Monday, July 29, 2013

Once upon a picnic

Once a year my school would take us on a picnic. Every day one section of one class would go. And since we have 2+10+2 classes and the lower classes have up to 10 sections it took us a good few months to get it all done. And the picnics were around the rainy season. Not the monsoon really. But Vizag has a late monsoon Jul/Aug and it has a cyclone storm every Oct/Nov. So you could have rain-free picnic but you could not bet on it. And it was short but it was fun. It had to be a school day so we left at 8.30 and came back by 1.

Picnic was fun at school. We would bring our toys out to the school. We would ride our school bus for about an hour and sing songs. At the picnic spot we would play games, play with the toys we brought, share the different food we brought, run around for no reason at all, sit around and play board games too and I loved the swing.

Most of the times we went to Mudasarlova. It's a reservoir with a park. Occasionally we went to Vuda Park. It is more or less the same, a park with some water body we weren't allowed to go near. In class 7 we went to Coca Cola factory and then to one of the above parks; it happened to be my birthday that day. In class 9 we went to a friend's farmhouse outside the city, it was beautiful. In class 10 we went to a beach resort, again not allowed to go to the sea, but we no longer ran around for no reason or played games. We just took pictures and gossiped!

It can't believe I remember so clearly each place and I even can remember little incidents on each and every trip, from class 3 to class 10!

On Sunday we had a picnic in Hyde Park.
We were so lazy we reached there at 2.45pm (actually it wasn't me, I increased the poundage of my bow and shoot about 70 arrows before I came for the picnic, and I dragged my bow along with me all day). We spread a couple of mats and settled down and really didn't move much. We didn't take pictures. We chose a good strong tree and spread ourselves out, some in the sun and some in the shade. It started raining in between and we pulled everything under the tree. It stopped raining in 20mins and the sun shone bright so we pulled everything into the sun again. We had tiny speakers blaring all kinds of music. We laughed until our stomachs hurt. We wrapped up everything but still went hunting for the sun. We lay on the grass under the sun for a while. And we left at 8pm because it was Sunday and we had the Monday Blues. But the sun was still shining bright.

 If you had been to Mudasarlova in late July and then to Hyde Park late July, you would know they are pretty much the same. I had a picnic, like in school. (Except I came home and cooked and cleaned and ironed clothes for tomorrow.)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Rozabal Line

I did not want to write about this book because I had nothing good to say. This was by far the worst book I had ever read in my entire life. I could not believe that I read and appreciated another book by him called Chanakya's Chant. But I realised that book was different. I did not like his writing style at all but I appreciated the concept and there was indeed a story in it.
This book had very little story. It was a bunch of fact, real or not, thrown in together in a mish-mash bound by such poor writing skills that I cannot believe it ever even got published let alone be bought. And no concept was even explained, but just somehow added together. Did you know that simply by being hypnotised you go back into your past lives, as many as you like. And you see the people exactly as they were, it doesn't matter that one time you were European, once Indian and once Japanese. When he did talk about things other than "facts" the descriptions were so weird and out of place. 

In one place he described an East Londoner claiming that they usually wear Armani clothes and Gucci shoes. I was surprised. I never saw anyone like that and I wondered how did he get the idea. I did what everyone in my generation does. I googled. Guess what ?

An excerpt from The Rozabal Line published in September 2007
"At times Fouad found it difficult to remember his old self. Where had the east Londoner’s spiky haircut, the Gucci shoes and the Armani clothes gone? Fouad, a British-born Pakistani, had lived most of his life as a Londonstani, the popular term given to Asian youth of England, staying out late with his friends, and missing prayers quite often. All that had changed after he went for Haj to Saudi Arabia.
He had found himself in Mecca, wandering among 23,000 Muslim pilgrims from Britain. His head had been shaven, and he had grown a beard. His only clothing was the simple white robe signifying that all Muslims were equal before God—quite a radical departure from Gucci and Armani.
As he jostled with the hundreds of thousands filtering out of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, he joined them in raising his hands to the heavens and chanting ‘Labbaik Allah humma labbaik! Here I am, O Lord!’ "

An article in The Independent published in December 2006.
"... could hardly recognise himself. Gone were the east Londoner's spiky haircut, Gucci shoes and Armani clothes. Yesterday, as he wandered among the throng of pilgrims towards Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, his head was shaven, and he had grown a beard. His only clothing was a simple white robe, to signify all Muslims are equal in the face of God. ...  He is a British-born Indian and, until recently, lived what he described as a Western lifestyle, staying out late with his friends, and often missing prayers. No longer. For he is among a massive wave of young British pilgrims arriving here, motivated in part by an increasing sense of alienation in their homeland. He began the five-day Islamic pilgrimage of Haj yesterday, and at least 23,000 more Muslims from Britain joined him. .... Crowds hundreds of thousands strong filtered out of the Grand Mosque in Mecca towards the desert valley, chanting Labbaik Allah Humma Labbaik - "Here I am O Lord" - and raising their hands to heaven."

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Identity crisis?

A friend of mine, non-Indian, was telling me how to pronounce my name correctly! He claimed a certain letter was silent. I told him that in my language you read and write and pronounce in the same way and there is no difference, unlike English.
He asked me what my language is.
I said Telugu.
He asked me what my tribe is.
I asked him what he meant by it.
He said Telugu is my clan. So what's my tribe, what town.
I said I come from a city and it's well mixed up because it's a port town.
He said if India did not exist what would I call myself.
It took me a couple of seconds to recover and the conversation then continued separately in my head and in my words.

In my words I said may be probably "Andhrite".I never say I m an Andhrite. I always tell people I m Indian.
He then asked me what caste I am from.
I told him that I refuse to answer.
He said so that it meant I do not subscribe to it.
If I did, would I be here? I just said no I don't.
The conversation ended.

In my head, what would I be if India didn't exist?
I would still be Indian. I could not think of not being one. The whole idea was alien to me. Like what would be I if there were no gender or human race or what would you be if the universe didn't exist.
We do have multiple identities, but if there ever was a situation where I had to be just one identity, the Indian remains. 
And now I claim a new identity. 
NRI. non-resident, but Indian nonetheless!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Circle of Reason

When I read Amitav Ghosh's writing, I realise why I read. For the love of reading and the art of story telling. 
The story goes on and his stories are strong too. But it's the little detail here and a little extra there, that fills up your heart and makes you fall in love with the characters. He allows himself to follow the story with it's little stories woven around and within and through it. One of the accolades on the cover called him "Sheherazade". How true! The name has the same magic his writing seems to ebb and flow in.

The Circle of Reason completes a circle on a man's love for reason and rationality that were inspired by the Life of Pasteur and fights many a fight with his weapons of reason and amusingly taking the form of carbolic acid. He passes on his passion to his nephew who takes it with him across countries and continents. And in unusual circumstances finds peace in the middle of a desert performing a ritual and winning a fight against the greatest enemy of reason, scepticism. 

Every turn of a page you find a new character or a new shade of an old character. How loved you must feel if you were Ghosh's character for he never abandons you. He gives you physique, a language, some mannerisms, little stories of your childhood that made you who you are and a few generations of history, for what is a man with no history?
Much more loved you  must feel if you were city in his world. For not only do you get centuries of history, you are also colourfully complete with all those characters living and dead that changed your face adding a little detail every time until finally you evolve into a beautiful bustling city full of life. 
And the most loved you must feel being a reader, for it is you who is though a minute part of it but the very last dot of infinite dots that completes the circle.

The White Tiger in two 'India's

I remember seeing a white tiger once in the zoo in Vizag. I never thought it was nice though. The shimmering golden skinned Royal Bengal tiger was more mesmerising, not white one. Against popular advice, I read the book by Aravind Adiga.

I understand why people suggested I do not read it. It digs in hard to pull out the dirt of India. Or rather it tries to. The story in the 'darkness' of the Bihari village is a little made up. It is not really out right horrible or improbable but it tries hard to be horrible. I say it 'tries' because at some level it feels fake. Again, I'm not saying it's improbable; such stories do exist and even worse ones do. What I mean to say is that the author is not convincing enough. Like he is not sure how else to portray poverty. Like he doesn't really know it, feel it or even see it. Like he made up a story without living it and yet wrote the story from a first person point of view. So its like a man who is trying to paint a picture without seeing it.
If you put down a list of all the things about Indian society that can be showcased to the western audience and you weave a story around it, you get The White Tiger. When you write serious book reviews, or film reviews even, you talk of "themes" and "reading between the lines" and what the book is trying to say through the story, but not the story itself. Usually, writers would think of those themes I am sure, but would not have a theme to theme flow chart to let the story flow. This book feels like it has a flow chart. Like someone put together a story just to put together the themes. It doesn't feel like it's written by someone who loves to write. It feels more like it is written by someone who wants to get famous and spent a while researching the formula.

He got the formula right! I can see why this book won the Man Booker. It's a well brought together story that illustrates the way of life in India in the 'darkness'. It shows how common corruption is and at what levels. It shows how a society can absorb you into it and turn you corrupt even when you try not to be. It shows you the two types of India that diverge with every growth story you hear. And in spite of all the shit that it flings at you, it still shows you the hope that India carries with it and moves forward. The hope that anyone can get out of the darkness if they try hard enough. Do they have to kill for it? Well, the book also makes you question morality.
With so many deep thoughts, how can one ignore this book, even if it is badly written ?
What if the author may not have seen a village as poor as Laxamangarh other than in passing, what if the author may never have stepped into a government hospital? He wrote about it convincingly enough for most people who may never have been to India except while flying over it. It is true though, the stories of that India and this India do exist and do intertwine time and again. It is true. And so I can understand why this book won the Man Booker.

It's like Slumdog Millionaire, except more wrong and real. And the last Indian book to win was The Inheritence of Loss! The western world needs to get over the Indian poverty already. It's not romantic.

And apparently he beat Amitav Ghosh to the prize! Oh well, Sea of Poppies wasn't Amitav Ghosh's best writing.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

after the quake by Haruki Murakami

This is the first time I've read Haruki Murakami's work.

after the quake is a collection of short stories with the Kobe quake in 1995 as the central character. Actually not, the quake is not central. It is omnipresent like a background setting but doesn't have a direct impact on any stories or characters. It is a brewing theme underneath the day to day life, and time and again it takes the form of simple emotions.

It's a small book. Just a few stories.
UFO in Kushiro - a man who lost his wife (she left him after the quake) finds out about a UFO sighting with similar consequences, and how to keep bears away.
Landscape with Flatiron - a man left his family to light bonfires in a beach town waiting to die trapped in a refrigerator, and how a young woman loves bonfires.
All God's children can dance - a man finds his father and in the dark dances because all god's children can dance.
Thailand - a woman hates a man enough to wish him dead in the quake, and how she finds peace in a small hut.
Super-frog saves Tokyo - a man fights along side Super-frog to prevent a quake in Tokyo, even if no one else believes him.
Honey Pie - a young girl is afraid of the earthquake man who will put her in a box, even as her parents are stuck in an unexpressed love triangle.

Stories are simple instances, some span over a couple of days, some span over an evening. All of them inexplicably sad. The type of sadness instilled by loneliness and longing, accentuated by the almost matter-of-fact narrative style that accepts the sadness without a fight. Pretty depressing actually. But almost all of them end in a tiny bit of hope, and a tiny hint of a smile. Sad stories with happy endings.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Is criticism a new fad?

(A first meeting conversation)

Where are you from?
Yes yes, where in India?
I doubt you'd know. It's a beach town on the east coast. Visakhapatnam.
Oh. I've actually been to India.
Oh you did? Where about?
Mostly north.  ... I don't like what they did to Mumbai.
What do you mean?
I don't like how the government threw everyone out. All the other cities in the world throw people out organically. London becomes expensive and people leave. But mumbai was built by throwing people out. It could have been more organised.


(Not the first time. The rest of the discussion did indeed result in fair understanding of each other's point of view)

I would most definitely support a woman.
Over a man.
Yes, if they are equally qualified. I believe a woman worked harder than a man to get to this equal position.
Now that is discrimination.


(A first meeting conversation)

Calcutta is safe. As a woman I feel it's a safe place. People come to help you.
Really, like how?
Well one time some guy commented on us girls and I turned around and started blasting him and people came around to blast him too.
Have you ever considered that if you blast him, he'll get only more inclined to tease girls?


Monday, July 01, 2013

Locked in

I got locked inside the worst place possible. Trash. My street has a room where you throw the trash bags in, and the trash is collected from there. This room has a combination lock. I have no idea why. What do people steal from trash, and why does it matter if they do? Anyhow it has a combination lock. I usually Just open the door and throw the bag over into the massive wheel barrow like vessel, usually already piled with other trash bags, all the while standing outside the room.Today this vessel was so filled up that if I threw the bag, it would roll back on to me. So I walked into the room to put it in the second empty vessel behind the first one. I put it in while the door closed behind me. I was locked.
The door is the wooden design with horizontal slanting slits for ventilation. I googled it for an appropriate name for the design but could not find (I mean I googled it now, not when I was stuck inside). So I could get plenty of air and that was a good thing. But no one could see me because the slope is downward. I get light though because it was very bright and sunny that day. I stuck my hand out and I realised I could fit my arm almost nearly till my elbow out. And I could even reach the keypad for the combination lock. Sadly I did not remember the configuration of the numbers on it. It had 6 rows of 2 columns. I could only remember that the bottom right (from my point of view, the bottom left) was a cancel button. So I could keep trying but I need to put the cancel button before I try. I tried to push some keys and see if it works but it didn't.
I remembered I had my smart phone with me. I could slip it out and take a picture. For some reason I was afraid it would fall out of my hands and I would lose the only thing that I have to contact the outside world in case I get stuck here really long. I slipped it in a bit, got worried I would drop it and pulled it back inside. The problem is that my phone is slippery and big and obviously does not bend.
In the far end, the massive gates to the road opened up. It meant that a car was either coming or going out. Luckily it was coming in. I started to scream and shout and bang the doors. The car stopped. I was glad. Then the garage door opened and the car went in. No one came out. No one heard me.
Again I started fidgeting with the keypad. I remembered the location of the first character, but I couldn't remember the rest. I started to slip my phone out again when I saw a person walking past on the far side. This time I really screamed. I screamed out saying I m locked in. He turned around and turned back to leave. I guess he couldn't see anything so assumed someone talking inside a house. I screamed again and again till he finally decided to investigate where the sound was coming from . Then I started to direct him towards me and finally he noticed my fingers flapping desperately out of those slits in the door.
He got me out and the first thing he asks how did I get locked in. Err. I was taking the trash out?

Later my friend told me there is a worse place to get locked-in. The bathroom of a hotel room.