Saturday, July 18, 2009

Raining Cats and Fishes

I managed to finish two Haurki Murakami books this month- Kafka on the Shore and What I talk about when I talk about running- and they could not be more far apart. Running.. is a long, boring, ramble about his reminiscences of, what else but, running, which the author has been indulging in for the last decade or so. Incidentally this guy is a superman. He runs marathons, ultra marathons – eleven (!!!) hours of running, and makes me feel much more unfit than I am. But why this would interest anybody is a mystery. There are some interesting quotes or philosophical statements thrown in now and then, but those do not captivate you . In short, it is a book you wish the writer had not written.

On the other hand, Kafka on the Shore, is a delight. The master stylist is at work here, producing perhaps one of best works of art of our times. His philosophical style finds full range in this fantasy, with story line matching, step for step, the twists and turns of modern man’s dilemmas. An outwardly flimsy story line grabs you as the plot develops, and although one can see it as a guise for author’s thoughts and viewpoints of life, it does not lag.

A story of a boy, Kafka Tamura, and an old, feeble minded man Nakata, but who can talk to cats, follow independent paths to a grand finale, where the two paths cross, and yet not. Kafka runs away from home, thinks he has murdered his father, apprehensive that he will fulfil his father’s dark prophecy, and stumbles onto a library, where he finds his love, and is able to come to terms with his devils. Helping him in this quest is Nakata, who metaphysically, is an enabler, a mentor or a counsellor, if you will. He makes things happen, almost magically, and is able to help more than one person, in coming to terms with the contradictions and anxieties of modern life. Murakami makes a strong case against violence in modern society as evidenced by - Best way to stab someone with a bayonet.

“Well, first you stab your bayonet deep into his belly, then you twist it sideways. That rips the guts to ribbons. Then the guy dies a horrible, slow, painful death. But if you just stab without twisting, then your enemy can jump up and rip your guts to shreds. That is the kind of world we were( are!!!- my comments) in”.

What interest me more than the mechanics of bayonet stabbing, is the observation, that if you do not do it, then somebody will do it to you. This to me, is the dark, unfortunate truth of modern man.

A word of warning - this is not a book for the squeamish. Be prepared to be shocked and upset with the man’s morals and values. Keep your homely virtuous principles in a locker if you pick up this book.

Odds and Ends

Books and digital divide

I am sure everybody has heard of the digital divide; the idea that societies who do not keep pace with computer technology will be at a disadvantage. I recently discovered how true this statement is. While pottering away at websites offering free material, I discovered that all the textbooks in my area of expertise are available on the net. If one does not worry too much about not paying for these (anybody who has not pirated, please raise your hand), then one is not at any disadvantage compared to a person in a developed society. Universities offer free video lectures on subjects of your choice on their websites too. So, if you have the lectures, and the material to study, then all you are missing are the exams. That is not much of a loss. This means that a person in sub-Sahara Africa, thousands of miles away from any modern civilisation offering education, will be able to pick up the skills in a subject of his choice with a cheap computer and an internet connection. The digital divide can be a much bigger thing than it is made out to be.

Delhi Chronicles

It has been a slow fortnight in the Capital. We have had monsoons playing truant. Omens of a drought are intermittently drenched with a shower. Just when you think one should start storing away water for the next six months, the rain gods open up, and vanquish the thought. The MCD has been busy cleaning up the storm water sewers, but their (in) efficiency is still to be proven. The umbrellas have been bought, but still await their baptism. The drains have been cleaned and the gargoyles tested, but, so far, the rain has not tested their full potential. One has taken the trouble to get that free monsoon check up for the car, but changing the wiper blades has not yet proven useful. But one lives in eternal hope.

Some excitement has come from the metro guys who are building train lines on pillars of dodgy credentials. I mean if you see a crack in a pillar which is holding up hundreds of tons of concrete, not to speak of trains packed full of people, you do not fool around guessing the strength of the pillar with mirrors. You just tear it down and build another one. To top it all, I find it difficult to imagine that somebody cannot calculate the number of cranes it takes to lift an iron girder, and then build in some safety factor. To have three cranes breaking down catastrophically and the images transmitted all around the world, does not leave me, an Indian engineer, any prouder of our capabilities.

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