Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When I Was Gone A While

I got a mail a while back. I eighteen year old from India asked me why I had stopped blogging. She - and her mom - quite enjoyed what I wrote. That was flattering, for I did not think what I wrote was any more that idle parsing of words. And, she wrote, your earlier Avatar seemed to have have disappeared completely. I liked your posts on Dizzy.


That got me thinking. What was she then, ten? Twelve? And she remembered?

She loved Dizzy. So did I love, so did I.

But have been busy the past two years. Was down on the luck, despairingly so, as far as proper writing was concerned. Creative writing seemed to have abandoned me. Like sleep, it was not a mistress that came at my bidding.

So did what any writer worth his salt does. At least one addicted to writing. I wrote for others. I wrote two pieces of fiction - autobiographies really, but are not all autobiographies really fiction? Ghost writing is fun, because it pays.

I had a technical book done, something I could not comprehend, but wrote it anyway.

Then I went back to my book, my very own, and still despaired. Dialled Sharon Bakar's number a couple of time. Could I join her writing class? Maybe I need a kick in the ass to get started back again. When times are bad, they just are, the number I had was outdated too.

Anyway, life went on. Joined Rotary in the midst. Then Zafar tweeted something about Mistry's book being banned by a university. It riled. I went back to read the Journey, bathed in its beauty, loved the work. The best way to get a dormant writer to write, I found, is not to call him an ass, he knows that. Say something bad about a writer he admires.

Martin Niemoller's words ring in the mind. "First they came for the trade unionists, I was not a trade unionist ans I didn't speak out. Then they came for the Jews, I was not a Jew I was silent..."

Some one has to. Even if it is just a ripple in the a pail, as it is for them. The goons that want him silenced don't care much for the ripples nor voices of dissent. They after all cheered the deaths in deaths in Gujarat, the falling of mosques.

I will write more on that.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Reviews

I have always felt trepidation when reviewing books, especially those that have been bestsellers and have been critically acclaimed. The sense of my own limited knowledge of books nags at me that I may be the idiot that did not grasp it. After all, what is my education on these matters, I am not as well read as much as, say, Sharon Bakar. Been less in contact with literature, in the recent times, unlike Zafar Anjum, Anima Kosai and so many more out there.

I have no credentials whatever save that I read. And the incredible urge to say something about it however insignificant it may be and flawed that it mostly is.

Be that as it may, I come across books, winners of Booker Prize, winners of Pulitzer and various others prizes and wonder: what’s wrong with me, I just did not get it. Goodness, these were the books that were selected by masters in their oeuvre. Anita Desai’s book, a couple of years ago, I thought, should not have made the cut. Even this year’s book, ‘The Gathering’ in my opinion, did not deserve the accolade. Then I see books that really amazed me with their brilliance did not even make it to the final few.

I live in an age, of course, where Harry Potter books sell by the millions, and that consoles me a little, not every book that sells well has to be good.

When all were gushing over Tash Aw’s ‘Silk Factory’ I was shaking my head a little, I must be a dunce, and the years and gray hair have not made me any wiser. Then there was this fallibility, instead of reviewing a book in the conventional way, with a little spice of what the book is all about, I tended to eulogize the craftsmanship, the language used, the adjectives not used. Sometimes it is just that words refuse to come.

Like when I read Midnight’s Children fresh out of the press. A copy loaned by, none else, Dom Moraes, sitting in his house in Colaba, drinking his whiskey, reading it noisily. I sent in a one line review to Deccan Chronicle.

“What a book bhenchod!

It didn’t get published of course but got me a cup of Irani tea when I returned to Hyderabad.

Thus when I recently read two books that did well at the till. I had to ask, am I missing something?

Mohsin Hamid’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ and David Davidar’s ‘The Solitude of Emperors’ were both on the bestseller list, I thought they were good novels that fell short of greatness. They lacked punches that the theme they carried so richly deserved, the verbosity required to give them that added spice. From the land of nutmegs and cloves they served a bland English fare.


The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

A theme that is in the hearts and minds of most sane people reading anything today: The effects of Islamic Fundamentalism and the hegemony of the United States of America. It starts off well and halfway through the first chapter I adjust my ass more comfortably on the chair, I tell my wife to please get me my favorite drink and tell the children to be seen and not heard, I am in for a long haul into something delicious.

As I read on, I get the sinking feeling, the ominous feeling that salt has gone missing. The flavor is just not right, the tempo was awry.

Towards the end of the fourth chapter I put the book spread-eagled on my lap and looked wistfully into past. Couldn’t he do something to break the monotony? Could Mohsin just add element of action, describe the city better, a mega city at that, where is the…

I keep on reading, more in hope than anticipation, more in prayer than conviction.

Towards where Mohsin gets to Janissaries, I stop. I mind wanders to Jaan Nisar Akther and his poetry, and then takes a leap to the beautifully constructed ‘Shadows’ by Sahir Ludhianvi. I think of the books that handled great themes, of turmoil and conflict, I remember Grapes of Wrath, how beautifully Steinbeck interspersed the longer descriptive with shorter one, how the shorter seemed to move to a beat, how a narrative with so well seamed with the whole book.

They are sitting in a café in Lahore, in the spice laden Old Anarkali, drinking tea and eating kebabs, but where in the name of heaven is the Cinnamon, where is Ilaichi. The tea being served by Mohsin is bare.

It is good, did I say that already, the passages where Changez is actually talking to the man he has chosen to tell his tale to seemed to rise above the rest of the book, they bring the zing to the taste buds. Zafar mentioned that too, on his blog, I think.

One would have hoped for more, from a writer who chose a great theme, who wrote brilliant passages in the book from time to time, like the one where he watches the 9/11 tragedy console me a little.

Still leave me unsatisfied, a little disconsolate: much could have been made of it but was not.

The Solitude of Emperors

David Davidar admitted to Sharon, using Salman’s often repeated quote: “Every novelist should have a first novel that is burned or put in a drawer,” Salman would say that of course, since his first was a total dud. Perhaps the maxim holds true, if it one would have wished David had published the one he wrote when he was twenty.

The theme is absolutely brilliant, the need was there, the questions he raises are real, and anyone keeping abreast of what is happening in India would be aware of the juxtaposition it is in. Its democracy is a cloak worn by the very ones that are bent on destroying it. He creates, in Sorabjee a sort of Gandhi, fighting for what he believes in, with means he can muster. He is an editor; he publishes a magazine that tries to gather under tolerance a rapidly disintegrating population.

The evils that Vijay, the simple boy who leaves his hometown to work with Sorabjee, are real and threatening the fabric of society. He comes face to face with such evil with in the riots that erupted in Bombay, normally a city that would normally go about its way while the rest of India burned and blundered. It shook him, being stopped by a mob on rampage. He was asked to identify himself, was saved by the sacred thread that Brahmins wear. When such evil is on rampage, yours are not entirely yours. He escaped death but was mauled.

His plot is simple, but it is not the plot that is the cornerstone of the novel, it is the idea he tries to express. Even then, I wished he had created a better set of characters, had wonderfully broad canvas he had bought for himself with more vibrant colors. I wished that he had used the sensory language he had in his first novel ‘The House of Blue Mangoes.’

The character of Noah is brilliantly portrayed, one that leaves you in suspense. The details of his actual life were left hanging, just nicely enough to give his character the richness to make it linger on in the memory.

The narration was flawed a little, and I still, even after the writer’s plausible answer, to the use of K— to refer to Vijay’s hometown. David says it was to signify any small town. There are other devices, one used by David himself in House of Blue Mangoes. Chevathar of his earlier book seemed so real that I was even tempted to Google it. We he has the ability.

The only reason this remains in my good books and not great is he did not sufficiently argue his cause, which he failed to lay stark the underbelly of the sectarianism. At times the naïve nature of Vijay’s character defeated the purpose.

That said, I enjoyed reading it, was not tempted to throw it half read into the top left corner of the bookshelf, the one that I have to stand on a ladder to reach. It is kept well within reach, in case I have the urge to read the beautiful manuscript entwined in the novel.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Stones and Bricks are locked up, Dogs are Free

I have been an unabashed fan of Sahir Ludhianvi, perhaps a part of me is so drawn to him because I had the chance to hear his booming voice and hear him read his Parchaiyaan, but I have not been completely ignorant of other Urdu poets too. People like Faiz, Josh and Iqbal have not been strangers to me.

It was in the midst of heart breaking pictures reaching us from Pakistan I remembered a few lines from Faiz’s poem. I thought I would Google and see if it I could get the complete poem but somehow did not get around to doing it. Then, came the pictures tyranny in Kuala Lumpur and the line from his poem kept repeating in my head.

Here is the first few lines, in Romanized Urdu and an attempted free verse translation of the same:

nisaar main teri galiyon ke aye watan, ke jahaan
chali hai rasm ke koi na sar utha ke chale
jo koi chaahane wala tawaaf ko nikle
nazar churaa ke chale, jism o jaan bachaa ke chale

hai ahl-e-dil ke liye ab ye nazm-e-bast-o-kushaad
ki sang o Khisht muqayyad hain aur sag azaad

Esteemed lanes and streets
Of my beloved country, where
It has become a tradition that
No one should walk with head held high
If some lovers do, perchance, for a pilgrimage
Then slink, not walk, with downcast eyes.


It is wrenching,
For those with beating hearts, to see
That stones and bricks are locked up and
Dogs are roaming free.

* *

Indeed, in my search I found the complete poem, at a couple of places and uncannily someone who had translated it too at this site. And used it in the same context as well.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Readings

It was a great morning, warm as usual, but with some assurances from friends that taking the KKVE to Bangsar should be okay. I did turn out to be okay.

Meeting Sharon after a long gap was nice, and meeting Chet – who is as friendly and cuddly as the pandas she loves – was great too. Was impressed with her Neo and called to buy one for myself. If you want to know more about NEO and his other sister the erstwhile DANA go here.

Went to the Breakfast at MPH. It has been a long time since I attended a literary gathering of any sort and it was good. Sharon has blogged about it I need not go into the details.

Met Raman after a while too, wished I had more to have long leisurely chat with him.

Got to meet Shahril Nizam, have so enjoyed is art. Later someone told me Amir Muhammad was there too. Would have liked to shake his hand, liked his book too.

Would like to get hold of Shamala’s writing, sounded very interesting.

Here is to hoping I can make a return.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Eli, Eli

Bangladeshi cyclone-affected man Khalilur Rahman, who lost 11 members of his family including his wife and his other children, cries holding his only survived daughter while waiting to get relief goods in Fokirghat, on the southern coastal area of Bangladesh, 20 November 2007. Urgently-needed supplies of food, water and medicine were nearing people in remote areas of Bangladesh where a devastating cyclone has left millions homeless and thousands dead. With roads now cleared of hundreds of trees that had blocked aid convoys, officials said relief was finally starting to get through to the most inaccessible areas four days after the colossal storm hit. By Farjana Khan Goghuly/AFP/Getty Images. (from: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/ )

Tell me why any debate on hardcovers and trade paperbacks is important? Tell me why sending sending millions of ringgit into orbit a matter of pride? Tell me why bringing democracy to the middle east such a priority? Tell me why civilization is at its zenith?

No, tell me, really! I looked at this picture and forgot most of the answers.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thumb Rules For Writers

William Safire's columns on Language have always been fun to read, his political columns though have often left me gritting my teeth. (Thank god, then, that he stopped them.)

Here is a piece that I collected from somewhere:

Thumb Rules For Writers

William Safire's rules for writers

Remember to never split an infinitive.

The passive voice should never be used.

Do not put statements in the negative form.

Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

Proofread carefully to see if you words out.

If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.

A writer must not shift your point of view.

And don't start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.) Don't overuse exclamation marks!!

Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.

Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.

Always pick on the correct idiom.

The adverb always follows the verb.

Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Last Nizam


The Last Nizam
by John Zubrzycki

“After kissing the Threshold of Your Throne, it is humbly submitted to the Great and Holy Protector of the World, Shadow of God, Mighty Holder of Destinies, Full of Light and Most Elevated among Creatures, the Exalted, May God’s Shadow Never Grow Less, may God Protect Your Kingdom and Your Sultanate, Most humbly I beg to submit….”

That was the way you asked the Nizam of Hyderabad, if you were a noble, to leave Hyderabad to go to Poona to the races.

You bent low, like you were in Ruku for salat – you hand touched your forehead and falling to the ground, seven times – in the presence of His Excellent Highness, The Nizam of Hyderabad. John Zubrzycki saya a dozen time but that is not true. The Mughal Emperor got a niner, the Nizam, always in allegiance to the Mughal Emperor (and later to British) got a sevener. I was there, I did it as a toddler with my uncle, before a scruffy looking man who looked poorer than our gardener and handy job man, Chunnu Mamoo.

John Zubrzycki’s book “The Last Nizam” it a delicious slice of history, for those interested in that part of the world, for those interested in the intricacies of the Rise and Fall of dynasties.

At one time considered the richest man in the world, with no real count ever made of his wealth. Olympic sized swimming pool could be filled with his diamonds, the whole of Broadway could be paved with his pearls, his gold was not counted in ounces but tons.

And Mukarram Jah, the heir to the wealth (and the Last Nizam), the heir to the Caliphate spent it, lost it in one lifetime declared himself bankrupt.

I have always been interested in history, especially that of the Deccan Plataeu, so I found it immensely readable. John Zubrzycki is no William Dalrymple but the book, mostly, is a good read.

It is a study in how power and wealth is aqcuired, maintained and lost. An old Sanskrit saying comes to mind:

San Sapoot Toh Dhan Kyon Sanchay

San Kapoot Toh Dhan Kyon Sanchay