Reading, Rereading

Sometime it’s worth journaling random things you feel because like stolen spoonfuls of sugar, they become yesterdays mischief melting away into a dull mix of memories, indistinct and nothing special.

Yesterday it was re-reading The God of Small Things after reading the two of the most awful Stephen King novels I’ve ever come across. The first was Joyland and the second was Dr. Sleep. Joyland had everything it needed to be great on paper but by the time I got around to Dr. Sleep I realized that both books were draining any desire to read right out of me.

A thriller and a squeal horror that bores and numbs the senses, how could books do these things to me?

They felt too white, too far, too alien and the language speaking to people I didn’t know or didn’t want to be. No I don’t want any more sappy feel good relationships hounded by some personal milquetoast tragedy that thinks itself a bitter sweet ending. It’s to cliche, it’s too mediocre in the challenge it offers it’s readers. It plays itself in small stories, never daring to go beyond the little troupe of actors who exist for this story.

Real horror is seeing the villains, the heroes the victims and tragedies as something you remember, something next door, something playing out while a neighbor’s house is filled with thuds.

Impending doom, the weight of history and a sense of impotent helplessness, as you watch some tragedy you know is real, bear down mercilessly, leaving empty shells where there were people- now that’s scary, a good story because it’s macabre in a real intangible way.

I was never any one of Roy’s characters either, but there’s something in the echo’s of familiarity, the language and fears that resonate.

By the end of the God of Small Things I felt, I really felt, like I’d received a literary punch, a screaming vortex of emotions that kept me hooked and running just like the first time I read it. Some primordial urge to scream, some function of the Freudian Super Ego urging me to discuss it at length. I thought it was nice to have a book make me feel this way and tracked the hours, seeing how long this feeling would last me.

It took about 4 hours and an argument with some idiot on the internet to send the feelings away, but it ripples. And some times it can crash into you with a force you thought old things can’t have.

Cuckold: A Review

Could you imagine Game of Thrones in a Indian setting?

Okay, so maybe that opener is a little clickbaity but you wouldn’t believe just how much I want people to read this book. I’ll start with a confession. Every time I pass by the Indian writing section at a bookstore my hair stands on end. It seems that there has been an abundance of Indian authors whose ability to write in English was enough justification for publishers to let them unleash their horrendous mediocrity on an unsuspecting public. Often these would be Chetan Bhagat’s look to Indian history and mythology and manage to rewrite them with less sophistication and thought than Wikipedia articles on said history or mythology.

It was a month ago at Blossoms that I was nodding my head pretending I understood what my friend was saying about some ideology. I picked up a book to avoid having to respond when I got hooked to the second page. It saw that it was 700 pages and 500 RS and decided to put it away. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the dam book.

There’s an interesting paragraph on a money lender of my religion that manages to expose the cynical way Jainism ends up begin practiced. It read-

“You give alms you earn merit. You feed the poor or the Digambaras , you collect some more merit. Pacifism is a capital investment of the highest order. It’s a kind of super-compound interest scheme with an eye on both heaven and earth. Extend the metaphor and it has a foot in the here and now, and the ever after. Let’s look at the latter first. The more merit your earn, the more likely you are to abridge the number of reincarnations you have to go through to reach the kind of enlightened state which gets you to moksha. In the meanwhile, just see how profitable the fruits of non-violence are in this life. You stay white and pure while someone else, someone like me and my Rajput clan does the sinning and the killing.” 

In 4 pages I had come across a damming indictment of Jainism’s flaws that even I would struggle to articulate. Maybe this means nothing to you but it sure got me hooked. Don’t worry there’s a lot more to the book than cynicism. That’s probably why I was able to blow through its 700 pages in 3 days.

The story is set in a Rajput kingdom right before the invasion of Babur. We follow a would be king who’s wife has made him a cuckold; she is in love with a god. This is based on actual history but since there is little we know about it, history is just the background on which Kiran Nagarkar paints a fascinating tale. What makes the novel interesting for all 700 pages is the main character, who is surprisingly modern, intelligent and very rational. Unfortunately the reality of court politics, tradition, scheming etc. smacks him around all the time. He struggles to come to terms with his own ambition, his love and frustration towards his family and traditions, his unorthodox thinking in a honor bound society, his eccentric wife and ultimately his own mind which he learns is doomed to be irrational.

Since this isn’t a book series like a Song of Ice and Fire you get a proper literary study of this man. The book works not just as a story about wars and politics, it’s also a struggle to come to terms with modern, or maybe ancient anxieties. Unlike other historical fiction the book isn’t slavishly dedicated to accuracy, like say Wolfhall. It feels all the better for it. There are many interesting characters and insights like into people like Babur and his excellent writing, homosexual desires etc.

The only criticism I would offer is that sometimes the language is too modern; hearing about school bells in the 14th century might take you out of the book . I saw a review on Goodreads that said the reviewer couldn’t make it past the 23rd page because of it but I think that’s a terrible reason to miss out on so good a story (and why did the idiot review a book he hadn’t read?). As the author himself says he wanted the language to work to make the novel readable and not historical and that definitely makes the 700 pages seem brief.

The book feels Indian and I doubt if it has reached foreign shores, which is a great tragedy. There is a German translation interestingly enough. Kiran Nagarkar even won the Sahitya Akademi award for it in 2000. It’s a great and interesting read and a kind of book you only come across rarely in Indian literature.

An attitude woman

My friends might shake their heads when they find out that I skipped the new star wars for this movie, but no start war can do what Pilibail Yamunakka can.

Posters for Pilibail Yamunakka feature an old lady with a large sootay-kathi (machete) wrapped up in the back of her blouse. Women who are quiet fierce or sarcastic are also called sootay in Tulu. “Vengeance takes over humanity this September” announces a poster for the movie below a range of serious faces.

This isn’t a very serious movie. Well it is but not how you know serious movies. In fact the movie seems so far away from the usual tropes and such a mish-mash of genres that it seems like an art film. But it is important to remember that Tulu movies and drama are almost always comedies.

The movie begins with a man rushing through the fields carrying a knife in the middle of the night. I must admit I giggled when I realized his cloak was a blanket, but it adds some sort of authenticity. The old lady in the poster awakens and declares that she knows someone is coming to kill her. But no one arrives. The next thing you know its morning and her sons make jokes about how she isn’t dead yet.

This scene was actually shot at my great-aunts place and it’s not very far from reality either. In many of Jain Zamindar household sons and branches of the family were often vying to inherit property from the heads of the family who were more often than not old matriarchs. It might seem a little morbid to outsiders but this is almost a stereotype to be honest. The old woman, Yamunakka of Pilibail complains about her sons and their “kirikiri” while decked in gold and having a doctor massaged her legs with oil.

Cut to three jobless guys who hang out in the city. They get drunk and share the good doctor’s advice on how to drink alcohol while fooling your liver. That’s Dr.Vijaya Mallya. Of course there is always that character that has a lecture ready right after his daily prayers. Someone farts at him. One of the biggest fears I had about this movie or any low budget regional film is how they tend to rely on the usual tropes of cinema or play it safe. This movie doesn’t seem to care at all for those tropes.

Before they leave the house in search of work they meet a Pourakarmika who calls anyone who fails to hand over garbage anti-national. “I’ll file a sedition case” he yells. They eventually meet two traffic cops. The inspector in this duo fails to carry out his duties because of his constant need to pee and because he is in debt to the constable. Our men continue now on a quest for love, with one eventually finding girl he wants to do “love” with. They actually just want to marry rich. He follows her around smiling creepily and holding a tiny flower. I’m sure this has to be parody and literally asks her if she wants to love. She says cool but it’ll cost you 2000.

She like many other characters in the movie is short, fat and dark. Tulu movies seem surprisingly progressive that way, only two characters are conventionally attractive. He goes home dejected until all his friends offer to pool in the money. In fact it’s the righteous Morning Prayer guy who mysteriously discovers he has the cash. The others were badly affected by demonetization and we had previously seen them paying the cops bribes with coins. They send another guy to get condom and the poor guy has to come up with innuendos to tell the shop keeper what he wants and what flavour the group wants. “Poor people have nothing to eat and you want strawberry?” says the irritated shopkeeper. Unfortunately the woman decides 4 men is way too much and walks off.

This more sexual humour is mixed in with the slapstick and sarcasm. You don’t see this mix often, and in most movies sexuality ends up becoming a crass or taboo sort of thing. More interesting was the crowd. Most of Mangalore’s theatres are in the city so you have a mix of people from both urban and rural areas turning up to watch the movie. Everybody laughed away at the slapstick and the sexual humour.

After many shenanigans, selfies, and trips to the mall where people dress up nice so that people think they are well off we end up back at Yamunakka’s house. One of her son’s decides that he needs to chase the other out so he can get the property. He hires two men to do this. They do it by pretending to be ghosts and parodying Bahubali. I don’t know why but it’s hilarious. Unfortunately the other guys’ son is convinced a member of the ghost duo killed Bahubali and wows vengeance. I’m not certain if this character is just dull or playing the jester.

Eventually our original group of men turn up pretending to be Indian ghost busters and say “Gaar Gaar Mandali” while chasing the ghosts who eventually cross dresses and pretends to be a Byari speaking Nagavali. There’s also a romance subplot, a subplot with thieves who have to cross dress to steal diamonds so they can get settled in life, one of the men trying to hook up with their landlords wife, two exorcisms, ghosts with piles etc. that happen under the influence of alcohol and cross dressing.

Apparently I had great grand uncle who tried the same thing. Right down to Bayri speaking ghost. And I can’t believe I forgot this but there is also a subplot involving a person wearing a Goa shirt, carrying an axe threatening literally everyone in his quest to ban candy crush. “You don’t know my flash back!” he repeats over and over. It’s basically a meme in film format.

There is a twist at the end so skip this paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers. It is revealed that Yammunka wasn’t the legitimate possessor of the house but seized it after killing her abusive husband. She was formerly a maid who had an affair with the landlord. She kicked his legitimate child out and killed his mother with a sootay-kathi. He is the man we see in the beginning of the movie and eventually kills her.

The ending may feel a bit rushed or break from the tone of the movie after the comedy. The attitude woman mentioned in the title really takes a back seat for most of the movie. But that’s mostly due to the way that the movie works- mixing in things from every genre and not really caring for movie rules. If you don’t know the language or the culture that the movie is centered on it isn’t for you because I have no idea if it can be properly translated. But if you do, then it promises to be a lot of fun.

They Live

All I expected from They Live was pure 80’s camp and Roddy Pippers promise to chew bubble gum and kick ass. Imagine my delight when I discovered that this underrated John Carpenter movie is one the most subversive critique of the american dream and Reaganomics.

The short story that movie is based on is Eight o’Clock in the Morning, which is about a bunch of aliens watching and controlling people through media. John Carpenter goes a little further and has the aliens be gooey faced capitalists. It weird how the movie can have you unsure if you want to call it genius or cheesy. 

This rare product of the Hollywood left features actor Roddy Pippers play a down on his luck day laborer. In the multi-ethnic shanties that lie in the shadows of the richer LA neighborhood the nameless lead naively declares that he believes in America. It’s not long before he finds a church group calming that the world is ruled by a cabal of corrupt, evil ‘others’. It could easily take the route of a story like the Da Vinic Code and start following random mysteries and conspiracies. However it chooses to become an almost satirical but deep critic of America and class inequality.

As the movie likes to put it- “Our impulses are being redirected. We are living in an artificially induced state of consciousness that resembles sleep.The poor and the underclass are growing. Racial justice and human rights are nonexistent. They have created a repressive society, and we are their unwitting accomplices. We have been lulled into a trance. They have made us indifferent to ourselves, to others. We are focused only on our own gain.  They are safe as long as they are not discovered.  Keep us asleep, keep us selfish, keep us sedated.”

After a brutal police raid that goes noticed by the city, the lead finds a box of sunglasses. He puts them on and finds he can see the “truth” or subliminal messages in ads and media. Every other billboard screams consume, buy, obey or conform, a scantily clad woman on a travel ads say mate and reproduce and a wad of cash proclaims itself your god.

A still from They Live

You are reminded that this is a Hollywood movie when the nameless lead beats up two alien cops and starts shooting the crap out of a bank, gunning down every alien that he comes across. But the previous nine minutes of him stumbling across LA now seeing the greed and materialism is truly cathartic. It’s one of the best metaphors for a non-materialistic perspective that I’ve come across.

The film also features a equally long, awkward and almost comical fight between the lead and a friend of his (played by another wrestler). I wonder why Carpenter decided to make the scene so deliberately unnecessary. Maybe he was trying to show us much much time and energy we wasted fighting each other instead of the aliens/ capitalists/ republicans.

They Live: Official Film poster

This odd gem ends with (spoiler) all the main characters dying after assaulting the mass-media complex that facilitates the alien capitalists to exploit the world. Even during the action packed climax you’ll find a subtle line about the aliens treating America like their third world. These random pot shots at American foreign policy and the very 80’s soundtrack might annoy some but they just make the movie more interesting in my opinion.

A School for Scandle

A School for Scandal, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s’ comedy of manners, is a surprisingly fast and entertaining read despite being about as old as the United States.

A School for scandal

A Comedy of Manner

A comedy of manner is a form of entertainment that satirizes a social class using  witty dialogue and stereotypical characters.  It’s like most sitcoms we have today, except intelligent. Staying true to the characteristics of comedies of manner, you often know quite a bit about a character with just their names. All the Moses’s, Sneerwells, Snakes, and Surfaces induce giggle with every appearance. Things get serious soon enough though.

The story might not be rather original, or very important in a comedy of manners for that matter, but it is rather engaging. It took me about 2 hours to read the entire text; I’d wager that watching the play would be a much shorter and more entertaining affair. The language wasn’t very archaic either.

Now for the most important aspect of all comedies of manner- the wit. This play certainly has a lot of it. Sharp comment fly at characters with every plot point and keep the play humorous. The plays’ main concerns are integrity, libel, and of course scandal. The story and wit revolve around these matter and the nice people have happy ending and the bad ones have bad endings. It might sound simple but the wit is plentiful and the values delivered. This was unusual for that time; most comedies of manner had the ill-doers get away.

A 1937 production of the play

Themes, Motifs, Plot

The message about scandal, libel, and rumor are still relevant in a world where Rupert Murdoch still publishes about a million tabloids a day.

Sheridan might have been writing a comedy whose humor may not translate too well with modern audiences with society being a lot more progressive and diverse. But if you know a little history about the rigid, wealth and decadent upper class of the 1800’s you’ll find the play very entertaining. If humor doesn’t seem to reveal itself, remember this is a satire and look for the wit and parody among the prudes on stage. There isn’t any central character to drive the play, because the upper class and their scandalous ways and disregard of propriety is the main focus. This is something that’ll either make the play a chore or refreshing.

There is a lot of antisemitism in the play. Although Moses is shown to be a kind man, that seems to be played as a aberration. This is something audiences should expect from plays of that era and from R.B Sheridan who has a reputation for making choice comments about women authors and the Irish. Audiences may also be surprised by the amount of affairs and sexual escapades that are hinted at in the play.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Why should you care?

R.B Sheridan is a man worth know about. Any man who went from class dunce to dueler to play write is worth reading about.

If that doesn’t interest you the fact that Sheridan makes a scathing critic of the hypocrisy and prudishness of the upper class at a time when it was solidifying, and managed to be funny about it makes the play worth a watch or read.

Hedda Gabler

It isn’t often you enjoy reading about cruel characters who manipulate,cheat and drive people to kill themselves but Henrik Isben pulls it off.

I don’t really read a lot of plays, but Hedda Gabler makes me reconsider my indifference towards them. You’re thrown straight into the thick of the story. Huge revelations, twists and explanations float by, unnoticeable to all but the most observant viewers. To the outsiders in the play, the characters must seem like happy, well off and respectable people. But we the view see gratuitous amounts of dissatisfaction. Unhappy meaningless marriages, deception, affairs, manipulation, jealousy. These aren’t happy, well adjusted characters we’re dealing with.

Hedda Gabler and all the other characters are bound by their past, by their genders, by their failings and try desperately to find a little happiness or at least escape boredom. Hedda despite being cruel, manipulative, exploitative remains a likable character. It feels wrong to call her an anti-hero. There only a few lines about her past, but that’s all you need to know about her struggles to stick to gender norms. She is her fathers’ daughter, Hedda Gabler, and not Hedda Tesman, Tesmans’ wife.

Tesman is a kind soul, an ambitious and dedicated scholar and husband but without great talent. He’s naive, spoilt and oblivious to the many many times he’s been hoodwinked. His rival Lovbog tarnishes his reputation (along with that of his lover) and wastes his talent and Hedda aids his destruction. Thea, restricted to the sidelines, can only watch silently as her life is ruined and her work destroyed.

When boredom, rebellion and independence are no longer an option, death becomes Heddas’ solace. When all the other characters are able to put aside their own frustrations and realize Hedda has shot herself, it is said “People don’t do such things”. Even in death the characters are bound by the need to be respectable  and polite.

A medium length play that might annoy quite a few with its dark, bleak approach and cruel characters, Hedda Gabler manages to be an engrossing look into the minds of people desperately trying to deal with the boring world polite society tries to create.

House On Mango Street

In English spoken as Spanish, Sandra Cineros tells us all about her life at Mango street, in this short and excellent novella.

Through her tiny tales about Mango streets Cineros talks about nothing in particular, but still manages to effortlessly say so much. Every chapter takes, at most, 5 minutes to finish. Everything from the names for snow, clouds, race, sex, adolescence and culture gushes out from the writing. When you finish the book, you’ll know this living breathing street full of Latin American immigrants. You’ll probably know the juiciest gossip in and around Mango street too.

I’ve read the book twice in 3 hours. The re-reading value is ludicrous. Every entry is so varied, diverse and filled with this exotic reality that keeps you hooked. The tiny length of the stories makes it extremely easy to pick up and read casually.

Latin American culture and the Spanish Language are major sources of influence but it isn’t limited to that. Stories can feature Spanish phrases rolling of tongues and little girls hurling abuses at each other. Cieros makes no attempt to rant about serious issues, discuss the treatment of Latin Americans in America, talk about the usual jazz about life in poverty.

Cieros grapples with her sense of belonging and her futile longing to escape, to not belong, all while narrating terribly tiny tales that fascinate, engross and ooze beauty.

Collected Stories:Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Where do I start with Marquez? The first story is about a corpse[?] describing his long draw out decomposition.

Nearly 300 pages of bizarre, strange stories that baffle you with ever line. When Marquez had a normal story halfway through the book I was certain I was reading the wrong book.The book will be really hard to follow for the uninitiated but if you stick with it and try to figure out what Marquez is doing with every line, story and idea that he throws at you, you’ll be amazed. You’ll still be a little dazed and lost but it’s worth the effort.

The reading experience is mystical. The various sections of the book  seem disconnected, like surreal images from forgotten dreams. Now and then a few… ideas [not characters, ideas] in earlier stories, within a section, make a cameo in the most random places in another story and you are left wondering what just happened. Once you’ve picked yourself off the floor and try to figure out what happened, you realize everything makes sense even if you can never explain it with words.

I worry that this little write up isn’t long enough but in my defense Marquez needs to read to be understood, it’s hard to describe the  sort of  literary wizardry Marques puts on display. Describing a ghost ship that makes no sound the first time it  crashes and hides for half a life time is like a lamp. Functional but not crafted with passion. Reading about Marquez just isn’t as reading Marquez.  If you don’t mind having your brain tossed around like salad the book is definitely worth picking up.

1Q84-Book 3

One of the worst things I’ve done this semester is call Murakami the Japanese Paulo Coelho. It took me a long time to get around to finishing the last part of the trilogy. Partly because I had a lot of other things to finish reading and partly because I was afraid the trilogy would end up being disappointment.

The novel has mad ambition. It raises expectations and suspense like crazy. Halfway through the last part of the trilogy I worried that Murakami could not help but disappoint. The world and stakes keep intensifying at such a terrifying rate that you assume the only way a conclusion can be reached is through some conventional cop out ending. A few of my friends had read some short stories and novels by Murakami which they found rather disappointing which ruined my confidence in Murakami’s ability to tell a story. I wondered if I had been taken for a ride.

In 1Q84 Murakmai proves himself an excellent storyteller able to keep the reader hooked and create interesting characters. But I never felt confident enough to pass judgement until I got to the ending. There is so much going on that your just dying for a conclusive end to tie up everything- miracle births, tiny spirit men, miracle ejaculations, chapters where one of the main characters is a corpse, all the fantastic elements introduced in the previous novel mixed up in a world where death is very real, and very thing runs according to the girding rules of reality. The reality bit is very important, even works that revolve around “believable” settings tend to exaggerate and take things further than things would go in the real world. Here things are extremely realistic, something like buying a gun, disposing a body,surveillance aren’t things that are very easy to do. Even the pros need to extremely cautious and aren’t super efficient archetypes. There are two scenes where characters need to take taxis on  a busy freeway. In any other book this would barely get a line.Here this gets stares, questions, this is a risky, unusual step, that has people commenting on their odd behavior and people citing regulations, very few books would bother to depict this.

You’d be surprised that this extreme painstaking realism that does not ever take any liberties exists in a world with two moons in the sky, air chrysalises,phantom cable fee collectors etc. There is also a very elaborate play going hidden behind the plot. This might be Murakami playing with the story telling, what is called real in stories,how much the characters know about the stories they are in etc in general. Even if he took away the fantastic element in the story and the world he creates, the story or the romantic plot would still be fantastic and never happen in the real world. But you can be sure that this is what we’d call believable in any other book. The fantastic elements in the book, they exist and they  are extremely beautiful and very symbolic. I half  a mind to go through the book reading only the fantasy bits.It’s easy to lose yourself and start day dreaming about the sky as described in the book. I’ve been looking at the moon every day since I began reading the books.

There isn’t much that the reader discovers about Japanese culture. You learn about Japanese law but not culture. I don’t know if this is due to translation, if Murakami writes for an international audience. But this is not a bad thing. I can’t come up with any thing else I’d call bad about the book. A few chapters in I forgot ever doubt I had, blazed through the remaining chapters and went out to look at the moon.

I’ve heard a lot of praise for Murakami and I know a lot of people who think he’s overrated. I can’t comment on his other works but the 1Q84 trilogy is simply amazing and well worth the read.

Chronicles Of A Death Foretold

The blurb tells you he will die.

It tells you why and it tells you who does it. So why read what Marques writes? Maybe its the how. Maybe it’s just the desire for a little closure. Why should a story tell you everything anyway?

Back when I was a kid I had a dog, Zoolfy, he was white the untouched parts of a new unruled notebook. I don’t remember much about him, I was six at the time and my father killed him before I got to know him better. What I do remember is a story about him that my family repeats every time that start reminiscing about the pets they had. On seeing one of the many uncles that haunt the family for the first time, Zoofly hopped up on his lap and looked him in the eye. Man and dog stared at each other for sometime,I don’t know how much time but it was enough time for the family to decide that this stare lasted so long, that it was a story meant to be retold. What passed between man and dog on that ruined,decrepit chair?

I don’t know much about Zoofly or what went on his mind or who the uncle was or what he though or why neither of them made a sound. It’s interesting. It happened. People remembered it. It had no plot no great moral lesson. It just happened. It makes you think.

The murder happens. You might like the narrator and the man who is going to die or you may not. It doesn’t matter. You might hate the people who let the killings happen, the people who kill, the man who is killed- it doesn’t matter. Curiosity will keep you going.

Find your own morals and villains if you want to. The death happens weather you like it or not. You like everyone else in the story may never truly know if the wrong man was accused. The truth might never decide to reveal itself. You don’t even know why the narrator lists out all these little stories to you. You can never be sure if that fact that several people could have saved him is important.

Marques takes you for a ride. All you can do is sit back and wonder at everything you hear and everything you don’t.