Notes from Dostoevsky

November 29, 2016

[I first started reading Notes from Underground, soon after quitting my corporate career almost 5 years ago. I felt too disturbed by the cruel probing into the depths of the heart, and put it down. I read it again now and thoroughly enjoyed it.]

 

‘I repeat, I repeat with emphasis: all ‘direct’ persons and men of action are active just because they are stupid and limited. How explain that? I will tell you: in consequence of their limitation they take immediate and secondary causes for primary ones, and in that way persuade themselves more quickly and easily than other people do that they have found an infallible foundation for their activity, and their minds are at ease and you know that is the chief thing. To begin to act, you know, you must first have your mind completely at ease and no trace of doubt left in it. Why, how am I, for example, to set my mind at rest? Where are the primary causes on which I am to build? Where are my foundations? Where am I to get them from? I exercise myself in reflection, and consequently with me every primary cause at once draws after itself another still more primary, and so on to infinity. That is just the essence of every sort of consciousness and reflection. It must be a case of the laws of nature again.’
– Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky

‘I, for instance, would not be in the least surprised if all of a sudden, A PROPOS of nothing, in the midst of general prosperity a gentleman with an ignoble, or rather with a reactionary and ironical, countenance were to arise and, putting his arms akimbo, say to us all: ‘I say, gentleman, hadn’t we better kick over the whole show and scatter rationalism to the winds, simply to send these logarithms to the devil, and to enable us to live once more at our own sweet foolish will!’ That again would not matter, but what is annoying is that he would be sure to find followers—such is the nature of man. And all that for the most foolish reason, which, one would think, was hardly worth mentioning: that is, that man everywhere and at all times, whoever he may be, has preferred to act as he chose and not in the least as his reason and advantage dictated. And one may choose what is contrary to one’s own interests, and sometimes one POSITIVELY OUGHT (that is my idea). One’s own free unfettered choice, one’s own caprice, however wild it may be, one’s own fancy worked up at times to frenzy—is that very ‘most advantageous advantage’ which we have overlooked, which comes under no classification and against which all systems and theories are continually being shattered to atoms. And how do these wiseacres know that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice?
What man wants is simply INDEPENDENT choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil only knows what choice.’
-Notes from Underground, Dostoevsky

Advertisements

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)


Thirukkural Isaithamizh – music to the mind

July 16, 2010

‘Thirukkural Isaithamizh’ is a wonderful attempt to bring Thirukkural to life in musical form. Tamil Maiyyam, after producing Illayaraja’s masterpiece, Thiruvasagam, has embarked on its next musical journey into ancient Tamil literature.

The tunes are contemporary but mostly unoriginal. The excellent kural-selection, symphonic orchestration (Nellai Jeyaraj) , some soulful singing, a variety  of musical genres and quality of recording make up for the familiarity of the tunes – these folks have definitely made use of their learning from the making of Thiruvasagam. Overall, a compelling presentation in 6 CDs with many songs  still ringing in my ears.

In any case, setting aside all positive and negative criticism, this is not just about music, is it? It is a great way to introduce Thirukkural to the uninitiated and, more importantly, to kids. Aruna Sairam, singing ‘Yaathanin yaathanin’ mesmerisingly, is the standout singer and is already my 19-month old daughter’s favourite.

I liked the kural-selection as well. It had a good mix of the familiar chapters from the text books and some hidden gems on love from Kaamathupaal (Book of Love). For those, who have never read Kaamathupaal, these songs introduce a completely different facet of Kural: Thirukkural is not just a discourse on morals but a comprehensive commentary on Tamil culture 20 centuries ago.

I will now look forward to more from Fr. Jegath Gasper Raj. Hopefully, he will continue to focus on Tamil literature and not religion.

Taking 2 days off to visit Tamil conference at Coimbatore was made completely worthwhile, since, more than anything, it helped us discover this unusual combination of music and literature, soaked in catchy modernity.

PS:

5 months after this post, the 2G spectrum scam casts a shadow of suspicion over Tamil Maiyyam and Jagath Gasper.  They seem to be guilty, and I will be sad, if they are. Two of my all-time favorite albums (Thirukkural and Thiruvasagam) are produced by them. I liked them and I enjoyed them – whatever happens now cannot change the past joy. Hope this nagging doubt and persistent anger, doesn’t take away anything from my listening experience in future.


More from Bharati…

October 13, 2008

The Fire-ling

I stumbled upon a fire-ling. In a hole,

deep in those dark woods,  I placed it.

The forest was consumed by the ensuing flame.

In matters of courage, where lies the difference

Between a novice and the veterans?

Thath-thari-kita thath-thari-kita thath-thohm.

 

—————————

Updated version (29-Aug-2011)

 

I stumbled upon a fragment of fire. I placed it,

deep in those dark woods, inside a cavity.

The forest was consumed by the ensuing flame.

In matters of courage, where lies the difference

between the young and the old?

Thath-thari-kita thath-thari-kita thith-thohm.


Challenging the God

October 13, 2008

Another translation from the Tamil poet, Bharati:

In persistently pursuing food and gorging,
In squandering off time in squabbling and tattling
And then, sulking and profusely suffering,
In scheming to inflict on others, undue misery
And then, after graying and growing senile,
Being preyed upon by the deities of death,
Withers away the lives of ludicrous men.
Like them, do you dare think, I shall fall?


Crafting Bharati’s veena

October 7, 2008

Here is a piece of poetry, straight from the soul of the fiery Indian nationalist poet, Subramania Bharati, translated from Tamil. I am attempting the impossible; there is not a word in Bharati’s songs that can even be replaced or rearranged, without losing the original fire and flavour, let alone be translated.

 

Will one discard in the dust, a veena, delicately crafted?

Solladi Sivashakthi, you have borne me, sparkling

with brilliance! Will you not Vest me with valour,

Arming me to make this world worthy of living!

Solladi Sivashakthi, will you let me rot in stagnation

Turning me into a burden for this nation?

 

Like a ball in acceleration, I seek from you, a body,

Agile, and obeying what the mind commands.

From you, I demand, a heart devoid of desire

And a life glowing anew with eternity.

If my body be roasted on fire, even then, I beseech you,

Sivashakthi, to bestow me with a soul that will sing of you.

From you, unwavering determination I demand,

Solladi Sivashakthi, what barrier do you see

For granting me, what I wish from thee?

* Veena – an Indian string instrument

Solladi – Can be loosely translated as ‘Tell me’ , however in doing so, it will lose the original tone of affectionate admonition.

Sivashakthi –The Hindu Goddess, Bharati’s embodiment of a friend and mother.