Tuesday, February 23

English, August

Judgement: Must read

A book by Upamanyu Chatterjee

The book is a satire about Indian civil services, especially the people who are just starting as IAS officers. While parts of this book are funny, there is a significant bit that is dark (you would enjoy this book even more if you knew about the depravity of the system). The protaganist is Agastya Sen aka Ugu aka August, the son of Governor of West Bengal (I think!) who lived mostly in cities New Delhi and Calcutta. He is being sent to Madna (a fictional town) to be trained as an Assistant collector. The book revolves around how Agastya manages to do just the same. The portrayal of small Indian villages/towns seems accurate and so is the description of a young Indian's dilemma (not just of those who work for the government). A very engaging book where I could even place people from own my life in the story and have a good laugh about it. The author has depicted Agastya's loneliness very sordidly (at least it was really upsetting to me- but I think it was intended to be satirical and funny) what with all the weed-smoking, masturbating and running by the tracks late in the nights. The other characters in the book are quite interesting- the drivers, the superintendents, the collectors and their wives, Agastya's own peers from other towns- I think without them the book would not have had a strong impact on me. The only part I did not like- when Agastya had to accompany a Mr. John Avery and his girlfriend Sita to the place where Avery's grandfather was killed by a tiger (did not see quite the connection with the entire story)

Overall I loved the book, one of those that made me laugh out loud...

Monday, February 15

The Silent Spirit(s)

I know a woman. A woman with immense strength and character; a woman whose age is catching on to her. An unexpected call from home, each time, sends shivers down my spine  and I hear myself saying "Please, oh my, please, let her be-I cannot let her go just yet".

I consider her the "Martha Stewart" of our family- be it the food she cooks (rather cooked, she cannot do much these days) that tickles ones tongue or an embroidery pattern that flutters ones heart. She does not stop there- she composes devotional songs, the words for which are straight out of her soul and she sings them too. She is a great singer by the way (I learned the little music I know from her).  She is unarguably my biggest inspiration during my creative process. I do not think any of her children have her zeal for life (well they are all grown up now and they are different people!).

Dei sub numine viget (Under God's power she flourishes), this woman truly believes that her life would not have been possible but for the help she got throughout her life in various forms. I have not known another person who is forever thankful to God for sending help when she needed it the most.

"Some of the strong women from our family"

It was in 1927, she was brought to life into an intellectual clan in a village by name Mannargudi (in Tamil Nadu). I remember her making it a point to tell me (many times indeed) that she was the sixth child and being the sixth was considered unlucky. I am not sure if it is because she was born after 5 others or not but she definitely could have had a better life and she deserved one just the same.

Leaving a suspicious, jealous, abusive husband who lived off the proceeds from HER family should have been easy- but not in those days- the pressure that society put on women was enormous (it still is, is it not?). She got out of one hell hole only to fall prey to the hurtful things that people had to say about her situation. She kept at it though- got two master's degrees (regrets not having gotten two more), taught high school children and raised her own 4 children. There would days when all five of them would go hungry for months together. But in the end, the five of them came through it all just fine. She even published a book of her compositions.

She hardly ever used to complain about it before, but now with age, her weakened spirits and strength have  paved way for self-pity and regrets from the past. She feels lonely, worthless and considers herself a burden on her children. She does know that I love her to death. To me what is very interesting- staying strong for so long (for her children mostly) and not letting her guard down (staying strong as a full time job impacts even the best of us) seems to have an impost on her. I can only imagine the state of one's mind when they go through rough patches constantly in their life, how unfortunate can it get. One can argue that there are people who have done worse, but it really does not give any hope. It breaks my heart when she hurts even a little- no one can hurt her anymore, I will not let them. She is now under my protective custody! So back off demons from her past... let her be, that is all she is asking of you.

Why this post now,

Violence, especially, against women and children, is pernicious. Several NGOs and government organizations are working toward putting an end to domestic violence around the world. Domestic violence was recognized only in 1983 as a criminal offense under Indian penal code section 498-A and a domestic violence act aimed at protecting women in a domestic set up was passed in 2005. It is shameful that even now about 70% of married women in India are victims of domestic violence. Women are still reluctant to report violence against them. Violence and abuse have a severe impact on the victim's mental health and their self-esteem takes a huge hit. International Women's day is fast approaching (the theme this year is equality)- please do whatever little you can, to spread awareness about victims groups and rights in place to help them through their ordeal.

PS: you can read more about domestic violence here and here.

Monday, February 8

Shut up...

Photo source: The malaysian

Do you know the kind who use a lot of words to say something simple or the kind that use the entire breadth of their knowledge of English language to convey something that you still would not understand after they finish their sentences, yeah that kind (I am mostly irritated because they talk too much, their verbosity comes later). Most of the times, I feel like saying to them just shut up but when I have my generous moments I kind of pity them. It seems to be an obsession, a way of trying to prove their worth.

But wait- there might be actually a point to all this talking, says Susan Blackmore. Theories out there from a genetic perspective suggest that talking might soon be a lost cause as it seems to be a waste of energy. Others from an evolutionary standpoint suggest that we are stuck with it today because somehow the advent of language and therefore talking was extremely advantageous to out ancestors. But Susan in her article describes yet another possibility- the spreading of memes through talking (remember memes all ye' Dawkins readers out there). For those who have not read Selfish Genes- memes are essentially a unit of cultural transmission or imitation. Examples include catchy tunes, trendy styles and ideas. Say for example- my hopelessly pathetic book reviews can be at some level considered as spreading memes. I read it, I am telling you all about it and hopefully you will tell someone else about it...so on and so forth.

And as far as talking is concerned- think about our brain filled with ideas. These ideas will get transmitted only when you talk, the ideas that are easy to say and forces the host to say them (like celebrity scandals). So essentially you act as the host for the ideas that need to be heard, the "say-me" memes as Susan puts it in her article.

I want to leave you with what George Washington said-

"If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter house"

Not an optimist myself, yet I do hope the kind I described earlier would put talking to good use!

When we were Romans

A book by Matthew Kneale.

Judgement: Must read

I sort of liked it, liked different aspects of the book- loved the narrator (Lawrence, a 9 year old boy) and the narration probably because I am biased (Scott of the To Kill a Mockingbird fame!), hated the spelling errors (may because as a kid I was good at spelling), loved the story and the interruptions about space and Roman emperors such as Caligula. Kudos to Mr. Kneale for doing a great job as a 9 year old narrator, I am sure it is hardly easy.

Lawrence, his sister Jemina and his mother Hannah drive to Rome in fear of the father. Lawrence tells us the story of what goes on in Rome. Only it is not just about that- the author has brought about the innocence, pettiness and frustrations of a 9- year old child. The interruptions I thought provided a firm footing in reality to Lawrence- something that was under his control. There seemed to be a transference effect when Lawrence seemed to sense what his mother felt- he seemed to take on her fears and believe them to be true. I wonder did Franseen ever tell the dad about Hannah and the kids in Rome?! And what about the sister, although a brat, she did seem to bring about quite a few turning points in the story- she does play a subtle yet an important role. I wish I could get into the author's head to understand why he chose to end it the way he did- although it did seem a bit extreme, I think it was a perfect to way to end that part of Lawrence's life story.

PS do not want to give away too much!