Books read in 2013

January 8, 2014

I had published on my Tamil blog, a list of books that I had read in 2013. Reproducing that list here.

The books I chose to read are possibly a reflection of the nature of my search, and  many of these books have influenced my thinking and the course of my life in a big way.

In English:

  1. The One-straw revolution – Masanobu Fukuoka
  2. The Story of Nai Talim, Fifty years of education at Sevagram – Marjorie Sykes
  3. Unto This Last – John Ruskin
  4. On the Duty of Civil Disobedience – Henry David Thoreau
  5. Gandhian Economic Thought – J.C.Kumarappa
  6. Trusteeship -Gandhi
  7. Mr.Gandhi : The Man – Millie Graham Polak
  8. Bapu – My Mother – Manubehn Gandhi
  9. A school under trees- Raghu Babu
  10. Village Swaraj – Gandhi
  11. The Miracle of Calcutta – Manubehn Gandhi
  12. Subash Chandra Bose, The Spring Tiger – Hugh Toye (Jaico)
  13. K.Kamaraj : A Study – V.K.Narasimhan
  14. Without Fear : The Life & Trial of Bhagat Singh – Kuldeep Nayar
  15. Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
  16. Blindness – Jose Saramago
  17. The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky

In Tamil:

  1. 18வது அட்சக்கோடு – அசோகமித்திரன்
  2. குறத்தி முடுக்கு – ஜி.நாகராஜன்
  3. நாளை மற்றுமொரு நாளே – ஜி.நாகராஜன்
  4. புலிநகக் கொன்றை – பி.ஏ.கிருஷ்ணன்
  5. பிறகு – பூமணி
  6. வெக்கை – பூமணி
  7. செம்மீன் – தகழி சிவசங்கரப் பிள்ளை; தமிழில் – சுந்தர ராமசாமி
  8. சாருலதா – ரவீந்திரநாத் தாகூர்; தமிழில் – த.நா.குமாரசுவாமி
  9. தமிழ்நாட்டில் காந்தி – தி.சே.சௌ.ராஜன்
  10. எனது வாழ்வும் போராட்டமும் – கான் அப்துல் கஃபார் கான்; தமிழில் – க.விஜயகுமார் (தமிழோசை பதிப்பகம்)
  11. என் குருநாதர் பாரதியார் – கனகலிங்கம்

There were many books that remain partially read; most of them for no fault of the book. Since I do not know how many of these books I will complete, I am also recording, for my own sake, a list of some of the important works.

  1. Indira, the Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi – Katherine Frank
  2. The Indian Struggle – Subash Chandra Bose
  3. Colporul, A History of Tamil Dictionaries – Gregory James (Cre-A)
  4. Early Tamil Epigraphy, From the Earliest times to the sixth century AD – Iravatham Mahadevan (Cre-A, Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University, 2003)
  5. Gandhi, His Life and thought – J.B.Kripalani
  6. Seven Months with Mahatma Gandhi – Being an inside view of the Non-cooperation movement 1921-22 – Krishna Das (S.Ganesan Publisher, Triplicane, Madras, 1928)
  7. The First Phase – Pyarelal
  8. The Guilty Men of Partition – Ram Manohar Lohia

Killing him again and again

January 13, 2013

First, the re-edition of ‘Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi’ was messed up under the BJP Government, undoing the many decades of remarkable work by Prof.K.Swaminathan and many others. The Congress Government agreed to correct it, withdrew the wrong books, and, as usual, set-up a committee in 2005. I checked with the Publications Division at the Chennai Book fair today: the unrevised or restored edition is not published, yet. It is unbelievable that one of the most important historical commentaries [spanning 60+ years and 50000+ pages] of our times is out of print for so long.

We continue to invent different ways to kill Gandhi.

Related:

An account of the fiasco, in Gandhiserve.org site.


Joys of Joyce

September 24, 2010

When I tried reading Ulysses, 10 years ago, I was stunned by the grandiose language but couldn’t quite get  drawn into the book. It remains half-read to this day.

– Either, Joyce must be over-rated, thought I,  or my literary taste is still not evolved enough to appreciate Joyce.

By chance, I came across and started reading Dubliners (which was lying unread on my bookshelf) on www.polyglotproject.com. And wow, I love it. The language here, in this earlier work of Joyce, is also stunning but the contrast can’t be more striking – he stuns you with the simplicity: the simplicity of narrative style and the simplicity of the plots. The narrative seems to be so non-judgmental and so detached, yet got me totally involved.  The simplicity is also deceptive because it disguises the lyrical rhythm delectably. It is magical, particularly, The Dead, towards the end, living up to the hype of being rated one of the greatest short stories.

Sample these…many of these lines spring up at surprising spots, when they are least expected:

She said he just looked as if he was asleep, he looked that peaceful and resigned. No one would think he’d make such a beautiful corpse. (The Sisters)

— Ah, poor James! said Eliza. He was no great trouble to us. You wouldn’t hear him in the house any more than now. Still, I know he’s gone and all to that. (The Sisters)

Mrs. Mooney sat in the straw arm-chair and watched the servant Mary remove the breakfast things. She made Mary collect the crusts and pieces of broken bread to help to make Tuesday’s bread- pudding.  (the sarcasm, hidden, without warning, somewhere in the middle of The Boarding House).

The half-moons of his nails were perfect and when he smiled you caught a glimpse of a row of childish white teeth. ( A Little Cloud)

He had dismissed his wife so sincerely from his gallery of pleasures that he did not suspect that anyone else would take an interest in her. (A Painful Case)

He was silent for two reasons. The first reason, sufficient in itself, was that he had nothing to say; the second reason was that he considered his companions beneath him. ( Ivy Day In The Committee Room)

She respected her husband in the same way as she respected the General Post Office, as something large, secure and fixed; and though she knew the small number of his talents she appreciated his abstract value as a male. (A Mother)

The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude. (Grace)

The most vigorous clapping came from the four young men in the doorway who had gone away to the refreshment-room at the beginning of the piece but had come back when the piano had stopped. (The Dead)

Inspired by Dubliners, I am now onto A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and am loving it so far. Hmm…am I now grown up enough, to encounter and devour, Ulysses again, and who knows, even, Finnegans Wake?

When I tried reading Ulysses, 10 years ago, I was stunned by grandiose language but couldn’t quite get  drawn into the book. It remains half-read to this day. I thought either Joyce must be over-rated or my literary taste is still not evolved enough to appreciate Joyce.

By chance, I started reading Dubliners (that was anyway lying unread in my bookshelf) on www.polyglotproject.com. And wow, I love it. The language here, in this earlier work of Joyce, is also stunning but the contrast can’t be more striking – he stuns you with the simplicity: the simplicity of narrative style and the simplicity of the plots. The narrative seems to be so non-judgmental and so detached, yet got me totally involved.  The simplicity is also deceptive because it disguises the lyrical rhythm delectably. It is magical.

Sample this…many of these lines spring up at surprising spots, when they are least expected:

She said he just looked as if he was asleep, he looked that peaceful and resigned. No one would think he’d make such a beautiful corpse. (The Sisters)

— Ah, poor James! said Eliza. He was no great trouble to us. You wouldn’t hear him in the house any more than now. Still, I know he’s gone and all to that. (The Sisters)

Mrs. Mooney sat in the straw arm-chair and watched the servant Mary remove the breakfast things. She made Mary collect the crusts and pieces of broken bread to help to make Tuesday’s bread- pudding.  (the sarcasm, hidden, without warning, somewhere in the middle of The Boarding House).

The half-moons of his nails were perfect and when he smiled you caught a glimpse of a row of childish white teeth. ( A Little Cloud)

He had dismissed his wife so sincerely from his gallery of pleasures that he did not suspect that anyone else would take an interest in her. (A Painful Case)

He was silent for two reasons. The first reason, sufficient in itself, was that he had nothing to say; the second reason was that he considered his companions beneath him. ( Ivy Day In The Committee Room)

She respected her husband in the same way as she respected the General Post Office, as something large, secure and fixed; and though she knew the small number of his talents she appreciated his abstract value as a male. (A Mother)

The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude. (Grace)

The most vigorous clapping came from the four young men in the doorway who had gone away to the refreshment-room at the beginning of the piece but had come back when the piano had stopped. (The Dead)

When I tried reading Ulysses, 10 years ago, I was stunned by grandiose language but couldn’t quite get  drawn into the book. It remains half-read to this day. I thought either Joyce must be over-rated or my literary taste is still not evolved enough to appreciate Joyce.

By chance, I started reading Dubliners on www.polyglotproject.com. And wow, I love it. The language here, in this earlier work of Joyce, is also stunning but the contrast can’t be more striking – he stuns you with the simplicity: the simplicity of narrative style and the simplicity of the plots. The narrative seems to be so non-judgmental and so detached, yet got me totally involved.  The simplicity is also deceptive because it disguises the lyrical rhythm delectably. It is magical.

Sample this…many of these lines spring up at surprising spots, when they are least expected:

She said he just looked as if he was asleep, he looked that peaceful and resigned. No one would think he’d make such a beautiful corpse. (The Sisters)

— Ah, poor James! said Eliza. He was no great trouble to us. You wouldn’t hear him in the house any more than now. Still, I know he’s gone and all to that. (The Sisters)

Mrs. Mooney sat in the straw arm-chair and watched the servant Mary remove the breakfast things. She made Mary collect the crusts and pieces of broken bread to help to make Tuesday’s bread- pudding.  (the sarcasm, hidden, without warning, somewhere in the middle of The Boarding House).

The half-moons of his nails were perfect and when he smiled you caught a glimpse of a row of childish white teeth. ( A Little Cloud)

He had dismissed his wife so sincerely from his gallery of pleasures that he did not suspect that anyone else would take an interest in her. (A Painful Case)

He was silent for two reasons. The first reason, sufficient in itself, was that he had nothing to say; the second reason was that he considered his companions beneath him. ( Ivy Day In The Committee Room)

She respected her husband in the same way as she respected the General Post Office, as something large, secure and fixed; and though she knew the small number of his talents she appreciated his abstract value as a male. (A Mother)

The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude. (Grace)

The most vigorous clapping came from the four young men in the doorway who had gone away to the refreshment-room at the beginning of the piece but had come back when the piano had stopped. (The Dead)

When I tried reading Ulysses, 10 years ago, I was stunned by grandiose language but couldn’t quite get  drawn into the book. It remains half-read to this day. I thought either Joyce must be over-rated or my literary taste is still not evolved enough to appreciate Joyce.

By chance, I started reading Dubliners on www.polyglotproject.com. And wow, I love it. The language here, in this earlier work of Joyce, is also stunning but the contrast can’t be more striking – he stuns you with the simplicity: the simplicity of narrative style and the simplicity of the plots. The narrative seems to be so non-judgmental and so detached, yet got me totally involved.  The simplicity is also deceptive because it disguises the lyrical rhythm delectably. It is magical.

Sample this…many of these lines spring up at surprising spots, when they are least expected:

She said he just looked as if he was asleep, he looked that peaceful and resigned. No one would think he’d make such a beautiful corpse. (The Sisters)

— Ah, poor James! said Eliza. He was no great trouble to us. You wouldn’t hear him in the house any more than now. Still, I know he’s gone and all to that. (The Sisters)

Mrs. Mooney sat in the straw arm-chair and watched the servant Mary remove the breakfast things. She made Mary collect the crusts and pieces of broken bread to help to make Tuesday’s bread- pudding.  (the sarcasm, hidden, without warning, somewhere in the middle of The Boarding House).

The half-moons of his nails were perfect and when he smiled you caught a glimpse of a row of childish white teeth. ( A Little Cloud)

He had dismissed his wife so sincerely from his gallery of pleasures that he did not suspect that anyone else would take an interest in her. (A Painful Case)

He was silent for two reasons. The first reason, sufficient in itself, was that he had nothing to say; the second reason was that he considered his companions beneath him. ( Ivy Day In The Committee Room)

She respected her husband in the same way as she respected the General Post Office, as something large, secure and fixed; and though she knew the small number of his talents she appreciated his abstract value as a male. (A Mother)

The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude. (Grace)

The most vigorous clapping came from the four young men in the doorway who had gone away to the refreshment-room at the beginning of the piece but had come back when the piano had stopped. (The Dead)


The Kite Runner – review

January 10, 2008

How soon my views can be challenged? While reviewing Cuckold, I had argued in favour of a great story ahead of complex literary techniques. Many believe the The Kite Runner has a great story to tell and a moving story. Yes, the story is interesting and at times, moving. Yes, the book has enough to be a pageturner. But something is missing.

By no stretch of imagination can Kite Runner be classified as a great or even a good piece of literature. At best, it is an interesting story with impeccable timing of publishing, when the world, and Americans in particular, wanted to know more about Afghanistan. A few years earlier or a few years later, the Khaled Hosseini could have struggled to find a publisher and even if he did, the book would have got nowhere closer to the best sellers list.

The novel is written, clearly with the Western audience in mind. As a result, there is over-elaboration of events and words when not required and over-simplification of issues. If one wants to understand the thread of the Afghan society and the reasons for the rise of fundamentalist Taliban, this book doesn’t offer any answers. Super-imposing the school-bully-sociopath character of Aseef on Taliban is a shortcut the author should have avoided taking – this is straight out of mainstream cinema. Schindler’s List also had such a character but the depiction was with much more clarity – it came out quite certainly that a socio-path uses the cover of a fundamentalist racist regime to unleash his inner evil. But I think there is much more to religious fundamentalism than just the whims of a socio-path.

However most Americans might love such a depiction of Taliban – an organization consisting of cruel socio-paths and paedophiles, who supervise footballers running around in full trousers. This explains why the book was a major success. Nobody is interested to know why religious fundamentalism arose, how the common man, whithout whose support this cannot happen, is drawn towards the fundamentalist. Definitely the author is not interested into getting into deeper layers of the psyche of a fundamentalist society.

Kite Runner succeeds in exploring the impact and fallout of personal guilt. Otherwise, there are no pretensions of creating a piece of literature. Maybe, the book has been more than successful in achieving what it set out to achieve – it had just fallen into the hands of a wrong reader to elicit such scathing criticism.


Top 10 Books of the year – a farce

January 4, 2008

I wonder how people come up with Top 10 lists. Do so many people have so much time to spare that they are able to read all the good books of the year and then come out with the list of the best ones? I am extremely skeptical.

As far as I am concerned, the best books of the year are the ones that I get to read during that year – even if they are from ancient ages. An Othello, read in any year is the top book of the year for me. A good book is not like a newspaper – it is ageless.  When there is a ocean of literature left to be read, is it really important that I read the best of 2007? I would rather plump for an unranked unheralded gem from the previous year, which might possibly be better than the best book of the current year.


Cuckold review part II

January 2, 2008

Let me complete the review that I started. After having finished the book, I still stand by my previous post. Cuckold is a fascinating book. It is not a romantic historical from Scott that you can recommend to a teenager, because of the extremely high erotic content (not to say that it is an erotic book – to say so will be grossly misrepresenting the truth). But you will read this with the enthusiasm of a teenager.

You have to applaud the author for the sheer audacity of choosing such a plot, centering around historical characters but rarely retelling history as there is nothing much recorded in history about them. The authenticity of existence of the characters draw the reader deep into the book but sketchy historical facts available about them have given unlimited freedom to the author to tell his own story within the boundaries of history. Meera is mythical reality. Rana Sanga, Maharajkumar, Babur and Bahadur are historical entities. Apart from these, everything else is for the author to imagine and for us to be drawn mystically into this make-believe world, into the innermost terrains of the human mind that could belong to any century.

Unlike most other Indian authors writing in English, Kiran Nagarkar has not been excessively bothered about the Western audience. He didn’t need to. It is an Indian book, with a undeniable universal appeal. I dont think it was an astounding commercial success but it will live to see the 22nd century and probably beyond.

But Mr.Nagarkar, the trouble with writing such a book is that you have have not kindled any interest in me for reading anything else from you.  You have said so much here that I doubt you will have anything more left in you to tell. Hope you prove me wrong.


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.