Monthly Archives: November 2007

Mumbai meri jaan

Standard

A couple of days ago I ventured further north into Mumbai for a party. I say ventured because while it was the party of a great friend and something I had looked forward to but it was further away than I was comfortable driving at night. Comfortable in Mumbai is somehow not related to the distance but to localities one visited years ago and now was returning to them, hoping nothing had changed in them and seeing them to have changed completely.

And in the last few months that I have returned to the city, I seem to be spouting this litany the most.. OMG Mumbai has changed… it has more tall, taller, tallest buildings, more cars, narrower strips of roads despite major road widening programmes, more cars, more short tempers, more cynics and so on and so forth.

The biggest change for me.. has been my locality. I live in Andheri west and near a mini-town called Lokhandwala. I say near because for the longest time, while it was a coveted address, it was also a hell hole for traffic jams and parking and water problems. So I used to gloat saying I didn’t live in Lokhandwala.

We moved to this house nearly 25 years ago. At that point my school bus didn’t make it to this corner. And a couple of years later when Esselworld opened, it was like going out of town.. it was thaaaat far away.

But change has crept in and not slowly but rapidly but way of reclaimed land and multiplexes.. and malls .. and boutiques and big departmental stores that deliver and specialty food restaurants.. and in the bargain making a community area where u rarely need to venture out.

Each and every surburb from Bandra onwards… especiallyAndheri and beyond is becoming insulated. Gone are the days when you went to Dadar to buy flowers or fabrics, Vile Parle to buy vegetables and Jogeshwari to buy fake antique furniture.

Nowadays, you don’t need to move out of your own suburb at all — whether it’s shopping, fine dining, movies, entertaining, exercising, hanging out or any such group activity.

Is that happening in every city or is Mumbai only the (un)lucky one?

Advertisements

Some more memorable books.

Standard

I had tried to read Amitava Ghosh some years ago and had not enjoyed his book or whatever I did manage to read of his. So even after he won the Crossword Hutch Book Award and the book constantly crept up in conversations, I was not sure of the book.

An afternoon in the bookstore below my office and one chapter later I was hooked. Its one of the those few books that constantly beckon to come back and explore it further. Its been ages since I read a book I could not bear to leave – constantly want to listen to the characters talk amongst themselves, read aloud descriptive passages or generally dream of being there myself.. as a part of the story.

Its a story set in the tide country or mangroves or to be more specific the mangroves at the delta of the Ganges, also known as Sunderbans. Set in an imaginary Lusibari, it revolves around people who come there, make it their home and then give up a lot more for their adopted homes.

Told through a narrative of a diary, the story unfolds in two time periods, giving it an element of dreaded certainty that makes you want to continue reading ahead because of our innate fancy for anything even remotely sad. Being right about anyone’s misery somehow makes us want to rejoice.. I wonder why?

Kanai, Pia, Fokir, Tutul, Moyna, Mashima, Nirmal, Horen.. I could go on.. it must be Bengali names that make them so musical to say. The story is a love story on one level, a fight to demand freedom on another, different generations making a picture with memories and snatches of conversations.

Its about Kanai trying to find the mystery about his uncle Nirmal’s death, Pia’s search for the Oracella Dolphins, the language barrier and how it ceases to matter in duress, the small victories in progress and education, the beauty of Sunderbans and how it is all interwoven coming together in the last few chapters.

As the story comes close to an end, it crescendoes with a storm (literal and figurative), keeping up the pace of the story in a similar high and razzy end.

I cant compare it to his other books because I have not read any as yet (but will definitely read at least more). But this one is written fluidly and is in places, dark, surreal and warm and liquid in others.

——————————————————————————————

Edited to add: It’s about The world according to Garp

A book about a writer writing on his being a writer, on his mother being a writer, on her writing, his writing, his reading about writing and of course all this interspersed with his writing – after an introduction (by a fellow reader) like this how could I resist reading this book?

But like more books achieving or claimed to have achieved cult status, this book falls short. Oh yes! It does entertain and keep one amused but somewhere along the way fails to make the point it sets out to make or may be makes too many of them.

Jenny Fields, her son T S Garp, their life together with his and her myriad family spans his entire life – all of thirty three years. What starts off as his entry into the world slowly evolves to make his life a reluctant feminist to his becoming a moderately successful writer interspersed with familial upheavals.

Garp was, like his beliefs, self contradictory. He was very generous with other people, but he was horribly impatient. He set his own standards for how much of his time and patience everyone deserved.

Almost summarises the book…

Progressing in a back and forth pattern, with verbs and tenses playing truant, the book surges forth. Entertaining nevertheless, this book strikes a cord many a times, especially for (self professed and otherwise) writers.

There is a faint, trapped warble from some televisions tuned in to The Late Show, and the blue gray glow from the picture tube throbs from a few of the houses. To Garp this glow looks like cancer, insidious and numbing, putting the world to sleep. May be television causes cancer, Garp thinks; but his real irritation is a writer’s irritation: he knows that wherever the TV glows, there sits someone who isn’t reading.’

The language in the book is good but nothing above the ordinary. The language does not accentuate the tale, just narrates it. The book brings forth many notions that are immensely entertaining and thought provoking – single parenting (and how!), feminisim, the knack of writing as opposed the skill of it, fidelity, real life influence on writing, violence in daily life and the basic fear of losing one’s loved ones.

To my quasi-feminist mind, I love Jenny and her ideals and would love to emulate her, had I even half the courage.

In this dirty minded world, Jenny thinks, you are either somebody’s wife or somebody’s whore – or fast on your way to becoming one or the other. If you dont fit either category, then everyone tries to make you think there is something wrong with you.

[..]

… Garp explained to his mother the Viennese system of prostitution. Jenny was not surprised to hear that prostitution was legal; she was surprised to learn that it was illegal in so nany other places. ‘Why shouldn’t it be legal?’ she asked. ‘Why can’t a woman use her body the way she wants to?

Why not indeed!

* Are excerpts from the book

——————————————————————————————-

Skinny Legs and All is his fourth book that I am reading. Its his way of writing. Any book. Any subject matter. All pertains to today. All relevant now. It does not matter when it was written.

All seeking salvation. Isn’t that what we all aim for? Look to? Call Nirvana instead? Ellen Cherry heads to New York (‘s art world) with the brand new husband Boomer Petway in a welded together “turkey” and reaches there losing only a spoon, a can o beans and a really dirty sock, along the way.

“I’m twenty-four, jilted and work in food service; I’m free to be as free as I please.” It occurred to her that despite the failure of her marriage, the failure of her career, despite her hangover and chronic horniness, she suddenly was feeling rather light and giddy. She couldn’t understand it. Was she simply too shallow to suffer indefinitely, or was she too wise to become attached to her sufferings, too feisty to permit it to rule her life?

Life’s secrets exposed veil by veil.. Salome’s seven veils… Boomer’s career taking off as a sculptor forces Ellen to reconsider her stock of painting talent and survive as a waitress at Isaac & Ishmael. The restaurant started by Roland Abu Hadee & Spike Cohen across United Nations. A restaurant by a Jew and an Arab. Considered a threat to the conflict in Jerusalem, this place symbolizes what nobody wants to acheive in the “Middle East”.

Jitterbug Perfume – quest for immortality; Villa Incognito – the need for disguide and masquerades; Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates – the intelligent US interference in all world affairs and now Skinny Legs and All which talks about the conflict in the Middle East. Though dominant through the 90s as an issue, the book still holds true. That, on some level, is dismal.

A superb read, this book, like all its precedents, is a delightful read. Language is handled perfectly to mask and unmask the veritable secrets to salvation and a assured trip to heaven. But yes you have to read the book for it.

Beauty! Wasn’t that what mattered? Beauty was hardly a popular ideal at that jumpy moment in history. The masses had been desentized to it, the intelligentisia regarded it with suspicion . To most of her peers, “beauty” smacked of the rarefied, the indulgent, the superfluous, the effete. How could persons of good conscience pursue the beautiful when there was so much suffering and injustice in the world?

Inanimate objects that prophesise the doomsday and righteous preachers who are willing to do anything to make sure doomsday happens (sounds familiar?). A welder accidentally discovering God? Art is ordinary mundane things seen through a skewed vision? How wars serve no purpose and how The Truth is out there?

The book is a bubble, escapsulating everything and every person. There is art, religion, sex, relationships, deviants, fetishes (a predominant theme in all of Robbin’s books – remember vaginas in seventy different languages from Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates), politics, satire and a sign of things to come.

—————————————————————————————-

In one word this book is superb! Brilliantly written, just the right length and teeming with personal experiences, anecdotes and beautiful imagery. Gerald Durrell’s book is a fabulous first book of this author to begin.

Excerpt:
Spring had arrived and the island was sparkling with flowers. Lambs with flapping tails gambolled under the olives, crushing the yellow crocuses under their tiny hooves. Baby donkeys with bulbous and uncertain legs munched among the asphodels. The ponds and streams and ditches were tangled in chains of spotted toads’ spawn, the tortoises were heaving aside their winter bedclothes of leaves and earth, and the first butterflies, winter-faded and frayed, were flitting wanly among the flowers.

A simple tale well told – well one can never have enough of it. Gerry, at ten years old, along with his entire family (though the father is of course absent) move to the sun soaked glory of Corfu. What then unfolds is an adventure interspersed with lessons from zoology, botany, ornithology and all other -ogies from various fields of science. Of course I have not had any such memorable lessons in science.

Gerry (though I have to say, I am astonished as his retentive power, to be able to write this book later on in life, for events he experienced when he was ten), his various animals all from Geronimo the gecko to Roger the biggest of them all dog, all aboard Bootle-Bumtrincket ( I kid you not!). His various teachers and the other myriad people who enter his life… its a delicious read.

Another excerpt (a particular favourite two lines of mine):
…the time had come, he thought, for me to go to somewhere like England or Switzerland to finish my education. In desparatation I argued against any such idea; I said i liked being half educated; you were so much more suprised at everything when you were ignorant.

There are moments in the book when you chuckle out loud and look around guitily, sure that people will write you off as a nutter but many a incident in the book are vivid and delightfully entertaining. Though more than once, whenever Gerry picked out a youngling from his nest and took it home, it would bother me. Why would he want to separate the little one from his mother, just so that his collection would prosper, I did not quite follow.

Another aspect of the book which is handled very well is the death of pets. It can often be a traumatic experience for a child and is it imbued with a lot of sensitivity and can easily be related to.

Some old reviews that helped me remember my books.

Standard

I missed my old writing.. and since I couldn’t return to that blog.. I thought would paste some of my favourite posts here..

Go read Tom Holt’s Expecting Somebody Taller.

Riotously funny.. disturbingly real.. and has a great theory on why we humans.. mmmm… procreate.. I do wonder too why is that such a complicated manoeuvre.. ok.. will leave that for some other discussion.

Back to his book… Its about a ring.. and who wears (and the Tarhnem) controls the World and all within.. including Gods, Giants, Valkyries, Norns and humans too. Nope not mistaking it for LOTR but yeah its a lighter and a much much thinner version of a the RING story.

Women try their wiles and older women try their experienced wiles but our Malcom does not give up the ring. Witty and a quick read, a good first book of this author.

here is his bibliography

——————————————————————————————

Dance Dance Dance – My first for the author and can be aptly described listening to Floyd after smoking a joint – surreal, quite like poetry and blue.

Again another author that came highly recomended and lived upto the hype. The book was compelling enough for me to abandon Shalimar the Clown and now need to find justifiable excuses not to get back to it.

The story line is linear in one sense and layered like a lovely chocolate cake in another. One dream that triggers off a memory and forces the unnamed protagonist to take a trip down memory lane into the nether regions of TheSheepman and The Dolphin Hotel.

The why and wheres explained, the story really explores love. Unrequited love, filial love, need based love, lust driven love, love bought in return for money, love for the sake of love – all kinds. Each explored very nicely with words and some epiphanies to be had along the way. I cant remember any of the phrases that I particularly liked except for the one of shoveling snow – literally, culturally and even figuratively.

Made me wonder, like I used to when I was a journalist, about what the point of That One Story was….really how it anything every change?

There are times when open ended stories leave me feeling strangely unsatisfied but not this story. Its one of those books where the tale comes and goes with characters enmeshed and one wonders how can writing something so intricate seem so effortless.

While reading up about the book (which I always land up doing AFTER I have finished the book) makes me wonder why I did not do so before. This book is supposed to be a sequel to another Murakami but I have Norweigan Wood lined up so others are gonna have to wait.

Lovely lovely book.

————————————————————————————

Reading Lolita in Tehran is one book that has so lived up to the hype generated around it. It talks about struggle – a daily struggle to even just live the way the you want, forget fulfilling dreams and aspirations, fight for your right to read, write and move around.

It has now earned a huge reputation and I did begin reading it, thinking here I am going to read mostly about the need for emanciapation in Iran, primarily for women and the fight for democracy.

But instead what I encountered is a tale very poignantly woven with lives of Azar Nafisi’s students – their past, their presents and tentative future plans with doyens of literature – Jane Austen, Henry James, Nabukov.

The books, their discusions and the events happening around them – all talk of a time when being a woman in Iran must have seemed like a huge challenge. From being punished while eating an ice cream to not showing a single strand of hair to bigger things like demonstrations disrupting class to professors castigated for picking the wrong books.

In the light of Iraq and the US Invasion, I had never really given too much thought to Iran and how bad it was in the eighties and nineties. For the longest time Ayatollah Khomeni was the person who wanted Salman Rushdie dead. Lets say I was well much less informed about Iran and leave it at that. Why make a flag of my ignorance?

Persecution usually brings to light how bad it was for a certain section and it is always in hindsight. Her book today is a memoir. You finish the book wondering what happened to all those people who make a fleeting mention in her book. Her key or core team (as we would call them today) are present right till the end in some form or the other but that one really conservation student. with buttoned down shirts and dislike for James, or that girl who she sees in the middle of rally and wonders why she never came back… or even the Magician.. on a bittersweet note you wonder where they are today.

PS this book is another one of those which I read a couple of pages, in one random jaunt into a bookstore and then suddenly by the time I decided to buy it, it became too fashionably popular. But do read it and no it is not really a feminist slanted book.

Here is what the book is about and here are some reviews put together in one place.

——————————————————————————————

Edited to add: This was the review of Zadie Smith on Beauty

After what feels like a really long time I came across a book where it flows effortlessly from page to page and chapter to chapter. I had only heard about it in Booker lists and read reviews on hugely famous lit blogs. Needless to say I approached it with skepticism.

But it started off unexpected well. A book that starts with little tracks and incidents that take a while to get under the skin off but the story starts flowing much before that.

The best part about the book was the whole concept of beauty that it throws around. Without getting into too much personal information, the book helped me come face to face with the fact that despite whatever your personal image you may have of yourself, not everyone thinks like you. That may be the best thing for you. Beauty truly lies in the eye of the beholder and I have come around to understanding what this can mean in real life parallely while reading this book.

I have never believed platitudes and still do not believe it when anyone does say that looks do not matter. They may not matter in the long run but that is one of the main criteria for attraction. But what I am beginning to discover that it that it is this criteria that is subjective. Its this degree that I am discovering and learning to adjust to. A revelation of sorts for me. Like I said this was parallely happening while reading the book and therefore will probably one of those books which will be remembered forever in my reading life. Like Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree when I truly realised that I like reading about food (all those superb scones, buns, pies, tarts, biscuits and toffees). This one is a similar land mark book.

Of course, unlike the course in real life, the book meanders half way down the story and though is fluid, it does not stay true to itself. A story about a marriage and the required precarious balance, watching other relationships teether and at the same time, having to pass one correct values to your children, despite the fact that those values may not have helped you to rescue your own.

The story progresses in a predictable fashion so no point talking about it here. Kiki, Howard, Zora, Jerome, Victoria, the Kipps, the Belseys, Claire, Choo.. and other myriad characters make it an interesting read. But one point I have to mention. I started the book and about twenty pages into the book (when it gets mentioned that one of the main characters is black), at that point I realised that how by default without even registering it, I assumed the protagonists will be white. I mean, to my mind, it was not something to even think about. Some conditioning…I guess.

Worth reading, its not a tedious read and in hardback with a large font, makes life easier. Here is an interesting review.

——————————————————————————————

Like most books on my shelf, this too has been langusihing for a while. I expected it to be another surreal read (thats the problem – expectation kills almost all anticipation) but the book was was tidy read.
Interesting, engaging and unpredictable to some extent. The book kept me going till the last page, at which point, I felt that while it was not the expected end (I still prefer good happy ends where the boy gets the girl), my mind had galloped ahead expecting many more letters from Naoko to Toru and many more conversations with Midori.
A story about Toru Watanabe remembering life when he was just beginning to discover a life of ending adolescences and losing important in your life and how it is a way of life – pleasant or not. The various people he meets and how each teaches him something (a lot like life eh) and its finally a story. Some drama and some mundane-ities and its all over.
Some parts are really sad.. like Midori getting used to funerals or how sex and love can be so skillfully detached and that its so incredibly common. Its like these things happen but you dont want to actually accept that they do.
One part I really liked was the unusual settings Toru gets to know the women in his life – on a terrace with a fire on, in a sanatorium, in trams. This too mirrors life. I mean, it so happens with me that while driving back home, nearing my destination and I am bang in the midst of a superb conversation that I remember for years to come. Oh I always have them in unusual settings – in temples, by the shores of a river while waiting to go rafting, waiting for the soup to arrive at a road side stall or waiting for the movie to begin… such conversations always stay with u…
I did not get understand why this is such a revolutionary book because it is not like his typical writing, where I always most certainly have to go back and read the lines again.. but yes the language is so fluid and delicious that you want to cherish phrases as you read them.

Here are some interesting reviews of the book.