Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Blast from the Past

My new adopted book club chose Catcher in the Rye for this month’s read.  I had read this some years back, but was was quite happy to read it again.  I remember my copy of the “original” book was picked up from a shady book shop in Pushkar, where apparently it was a compulsory read for all back packers. 

Holden Caulfield, the not-so-likable protagonist , seemed as interesting as ever, although I find it difficult to identify with him, now that I am a “bit” older.  The outdated colloquial words do not help either. But never mind.  A brilliant characterisation, now a cult figure, is fleshed out agonisingly well.  A much dysfunctional coming of age book, set in the 1950’s in New York, is a comfortable, although a disturbing, read.  I believe it is a school text book in some states in US, although I would find it difficult to recommend this to young and impressionable minds.  But then New York is New York. 

The people at the Book Club either hated it or hated it.  There were some defenders of the faith, but were easily shouted down.  It has been a long time since I saw this kind of passion amongst readers.  Which kind of shows the book still has a kind of hold on readers.

Interestingly the band Green Day has this character in their Basket Case.  Check it out on the net.

All in all, a good read. I was chuffed. Never mind the disbelievers.

Odds and Ends

Now that I have been in Kuala Lumpur for four months, things are settling down well.  The book club and the books help, but undoubtedly the charm of the place are the wonderfully polite people.  Sure some complain about the crime rate, but I will take that.  Bukit Bintang is a wonderful place to stroll around, and the Twin Towers overawe the landscape like nothing else.  I get a wonderful view from my living room, and get to photograph the landmark in all sorts of weather.  Here is one I took the the other day.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Colorless and rich

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, and his years of Pilgrimage Haruki Murakami

This is my fourth Murakami book, and and the one I enjoyed the most. It lacks the trademark Murakami’s surrealist backdrop against which real characters operate, but more than makes up for it by its rich story telling.  The sheer details Murakami puts into his characters and the ambience are stunning.  The watch Tsukuru inherited from his father segues into a flashback of his relationship with his father wonderfully. And most importantly this is book which celebrates mediocrity as that essential glue which  binds society and people together. 

Tuskuru describes him self as “ An empty vessel. A colorless background. With no special defects, nothing outstanding. Maybe that sort of person was necessary to the group.” 

To which Ao, his friend,  responds; “ ...having you there, we could be ourselves.  You did not say much, but had your feet solidly planted on the ground, and that gave the group a sense of security.  Like an anchor.  We saw  that more clearly when you weren’t with us anymore.”

Absolutely brilliant stuff.  We celebrate extroverts and people with outsized personality - people with brilliant colors- while underestimating the role the quiet performers play. Murakami’s salutes such people.   Other such moments in the book- finding your calling in a modern society - “ It is all trial and error, and eventually I was able to find my own niche.” 

Murakami at his best.

I am quite happy to go along with this new phase Murakami is sketching out in his writing.  Maybe he does not meet the expectation of his followers who expect more of the same, cult writing, but Murakami comes out as a much more vibrant writer, and like Tsukuru, unafraid to keep his feet on the ground while talking about the space  colorless people fill so competently.

I did feel though that the book should have ended a couple of chapters earlier.  The final chapters, stretched out the story of Tsukuru coming together with his girl friend, the point which was succinctly made much earlier.  A later ending added nothing to the story.

Odds and Ends

The 2014 Man Booker prize Shortlist and Winner

To rise again at a Decent Hour - by Joshua Ferris (My favorite)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North - Richard Flangan ( Winner)
J by Howard Jacobson
The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
How to be Both by Ali Smith
We are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.

Delhi Chronicles

Now that I have relocated to Kuala Lumpur, I should rename this Kuala Lumpur Chronicles, but that would be doing injustice to the Delhi-wallah blog. Flying back from KL over the weekend, the smog over Delhi was visible miles away.  Clear skies till one hits Delhi, and then the lights of Delhi, with an overhang of haze.  Like the one hanging over Mordor with Sauron in full swing cooking up something nasty.  One of the the world's most polluted city? No wonder.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

And another one bites the dust....

And another one bites the dust....

I just finished “ The Last Hundred Days” by Patrick McGuinness, a semi-fictional account of the end of the Ceausescu’s regime in Romania. Set against a dying Bucharest, the account is amazingly detailed and realistic, as McGuiness explores an imploding dictatorship with the eyes of a Westerner. He does try to give the chief protoganist a “ local” feel, but that does not come through effectively. What does though, is a desparingly brutal account of a country raped and pillaged by a dictatorship hiding under the garb of communist and socialist society.

The book gives one an uncanny feel of a Graham Greene many novels set in banana republics ; like Haiti. One gets a feeling of       “ being there- done that” with this novel. The story telling is more report-ish than Graham Greene’s intense personal look at such regimes. It even has a “ Third Man” in the form of Leo - but he does not come to a bitter end as Harry Lime did, and the unnamed narrator plays the role of the innocent bystander, as Holly Martin did, admirably well.

The sad and sorry end to the Ceausescus is well documented here – ( warning - the scenes are distressing). Sad to say, the lesson is not learned by other such regimes, and their miserable rulers.

Odds and Ends

Booker short list

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

Snowdrops by AD Miller

Now why isn't " The Last Hundred Days" on this list?

Delhi Chronicles

On I saw a new book “Desperate in Dubai”, which sounds a lot like “ Sleepless in  Seattle”. So I am looking forward to “ Frustrated in Franfurt”, “ Sex in Singapore” and " Restless in Raipur".

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Back to School

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, is perhaps the funniest, and the darkest, book I have read in a long time.  The wit and the spark made me read the book late into some nights.  I am surprised this book did not win the Booker; in fact was not even short listed.  Me thinks political compulsions crept into this decision.

The book is set in Ireland, in a boarding school for boys run by Catholic priests.  ( Much like the school I went to, and perhaps which is what drew me into the book).  The story line  of a teacher and that of some  boys runs in parallel, each fighting their demons.  The constant to and fro in the story lines is mesmerizing, and could have led to confusion, but the straight lines of the story keeps them from entangling.   

The author has admirably captured the travails and tribulations of the teenage years, and I found myself frequently remembering my difficult years. The teacher's problems are something else though, and as he comes to terms with a disintegrating relationship, catalysed by a colleague.  One of the memorable lines from Chapter 1: But she doesn't move, and neither does he: she holds him there a moment purely by the light of her spectacular eyes, looking at him over with the tip of her tongue tucked in the corner of her mouth, as if she is deciding what to have for dinner.  Then, smiling at him coyly with a row of pointed white teeth she says, ' You know, I'm not going to sleep with you'.

Although Skippy, as a central  character in the book, does grab your attention, it was his best friend, Ruprecht, who holds mine.  As the plot evolves, it turns out to be a coming of age story for both Ruprecht, and Howard, the teacher, with a melancholy overture of loss and regret.  Each then seeks redemption in their own way, with both ways flying in the face of convention. All this is captured in perhaps one of the most spell binding finale' I have ever read. In the end does the old school continue the way it always did?  Leave it to you to find out.

 If you have one book to read this year, read this one.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dark Humor in Person

The trip to Durg had been planned for months, as my wife’s nephew was getting married in November. New clothes for everybody, including a very reluctant husband, were bought and the children forced into traditional dresses. Not that they minded.

Despite apprehensions of the reported chaos. we flew from the spanking new Delhi’s T-3 terminal, with its squeaking clean conveyor belts for people and baggage. The carpet attracted comments from awe to “ what a waste of money”. The plane was on time, and we took off on time, landing at Raipur absolutely on time. The cars took us away to Durg, an hour and a half away to safely ensconce us in a very nice hotel ( Hotel Avalon). That hotel was a huge surprise. The owner has impeccable taste in paintings, and the walls were adorned with brilliant European style reproductions or photographs, which caught one’s eye.

The marriage was rounds of events and functions- a truly Punjabi wedding, with a twist of Chhatisgarh flavor. The girls enjoyed themselves thoroughly. The return journey was a pain, as Kingfisher flight was delayed by 3 hours, and we landed in Delhi at 2 in the morning. Not a good idea.

I counted Durg as a smaller town of India, and though it is compared to Delhi, all the facilities are available. Raipur is a bigger town, and needs much more civic improvements. All in all a much satisfying experience.

The icing on the cake was: I met Omkar Das Manikpuri a.k.a “ Natha” on the plane. He was one seat away, and between us was his secretary; we chatted amicably away during the flight back. It was a pleasure to see a theatre actor from a small town, being noticed and felicitated by the public at large. Here is hoping many successes for Omkar.

Delhi Chronicles

Now that Commonwealth Games are over, and so are the Asiad, it may be time to look back , to see what happened. The opening ceremony was awesome. Compared to the Olympics, which I described as a soulless event, this one was a heart warming experience. We did not have the synchronised acrobatics, in fact our troops seemed to have a life of their own. In total ignorance of what the others were doing, the Punjabi Bhangra-wallas had a life of their own. The mass painting of mehendi brought out lots of “aahs”. A very human experience, with all its foibles and imperfections. Give me this any day.

The airport metro line did not start up on time. It looks like an awful animal, an eyesore, a long snaking beast working its way through the innards of the city and going underground to cause god knows what havoc, and presumably emerging somewhere in the guts of the new terminal. I do not think I will ride this beast.

Odds and Ends

Howard Jacobson wins the Man Booker with The Finkler Question. I will read this book on my iPod. This was the first break out f Delhi where I did not take any physical book. All my books were on my iPod. Times they are achangin’.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dark humor at its best

Pipali Live, till now famous for being produced by Aamir Khan, has other things going for it too. This is the first dark humor storyline coming out of Bollywood, and is indicative of the maturing tastes of the film makers, audience, and the censors. The story of a farmer, facing possibility of a suicide, and abetted by the media is an excruciating reflection of our times. Despite the attempt to exaggerate, the irony of the media and politicians playing to the public seems all too real. In more ways than one, the movie reflects the tragedy of India’s growth story. The dispossession of the dispossessed is a continuous refrain in the background, as are the stories of India’s growth capturing the limelight. If the governance does not wake up to these contradictions in practical hard ways, rather than playing to the gallery with inclusive growth tag lines, our country is going to fall on hard times. Will movies like these nudge the dead consciousness of our bureaucracy and political leadership? I hope they do, as the consequences of keeping swathes of people out of the progress charts will be terrible. My favorite line from the movie- the babu’s automatic reflex of resorting to the “ lal bahadur” a.k.a the hand pump, to solve all problems.

Delhi Chronicles

Delhi’s Commonwealth Games seem to be on a roll, despite a shaky start. We suffered months of traffic jams, with the development activities going on frenetically all over Delhi, rushing to beat the October 3rd deadline. Connaught Place was unvisitable for months, even as newer and swankier metro lines rushed to completion. The airport line did not manage to open on time though- I wonder who is going to use this line after the Games- most Delhi wallahs can afford the taxi money which gets them closer to the departure terminal, than the metro will. At the end of the day we have nicely metalled roads, at least on the routes the visitors will use, new street lights on all major roads, a make over for Connaught Place, and some nice ads. There are the Games too, but I for one, can do without them. The trouble we have been through, is just not worth it. I am sure the money could have been used for a much better cause than trying to impress members of the ex-British empire.

Odds and Ends

This year’s Booker Shortlist is:

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey (Faber and Faber)

Room by Emma Donoghue (Picador - Pan Macmillan)

In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut (Atlantic Books)

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (Bloomsbury)

The Long Song by Andrea Levy (Headline Review)

C byTom McCarthy (Jonathan Cape – Random House)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Kid with an Agenda

Bill Bryson’s The Thunderbolt Kid starts off with a hilarious “ I was born in Des Moines. Somebody had to.” It is an account of his journey through childhood, which is why, I suppose, I saw the book in the travelogue section of the British Council Library . Seems stretching it a bit, but I have seen worse cataloging. Plays turn up in the poetry section. British Library (sic) guys – wake up!

A romp through a small town in America in the late 50’s and 60’s is entertaining and educational. The liberties allowed to kids then seem astounding nowadays. Smoking at home, nude shows, and drinking unlimited beer seems to be in easy reach of an twelve year old. Amazing freedom.

Bill describes his early childhood with details of the town and the house he lived in. His exploration of the big bad world begins early, as he stumbles along his way, as most of us did. Surprisingly he was not of scholarly bent of mind, but nevertheless turned out prodigious amount of writing. This gives all of us hope. If this kid could write books, hey, maybe we should give it a shot too.

One also gets to know about Bill’s friends, all of whom seem to be terribly exciting, quite unlike my childhood friends. Steven Katz, the almost alcoholic friend of Bill’s, also turns up as the lead character in Bill’s other other – A Walk in the Mountains. Bryson settles down in England after college, but judging by his writing , he does get around a bit.

The book is an easy, highly entertaining read, with Bill Bryson’s brand of humour making this one of the fastest book I zipped through. Highly recommended.

Odds and Ends

We made a quick trip trip to Glasshouse on the Ganges, a resort 23 kms upstream of Rishikesh. A wonderful quiet resort run by the Nimarana group, turned out to be an idyllic short stay get away. Just what the doctor ordered.

The river runs a short stroll away, and there is an handy cove with a small beach, so one can take a discreet dip to wash away the Delhi’s sins. The river looks quite vicious here, as the silly rafters demonstrated, jetting uncontrollably downstream. Looked like the control freaks from Delhi’s BPOs’ were not too happy at being at the mercy of the river. We watched them, comfortably ensconsced in our verandah, drinking that early morning cuppa, and wondering what makes people punish themselves. The sun was scalding, so only a morning or late evening jaunt to the beach was possible.

The rest of the time was spent on wondering what to eat. The food was – as my daughter would put it neatly – awesome. We suspended our calories consciousness for the chef’s delights. Amongst the good Indian food, he threw a continental dish, which was always irresistible. The breakfast and lunch was invariably followed by a snooze or a comfortable read on the veradah’s sofa. I managed to finish of Michael Fray’s uproarious – Towards the end of the morning in quick time.

We have decided to go back in the Autumn.

Delhi Chronicles

Delhi is unbearably hot nowadays. 44C shows up on the car thermometer dial regularly. ( The thermometer always shows the outside temperature, never the temperature in the cabin- wonder why). I do not remember these many days at 44C. Global warming?

The preparation for commonwealth games seem to be rising to a crescendo. Desperation is showing up on the streets in massively dug up Connaught Place inner circle, metro’s frantic attempt to get the airport line going, and the recklessness of the workers rushing to finish the stadia. The government has sucked up a lot of money to “ beautify” the city- roads are relaid, newly painted signposts tell the directions more clearly, and the new street lamps look snazzy. Which leaves one wondering if this is all worth it. The money could easily be spent on the people living on the street, but I guess that one is for the economists to dissect after the games are over. I have a dirty feeling this splurge is going to give us a lot of pain. On the other hand I see the minimum wages climbing , and more health care for the needy - which is a much needed initiative from the government.