Saturday, November 29, 2008

A simple journey

The Kalahari typing school for men, ( Alexander McCall Smith) is another story of women seeking independence. This is the first book I have read in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and unfortunately it is the book no 4. I believe the series is now on to the eigth or tenth in the series. But the book did not leave one clutching at straws, trying to guess the origins of the story. Unusually, it stands on its own feet, quietly independent. The story is narrated very simply, which is the book’s main attraction.

The main protagonist, Botswana’s only woman detective, Precious Ramotswe, gets some competition from a man, and also gets an unusual case. Somebody wants to her to dig into his own past in an attempt to correct some mistakes. This part really did get my attention. How many of us introvert and attempt to even think about our past? The regrets and broken relationships which need not have happened, and then try to undo it? Can the past be undone? Probably not, which is why, I think, most people do not even try. It takes one of unusual courage to even attempt this.

Unfortunately this attempt to compensate for the past turns out to be the most disappointing part of the book. This subject is not explored to its full potential, and one is left with a feeling that the author was in a hurry to bring matters to a highly unsatisfactory conclusion.

The book’s writing style is a bit colonial, which has its attractions. I doubt if Botswana is a paradise it is made out to be. A relative of mine is posted in Botswana, and I must check out the locale with him. He is in the army.

Odds and Ends

I just read the lead article in the guardian, prominently advertising the fate of girls in India. Delhi had quite a few honourable mentions for a dismal girl to boy ratio. The problem is endemic amongst the poor and the rich. And this problem continues till the social fabric changes to support the girl child’s education and economic independence

Delhi Chronicles

It is interesting to note the number of places of worship in Delhi. If we count all the religions then the number is satisfactory. The significant ones add up to quite a total. Start with the Jama Masjid in the walled city, and take in the Darga of Nizamuddin Auliya, the sufi saint, in the south of Delhi. The Sikh gurdwaras in Central Delhi; the Gururdwara Rakabganj and Bangla Sahib. The Hindus have their Akshardham Mandir in the east, Hanuman’s temple in central Delhi and the Lotus temple in the south. The Churches include Sacred Heart and the Cathedral Church of Redemption in central Delhi.
This tells you that Delhi is very much cosmopolitan, and one can easily spend a day or two in visiting the religious places

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Ian McEwan’s Atonement is a mesmerizing narrative, and it is difficult to put the book down. The strings of three lives intertwine and rub abrasively against each other. Each seeks a goal, a small portion of heaven on earth, and is thwarted by circumstances and fate. Ian McEwan is a master story teller, and as he spins his web, the characters spring to life. One cannot but help get caught up in the ebb of things, as a coming of age story evolves into a tragedy of sorts.

Robbie and Cecilia, two young people, in rural England, fall in sudden love. The younger sister of Cecilia, Briony, sees them in an inappropriate position. Out of this simple background and childish petulance starts a chain of events which cumulates in a tragedy of almost epic proportions. The background shifts to the Second World War, at the retreat of Dunkirk, out of which come the most remarkable scenes of the novel. In a way the long march to the beaches of Dunkirk increases the tension , as the novel captures the desolation and hopelessness of the defeat, both personal and on the battle field, vividly. The third act, so to say, is with Briony again as she grows up, realizes her mistakes and decides to atone for them.

The atonement really does not happen, as things done cannot be undone. The novel reinforces concepts like karma, where things go beyond one’s control, and one flows with the ebb of time and events. Can the characters find fulfillment in their short and maybe, meaningless, lives? The grand scheme of things overwhelms individuals. It is left to the novelists to bring out pathos and the tragedies of individual lives.

On the whole I would definitely recommend this book for a rainy day(s). Beautifully sculptured, wonderfully sensitive and a novel of beauty. I have not seen the movie, but I suspect it will not live up to the novel. Movie’s rarely do.

Except the next one.

Odds and Ends

I commented on The Third Man in an earlier blog, and I was pleasantly surprised to see an article on it in the September OPEC
bulletin. The film apparently was a cult hit when it was released. OPEC is headquartered in Vienna, where the movie was also shot.

The haunting music from the film was composed by Anton Karas. He is seen in this
youtube video playing the theme on the zither and a lovely composition by an orchestra here. Wonderful moving stuff.

Delhi Chronicles

Raise the Flag

I attended a book launch of a book on the Nation flag, written by Arundhati Virmani. A scholarly work was introduced lucidly by the author at the India International Centre. Arundhati was a reader at the Delhi University’s history department, and then married and left for France where she presently resides. She has written two books in French, and this is her third book. Today she teaches at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales Marseille. Her publications include an essay in Past and Present, as well as two books: India 1900–1947. Un Britannique au cœur du Raj (Paris, Autrement, 2002), and Inde. Une Puissance en mutation (Paris, Documentation Française, 200)

It is unfortunate that such gathering attract so little attention in Delhi. A healthy discussion on this topic would really interest me, but alas. Apart from a host of history professors, very little evidence of the aam public was in view.

It was interesting to note the evolution which the flag has been through. Surprisingly, the flag under which the first freedom movement of 1857 took place, has no resonance in the present design. The design of the national flag looks more like a compromise of sorts, but heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi.

Arundhati also spoke of recent events, where a PIL was needed to break the shackles the bureaucracy had on the flag. In words of one of the participants, the flag was hijacked by the bureaucracy. Even the present liberal regime of the flag act, to my mind, is unsatisfactory. If I can wear a T-shirt with the Union Jack , why can’t I wear the tri-colour?