Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Allianz of Crooks

An email made my day...! Today I received an email from an international figure. Some one, if not for the strict and religious upbringing in which she was brought up, would have been as influential and popular as Winnie Mandela or Hilary Clinton. Someone whose better half controlled the destiny of a nation for decades. But as Lady Luck was not in the favor of this lady, her husband was murdered in a coup and she is orphaned. Alone and with her husband's huge treasure in her custody, she want to relocate and settle in my country doing any business. And she has chosen me for guarding her money of which I will get a small share... 

Ladies and Gentlemen, please lent your ears for the wails of this lonely lady... wife of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi:

Greetings in the name of Allah,
am the  wife of the late Libyan president Gadafi who was killed
by rebels on Thursday 20th  oct 2011, please my life is in big
danger and I would like to use you as my contact to move a huge
some of money and start living a free life in your country. for
I have been on veils as a Muslim since he married me, which is
our religious rights, nobody has seen my face or known me except
my children and himself and I thank Allah for this.
I cannot be identified by anybody in the world now that things
has gone bad. Am taking refuge in Algeria. I and my children
can't go back to Libya for now.We are afraid that our life could
be in danger in Libya.The death of my husband was a broad day
murder by the Libya rebel.he was captured and was killed not by
stray bullet as the would was made to believe.
I want to relocate to your country,to start up a new life. I
have some money in my possession which i will like to invest in
any profitable business in your country.I want you to guard me
through the business i will invest.I will reward with 20 percent
of the total money.
Please,I will give you more information as soon as I hear
from.kindly send your reply to my private id:
Waiting to hear from you.
Mrs. Safia Gadafi
My only problem with this wonderfully drafted letter is the spelling mistake in the name of this widow. The height of internet scam... 

But now a days these things never bother me. In such cases my stand is that, if someone is fooled by these schemes, they deserves it. What bothers me is perfectly legitimate business houses doing robbery on broad daylight legally. And helpless public falling for sweet promises and parting their hard earned money. If you check the title of this post, you will know who is this party about whom I mentioned. 

When an insurance adviser, who was rather close to my family and who had helped us in past approached me to take a policy, one with a very reasonable premium and which is in no way a burden for me, I was only glad to oblige. The most attractive thing that he told was that after paying three year's premium we can withdraw the amount at any time as we chose and even if we never pay the premium, it will never lapse. That was how I took my first ULIP plan. After paying three year's premium, I never thought of it again as I was planning to withdraw the money in case of any urgent requirement. And the need struck now. 

That was how I found myself at their office last day morning. The person at reception was much helpful. He listed out the required forms and proofs for surrender of the policy. He even suggested waiting for a few more days to withdraw, as the market was not healthy right then. He filled the form for me and shown the places where I should put my sign. Then he lead me to another officer sitting in a cubicle. This guy checked my policy number, typed it in his system and after a few minutes of calculation, announced the total amount due to me if I surrendered the policy then. 

I was startled. It was almost 45 % less than my fund value. May be he made an error while telling me. I tried to correct him. But he confirmed the amount and told the difference is due to the surrender fee. A surrender fee amounting to 45% of the total amount due to me? My knees got weak. Blood rushed to my head. He was  telling me to wait for more time as with time the surrender fee will reduce incrementally and at the end of 20 years it will be zero. I told why I was not told about the surrender fee, if it was this huge. All I was told by everyone was that after three years I can withdraw the money at any time. There was a formula for surrender fee in their policy document, a bizarre one which did not made any sense to me or any of my much experienced friends to whom I showed it. I collected all the copies and documents on the desk, stuffed it in my bag all the while telling him how big a cheat his organization was. And while coming out of his cubicle, I gave my parting address.

"Look my friend, if you guys think that you and your firm can do this New Year party with my hard earned money, I am not game. You all can go to hell, I am not going to give you a paisa of it. See you after 20 years."    

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Two Novels That Started Great..

... but got fizzled later. I have a bad habit of reading first page and selecting  novels, especially of those writers, whom I have never tried before. It has yielded disastrous effects many times. And two novels that I read in recent times are good examples. These two novels are humorous and the starting was so good that I expected the whole novel to be as great as that one page. I got a bad feeling after some time, but continued reading thinking that things will get better. Alas, that was not the case. First of these books is a best seller, a book so famous that many wannabe writers felt after reading it that novel writing in Indian English is a cake walk. A misconception, the troubles of which we are still suffering through numerous supposedly humorous books endorsing the book shelves in major book stalls. Second one did not cause such a stir, but it was quite successful in a limited circle, if many comments of certain reviews in some sites are to be believed.  

Anurag Mathur's novel The Inscrutable Americans follows the life of an Indian student in USA. The book was a best seller when it was published in 90's. That was a time when American dream was catching up big time with middle class Indians. A village boy Gopal, son of a business tycoon selling Hair oil, comes to US for studying Chemistry. The novel starts with a letter send by him that recounts his experiences in the plane. The author has captured the innocence of the small time boy in that segment wonderfully. Randy is his friend in the college who tries to introduce him to the American way of living. The problem that I find with this novel, which otherwise is readable and witty in many parts, is the over emphasis laid on ... hm, shall I say... getting laid..? The whole concept of cultural difference between US and India as per this novel can be simplified in these two words, which I feel makes it too shallow. Another problem is that Gopal infatuation to score an American girl and the ways he employs for that takes up a huge chunk of the novel and after a while I really felt bored. And after reading the whole book, only parts that lingers in the mind is his hilarious adventures in supermarket and his meeting with the other pretentious Indian guy. 

The second novel is No Onions Nor Garlic by Srividya Natarajan. Her first novel starts wonderfully with a drama enactment of  A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Tam Bram (Tamil Brahmin, for the ignorant) Professor Ram. Four young men checks out the list of characters and audition for parts, just so that they can try their lick with the fairies in the play. And then they comes to know that they are selected.. for the part of fairies. I read this introduction and couldn't control my laughter and decided No Onions Nor Garlic as my weekend read. But after this initial segment, it was downhill all the way. The novel is supposed to be a criticism of the ways of Tamil Brahmins and the way they never let people of other castes and religion get the upper hand. The battle ground is a college where Professor Ram and his cronies doesn't want any one outside their caste to come up- students or teachers, and they are ready to stoop to any level to stop it. The novel tries to analyze caste politics in work place.

The problem is humor. It is crass... No, I don't have any problem with humor involving bodily functions. Problem starts when it gets repetitive. Whenever a particular negative character enters a scene at least one mention is made about his generous behind. Author squeezes out every possibility to evoke humor out of it till the reader gets a terrible nausea. The characters are black and white and too shallow. The writing is funny in many places but overdoing it causes fatigue. The story is bizarre and tries to spoof old Tamil movies when it reaches half way with many plot twists. Which also makes it boring after a while as it does not evoke any laughter. And the main antagonist Professor Ram, is demonized and humiliated in such a bad way that by the end I felt genuinely sorry for the chap. I really felt that the author had some personal enmity with this character.              

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Fast Paced Philosophical Thriller

There are novels that appeal to the senses, fast paced thrillers filled with unexpected plot twists that takes place around the globe. Then there are novels that philosophically ponders the question of human existence. Some novelists try to combine these genres and we get fabulous novels like Fight Club. The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G K Chesterton is another fine example. This novel is as exciting and fast paced as any mystery thriller and at the same time makes the reader think about the paradoxes it poses. The best thing about the novel is that there are no detailed descriptions of any philosophical thoughts as in some other books of the same category like Zen And The Art Of Motor Cycle Maintenance. There is not a single dull moment throughout. 

The novel is set in early 20th century London and starts when a poet, Gabriel Syme comes to a suburban park where he meets anarchist poet Gregory, who gets disturbed by Gabriel's opposing view that life and poetry should be according to clearly set laws. When Syme accuses that Gregory is not serious as an anarchist, he is taken to a meeting place of anarchists. Gregory is all set to get elected and appointed to the Central Anarchist Council of Europe. There Syme surprises Gregory by revealing that he is appointed by Scotland Yard and using the resultant confusion of Gregory, gets himself elected into the Council. Each member of the Council is uses the name of a day as a secret code name and Syme is Thursday. In his first meeting he meets other council members, each seemingly normal men, but to careful eyes a bizarre enigma. Sunday, a huge and giant man is the leader of the Council. As Syme tries to prevent any more bombings and destroy the council, he finds out he is not the only one in the Council who is concealing the real identity. He is pulled into several surreal, absurdly humorous and breathtaking situations. 

The novel is heavy with allegory and symbolism. The code naming of Council members into seven days of the week refers to the Christian belief of creation. It carries a view that there cannot be pure good or evil and a close and in depth inspection will reveal the goodness in any evil. The novel is difficult to be classified into a mystery, satire, fantasy or allegory. It is a unique mixture. The book is in public domain and if you like to download the ebook you can do it here

Monday, December 5, 2011

Once upon a time: Beyond the iron curtain

Indian readers will be familiar with french journalist Dominique Lapierre from the epic book that he co authored with Collins, Freedom at Midnight, which is a retelling of the events that culminated in Indian Independence. Once Upon A Time In Soviet Union is his book about a journey that he undertook decades through then Soviet Union to get a first hand experience of the life of commoners behind the iron curtain as Soviet Russia was known then. 

Year was 1956 and Lapierre told the ace photographer of the newspaper where he works, Jean Pierre Pedrazzini about a plan to travel in Communist China, a road trip in a motor car without any official interference. Later they changed the location from China to Khrushchev's USSR. Then a number of coincidences made the plan working and soon they found themselves accompanied by their wives in a car crossing Soviet border. Slava was a Russian journalist allotted to accompany them along with his wife. And thus started a life changing journey. Equipped with perfumes and miniature Eiffel Towers, the French couples were a hit in Russia, with people thronging around wherever they went. One main reason is the car, as many Russians had never seen a car with more than one color in their entire life time. They spends time with many common Russian men and women, doctors, laborers, peasants and waiters to know what kind of life they are undergoing. And to be fair, it gives a neutral account of the state of things there. 

The pathetic state of country's roads and infrastructure and the non availability of good fuel mars the pleasantness of the journey many times. The interactions with the Russian couple reveals the sad state of a propaganda driven ruling that existed a the times. Excellent photographs by  Pedrazzini contributes to the reading pleasure. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Inside out and outside in: Two travelogues

I happened to read two travelogues recently. Two books similar in certain aspects but different, even diametrically opposite in some other ways. First one is written by a US citizen about the experiences he faced in India when he lived here for some months. Second one is an account of travels around the globe by a US settled NRI. Both are humorous and immensely readable. But the way in which these two men finds other cultures, the way they describes them, makes the sharp contrast.

Mark Mattison worked as a teacher in India for a few months along with his wife, who is a diplomat and wrote the book Surrounded by Indians, using his experiences of his stay in and around Delhi. He is wondered by the exotic nature of Indian culture- temple of rats, pachyderms roaming around the middle of the city, sacred cows, honest cobbler, Royal Enfield Bullets.. At the same time he is appalled by the chaotic nature of it- rough traffic of Delhi, men dancing noisily on weddings, troubles with red tape  and unclean conditions of hotels and streets. 

The other book that I read was by M P Prabhakaran on his travels around the world. The reason I picked this book was its title: "What Makes Islamic Turkey Different From Islamist Saudi Arabia - The World As An Indian Sees It". I felt it could be a complementary reading with V S Naipaul's book Among the Believers. But it was just a small part of the book, when author visited both countries and wrote an article deliberating the difference Islamist rule of Saudi has with Islamic state of Turkey. Author is particularly impressed by the degree of freedom enjoyed by women there. But I have to admit that I was not disappointed by the book. It was funny and a real page turner. The author conducts himself with much humility and tolerance to unknown cultures as a student eager to absorb them. Also though he is settled in USA, he acts as an ambassador of India, projecting the image of India as a multi-cultured nation every where he goes. 

As I had mentioned earlier, these two books can make a good study of contrast. One is a view of India from outside world and other one the view of outside world through Indian eyes. Mark Mattison's work is insightful and entertaining, but the judgmental nature of it cannot be ignored. He sees every thing by the eyes of an American and compares every thing in terms of US. One example is men dancing in a Baaraat. He feels they are desperate men, who never have an option to get a girl friend. At the same time, Prabhakaran shows a way of seeing things without passing a judgement. He watches unknown with a wonder akin to a kid. And that makes this book interesting.              

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jeffrey Archer's As the Crow Flies: Story of an Inspiring Retailer

It has become like a custom from last one year, every couple of months I pick up a novel by Jeffrey Archer to read. The thicker the book is, the better. It all started when I happened to read this book called First among equals and got hooked to a story telling style that is very fluid and captivating. He is definitely one of the best entertaining story tellers of our time. What amazed me is his capacity to write novels that spans decades, mostly the whole life of the protagonists, and still manage to keep the reader's interest level up through out, page by page and sentence by sentence. As The Crow Flies is also not different. 

I feel this novel is all the more apt for the moment as India is planning to open its door to FDI in retail. The novel tell the inspiring rags to riches story of a man who started as a vegetable vendor to become the owner of the biggest retail showroom in the country. Charlie Trumper used to sell vegetables with his Grand Father on a barrow. Inspired by his grand father, he dreams of owning the biggest barrow in the world. The story follows up his life as he struggles to realize his dream. Every element that makes a page turner is deployed here- romance, suspense, love, emotion, action, adventure, scheming villains, twists and turns, coincidences... everything in the right amount, at the right moment. Story is told in the perspectives of multiple characters, which makes it all the more interesting. It also helps much in character building and readers find them more identifiable by knowing about their fears and motives that causes several of their actions. 

But after reading the whole book one thing that gets etched in the reader's mind is Charlie's diligent pursuit. His passion for attaining his goal, his willingness to observe and study from his mistakes, his readiness to stand tall adhering to his principles in any adversity. That is what makes him endearing to readers. But Archer does not make him super human. He has several short falls that he overcomes thanks to his virtues and the company of faithful and caring persons who surround him. 

I would heavily recommend this gem of a novel to any one interested to get entertained and inspired.  

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dam(n) politics

This post is the revival of an old series "All are mathematics" written sometime back as a fictional satirical political commentary. Read the whole series here.

"We are all going to dogs. No body care for us. Not the state government or central government..." Abu cried.

"Well, these politicians does not have any interest to save the lives of people. They are interested only in swelling their vote banks and Swiss bank accounts. Corrupt lot." Divakaran complained.

Rajagopal Master, as usual, was on a walk to the tea shop of Raman Pilla for his daily dose of political gossip, when Abu and Divakar joined him near the library. Abu, an old student of Master, (you have met him before) has come back from Middle East, after his short but successful stint in business and is planning to establish his own business empire in his village, a hair transplanting clinic, which he is confident to be a huge success owing to the increasing cases of baldness, thanks to global warming, global recession and global pollution. Divakar, also an ex-student, was a student union leader in his early days. Later as he inherited a patch of land and a good running family business after the demise of his father, he severed his ties with politics and is now a vocal critic of the dirty pits it has fallen into. Rajagopal Master, in his mind, thinks that it as a classic case of sour grapes as many of his colleagues from earlier times are walking the power corridors, milling great fortunes.   

"It seems the death toll will be anywhere near 4 million if the disaster strikes. Kerala will be torn into two halves and the commercial town Cochin will be below water. We are doomed for an eternity." Abu said. 

"Well, it seems the MPs from Kerala has met the PM and got assurance of some kind." Master told, remembering some snippet of news that he overheard the last day on TV, while channels were being changed faster than the pop up ads appearing with a 3G connection, during the eternal struggle between his son and wife to see channels of their choice. 

"No use Sir, Tamil Nadu politicians have strong hold in center, our guys won't be able to do much against them." Divakar replied in a rage of fury. 

By this time they had reached the tea shop and there also the discussion was on the impending disaster that may be caused by the rupture of the hundred year old dam. Appukkuttan, the librarian of the village library and one of the few computer literate members of the older generation was working overtime to spread the awareness among locals. He used to come up with at least five multicolored posters and slogans daily to upload on Facebook and other social networking sites and it will be a lie to claim that he does not get a perverted kind of pride and pleasure, when he gets likes and comments on them and when the best ones goes viral.

"Everyone has to dedicate their time for the cause, irrespective of  caste, class and religion. This is for the common good." Appukkuttan declared to general public. 

"Hm.. This is precisely the reason I told all of you during the last election time, to vote us into power. Then no one heeded. Now all of you will suffer for it. Historically only Left governments has stood against central government with a spine that is not bend. No use of complaining now." Sudhakaran the local Leftist leader commented in an uninterested tone.           

"Man, this is not the time for getting divided. We have to take this cause above politics. Yesterday also the CM of other state has declared that dam is safe and sound. Why should they care for the dam..? If it breaks they won't have anything to lose." Appukkuttan was furious. 

"Anna, don't forget that my village and hundreds of others like it gets water from that dam. If it is ruptures, there is going to be a severe drought that the world has never seen." That was the dissenting voice of Selvan, who had come there one decade ago as a laborer and got assimilated himself into the society in so much depth that it was the first time most of even thought of him as an outsider. 

"Master, what do you think of all this?" Raman Pilla asked  Rajagopalan Master, while keeping a hot glass of tea on his table. Now all heads turned towards Master, as he was known as a man of good judgement. Normally his arguments were never biased. 

"Hm..." Master sipped some tea, took his time to devour it and to frame his thoughts. Divakar was remembering that moment when he asked a particularly difficult doubt in mathematics class years before.

"I think you all remember the case of Laaly that happened some time back. She found herself in serious trouble when found herself pregnant without getting married. Well, the whole village knew she was into some funny business with that truck driver Ramanan. But when confronted he told outright that there is no chance that it is his, as he had taken all necessary precautions while they were, hm.. getting cozy. There were lot of mudslinging between them, which passed on to their families and in no time our entire community was divided in two. One group told that there is nothing wrong with Laaly and she is just making the whole story up for money. The other group blamed Ramanan for ditching the poor girl after committing to marry her. When things took a nasty turn all the elders gathered and decision was taken to get her examined medically and take a decision based on the result of that examination."

"But what is the connection between this long forgotten episode and the issue of dam?" Abu asked the doubt that lingered on every one's mind while hearing the monologue. 

"Well, this issue is also not different. Kerala claims that the dam is severely damaged and even a mild tremor can cause the rupture resulting in loss of lives. They want to built a new dam and decommission the old one.  Tamil Nadu asserts that there is no need to panic and the dam is strong still. They absolutely deny any claim by Kerala that there is a safety issue involved. Both the parties puts forward diametrically opposed statements as facts. The only sane way to end this argument is to make either parties agree for examining the dam by an impartial agency, the report of which will be agreed by both parties involved and take necessary steps to prevent any disaster before anything nasty happens, just like how we did in Laaly's case."  

Silence reigned. Master finished the tea, kept the cup on the table and rose to leave. All were pondering on the words that they just heard. 

"Master, finally what happened to Laaly..?" Abu whispered in Master's ears, thinking of all that interesting things he missed out while he was abroad...     

Saturday, November 26, 2011

V S Naipaul Travels Among The Believers

V S Naipaul, the famous Nobel lauraete and the one of the best English writer of our times (arguably), is a man who dwells in controversies thanks to his egotistical behavior and guts to call a spade as a spade. Decades before the militant stream of Islam became number one enemy of west, he had embarked on a seven month journey through four Asian Islamic nations. The time was when huge socio political changes were taking place in these countries. Naipaul chronicles them as he saw it in his book Among the Believers.

He starts his journey from Iran, just after Khomeini ousted the Shah through an Islamic Revolution. Though the outer world (read the west) felt that it is a release from the oppression, he senses it as the beginning of a new regime of religious oppression. This is evident from the suppressing of Communists who aided the removal of Shah from power.

Naipaul identifies the effort by fundamentalists to take back the country to conditions similar to the desert cities that gave birth to Islam- a kind of time travel using faith as its vehicle. It may be his colonial upbringing, Naipaul sees only the physical decay all over and is exasperated by the depleting influence of West in the lifestyle of Iran. Another of his complaint is that the rapid return to religious roots is taken with the help of technology, that he feels is Western world's monopoly. Naipaul seems is paradoxical that the struggle to become a desert tribe is made with the help of weapons, communication devices and vehicles that are, as per his view made and supplied by West. An anti western war using western technology!

What Naipaul does in his travels to other countries like Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia is to identify the movements that try to radicalize Islam and make it more unique and identifiable with the religion at its state of origin by imitating the Islamic Revolution in Iran. And he finds such movements in abundance. Naipaul shows some compassion to these movements unlike the disbelief with which he viewed the transitions in Iran under the rule of Khomeinis. He is pained by the efforts to eradicate or eliminate the effect of diverse cultures that contributed to the growth of Islam in its beginning stage in these countries. Like destructing the ancient Hindu linkage to Islam in Indonesia by disregarding the customs with Hindu roots in that region. He is more critical to Pakistan in this regards. 

The book succeeds in making the contemporary reader ponder about how it all might have started- 9/11 and the American war on terror. And that I believe is a significant achievement. Whatever you deduce about the ideological inclinations of the book Among the Believers, it is truly a very good travelogue. Naipaul's chronicling of environments and people inhabiting them in different countries is nothing short of magical. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: The Habit of Winning

There was a time when I used to read a lot of self help literature. Almost for a couple of years they acquired a major part of my reading list. That was the time of self doubt, fear about future and the time to built up that much required confidence among chaos. And they served the purpose. At least some of them did. But then I grew tired of them, they all sound the same. Most of them lay out a program to create the path to success. Lot of theoretical statements, step by step procedures, complicated exercises, personality development techniques to built up an artificial surge of confidence... Once I had a discussion with a good friend about the use of such books and finally we arrived at the conclusion that, though we never tried to follow any of those success formulas they offered, we still had imbibed some of their positive advises which has helped us tremendously.

All these thoughts were running in my mind while I received the mail to review Prakash Iyer’s book The Habit of Winning for Blogadda’s book review program. Also to speak frankly, the terms Habit and Winning on the title was a big turnoff. There are scores of books with similar titles, many of which I had started and discarded even before completing a dozen pages. But then what captured my attention was the tagline “stories to inspire, motivate and unleash the winner within”. The word stories became the deciding factor and I put down my name also for consideration.

Now, after reading the book, in less than a day, with just two sittings, 150 pages yesterday and another 100 today, I feel I did the right thing. The book is much different from hundreds of similar self help titles inhabiting the shelves of book stores and libraries. It reminded me of the first self help book that I read- Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People. What made him different from other motivational writers is his emphasis on the principles. His argument was that unless we have a character built on strong principles there is no everlasting success. Prakash Iyer also gives emphasis on making the foundation right through building up of solid principles to make the way forward.    

Another strong point of this book is that unlike other titles, instead of making a course program with one step following another, the author tries to make the readers themselves to chart their journey to be a winner. I feel this is much effective than providing an instant formula for success, because here the reader will be able to think for themselves and individually apply different thoughts presented in the book to their lives using their own reason. Another benefit is that the commitment of reader will be for themselves. It will not get faltered as the reader himself try to find the way using the principles outlined as told by Mr R Gopalakrishnan in the foreword.

The book consists of eleven sections consisting of small chapters, nothing more than 5 pages. Each section deals with different steps that are required to live a healthy and successful life in harmony with surroundings. Chapters consist of stories and tidbits of wisdom that drives home the point to the reader. The stories, some of them taken from real life with real heroes in them and some from old parables are much effective in illustrating the point writer is trying to make. Prakash Iyer uses his experience of decades in sales to charter a motivating and enlightening journey for the reader.    

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Small Minds, Big Mouths...

Today I had a visitor in factory, Mr RR. Actually, he appears at least 2 times weekly. He is our machining vendor. Whenever there are any machining jobs that we cannot do in house, we delegate it to his company. Best thing is that he has most of the machines required by us and it saves lot of my following up time and he comes at least 50% cheap compared to other vendors. Today he had come to deliver some material. When he arrived, I was coming out of canteen having just finished my lunch. The moment I saw him, I asked him whether he had his lunch. I told him to immediately go to canteen and have it when he answered negatively.

Later he came, we discussed the things and I told him to wait in reception area as some paper work had to be finished. I took leave of him and was just moving to my work area, when the Security Supervisor came hurriedly towards me.

"Sir, from now on wards lunch won't be provided to visitors.." He told in a serious tone.

I was aghast. "But why?"

pic courtesy: zazzle.com
"Sir, there are lot of troubles when we provide lunch to them. Many times our boys are missing lunch. So this was a decision taken by HR and Finance managers. Today you should not have let RR have lunch."

"But I don't have any information on this sudden change of policy. And it is cheap to deny visitors their lunch."

"But I have noticed many times that Mr RR comes exactly at lunch time- between 1 to 2, and straight goes to canteen. This is happening from some time and we cannot allow this."

"Is this your observation?"

"Yes, and I have told the Finance Manager about this."

My blood boiled. "I will speak with the Manager. You can carry on."

RR was standing some 10 feet behind me. I was afraid that he might have overheard the conversation. The Security Supervisor had a sound similar to a locomotive engine. It will be a disgrace if he had heard it. I could not even look back due to shame.

I went straight to Finance Manager's chamber. Asked for some time of his and explained him what has happened.

"Sir, that guy RR is a vendor of ours. He has a factory of his own. He provides occupation for at least 8 workers there. He makes at least ten times more than what I get every month. He behaves to all of us, including the Security personnel, in a humble manner, with utmost respect because we are his customers. That does not give us any right to insult him like that. He arrives here in his own vehicle spending petrol worth at least Rs 500. According to that great watch man, it is for eating this free lunch worth Rs 20..."

FM, being a pacifier calmed me down with sweet words, promised necessary warning will be given to Supervisor and put all the blame on HR manager, as it usually happens.

Some people never see the big picture...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why Shouldn't I Read Chetan Bhagat?

Recently I am finding much discussion and many articles on Chetan Bhagat and the kind of novels that he write. On one side there are his fan boys (and girls) who swear by him and would recommend him for the next Nobel prize if they had any say in the matter! On other side there are hard core literary enthusiasts who will never accept any one who writes in a language comprehensible to others as some one worth mentioning. And both sides are on an endless debate on the merits of CB, as the writer is affectionately called.

If you have been following Conscientious Reflections from some time, definitely you will be knowing I am no big fan of CB. And in many posts I have never missed a chance to take a dig on his populist writing style. In fact the only one novel of his that I read is The Three Mistakes of my Life, and I was of the opinion that it is nothing better than an average Bollywood movie story. My friends were of the opinion that I should try some of his better works, like Two States or Five Point Someone. The reason I never ventured above Three Mistakes is mentioned in one of the posts before. If I read a writer's book for the first time and I feel it was not worth the time spent on it, I will not try any of his other works. Not because I hate the writer, but when there are so many better books out there that cannot be read even in a lifetime, why to risk valuable time? (After reading his long and boring novel Insomnia, I never tried another one of Stephen King.)

No one can argue with the fact that CB is a phenomenal seller of books. His books, all paperback and priced competitively beats the competition by adopting a story telling style that is simple and pleasing to the mind. Most of his readership comprises of young, urban readers who has just become financially independent and just started the reading habit. (I know there are exceptions.) They relate to the plots in these novels, which are mostly everyday situations. So eventually what matters is Chetan Bhagat caters the need of a certain category of readers. I think no one can blame him for doing that. What is wrong if his books make a few thousands of people start a reading habit? At least a handful of them may graduate to a higher level of reading experience. If someone is not liking the kind of stuff he writes, they can always stop reading them. But no one can dictate that he should change his style just to cater their reading requirement. We all had read Enid Blyton or Chandamama during our childhood days. Now just because we have grown up, can we stop others from reading them? Won't it be absurd if instead of a humorous picture story, an article on stock trading appears on latest Archie comic?

To hard core CB fans, I have only this much to say, don't heed to any detractors. Enjoy reading what you feel like. But please keep in mind that there are many other delicious offerings out side the circle. Once in a while put on an adventure hat and go exploring. Check out Aravind Adiga on his White Tiger or Kiran Desai lamenting on the inheritance of loss. Spend some time exploring the life of Pi or of the midnight's children. Believe me, you will be delighted.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The other side of history...

The Other Side of History is a play directed by Prakash Belawadi, based on the play Hindi play Baaki Ithihaas by Badal Sircar staged at Rangashankara, Bangalore. 

It is a striking examination of middle class mentality. The main characters are a middle class husband and wife Sharad and Vasanti, both academics waiting for the big break. One day they read in newspaper about the suicidal death of a college professor, who was their acquaintance some time back. Vasanti, an aspiring writer, starts writing a story imagining  the reasons of  the professor. Sharad, after hearing her version of the story, does not feel it is right. He thinks of another story. Finally the dead man's ghost appears and narrates the real reason of his death. Sharad seems to identify himself with the plight of the dead man. 

The play make the spectator think about the plight of a common man, leading a common life, when lot of uncommon things happen around him. Violence, war and blood shed and all the unjust world, though seemingly not affecting him, causes ripples in the consciousness. A meaningful, well acted attempt, though not as gripping as it should have been.    

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Aldous Huxley's Brave new world: Classic Dystopia

Dystopia is the opposite of utopia. While latter is a world where everything is perfect, in a dystopian world oppression and control of individual freedom is the norm. Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World is a fine example of a novel set in a dystopian world. The novel is set in future London where scientific progress has reached such a level that several important factors of human existence like religion, war, violence, disease and even reproduction has become obsolete. An outsider enters this paradise and feels it is a brave new world, just like Miranda who was raised in a lonely island in Shakespeare's The Tempest sees drunken antics of sailors and exclaims it is a brave new world. But a close examination makes him find the hollowness of the place.

In the World State all are happy. Everyone has jobs, there is no disease, no troubles, no need of a commitment to anyone, all are beautiful. Here kids are produced in factories. The classes in which they should belong is predetermined by chemically altering the brain development and they are raised that way, by employing several subtle suggestion methods. They don't even know about the possibility of moving to a higher caste in the hierarchy. Consumption of resources is encouraged to sustain the system. Momentary bouts of depression or unhappiness is cured by Soma, a mind altering drug without any side effects. Sex is recreational, solitude is a vice and love is unheard of. Marriage, relations and pregnancy is considered vulgar words. Outside of this world, in reserved forests are a tribe of people who still follows rituals from past, like marriage and family, following an amalgamation of religions. John the savage enters from this world into the State, which at first glance looks like paradise. But when he finds the facade behind the free life led by the people in this new world, he cannot adjust with it, causing havoc in his life and those around him. 

The last novel of Huxley that I read was Point Counterpoint. It was a large novel and tough to read because of the multitude of bizarre but relatable characters inhabiting it. But the characterization made the reading of it a pleasure. But Brave New World, though short and readable, gives no such pleasure. The people are more like cardboard cut-outs here. The long discussion sequences in Point Counterpoint makes one vary initially, but once you get the gist of the novel it becomes interesting. Brave New World also has some such moments, but discussions are more animated and dry. 

When a dystopian novel of such proportion is discussed, the other classic cannot be ignored- George Orwell's 1984. Orwell's dystopia causes pain to its people and thrives, but Huxley's makes them embrace pleasure and sustains itself by making them slaves of that unlimited pleasure. The system makes them slaves by creating a sense of wild freedom in them. The former can be toppled by a revolution, but to win over latter is next to impossible.    

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Delhi Noir: Dark Delhi Under Belly...

Noir in French means black. Noir is a movement that started in movies when the darker sides of human psyche was explored. The movement was in its prime in early 40's and characterized by melancholic characters succumbing to crime and violence in urban settings. Later versions of Noir movies came to be known as neo noir. Noir can take up any genre of movie making- crime, mystery, suspense, horror, sci-fi and even comedy with dark undertones. (One fine example of neo-noir that I watched is Billy bob Thornton movie The Man Who Wasn't There.) Later, noir became a genre in fiction and in comics. 

Delhi Noir is an anthology of short stories with noirish characters featuring Delhi as the backdrop and edited by Hirsh Sawhney. It is part of a Noir series of books published by Akashic Books with other titles including Seattle Noir, Istanbul Noir, Chicago Noir etc. The book contain 14 stories written by established and not- so- established writers, taking place in various places in and around the capital city. The book will be more appealing to those who are familiar with the city because each story happens in a well known area. The same time it may be appalling to the same people because it does not present a rosy picture of the capital. Those who felt Slumdog Millionaire was selling Mumbai's poverty may feel that Delhi Noir does that by portraying sleaze, crime and violence. Personally I feel a little introspection will do no harm. And if the shock provided by Delhi Noir helps in achieving it, then it serves the purpose. Another factor to keep in mind is that these stories are not trying to give a message, or trying to give a remedy to any social evil. They are just exploring the evil minds creating havoc in situations that we face in our every day life.     

As to the literary value of the stories, I would just tell that all fourteen of them are well readable and some of them, if not all, are spell binding. Most of them has a cheesy, on the face and crude approach of story telling characteristic to the genre. Violence, sleaze and gore are added in generous doses and at the same time at least some stories makes an effort to pry into the minds of protagonists, though it is not a necessity. Shock value, as I had mentioned before, plays a great role in the appeal of crime noirs, and most of the stories in this collection succeeds in catering to this need. Violence against women is an oft repeated theme in this collection. But I feel the title of Delhi as the rape capital fairly justifies it.  

This one is a good read for people who are fans of the genre and for Delhiites who would like to rediscover the darker sides of the city with which they are familiar.If you are put off by lack of any poetic justice in plot, or by excess of gore, crime, violence, sex and absence of a moral sense, better keep off.          

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Shashi Tharoor's Five dollar Smile

This book called The Five Dollar Smile by Shashi Tharoor, is a collection of stories that he wrote in his late teens and early twenties. Any one who has read his book The Great Indian Novel will not have doubt that he is a gifted story teller. His socio- political articles appearing in different publications from time to time establishes his mastery over telling complex things in a simple language comprehensible even to laymen.

This collection of stories clearly gives you a picture of the evolution of Tharoor as an author of enjoyable fiction. His varied experimentations with telling stories in different genres amuses us. There are stories of satire, romance, crime, comedy, social relevance and even a soft porn one somewhere in it! Many of the works shows off a young Tharoor's attempt to understand the working of the complex society around him.

The best of the lot as per me is the first one- The Five Dollar Smile, a story written when Tharoor just got associated with UN. It is the story of a kid living in an Indian orphanage whose smiling face gets featured in a popular advertisement appealing to donate money, five dollars, for charity. To his credit, Tharoor restraints himself from falling into the pit usual to newbie writers- over sentimentality.

The last work in the book is a social play that severely criticise the policies of then governing Prime Minister and the emergency declared by her. Interestingly Tharoor is presently a Parliamentary member who won the elections by being a part of the same political party of that PM and headed by her daughter in law!

Read this delightful collection more for knowing the initial experimentations and subsequent evolution of the writer into a gifted story teller than for its literary merits. The brief note before each story that describes the situation in which it was written adds to the comprehension.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Science, Art and Religion: Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

Robert Pirsig's profound philosophical novel, Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, is a study on the relation between three pillars of thought on which humanity stands- art, science and religion. The novel is an account of a long trip taken by the unnamed protagonist, presumably the author, with his kid on a motorcycle. Lot of philosophic discussions exploring the way human mind thinks, termed Chautauquas are wound in the novel.

At the starting of the novel, the protagonist is shown as a man of reason. His interest to do all the maintenance works of his bike is the point made to demonstrate this. Basically he categorizes people into romantics, who only looks at the beauty of things and classical, who has a more practical approach and loves analysing and problem solving. Also there is the presence of a mysterious ghost whom he calls Phaedrus, who the reader realise on the course of the journey to be the disturbed past of the hero.

The story deals with the philosophical journey on which Phaedrus embark insearch of the meaning of Quality. He goes deep and deep into the subject to the point of insanity. The novel ends with the hero identifying with Phaedrus at the end of the journey. He identifies the link that connects art and science- religion.

Though the book contains exhaustive philosophical discussions and may prove tough and deterring for some one who wants entertainment in his reads, it will be interesting and even rewarding for a patient and serious reader.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

JS and the Times of my Life: Book Review

After putting down Jug Suraiya's autobiography, 'JS and the times of my life- A worm's eye view of journalism', one thought that came to my mind was that whatever I write about this book, Jug Suraiya is not going to give a damn. I may write that he should be awarded a Nobel Prize for this literary masterpiece or I may warn readers to avoid reading this one as plague, but one thing is sure Suraiya is not going to be effected n any way by what I say. One of the responsibilities of an autobiography is to make the reader realize, what kind of a person the author is by taking a peek into his head. And if I can say the statement that I made in the first sentence boldly and confidently, I think this is a successful book.

Jug Suraiya, the irreverent columnist and journalist who write the columns Jugular Vein and Second opinion in Times of India newspaper, is widely regarded as an uncompromising satirist of great talent. This book clearly demonstrates the point. If we see the autobiographic writings of any contemporary journalist or politician, we can notice that, they try to sell the book with some controversial political content which gives a shock value. Another common strand that binds such books are the unabashed servings of self promotion. Many writers try to convince the readers that they are the ones who shaped up the history and they had hands in any important matter that happened to the world, though the truth may be that they did not had any clue about such matters at the time. But Jug Suraiya never tries this gimmick. He starts the book with the revelation that he never wanted to be a journalist and ends by claiming that he never was one. And in between you get a taste of journalist world and how it works.

The title is a smart word play with the author’s name and the two publications he has associated with- Junior Statesman (JS) and Times Of India. (I like to call latter Time-pass of India due to the excess of commercialization and was much amused to find out that even Jug Suraiya seems to agree with it.) Jug Suraiya joined Junior Statesman from the time of its inception as a magazine for teenagers from the house of Statesman which is a more orthodox newspaper based in Kolkata (then Calcutta). JS offered a departure from the journalistic norms of the times by making the matter more interactive. At a time when entertainment was considered a luxury and luxury a crime, JS pioneered the art of ‘infotainment’. But this came with some price as the parent publication was not so cooperative in the adventurous nature of JS. After a while JS had an untimely death. After the demise of JS, Suraiya continued to work with Statesman, though he was not so interested in the work that was offered. Later he was offered a job in TOI which he accepted and relocated to Delhi with his wife Bunny (who needs no introduction). Though he was not so impressed with the business oriented working in TOI, he continues to work there. He tries to make the reader see the reason for the over-commercialization of TOI though in no way justifies it. 
In the book, the author gives a very humorous recounting of all these times with more emphasis on different characters that associated with him from time to time. He keeps much of his personal matters on the background, except his life with his wife Bunny and dog Brindle, and only gives details of such matters when they serve to address some social issue. Other parts that really stand out are the reminiscences about several travels he made outside the country, especially Tibet.

JS and the Times of my Life is a real funny and interesting ride. It gives a glimpse on the history of two interesting publications- JS, a pioneer that introduced Indian readers to interactive journalism and TOI that cashed in on that. It also give glimpses on the change that our nation and its readers underwent in a couple of years. A special attraction is a long list of people whom Jug Suraiya pissed off in his long and illustrious career.     

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The memorandum: Language Troubles.

There are many instances in history where a work of art- a novel, a poem or a play, was made for the purpose of criticizing certain corrupt elements of the society, and even after decades, after the society in question is long dead, these works still stand relevant. Like Joseph Heller's Catch 22, written as an antiwar novel, can be an allegory of corruption in any organisation existing today. Or parallels of George Orwell's novels, that were anti communist propaganda, can be spotted in any capitalist or semi capitalist societies in modern times.

The Memorandum is a political satire written by Czech playwright and first President of Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel , to showcase the inefficient and absurd operation of the Communist regime that ruled Czechoslovakia then. Now when the same play is re-watched much of the happenings seems absolutely plausible in any multinational corporate giants' offices. 

The Managing Director of a company Josef Gross, is struggling to make out the meaning of a memo that he received that morning which is written in an absurd language. His secretary informs him that it is a new language, Ptydepe, that is introduced in the firm to make the work place communication efficient and error free. The move is made by his deputy Ballas. Gross wants Ballas to cancel this absurd introduction, but Ballas refuses and gets ready to fight his boss. Some dirty office politics follows. Gross cuts a sorry figure when he goes from department to department to get the memo in Ptydepe translated. The segments were the teaching of the new language is shown is hilarious. Gross steps down as Managing Director when the office watcher, a worker whose job is to spy on others, finds that he broke the rules in getting the memo translated. The new boss Ballas finds it equally difficult to manage things as it goes out of his hands too. Finally Gross is reinstated as MD and ultimate causality is a typist, who helps Gross in translating the text out of pity. She is fired. Ptydepe is abandoned and a new language is introduced to better it. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Are They Deterring Democracy?

United States of America is a nation that has launched attacks on several other countries from the time of its inception. The reason told for most of them is safeguarding democracy. A common factor that can be noticed about most of these attacks is the fact that they were against third world nations endowed with rich natural resources. Is the interest of USA to upkeep the democracy in third world genuine?

Deterring Democracy is an extensive study by Nom Chomsky about interference of United States in the internal affairs of other nations. The book was written in 90's, just after the fall of Soviet Union. Till then the communist demon and its plan for world domination was cited as the major reason for invasion into third world. But even after the fall of USSR, USA continued the same policy with the pretext of saving the world by perpetuating the ideals of democracy.

The book starts with an analysis of cold war period and gradually tries to deconstruct the myth of American effort to maintain democratic practice. Chomsky quotes liberally from politicians, media, policymakers and military sources, whose quotes are in public domain, to contradict the cover up that was done to the public. The book effectively states that all these efforts in several countries were in actual effect detrimental to Free thinking and democracy and has only served to put tyrants who are sympathetic to American needs and wants into power.

Nicaragua, Panama, Vietnam, Iraq, Honduras, Costa Rica, Namibia, Columbia... The list is endless. Chomsky proves that if the rulers are ready to heed to US interests, they are given every freedom to rule however they want. But if that is not the case, even a democratic government will be toppled and someone who is ready to be a puppet will be put to the place. Business is important than human life.

US media also highlights only what the policymakers want to reveal. If a news serves the propaganda, it is highlighted and if it does not suit the purpose, it nowhere features. Many tyrants like Mussolini and Saddam were darlings of government and media when their policies were according to US interest. Once they comes on the way of making profit, immediately the demonizing starts.

What reading Deterring Democracy does is to make us wonder about the possibility of an alternative history, which is much distant and contrary to what we read in textbooks or newspapers..

Friday, September 2, 2011

Khasak's Legend

Khasakkinte Ithihasam is a Malayalam novel written by the late O V Vijayan, who was one of the brightest novelists in India. This novel is considered a landmark in Malayalam literature. No wonder it is the most sold novel in South Asia and on which most studies were done in Kerala. Never was something so huge, profound and of epic proportion created in Malayalam.

Created is the apt word because the whole world of Khasak, though inhabited by common humans, possess some kind of a nightmarish dream like quality. Laden with myths, superstitions and legends Khasak is a village that struggles to come in terms with the diverse communal population that it houses.

The novel starts when Ravi reaches Khasak to open a single teacher school. The school is the idea of the Hindu Nair community of Khasak as they have to send their kids to a distant place for education. It is a blow for the Mollah of the village as even the Muslim kids desert his religious classes to attend the school. The novel deals with the life of Ravi in Khasak and the bizarre characters he encounters there. Also playing havoc in Ravi's life is his troubled past and pangs of guilt to escape from which he taken up the job.

Both Khasak and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez came out at almost same time. The parallels between both cannot be ignored. As this first novel was written in an incredibly long time period, the evolution of Vijayan's intellect can also be mapped as the novel progress to its tragic doom. The picture of a righteous Ravi who comes to Khasak with a guilt ridden conscience and his becoming one with the superstitious people of Khasak by sharing with them their life, misfortunes and beliefs can be an allegory about a confused generation.

Vijayan has himself translated the novel to English as Legends of Khasak. Critics' opine that it can be considered as a standalone work as it differs considerably from the original.

Buy the book:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Payyan and Chathan: Two Protagonists of VKN.

VKN- three letters are enough to bring a smile to the lips of any well read malayalee. Vadakke Koottala Narayanankutty Nair, is one of the best writers of satire ever born in Kerala. It is a tall praise when we consider Malayalees as a community that enjoys humor, especially satire more than any other. We have not one but two ancient dance forms that are satirical takes on epics and legends- Thullal and Koothu. From the time of the birth of Malayalam language, there were a long array of humorists giving strong doses of satirical blows to society and establishment- from Kunjan Nambiar of mediviel times to Sanjayan, E V and Chemmanam Chacko of recent times. At present, Malayalees crowd for watching comedy movies more than any other genre and the art form that attracts common man is Mimicry, especially skits imitating politicians.

So why VKN isa step above all of them? The one quality is his prose. It is very imaginative, multilayered and precise with lot of quirky word plays enough to give P G Wodehouse a complex. VKN style is a slang word used among academics. Each and every sentence that he wrote is convoluted to such an extent that it does not have just the face meaning. You need to ponder deep to understand the crux. His writing is rich with references from various sources- ancient and modern literature, art, current affairs, local slang from different parts of the state, politics... He has written several long, short, mini and micro stories. I will take two of his most famous characters to illustrate the point.

Payyan is a character who appears repeatedly in several VKN stories, the important ones being in the collection called Payyan Kathakal. He is also the protagonist in several of his novels. Though in most stories Payyan, whose name can be loosely translated in English as 'the kid', appears as a journalist working in New Delhi, there are stories with different backgrounds too. May be those were stories from his early days. Payyan, who refused to join IAS, even after getting selected, decides to freelance as a journalist and make use of his intelligence and wit to mingle with the people inhabiting the power corridors of Indian capital. This he achieves mostly by being in the good books of society ladies, sleeping around with them and using them as sources for exclusive scoops. Though shown as a resourceful man with good hold on the top of political hierarchy, many humorous occasions arise due to his poverty. The stories may seem outright politically incorrect- sexist, immoral and racist. But behind the veil of subtle humor, it is possible to identify the writer's contempt of a society that is boastful, intellectually shallow and on the verge of a breakdown.

Another of VKN's protagonist, Chathan is German (VKN language for Cheruman, a scheduled caste. This is a sampling of his unique style. Such wordplay intertwining many languages and cultures is seen liberally in his stories. Another example is his claim in one of his stories that famous thinker Nom Chomsky is a Nambuthiri- Malayalee Brahmin, because Nom is a first person pronoun used boastfully by them). Chathan stories follow the land reforms introduced in Kerala to disastrous effects. He is illiterate but street smart and highly influential, albeit poor like Payyan. He uses his wit and intelligence fearlessly to create havoc in the turbulent farming scenario of inland Kerala to hilarious effects.

My only regret is for the readers outside Kerala who can never enjoy the unique VKN humor as no translation can do justice to its very local nature.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Blasphemy of Temptation

Religion has always helped mankind to achieve heights of spiritual upliftment. But at the same time organized religion has pulled us to the ditches. What organized religion has always done anywhere in the world is to negate the importance to the solitary communion with soul and chain the religion to rituals. Add doses of fundamentalism and intolerance, and you get a perfect recipe for disaster. Organized religion curbs the flow of free and rational thought and puts a bar on freedom to think.

Many instances can be found in history when a different reading of religious texts or symbols or leaders causes a furor and elicited the catcalls of blasphemy. Controversies erupt and some may even turn violent. Like what followed Rushdie's Satanic Verses and M F Hussain's paintings. Some artists try to show a different point of view, but some do it just to be in news and profit from the resulting publicity. While taking Nikos Kazantzakis' controversial novel "The Last Temptation" to read, I was intrigued to find out in which category this one will fit.

The Last Temptation is a try to fictionalize Jesus Christ's life as an ordinary man, who is in constant turmoil to come in terms with the difficult task given by God. Christian thought has always painted Jesus as an upright, virtuous young man with a strategical approach of how to do his job. He is never afraid or confused and stands tall in-front of any obstacle. When Kazantzakis tried to change this traditional an orthodox view of Jesus with a more human one, obviously he met with resistance.

Kazantzakis' Christ is a young man who makes crosses for Romans, in-order to crucify the rebels, so that he will become evil and God will stop coming to him. His villagers think of him as a traitor and abhor him like plague. Finally he has to shake his fear and start his journey to the desert, where he has to face many temptations laid out for him. 

The evolution of Christ from a normal person to Messiah was as emotionally turbulent as his fate after becoming one. He has to keep off the temptations of everyday life, lust, confusion, anger, dejection and fear of unknown. He has to keep the interest of his disciples, the Apostles, who are portrayed much weak and not committed fully to the cause, all except Judas Escariot. And what a character he is..! the brooding, ever suspicious, contemptuous, violent man, whom Jesus finds the only one capable of executing his final order, to betray him to Romans.

The novel takes you on a surreal journey through the minds of some of the most brilliantly written characters. Normally, I feel like quoting one or other passages that I feel interesting from the books that I read. If I try for that here, I will have tion reproduce the whole book. The prose of Kazantzakis is that good. The long and detailed description of plot and character motives make it a tedious read, but patient reading can be rewarding.

The controversies surrounding the book, I feel are uncalled for, because the portrayal of Jesus is much more divine and respectable, even when the weight of miracles and divine birth is lifted off from his shoulders.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Point Counterpoint

In his longest novel Point Counterpoint, writer Aldous Huxley tries to peek into human psyche. It is a novel without any central plot and contains several entangled subplots that details the thoughts and actions of characters from varied strata of humanity.

Thoughts and actions or more precisely the differences and inconsistencies between them, makes a major theme of the novel. Lot of pages are devoted for long discussions between different characters, who end up baring their emotional self to the reader. Though the setting is 1920's Britain, the novel is equally relevant now because of the universality of the theme.

Moral and emotional weakness of the main characters carry the story forward. Strained marriages, infidel husbands, wives with secret lovers, confused idealists, writers, painters, journalists, secretaries, murderers, bad bosses... It is a colorful procession of characters that makes Point Counterpoint worth reading.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Boy with suitcase: Another tale of displacement

Boy With a Suitcase is an English play that I saw a couple of months back from Rangashankara, Bangalore. At that time I had watched quite a few plays with similar themes and I was not interested to repeat what I wrote just a week or two back. That is why I just postponed writing about this delightful play.

Boy With a Suitcase is an Indo German joint production- Rangashankara and Schnaawl. Directed by Andrea Gronemeyer, it is the story of a boy who had to travel to London from his unspecified home town when his home is destroyed in war.

Displacement is a major recurring theme in contemporary art- be it novel, plays or poetry. I think the biggest challenge that modern man has to face is to adjust to the changes he has to face when he is forced to get displaced from his home. The causes may be different- war, search of better living conditions, dissatisfaction.. In middle ages, it was pretty rare for someone to leave the comfort of his home and travel to the uncertainty of distant lands. That may be the reason why we have celebrated all those rare journeys by making them legends- actual and fictional, like those of Sindbad or that of Ibn u Batuta.

But in modern times, each of us is Sindbad, embarking on our personal adventure with a string attached to a home that we had possessed once upon a time. The boy also has heard the story of Sindbad and is excited to start his journey to distant land of London, where his sister lives. His parents have send him off in a bus with just a suitcase so that atleast he will be safe from a raging war. The play draws a parallel with the journeys of Sindbad by making the boy go through some far fetched situations, where he meets some very peculiar characters.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Unaccustomed earth: Emotionally satisfying read...

Unaccustomed earth is a collection of not-so-short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. The author heavily relies on the experiences of being a second generation Indian settled in USA to carry forward every story. But the restraint shown in romanticizing them makes it a collection suitable for light reading. Though the situations are done to death and utterly cliched, a natural development of lead characters and the subtle undercurrent of humor makes the reader to connect with them instantly.

As I said early, every story deals with the process of assimilation of immigrants into the local culture. The book is designed in such a way that each story gives you a little more insight into the turbulent life of immigrant Indians in US. The book start with the title story of a widower father coming to meet his daughter who is married to an American. She finds out that her orthodox father has considerably changed for good. There is another story that has a similar plot, named Only Goodness, but with a sad ending, of an alcoholic brother coming to meet his married sister, who in the first place had introduced drinks to him.

Nobody's Business deals with a man falling in love with an Indian girl, who is his housemate, but can only watch her falling in a destructive relation with another man of doubtful intents. Hell Heaven is about the relation between a student and a married woman who helps him in the unknown country. In the story titled A Choice of Accommodations, a Bengali- American man goes to his high school crush's wedding with his American wife and gets into some severely unpleasant situations. 

In the end there are three stories that are connected together as a sad love story, but are equally convincing as standalone reads too. Here, each story- Once in A Lifetime, Year's end and Going Ashore  is told from the view point of either of the one protagonists, as if speaking to the other person.

If you need an emotionally satisfying light read, I would recommend trying Unaccustomed earth by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Management Talk...

"I cannot do this job. These guys, you know, never obeys what I say. And at the end of shift, our boss call me and fire like anything for not getting production as per target. I feel like running away from here." K was disparate. (No, he is not Joseph K and I am not a Kafka wannabe. His name starts with K and as I respect his privacy, I am reluctant to reveal the full name. Which is again absurd because any of my company employee reading this Blog will id him and others, I am sure won't care a hoot).

This guy used to work under me and as his performance was quite good, he was promoted to another department, handled by my boss, as a foreman when there was a vacancy. He was finding it difficult to cope with additional responsibilities and was ready to come back to the former position. But our boss was not agreeing.

The time was evening, and our cab was about to move out. If I am going to miss it, I will have to hitch a ride with any of the big shots in their comfortable air conditioned cars, which sounds a pretty good proposition, but is not the case, as my previous experiences had taught me. Lending ear to more office talk or gossip, as these talks eventually turn into, is harrowing. But as is my inherent style, I decided to hand him some pearls of wisdom quickly so that I won't miss my cab. (The best things about giving advise according to me, is that it does not cost you anything and can generate enormous goodwill. So I never misses a chance.)

I will not check your patience by giving all the personal things that we discussed. In short, I gave him some tips on dealing with workers and our boss from my experience, as my relation with both parties had been quite stable till now. I concluded by telling him a story that I read in an article sometime back, which I feel may be of interest to my readers.

Once a manager approached his mentor who is in the top management of another firm. He was totally let down by his team and was blamed on a daily basis by top management for the failures. He was frustrated of dealing with his subordinates, who hated him, and with his superiors who simply blamed him for any and every trivial matters.

His mentor asked him, "How much salary you draw every month?"

"Rs 60000."

"Ok. Just think that for the actual work that you do in office, you are paid Rs 20000. Rest of the payment is for getting hated and blamed. You don't have any physical work like an operator or your juniors. Your actual job is getting hated and blamed. Now if you have this attitude and you work for reducing the hate and blame targeted at you, you will be in profit. Always remember, for the actual work that you do, you get only 40% of your salary. 60% of salary is for getting blamed and hated by others and for absorbing the pressure."