Cuckold – The book not bought

December 31, 2007

I was reading Cuckold over the weekend. I had just been to Strand Book exhibition and picked up more than a handful of books. I had left out Cuckold out of consideration for my already-exceeded budget. But one is always more eager to read the books that one didn’t buy. So it was with Cuckold. I was able to lay my hands on the book within a week at the library and started reading it, even while all the books that I had bought moved away from my bedside to the book shelf.

Not many people will write a review on a half-read book (or do they, one can’t be sure in such things). But I can’t wait to write this post till I finish the book. And the point is not to write a review for a 10-year old book, it is to make my point. So here I go.

The book is gripping. There is absolutely no doubt about that. It has a charm that only historicals can reproduce. And it is much more than a historical. Probably something more on the lines of War and Peace in terms of its philosophical content in the face of war or a Lord of the Rings in bringing a new world in front of your eyes. Ever since I ‘graduated’ to read heavy modern literary works, such a book is a rarity.

It again raises that taboo question in my mind. What is the objective of a novel? What is more important – form or content, style or story? There are so many books (that are part of most Top 100 lists) that I have read with admiration for the linguistic and creative skills of the author, almost usually at a snail’s pace. The story doesn’t drag you in – you are always outside it, looking at it in awe of the author. I have been reading Joyce’s Ulysses  for the last four years – it challenges my intellect but doesn’t satiate my yearning for a story.

Cuckold is different. I was taken back to my school days when I always wanted to finish any book in a single sitting, how muchever long that sitting took. The days when a Dickens or Scott or Stevensen or Kalki was able to take me along with them to a bygone era. Kiran Nagarkar has been able to do that to a much more intellectually-demanding adult mature reader. (And I am demanding – I can’t read a Sidney Shelton or Jeffrey Archer anymore.)

There are enough innovations in language, style and form. I don’t think anybody has ever attempted to tell a historical tale so authentically using contemporary language. Sometimes it reads like an Eliyahu Goldratt bestseller or a Dilbert strip.  I completely buy into his point. We dont know for sure what kind of language was used by historical characters in their converations – we might as well stop speculating and write in contemporary style. This approach has given the author unlimited liberty and he has been to tear away all shackles that a historical novel can impose on his writing.

It is interesting to think from the viewpoint of the husband of Meera, who was insanely in love with a God. History has been kind to her. She has been immortalized because of her love for God. But spare a thought for the man who married her. She was in love with someone else even if it was a God. She was persecuted by the family for not acting like a royale? But for the man, what would have been more important was that she didn’t love him. ‘We can exorcise the devils, how do we get rid of a god’ is what the protoganist would have thought and that is what he thinks in this book (so far!).

I had to tear myself away from the book to come to office and now I am itching to go back home to hear more from Mewar.

I think that is the real success of an author. The reader should be yearning to go back to finish the book. Such books stand the test of time. I think this book will.

Where is all the green gone…

December 28, 2007

Going to my grandmother’s house always used to be an interesting journey years back. It was an extension of the city, or a suburb if you wish to call it so. But for some strange reason the rural mindset and the atmosphere was intact inspite of the proximity to the city. Everybody knew everyone around them, which was a clear distinguishing factor to establish that the city had not swallowed the erstwhile village completely.

My protectionist parents never taught me (not necessarily prevented me) to mingle with all the kids there. I was choosy in selecting my acquaintances with my interactions limited to my cousins and a couple of friends (the number came down to one ultimately). I therefore never got to indulge in the rural game of goli-gundu, which must have been an ancesteral game of golf played with marble balls that needed to be dropped into holes on the ground. I still remained a city boy, playing cricket inside my grandmother’s house with my solitary friend – there was enough space there for the two of us, and watching TV – it was ironical that television came to my grandmother’s house before we could buy one.

Now coming away from my digressions into a distant memory to the actual story that I wanted to tell, there were trees – lots of them. There were huge neem trees in the backyard of my grandmother’s and at the frontyard of my friends house. Sandwitched between these two neem trees the spacious varenda of my grandmother’s was always blessed with a gentle breeze. There was a a fairly large garden at my aunt’s place nearby with various varieties of trees on which we could climb and play. A sturdy but flexible guava tree was my favourite – it was apt for the ameteurish adventurer in me, who could never dare to try climbing the tall cocunut trees.

Zooming ahead to the present, the erstwhile village is now stripped naked of its green outfit. Shorn of all trees, it has gained an eery look. Small houses have mushroomed all across. There is not a single space for even a shrub to shoot up. The spacious breezy verendas are gone. The last of the neem trees had been felled during my recent trip. My bedridden grandmother who spent most of her life under the breeze of the neem tree was complaining about the malfunctioning fan. There is no trace of the garden at my aunt’s house which had now shifted to a bigger version on the garden.

The plight of these semi-rural semi-urban areas is getting aggravated un-noticed. Even the cities have some of the greenery left. The ultra-rich apartments have to boast of in-house parks and gardens besides the swimming pools and gyms. The ministers have to plant trees now and then at strategic locations. The NGOs and ‘responsible’ corporates adopt roadside parks. But who cares about these sub-urbs which are aping the cities with more vigour than the cities themselves? Trying to get rid of the rural identity, they are gaining a city-slum-sort of makeover. Depleted of all the trees that adorned every rural house and devoid of any kind of urban planning, the garbage and stink are pervading throughout the streets.

To silence my awakened conscience, I bought a Philips CFL lamp (my first) for my grandmother’s house, thereby making my contribution to control the global warming! And of course, the screeching fan also needs some attention.

Benazir Bhutto -another victim of terror

December 27, 2007

Terror has claimed another powerful victim. Whether the motivation is religious or political is yet to be seen. But looking at CNN, one should already come to the conclusion that Al-Qaeda or Taliban are responsible. Even for an ameteur observer, I can’t help noticing how naive these ‘political experts’ can get. Pakistan is a hotbed of terror. It has been the breeding place of terrorist organizations let loose on India for a long time, much before the advent of Al-Qaeda and Taliban.

The terrorist could be from any of these organizations including Al-Qaeda or even ISI or Pak Army. Let CNN wait and watch before foisting their half-baked conclusions on the world.

The end of religion and of God

December 27, 2007

We have enough religions and we have had enough of religions. Doomsayers, since Nostradamus times, have been predicting the end of man. Let me, for a change, predict the end of God.

After all, what will God do without men to pray, without men to sin, without men to punish, without men to create religions and perform rituals. Without man, God cannot exist. She (let me balance my male-chauvenist repeated-usage of the word ‘man’ by attributing femininity to ‘God’ – no, it is not meant as an insult to femininity or to God; it is quite common in most non-Judaic traditions) will be bored to death fixing the fate of monkeys and mangroves.

It is disgusting to see religion cause disruption to every form of decent civilised life. Global  anti-Islam campaign masquerading as anti-terror campaign, Gujarat bloodshed given complete legitimacy by repeated electoral victories, anti-Sikh riots still remaining unresolved, Taslima Nasreen and MF Hussain on the run for offending left-wing and right-wing politicians – oh, the list is endless. Why all this tragi-comic tussle over something that doesnt exist. If God was there and if She was as sensible as religions make us believe, would She have scripted such horrendous bloodbaths in her name. Creating a Hitler and Modi and Osama and Bush would not have been my idea of fun. A sensible God could not have presided over such foolishness for centuries.  Existence of an insensible God is difficult to rationalise, even for the hardcore irrational believers.

For the rational mind, the solution for this conundrum is simple – there can be no God, sensible or insensible. The truth is simple but hard to believe and impossible to prove. The castle of lies built over millenia is so impregnable and has been unconquered. The very lie that the rational mind wants to annihilate, consumes and obsesses the mind so much that there is no escape from it for believers and non-believers both. The rational mind is also fickle – in times of adversity or death, when the fear of unknown overcomes it, it takes the escapist route and surrenders in the castle of lies. The known lie is easier to digest than the unknown truth.

Education has no correlation to with rationality. There are doctors and scientists who not only believe in God, but also submit themselves to religion, rituals and riots. Increased levels of literacy and education, as we know it, do not guarantee the end of superstition and religion. But still, I hope, with a certain sense of irrational strength of belief, that there will be a day when man will run out of patience for religion, religion will run out of its utility for mankind and Gods will cease to exist. That day, a new humanity will bloom and man will advance to the next stage of evolution.

Books unread

December 26, 2007

Everytime I step into a bookstore – and that is quite often, I have to buy something. The urge is insurmountable. The books, thus accumulated, are lying in a cluttered book shelf waiting to be devoured by me one day. If you judge me by the books that I have, I must be a voracious reader with delectable literary taste. Voracious reader, I once was. My delectable taste cannot be disputed either – it is something that I pride myself on. Unfortunately, my reading has not kept pace with the longingness to read. Lost in the corporate world, busy fighting everyday battles and recuperating when not busy, it is not easy to read. The more exotic one’s taste gets, the tougher it is to satiate it with a quick read. Most good literature deals with depressing topics and a depressing literary voyage is not the ideal recipe for a weekend rest for a mind already ravaged throughout the week.

However, little by little, I do get to undertake those literary voyages once in a while. In sudden spurts of inspiration or desperation (when I see a mountain of books that I have bought new), I manage to cover good ground. The latest books to be converted from my ‘books unread’ column to ‘books read’ catergory are two ‘Indian’ books – Identity and Violence by Amartya Sen and Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan.

Amartya Sen’s book was a new attempt for me. I have never been a great reader of non-fiction outside of newspapers and magazines. This book told me why. It is a great book, no doubt. I agreed with most of what he said and there were some deep insights which leave a lasting mark on you. But, the book could have been compressed into a quarter of what it is – there is so much repitition of ideas that can help you pass an exam on the book. Amartya’s core philosophy or theory is intriguing – famines are caused not because there is not sufficient food for everyone but because sufficient food is not (made) available for everyone. Democratic governments, however irresponsible they are, will prevent famines to a great extent. Having seen Krishna and Chandrababu Naidu governments getting toppled because of farmer suicides, one has to agree with this view. Democratic societies will not allow people to die of hunger even while being blind to millions living with hunger.

Amartya also touched on the woes of partition. Khushwant Singh painted a complete picture in his novel. A very powerful story, simply told – interspersed with a few unnecessarily explicit narrations of sexual encounters (one must expect this in a Khushwant Singh book)  and commentary on India (for the Western readers). A linear story told without plainly any jugglery of literary techniques. Raises questions on whether literature has been lost to technique in the last century. Even for my ‘delectable’ literary taste, a powerful story based on real life, narrated in a simple style, does have its attractions.