Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Book of Life

Cliched as it may sound the past 1 year has been spent unraveling the book of life. Preparing to being a parent and being a parent has been the most intense experience ever, changing so many perceptions I had about myself and others. The last 6 months were spent on getting the physicality of it all in place, from being scared to pick up my child I am today at a place where I don't get overwhelmed by the biology running that little body. I thought the learning had happened, till yesterday some discussion on pre-schools with friends happened and people presumed the kind of school I would send my child to basis some random jokes I had made. But Freud does say there are no slip ups and nothing is random.
That set me thinking what kind of parent I wanted to be, to be fair I had thought about that earlier but they were just hypothetical thoughts without an idea what the subject would be like. Now all of them seemed null and void. I definitely did not want to be the parent whose 2 year old runs havoc at a friend's place because that is me disrespecting the friend. But I did not want to be the pushy, authoritarian disciplinarian who throttles creativity, curiosity and free thinking. 12 hours of intense thinking and I have a few guidelines and intentions:

1. Teach my son to be respectful not submissive or reverential but treating everyone with the respect that he expects.
2. Expose him to as many things that I can: Sports, culture, places, people, music, art, books, horse riding, deep sea diving, puppetry etc etc etc, things I did not know existed.
3. Teach him to take responsibility of consequences: He needs to learn that every action has a reaction and there is no escaping the consequence
4. Letting him know that he is loved, that I love him more than anything else and together we can figure anything out. Building mutual trust.Having what I have with my parents, he needs to know that sharing things with me will make it better.
5. Not letting his natural curiosity get doused out because I feel lazy or under some pressure.
6. Being Courageous: This is a raw nerve he needs to learn to be courageous and stand up for what he believes in
6. Finally I am his role model, I can have all the guidelines possible but he will do as he sees me do, so everything I do and say moulds my son to be the person he will become.

Since this the blogonbooks, I am searching for a few books that may help me. Will keep this space updated on that.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Real Dilemma

I was reading a magazine today, the filmy kinds, and I came across an interview of Naseeruddin Shah. Along with other things he mentioned that it really irritates him when admirers/fans/the general fawning junta comes and meets him specially when he trying to grab a quite family moment, eating out with his children. In fact he goes on to say that he almost feels like punching the guy.
Unlike a lot of other people I can understand why he would want to avoid admiring groupies who will more often than not tell how they are his greatest fan. A man would want to switch off once in a while and he is entitled to that. And that brings me to my real dilemma, I mean if I ever came across him, face to face in a restaurant how will I resist the temptation to walk across to him and tell him that in fact I am indeed his greatest fan.
Having read that he hates it, it would really be unethical to still go and gush and hmm and haww and display my incredibly inarticulate groupie behavior. But then how will I not tell him that for me he is one of the finest actors that Indian cinema has seen. How will I not tell him that I loved Masoom, Sparsh, Monsoon Wedding, Mirch Masala, Katha, Jaane Bhi Do Yaroon, Junoon, Ijaazat, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Omkara, Ishqiya. Infact how he is a part of almost all of my favorite movies, how his vulnerability as the helpless father in Masoom and Monsoon Wedding touched a raw nerve. How his impeccable Urdu diction in Junoon, Mirza Ghalib made me fall in love with the language, how his throaty laughter in Katha made villainy cool, how I even loved him in Tridev. How I loved Waiting for Godot only for him, how I watched the play The Prophet alone. How I marveled at how he took a superlative book to a new high.
Now how can you not call this a real dilemma, the toss between being polite, cool, suave and grabbing the once in a lifetime opportunity of meeting your hero. Yes, this is a hypothetical dilemma but real nonetheless. But since he also said in the interview that he is never rude to such gushing fans, I will take my chances.

P.S: Why is this post in theblogonbooks, because sometimes the movies can be sheer poetry.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Some of the Books I read but did not review

....over the last one year because I was lazy and sometimes intimidated and sometimes uninspired...

1. For You by Ian McEwan
2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
3. Dangling Man by Saul Bellow
4. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
5. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
6. Modern Short Stories edited by Jim Hunter
7. Nine Lives William Dalrymple
8. Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie
9. The Habit of Loving by Dorris Lessing
10. The Trial by Franz Kafka

and some more..

Have a lot of unread, half read books by the bedside, will get to them soon.
What have u been reading?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Down Under: Bill Bryson

My last review gave a sneak peak of the forthcoming review, Down Under by Bill Bryson.
Like I said, I am a book elitist and sometimes I need a lot of convincing to pick up a book that is extremely popular (plebian is what I think). The quest of the un-flippant fling however was on, after browsing through many back covers at airport book shops I decided to pick up Down Under by Bill Bryson. And I am so glad that I did, lesson learnt, sometimes the popular does not mean trashy.
This book is captivating at so many levels. It appeals to the “vacation loving” book lover in me. I say vacation lover because the one thing I have learnt from this book is that a vacation is not always equivalent to traveling and a visit is certainly not. Until you get in the alleys and the by lanes, the dark and the funny under belly, the friendly neighborhood, the quirks and oddities, the dusty museums, the long forgotten history, the off the beaten path topography, you have not quite traveled. Bryson in his book effortlessly explains the seemingly inexplicable link between the psyche of a nation and its physicality. The key word being effortless, (actually should correct myself, there is quite a lot of effort required to control the urge to giggle, guffaw or snort at the hilarity that this book is), Bryson packs so much punch in this 400 page book without it becoming a burden. He makes history and geography personal, talking about the great expeditions and the men who went about them not as historical figures but as real people complete with follies and sparks of brilliance. He brings alive the diverse and may I add dangerous wild life without being dreary. He leafs through heavy tomes about the country to condense its political quirkiness in a few words. He captures the spirit of the country and its people.
The real hero of the story is however Australia, you cannot help but be awed by this continent that masquerades as a country, by its vastness and emptiness and the fact that often Australia is far removed from the world’s consciousness. This is a country where a dysfunctional terrorist sect can conduct an unauthorized Atomic Bombing without it being discovered for four years, where scientists are not sure whether there are 100000 species or double of that because new species are being discovered everyday, where most species are poisonous, where prime ministers disappear while surfing, a country with the largest living creature, the Great Barrier Reef, with the largest monolith, the Uluru mountain, where 80% of the population lives in 5% of the landmass, a country where you are sure to die if you get lost. And you are amused by the quirks of the country, where a prime minister refuses to live in the capital Canberra, and where towns have ridiculous names like Mullumbimby Ewylamartup, Jiggalong and Tittybong and where a town called White Cliffs got electricity in 1993!
What does not work for the book, the country is diverse; it is a continent with acres and acres of semi arid desert, miles of treacherous coastline, 40 World heritage sites (India has 28!), 32000 hectares of rainforest, and the truth be told Bryson’s journey through it does seem a little hurried. His journey was 6 weeks maybe, he captures the essence of the country but often with many presumptions made. What I sorely missed is any substantial coverage of the aborigine culture and history. That the settlers ravaged an entire civilization is well known, but what is left of it also finds very little mention in the book. Bryson tries but maybe a less hurried trip is needed to unearth the people who are all but invisible.
My aha moments: Bryson’s exceptionally hilarious account of cricket commentary on the radio, an excerpt: .. “it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. … It is the only sport where spectators burn as many calories as players….Listening to cricket on the radio is like listening to two men sitting in a rowing boat on a large placid lake on day the fish are not biting, it’s like having a nap without losing consciousness”.
The other is a horrifying account of man interfering with nature, Thomas Austin introduced 12 rabbits in Victoria in 1859 for sport, well the rabbits did what they do best, proliferate. Multiplying and eating into the natural vegetation and causing 2000 acres of land in Victoria to become barren! Rabbits even today are a menace and a threat to the natural vegetation of Victoria. And still we don’t learn our lessons
Critics don’t rate “Down Under” as one of Bill Bryson’s best. Can’t wait to read the rest.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

(Not quite) The World According To Bertie

I must confess, I am a bit of a book elitist. I will judge you if you tell me you have read any of the Chetan Bhagat atrocities. If there is one thing I am prejudiced about, it is this. I have an aversion to fly by night authors, both Indian and international, who bank heavily on marketing gimmicks of over paid PR professionals and latest trends rather than insight, inspiration and sometimes even grammar. Don’t get me wrong I am always on the look out for some comic relief in my “literary” pursuit. A fling of sorts to take me away from the brilliant authors who ask for a concerted emotional, intellectual and time commitment. But I do have exacting standards that way, my fling has to be meaningful, in a sense it is this oxymoron, an un-flippant fling, if you will. To cut a long story short, I am always on the lookout for authors who provide a breezy quick but meaningful read.
One such author is Alexandar Mcall Smith, creator of the charming Mma Ramotswe, Botswana’s No. 1 Lady Detective. I bought the first book in the series for reasons of allegiance and nostalgia. Having spent the 1st five years of my life in Botswana, I had to pick up this book that put the country on the world literary map. I was charmed by the book, the simple yet delightful stories and by Mma Ramotswe, herself. A colleague introduced me to 44 Scotland Street , the other series written by Alexandar Mccall Smith. I picked up the 4th book of the series, The World According to Bertie hoping to add another charmingly funny book to my collection. Did I find the much needed comic relief I was looking for? I am not quite sure. The book took 75 pages to grow on me, for me to get the flow of it. Too many characters flitting in and out, without an obvious or even obtuse connection. The book is about the residents of 44 Scotland Street and how their lives interconnect in a friendly neighbor kind of way. At the center of this book should have been Bertie, a six year old boy, suffocated by his over bearing mother, a liberal yoga lover, painting his room pink and forcing him to be friends with the most insufferable young girl in his class. There is also this trauma of discovering that his baby brother Ulysess looks a lot like his psychiatrist, yes his mother takes him for regular therapy sessions at the age of six. Bertie is smart, funny and perceptive. Ala Adrian Mole this could have been a potential plot. But that was not to be, Bertie gets totally lost in the mayhem of 44 Scotland Street. What follows is a narration of sorts of the life of the key residents of 44 Scotland Street. Sometimes lucidly funny, sometimes quite banal. There is the quintessential Cassanova Bruce, the rich ready to settle down heiress Julia, earnest Matthew and absent minded artist Angus. No character is developed completely. No sub plot builds adequate excitement. No one incident or one person is captivating enough to redeem the book. The book tries very hard to be funny, trying to build in the wry British humor with its scatter brained characters, tries to imitate P.G. Wodehouse in its mad house humor but fails miserably. All in all, a totally avoidable book, disappointing because I had enjoyed No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

P.S: The search for an “un-flippant” fling took me to Bill Bryson, delighted to have found him, he appeals to the vacation loving book lover in me. A review will follow soon.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shantaram: (Un)Inspired by the K Sagas

I was reluctant to pick it up, gifted by a friend (who made me pay for it!), my first instinct was to avoid the book. Well lesson well learnt “Trust your instincts. They know better than you do”.
It is a lengthy book, I have nothing against lengthy books, my favorite book is “The Suitable Boy” which is as lengthy as it comes. What I have a problem with is long- winding, boring and insipid books. Unfortunately Shantaram fits each one of these descriptions perfectly.
The book is about a fugitive from Australia, escaping into oblivion into the chaos that is Bombay and India. Unfortunately not only does the plot sound trite, the trajectory it follows in the never ending 945 pages is as predictable and boring as it can get. He loves India (of course he does, it allows him to get lost and get loaded), lives in a slum, plays the firang messiah to sick children and gets involved with the underworld. Till this point the book reminds you of a Bollywood blockbuster complete with its clichés and melodrama, the protagonist a tall, white, handsome, not so young man. In between all of this he also manages to make enemies and swears bloody revenge. This is when it starts imitating the oft maligned K serials on the telly. There is misunderstanding, miscommunication and the chaos that follows is what the plot thrives on. Actually it will be unfair to say that the plot thrives in any manner whatsoever. There is an Afgan war thrown in between to breathe in a change of setting, making the book even more tiresome if possible. As he struggles through the difficult terrain, you pity his naivety and wonder why he trusts a man who so obviously is the perpetrator of the crime against him. But like all K sagas, logic and coherence are abandoned early on, however unlike the K saga viewers I could not find the heart to forgive that and like the book. Like K sagas, you can skip a few (or many) pages and the story will be still at a stand still. Despite being the most die hard Bombay fan that I am, the long evenings at Leopalds and his jaunts across South Bombay could not warm my heart.
However what makes this book utterly aggravating is Karla, the woman that Shantaram falls in love with. Danille Steele like descriptors of her beauty are annoying and Shantaram’s fascination for her is juvenile. The cherry on the cake, her pearls of wisdom (in 3rd person) which go like.. when the world around you is collapsing, run under an umbrella or something as lame as that. Whenever Shantaram has nothing clever to say (which is very often), he breaks into a Karlaism, gyan about the world in 3rd person. Those of you who have ever watched a K saga, will be familiar with this modus operandi, only on the telly the gyan is accompanied by literally a sad (what was meant to be soulful) soundtrack.
Will keep this review extremely, extremely short because somewhere the law of averages has to apply, someone has to compensate for the over abuse of words and papes and time that this book has under taken. Aha moment, somewhere along the 50th page when I knew the book was completely worthless. But seriously, there is this one sentence where a slum dweller tells Shantaram, that the reason that India survives, thrives despite all the chaos, limitations, dearths, differences was Love. Love makes this country go round. I had to agree, (its totally not worth leafing through the tome to find the exact words).
P.S: Jhonny Depp, good call, don’t touch this one with a barge poll. Will have to stop loving you.
P.P.S: Don’t judge me, have only ever seen a few episode of the K sagas, but that is enough to get the drift

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I will try and keep this review short and sweet (and hopefully tech savy). Well as I mentioned in my last post this book is heart warming and delightful and funny and inspirational all together. The book is the memoir of American school teacher Frank McCourt,winning the Pulitzer Prize for this book, his debut novel. It is a heart felt account of Frank McCourt’s impoverished childhood in Ireland, how he survives and actually thrives despite what fate has in store for him and his family.
Humor and wit (and sarcasm I guess) are definitely the best defense against tragedy, and does Frank McCourt prove that right. Growing up in Ireland, Frankie is the eldest son of the very poor Angela and Malachy. His father Malachy is plagued by the Irish epidemic of alcoholism while obviously being a doting but extremely irresponsible father. Angela though enraged by her husband’s total lack of commitment to anything he does and his gross non contribution to the running of the household, is in love with him. Throughout the book you feel the love and the laughter that keeps the Mc Court home running.
Having grown up in India, living in India, I have gone through the cycle of being shocked at and subsequently getting used to poverty, for me the concept of poverty in a first world country seems incongruous. But the vivid and the grimly comical narrative of the abject poverty in the biting cold that Frankie and his three brothers fight out shocks me. Survival in the cold winters of Limerick without much food and warm clothing is not easy and Frankie discovers that the hard way as he loses people he loves on the way. McCourt Sr. finds it difficult to find and keep a job as Frankie spends many evenings looking for his father in the Irish pubs, straining to hear the Irish folk songs a sure sign of his drunken father having a good time somewhere inside. While his days are spent at the stairs of St Vincent de Paul seeking state dole with his mother to keep the hearth running quite literally. Through the hunger and cold, sickness and death the McCourt family keeps their sense of humor intact, together on the bed (six of them sometimes), where “away from grandmothers and guards, Malachy could say ye ye ye and we could laugh as much as we liked”. And it is this which makes this book charming and often poetic. With the beginning of the war McCourt Sr. moves to England in search of a better job and a steady income, however neither the money nor McCourt Sr. return back to Limerick, to the 3 boys and the mother. He fades away but what I found so completely refreshing is that fact that no where in the book is there bitterness against him. The boys and the mother love him as he regales them with stories of the Irish hero CĂșchulainn (Frankie claims that it is his and only his story to tell).
What also makes Frank different from so many children born into abject poverty all over the world is Angela’s complete and utter dedication to her children’s education. She sends them to school and they study through all that life is putting them through. In Frankie’s intriguing life, school and religion play an important role often pointing him to go in completely impractical directions.
This tale is also about the coming of age of Frank McCourt, his resourcefulness and willingness to take risks while not taking his extraordinary circumstances too seriously. He helps his mother as he drives the carriage for poor crippled Mr Frank Mocggoin and writes threatening letters at the behest of Mrs. Finucane. He falls in love, sins and confesses, fights with his mother all the while keeping the McCourt sense of humor and observation intact.
Pick up this book not only to be shocked and intrigued, to expect things to go wrong when the worst has already happened, but also to be charmed and fall in love with the story of Frank McCourt. He is a master story teller, the details of his life as he tells them come from a place in his heart that is honest and lyrical and poignant.