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."

Monday, August 1, 2011

Is There A Happy Death?...

A happy death is the first novel by Albert Camus. After writing it, the acclaimed writer decided not to publish it and went on to write other novels like The Outsider and The Plague which were deemed classics by critics. After his death the manuscript of A happy death was discovered and going by the well known tradition of cashing in the death of famous writers by publishing every crap written by them, it was published.

It is not surprising that Camus decided not to publish this novel as it is terribly lacking in plot and character development. It is obvious that this novel developed ultimately into The outsider, a classic, though they are poles apart in the underlying philosophy. The plot of a guy, even the name is similar, remorselessly murdering another man is the common factor.

A Happy Death is the story of Patrice Mersault, a poor Algerian clerk leading a boring work life and an aimless relationship. He happens to meet his lover's ex-love, a rich cripple. He convinces Mersault that to be happy, it is essential to have time and time can be bought by money. So only way to be happy in life is to become rich. Mersault kills the guy, take all his money and abscond, probably by the invalid's consent. There ends the first part of the novel named as Natural death.

In the second part, titled Happy Death, we see Mersault travelling from city to city in train. But travel makes his condition more miserable. Then he starts living with three of his lady friends, all of whom are in pursuit of happiness. When this also does not serve the purpose, Mersault decides to stay alone in country side buying a huge house with the money that he stole. He starts feeling happy but gets a fatal disease and dies, a happy death.

The novel is ambiguous. It does not reveal much about the relationship between characters or the reason they act the way they do. But it is worth reading for its strong, underlying philosophy.