Sunday, January 15, 2023

Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding

 "Pakistan wanted to be able to act like Hafez Assad’s Syria while demanding that the United States treat us like Israel."

If there is a quote that summarise the whole 350 page of Husain Haqqani's book Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding,

it is the above written one. Husain Haqqani, who has served as the Pakistan's ambassador of the US and has had first hand experience of the relationship between the two nations, has written this insightful account on US-Pakistan relation through decades. 

Our neighbor who came into existence as a nation at the same instance that we, Indians gained our independence, always harbored a huge inferiority complex and an irrational fear with respect to India. The founding fathers of Pakistan decided that its foundation has to be this unreasonable enmity. Successive Pakistani Governments or their public were forever unable to shirk this mentality off them, thereby fatally compromising their economic stability. They were obsessed with arming themselves in preparation for an impending war with India and emptied their coffers for this end. Another result of this obsession was the interference on its army in its politics and several military coups that further impeded its progress. 

The book makes it clear that Pakistan, from its founding days led by Jinnah, aspired to align with US and find security in their mighty arm power and dollar supremacy. It is a great strategy, but Pakistanis, the Governments and the public, over time felt entitled over this relationship. They believed themselves to be more important to the west strategically than they actually were and started to get more demanding. Refusal of Americans to partner with their military actions against India and the interest of successive US governments on Indian cooperation caused suspicion among Pakistanis causing widespread anti-US sentiments in the country. 

But what may be the thought process of several US politicians and bureaucrats over successive decades, that convinced that Pakistan can be a strategic ally who can counter the communist USSR or can build a bridge that connect US to emerging China and Islamic middle east? It seems that most of the US diplomats who were initially impressed, were so because of the warm personalities of Pak state heads. Jinnah, Ayyub Khan or Bhutto, every Pakistani leader, military or civilian, went out of their way to court US diplomats through establishing personal relations, by being overtly generous. Over time, they and their successors tried every trick in their book to arm twist US into falling into Pakistani trap and providing military and economic aid. Indian leaders' staunch refusal to abandon their non-alignment policy and their perceived warming to USSR also helped this cause. 

The book is a very interesting read and gives a detailed report of the absorbing drama that played out in Islamabad and Washington DC in which both the main characters failed to achieve anything significant from their relationship. It turned out to be a farce, where one character's over obsession and over demanding nature gradually caused resentment and heavy heart break. 

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Life &Times of Michael K: Quest for Freedom


Monday, January 9, 2023

Under The Jaguar Sun: Stories on senses

 "as you try to read a person’s thoughts in the expression of his eyes, so now I looked at those strong, sharp teeth and sensed there a restrained desire, an expectation."

Under the Jaguar Sun is a collection of three short stories by Italo Calvino, published posthumously. Calvino had plans to incorporate these stories and two more additional ones into a book, probably a novel, about five senses. Unfortunately he couldn't write the stories on vision and touch. The three stories contained in this volume deals with sense of taste, sound and smell. Each story is a unique experience to read and varies considerably in narrative style and structure. 

Under The Jaguar Sun, explores the relationship of a couple on vacation in Mexico. The history and cuisine of Mexico rekindles their failing relation. The rich food history of missionaries and indigenous tribes fancies them initially. But as the knowledge of the bloody rituals of past deepens, so does their desire to explore each other through taste. 

A King Listens is special because it is a rare story that has a second person narrative. It deals with sense of hearing. A King is compelled to use his palace as a hearing aid. It is about the paranoia of losing power and how every bit of information, however insignificant it may sound feeds it. The story is all the more significant in current times. 

"The palace is a construction of sounds that expands one moment and contracts the next, tightens like a tangle of chains. You can move through it, guided by the echoes, localizing creaks, clangs, curses, pursuing breaths, rustles, grumbles, gurgles."

The Name, The Nose is a story about sense of smell. Three parallel narratives are presented which happens at three different timelines, bound together by the quest for feminine scent. A French sensualist tries to reconstruct a whiff of perfume that he sensed at a party. A rock musician tries to identify a woman by her smell after a hard night of drug induced orgy. A primal man running with his herd, is also on the quest to find the female scent that attracted him. 

"With my nose I learned that in the herd there is a female not like the others, not like the others for me, for my nose; and I ran, following her trail in the grass, my nose exploring all the females running in front of me, of my nose, in the herd; and there I found her, it was she who had summoned me with her odor in the midst of all those odors; there, I breathed through my nose all of her and her love-summons."

Friday, December 23, 2022

The Sense of an Ending: Our Forgotten History

 “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

If we read the statement closely, we can observe an anomaly in it. It says history is a certainty that is produced from  uncertain memories and uncertain documented knowledge. How can two uncertainties produce a certainty? It probably indicates the subjective nature of history. 

 This definition of history is made by Adrian, a character in Julian Barnes Booker Prize winning novel, The Sense of an Ending. What I read in the novel was an elaboration of this statement. One is certain of what happened in past because he remember certain things he saw and also because there are certain documents that he gets to know, through written or oral accounts. But how much absolutely true is this certainty, that he feels? How reliable are our memory and how correctly we have documented events? 

One day Tony, an old retired, divorced guy knows that he is named in the will of Sarah, his ex-girlfriend Veronica's mother. According to the will he is entitled for some money and two documents. He couldn't possess one of it, the personal diary of Adrian, once his close friend, who went on to date Veronica after Tony broke up with her when he was young. Adrian took his life months after their relationship started. 

The will makes Tony know certain things associated with his past, which he has totally forgotten and to complete the jigsaw puzzle, he contacts Veronica for the first time after decades. Why is Veronica so angry with him? What else has he forgotten? Why is he named in the will of a lady whom he met just once decades before? Why did Adrian kill himself? 

The Sense of An Ending is a rumination on old age and memory. It deals with how our psyche makes us forget uncomfortable events. It tries to remind us that we are always on a process to interpret events in our lives according to our convenience and also use the help of incomplete data available to us for this purpose. It makes us aware of the uneasy reality that we never tries to reach out for truth that us painful and would rather bury it in the past to go on with our lives. 

The Sense of an Ending, the Booker Prize winner of 2011, is a very short novel, but one which is crafted beautifully. With precise words and situations and with delicate characters, Julian Barnes creates an amazing tale, after reading which we ourselves will be forced to examine our own past and wonder what all lies buried in there, forgotten conveniently... 

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Three Assassins: Prequel To Bullet Train

 Suzuki's wife has died in an accident caused deliberately by a gangster's son. Suzuki wants revenge and has infiltrated their illegal firm. His cover is about to be blown and his only chance is to uncover the identity of an assassin who is known in the industry as the Pusher, a phantom killer who silently pushes his victim to death on a busy road or a railway track. Intercepting his mission are two other equally ruthless assassins- the Whale, who makes his victims commit suicide and Cicada, who is an expert in terminating entire families, kids and all. 

Three Assassins is a black comedy written by Kotaro Isaka and is a prequel to Bullet Train, of which we talked about before. Basic premise and themes of both novels are similar. But main differences that I could identify lies in the tone and pace of the books. Three Assassins is a bit slow paced than Bullet Train and focuses more on character development. This book is shorter than the latter and is a very easy read. 

Structure of the book is similar to Bullet Train. The story is told in the point of views of Suzuki, the Whale and Cicada. Each chapter follows one character and is named accordingly. Focusing only on three characters makes the novel more easy to follow when compared with Bullet Train, which has more main characters. Some of the characters of this novel makes an appearance in Bullet Train, in person or in mention. 

I was a bit apprehensive at first because the identity of the Pusher which supposedly was the main focus of the story, is evident to the reader from the beginning, though Suzuki is doubtful of it. But the author uses some pretty great twists later and makes up for it. The payoffs are much stronger in Three Assassins. You will find many Chekhov's guns in the plot that comes into play later. (Chekhov's gun is a literary device that insists that if a gun is shown initially in the story, it has to be fired before climax.) 

I loved the characters of all three assassins. The Pusher is a very calm and collected person who carries a saintly, philosophical air. The Whale is the most well portrayed one of the lot. A look into his eyes makes people to take their own lives. He always sees his victims around him as ghosts who converses with him and many times these conversations helps him. He is the most complex and most interesting character due to his great story arc. Cicada is a one note character who is interesting only due to his ruthless nature, unemotional thinking and the overall craziness that he brings with him. 

Suzuki is the main character who ties up the plot together. He is a down to earth person and easy to root for, even though in the quest for revenge he has done some mean deeds and never feels sorry. But compared to the general craziness around him, the chapters of Suzuki pulls down the energy level of the plot a bit down. On the other hand Nanao, the lead of Bullet Train is more electric and keeps the madness intact in his story. 

Three Assassins is an interesting and easily read page turner. If you love black comedies, thrillers and books featuring assassins, you are in for a treat due to the crackling plot. It is a great accompaniment to Bullet Train which is a better and more complex sequel.