across someone who holds a mirror to what can only be called the failures of the Indian state. That is what Mishra does with his latest book. Yes, he has an agenda – a liberal, left-leaning, anti-West one, and that can colour a lot of what he says. And one does get the sneaking suspicion that this is a book meant for the West, and not the South Asians he writes about. Yet, it is thought-provoking and interesting and worthy of note.

The book is Mishra’s take on how traditional societies in South Asia are coping with the Western version of ‘modernisation’ – of closed economies suddenly coming face to face with a globalised world; of free market economics coming into play in areas that are extremely poor; of Western …

Shell-shocked. That was what I was after watching the biggest film of the year. What really was that? A man, a superman, a ghost, a god? Rajnikanth does have that kind of an effect on you. Especially if you are not a Tamilian, or you haven’t seen a film of his for over 20 years.Rajni is a phenomenon – we’ve all heard that. He probably deserves a couple of hundred theses written on him. It still might not explain his incredible sway over audiences, apparently the world over. In Sivaji, he plays nothing but himself – El Mariachi, Neo, Superman, Stephen Chow in Kung Fu Hustle, all rolled into one. There is seemingly nothing he cannot do. Halt a bullet in its trajectory, beat up a hundred goons single-handedly, fly into the air a la Matrix, die and then come back to life. As Indians we are used to exaggeration – we are familiar with macho heroes, be it AB or MGR, beating up the villains to a pulp. We watch it in all seriousness, suspending disbelief. The difference here is, I am tru…
A Poem for CRY

A lovely little book and a lovely little idea. Two Indian kids taking inspiration from a Dublin project called Lifelines, went about collecting favourite poems from famous Indian people. They compiled this together into a book, the proceeds of which go to CRY. The 2 kids, Avanti Maluste and Sudeep Doshi have managed to get a lot of big names to contribute, 109 in all - and they include the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Shabana Azmi, Abdul Kalam, Vajpayee, Sonia Gandhi, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Prannoy Roy, The Dalai Lama, Azim Premji, Sachin Tendulkar, Baba Amte, Shashi Tharoor. It's a varied list, spanning different fields and their choices too end up being a pretty varied combination. Not all of them explain their choice. They are sometimes expected, sometimes surprising, but revealing just the same.

Amartya Sen has a great foreword that puts things in perspective, right at the start - "The poems are of interest not only for the merits of the poems themselves , but…
A kind of pretty

Skin so luminous, it could light up the dark
Eyes so large, so limpid, they look a bit whipped;
Long-limbed as if made for a walk in the park
Slim of waist, generous of bosom, large-hipped.

Thighs made for pleasure and not a magazine cover
All curves, no sharp lines, except for a nose -
Now that could do with a make-over,
With more ease, less force.

Clothed in unstitched drape, fluid, unformed,
Easy to disrobe, to just shed;
Ornamented, baubled, adorned,
With precious jewels or even flowers red.

She's a painting, gilding for a wall,
A tea-stall fantasy, a million calendar themes;
The goddess in the pandal, even an MTV filler doll,
Yet she's just kitsch, inspite of a collective billion dreams.

The Battle of Thermopylae is the historical basis for this extravagant, quite over-the-top movie. Set somewhere in the 5th century BC, 300 is a reproduction of a graphic novel by Frank Miller. It tells the story of a brave defence of Greek territory by the Spartan king Leonidas and his band of 300 against the mighty Persian army of Xerxes. The battle was lost but at great price to Xerxes. And it led to the defeat of the Persians by a combined army of the Greeks at the battle of Salamis.

300, with its much vaunted special effects and CG feels more like a video game than a movie. It is a bit worrying to think that this could be the future of film-making. The men are real enough, but the backgrounds are not, the huge armies are not and strange creatures in Xerxes’ army are not. And there is not much attempt to make them look real either. Rather, it is a glorification of the graphics form as art. Which is why, 300 to me was more form than substance. There is little attempt at building c…
Shalimar The Clown

By Salman Rushdie

It is always a pleasure to read Rushdie. The more recent works do not possibly have the power to surprise as much as Midnight’s Children and their plots may seem a bit more laboured…but man, can this guy write! As is his wont, Shalimar the Clown has a sub text of bigger plots. The characters are motifs of Kashmir and the turmoil they go through is reflective of Kashmir’s troubled history. Ultimately, the novel is a paean to a notion of Kashmiriyat – a Kashmir that is the land of a softer, more benevolent Islam, a land whose legends are as much Hindu and Sikh as Muslim, where the beauty of its land and its people are quite unparalleled anywhere else. It is of course a Kashmir that no longer exists. And Rushdie tracks the breakdown of this beautiful land through the horror unleashed on it as much by foreign Islamic militants as by the insensitive Indian army.

That unfulfilled dream of Kashmir is embodied in Boonyi Kaul and Shalimar Noman, a dancer and …
Eklavya By Vidhu Vinod ChopraThe story of Eklavya in the Mahabharat is well known. A lower-caste by birth, Eklavya goes to Dronacharya asking to be taught archery by the great master. Drona refuses to take him on as a pupil because of his caste. So he practices archery in the forest by himself, worshipping a clay image of Drona he creates, as Drona continues to teach the kshatriya-born Arjuna and his cousins. He becomes a master archer and when Drona accidentally sees his archery skills, he is worried – Eklavya has become a better archer than his best pupil Arjuna. In a cruel move, in order that his favourite pupil Arjun remains the best archer in town, he asks Eklavya for a guru dakshina that would in effect destroy his effectiveness as an archer. Eklavya unhesitatingly cuts off his right thumb and gives it to his revered guru.Eklavya remains in our popular imagination as the embodiment of guru bhakti. Yet there is no denying the fact that it is a cruel story portraying the excesses …
The Roger Waters Concert

The concert happened. Went. Enjoyed. He played all the songs I knew of Floyd (countable on my fingers). He looked old (he is almost as old as my dad), a bit like Gere and had a band member with a sexy voice. The pig went up into the air and we all went wow!
The Demon-Seed (Asura Vithu)
ByM.T. Vasudevan NairReading a Malayalam book in an English translation is personally slightly humiliating. After all, I do know the language, can even read it with some degree of capability. But somehow I know I don’t currently have the patience or the time to read an entire book in the original Malayalam. So, when I saw the English translation of Asura Vithu, I had to pick it up. I am somewhat familiar with MT. I have seen some movies that he screen wrote. And I have heard enough about him to know from my mother to know he is one of the more respected Malayalam writers of today.
Asura Vithu is a book that, even in an average translation, reads authentic. I could picture the village of Kizhakkemuri with its lush paddy fields, the river running through it, the coconut and jack fruit trees at each house, its unforgiving monsoons. It is beautiful Kerala at its most pristine, a beauty most Keralites take for granted. But the landscape is not the only thing that…