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Jan 26, 2012

Rushdie & Grimus

Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay on 19 June 1947. He went to school in Bombay and at Rugby in England, and read History at King`s College, Cambridge, where he joined the Cambridge Footlights theatre company. After graduating, he lived with his family who had moved to Pakistan in 1964, and worked briefly in television before returning to England, beginning work as a copywriter for an advertising agency. His first novel, Grimus, was published in 1975.

His second novel, the acclaimed Midnight`s Children, was published in 1981. It won the Booker Prize for Fiction, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction), an Arts Council Writers` Award and the English-Speaking Union Award, and in 1993 was judged to have been the `Booker of Bookers`, the best novel to have won the Booker Prize for Fiction in the award`s 25-year history. The novel narrates key events in the history of India through the story of pickle-factory worker Saleem Sinai, one of 1001 children born as India won independence from Britain in 1947.

Rushdie`s third novel, Shame (1983), which many critics saw as an allegory of the political situation in Pakistan, won the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction. The publication in 1988 of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, lead to accusations of blasphemy against Islam and demonstrations by Islamist groups in India and Pakistan. The orthodox Iranian leadership issued a fatwa against Rushdie on 14 February 1989 - effectively a sentence of death - and he was forced into hiding under the protection of the British government and police. The book itself centres on the adventures of two Indian actors, Gibreel and Saladin, who fall to earth in Britain when their Air India jet explodes. It won the Whitbread Novel Award in 1988.

Salman RushdieSalman Rushdie continued to write and publish books, including a children`s book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), a warning about the dangers of story-telling that won the Writers` Guild Award (Best Children`s Book), and which he adapted for the stage (with Tim Supple and David Tushingham. It was first staged at the Royal National Theatre, London.) There followed a book of essays entitled Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991 (1991); East, West (1994), a book of short stories; and a novel, The Moor`s Last Sigh (1995), the history of the wealthy Zogoiby family told through the story of Moraes Zogoiby, a young man from Bombay descended from Sultan Muhammad XI, the last Muslim ruler of Andaluc√É­a.

The Ground Beneath Her Feet, published in 1999, re-works the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in the context of modern popular music. His most recent novel, Fury, set in New York at the beginning of the third millennium, was published in 2001. He is also the author of a travel narrative, The Jaguar Smile (1987), an account of a visit to Nicaragua in 1986.

Salman Rushdie is the Honorary Professor in the Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was made Distinguished Fellow in Literature at the University of East Anglia in 1995. He was awarded the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 1993 and the Aristeion Literary Prize in 1996, and has received eight honorary doctorates. He was elected to the Board of American PEN in 2002.

The subjects in his new book, Step Across This Line: Collected Non-fiction 1992-2002 (2002), range from popular culture and football to twentieth-century literature and politics. Salman Rushdie is also co-author (with Tim Supple and Simon Reade) of the stage adaptation of Midnight`s Children, premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2002. His other novel "Shalimar The Clown" (2005), is the story of Max Ophuls, his killer and daughter, and a fourth character who links them all. It was shortlisted for the 2005 Whitbread Novel Award.

An ideal futuristic fantasy "Grimus" is the heart-rending saga of a fictitious character "Flapping Eagle" whose quest is to find out his sister "Bird Dog" with whom he is separated since childhood.

Salman Rushdie, original name is Ahmed Salman Rushdie, born in Bombay on 19th of June 1947. He spent his childhood going to school in Bombay and at Rugby in England. He used to read History at King`s College, Cambridge, where he joined the Cambridge Footlights theatre company. After graduating, he lived with his family who had moved to Pakistan in 1964. He worked there in television before returning to England. In England he began working as a copywriter for an advertising agency. His first novel was Grimus, which was published in 1975.

Plot Summary
Published in 1975, Grimus was Salman Rushdie`s first published novel. To a large extent it has been disparaged by academic criticism and though Peter Kemp`s comment is particularly vitriolic it does give an idea of the novel`s initial reception; `Grimus` is one of the notable creations of Salman Rushdie. This is not any exceptional work of Rushdi but also a notable science fiction. This eccentric story deals with immortality, created worlds, surreal things, other dimensions both inner and outer, and also outcasts, which make the story different from the others The story follows Flapping Eagle, a young Indian who receives the gift of immortality after drinking a magic fluid. Flapping Eagle , an Axona Indian who has a lighter complexion than the rest of his people. His mother died just after some seconds he was born and as a result he was outcasted. He is not easily accepted, by the society. His sister "Bird Dog " protected him and presented him with the elixir of eternal life and after that she disappears mysteriously from the land of the Axona. Flapping Eagle is then exiled from his people, and wanders the world for centuries. Flapping Eagle wanders the earth for 777 years 7 months and 7 days, searching for his immortal sister, Bird Dog. Flapping Eagle explores identities till he falls through the hole in the Mediterranean Sea. He arrives in a parallel dimension at the mystical Calf Island. Here he finds people blessed with immortality yet bored with the sameness of life. However they are reluctant to give up their immortality and exist in a static community under a subtle and sinister authority. Flapping Eagle is tired with the mundane reality of immortality hence wants to get rid of the Grimus effect.

Published by the Random House Trade, this is indeed a noteworthy work of Rushdie.

Rushdie`s maturity gains diction in this futuristic fiction. The topics like hybridity, immigration, exile, imperialism and nationhood are subtly touched in this novel. As ideally said by the critics ""tentative steps towards an examination of post-coloniality" Salman Rushdie`s Grimus is undoubtedly a great work.

Jan 13, 2012

Kamala Das: Life

Kamala Das, also known as Kamala Suraiya, the sophisticated Indian poetess was born on March 31, 1934. She is a distinguished Indian writer who composes in English as well as Malayalam, her native language. Kamala Das is looked at as one of the exceptional Indian poets writing in English, even though her reputation and esteem in Kerala is based primarily on her short stories and autobiography. Much of Kamala Das`s writing in Malayalam is published in the pen name `Madhavikkutty`. Kamala Das was born in Malabar in the maritime state of Kerala. She was born to V. M. Nair, an ex- managing editor of the widely-distributed Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi and Nalappatt Balamani Amma, a renowned Malayali poetess. A notable feature included in Kamala Das`s character analysis is that she is perhaps the first Hindu woman ever to blatantly and candidly talk about sexual desires of Indian women, making her an iconoclast of her generation.

Born into a conservative Hindu Nair (Nallappattu) household possessing royal ancestry, Kamala Das had embraced Islam in 1999 at the age of 65 and assumed the name Kamala Suraiya. Just like the subjects of her stories, conversion in religious faith too had provoked much heat and storm in the social and literary circuits. Kamala Das also took active participation in politics in India and had launched a national political party, called the Lok Seva Party. The foremost aim of the party is to focus wholly on humanitarian work, as well as provide refuge to orphaned mothers and promote secularism. In 1984, Das had contested the general elections to enter parliament, but lost.

Kamala Das`s journey from being an elegiac child to turn into a respected Indian poetess is pretty long one. Her love of poetry began since early childhood under the influence of her great uncle, Nalapat Narayan Menon, a well-known writer. Das had spent most of her early days in Calcutta, where her father was employed. Das reminiscences watching her great uncle "work from morning till night" and thinking that he led "a blissful life". Kamala Das was also profoundly impressed by the poetry of her mother, Nalapat Balamani Amma and the sanctified writings preserved by the matriarchal community of Nayars. She received private education until the age of 15, when she was married to K. Madhava Das. She was barely 16 when her first son was born, to which she states that she "was mature enough to be a mother only when my third child was born". It is also known from the poetess`s autobiography that Das`s husband used to often assay a fatherly role for both Das and her sons. Due to the huge age difference between Kamala and her husband, Madhava Das often encouraged his wife to stay associated with people of her own age. Kamala Das corroborates this information and says that he was always "very understanding". When Kamala Das wished that she should begin writing, her husband supported her decision to expand the family`s earnings. Since Das belonged to the group of the `fair sex`, she could not utilise the `morning-till-night` agenda enjoyed by her great uncle. Hence, she had to wait until nightfall after her family had gone off to sleep, after which she would write until morning. There was the availability of only the kitchen table, where she would cut vegetables and after all the plates and things were washed up, Das would sit there and start typing. This scrupulous schedule weighed upon heavily upon the poetess`s health, but she viewed her illness from the optimistic side. Her illness gave her more time at home and hence, more time to write. Such was Kamala Das`s dedication, only after which did she attain the elevated Indian poetess status. As her career escaladed towards the high, her husband always remained her greatest supporter. Though he was sick for three years before he passed away, his presence brought Das remarkable joy and comfort. She avowed that there "shall not be another person so proud of me and my achievements".

Kamala Das`s achievements do broaden well beyond her verses of poetry. According to Kamala Das, "I wanted to fill my life with as many experiences as I can manage to garner because I do not believe that one can get born again". True to her word, Das has made herself successfully involved in painting, fiction and even politics. Though she had failed to win a place in Parliament in 1984, yet, she had witnessed much more success as a syndicated columnist. She has moved farther from poetry because she claimed that "poetry does not sell in this country (India),". However, opportunely, her forthright columns did and still do. Kamala Das`s columns were based upon everything from women`s issues and child care to politics.

Kamala Das`s mysterious honesty is wholly extended to her exploration of womanhood and love. According to her, womanhood calls for a specific set of collective experiences. Again, Kamala Das`s attention towards eroticism is magnificently coupled with her exploration of women`s needs. According to her, love should be determined by a fanatical kind of unconditional honesty. An encumbered love seems to be no love at all; only a total raptness in love can do justice such varied experiences. Much like the makers of ancient Tantric art, Das made no effort to conceal the sensuality of the human form; her work appears to commemorate its cheerful potential, while acknowledging its co-occurring perils.

Kamala Das`s poems when focussed upon love treat it within more panoptic ranges of themes, more realised settings and with deeper feeling, bringing to it an intensity of emotion and speech. The rich, full complexity if life is wholly grasped in Das`s writings. Her themes travel beyond stereotyped yearnings and complaints. Even her feelings of lonesomeness and distress are part of a larger-than-life personality, obsessive in its consciousness of its self, yet, weaving a drama of selfhood.

Significantly, many of her poems in English are about the warmth of her childhood and the family home in Kerala. Similar to other South Indian writers, this Indian poetess was also fond of writing about memories of childhood, family relations, and the family`s great house. In Kamala Das`s poetry there lies an idealised time of childhood in My Grandmother`s House, when she felt the sanctuary of love within familiar surroundings innocent of sexual fears and frustrations. Despite the fickle alterations of mood, attitude and self-respect in her poetry, there is an inner nucleus of identity to which Das refers: her name and aristocratic blood, her mother`s family, life in the South and her youth in contrast to her marriage.

There lies a dualism in Kamala Das`s writings in English, in which soul is contrasted to body. She seemed to imagine overwhelming this dualism only through death; Das`s poems are filled with yearnings for death, especially to drown in the sea, water being connected in her mind with an all-encompassing universal calmness, formlessness in contrast to the conscious mind and body of the anxious individual. The dualism results from the fall from childhood innocence into the adult realm of sexuality, marriage and life amongst strangers. Rather than a poet of free love, Kamala Das elucidates the disenchantment of sexuality.

The uniqueness of Kamala Das`s English poetry is not the story of sex outside marriage, but the volatility of her feelings, the way they rapidly shift and assume new postures, fresh attitudes of defence, attack, explanation or celebration. Kamala Das`s poems are placed neither in the act of sex nor in feelings of love; they are instead entangled with the self and it`s wide-ranging, often conflicting emotions. They often range from the yearning for security and intimacy to the assertion of the ego, self-dramatisation and feelings of humiliation and depression. Writing is a means of etching a place in the world; the use of the personal voice and self-revelation are means of self-assertion. Das had opened domains in which previously outlawed or ignored emotions could be elucidated in ways which reflected the true voice of feeling; she showed how an Indian poetess could establish a space for herself in the public world. Kamala Das brought a sense of locality to her poems.

Surpassing every sphere in Indian English literature, Kamala Das`s most remarkable achievement is her own sense of writing in Indian English. Often her vocabulary, idioms, choice of verbs and some syntactical constructions are part of what has been termed the `Indianisation of English`. This is indeed a feat of accomplishment for Das. It has served as an important phase in the development of a national literature.

Kamala Das is also popularly known as Madhavikutty in her mother-tongue, Malayalam. She is counted as one of the principal short story writers in Malayalam. In any given listing, Das numbers amongst the top five writers, even after bearing in mind personal choices and socio-cultural background of her readers. Kamala Das`s writing technique is indeed economical and the utilisation of language is pretty precise. Her vastly applauded stories in Malayalam include Pakshiyude Manam, Neypayasam, Thanuppu, and Chandana Marangal. Das also wrote a few novels, among which Neermathalam Pootha Kalam excels every other, which was received positively by the readers as well as the critics. It reanimates the nostalgia of an old ancestral home with it adjoining snake shrine. It is often stated that even Kamala Das`s casual talks falls in the genre of short stories. Such is the Indian poetess` creative genius that even after buckling under several unwanted controversies, she remains a widely admired figure.

Jan 11, 2012

Chaman Nahal

Chaman Nahal's distinction lies in writing about India without any touch of exoticism; he scrupulously avoids the stereotyped "East" of maharajahs, tigers and snakecharmers. The actual town of Delhi (in My True Faces and The English Queens) and the typical Punjabi town of Sialkot are presented vividly, and we get a good idea of middle-class life in India. Azadi is the best of the Indian-English novels written about the traumatic partition which accompanied Indian Independence in 1947. The Crown and the Loincloth and The Salt of Life portray Mahatma Gandhi as a complex character with human failings. The English Queens breaks new ground by using the comic mode to treat a problem which has concerned all Indians—the tendency of the educated elite in India to ape the West.

Nahal's first novel, My True Faces, adequately portrays the agony of a sensitive young man when he finds his wife and baby son missing. But the crisis seems to be too minor to warrant the heavy philosophical treatment, with the hero realizing at the end of the novel that all earthly manifestations are but faces of Krishna, and they are all his "true faces." The involved language betrays the fact that it is the work of a scholarly professor of English.

Azadi ("Freedom"), which won the award of the Sahitya Akademi (India's national academy of letters), employs an entirely different style. It is a straightforward account of a rich Hindu grain merchant and his family. The novel begins in mid-1947 with the people of Sialkot (now in Pakistan) hearing the announcement regarding partition, but they refuse to believe that they now have to move. Nahal shows how Kanshi Ram the Hindu, Barkat Ali the Mohammedan, and Teja Singh the Sikh share the same Punjabi culture and language, and consider Sialkot their homeland. Meticulous attention to details and a firsthand knowledge of the life of the characters enable Nahal to make the plight of the refugees real to the reader. The novel ends with a sadly depleted family trying to begin life anew in Delhi. Azadi has none of the sensationalism of other novels about India's partition, such as Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan or Manohar Malgonkar's A Bend in the Ganges. Nahal shows the cruelty as well as the humanity of both sides. The novel also shows the maturing of Arun, Kanshi Ram's only son, but the account of his love, first for Nur, the Muslim girl left behind in Pakistan, and then for Chandni, a low-caste girl who is abducted on the way to India, is not as gripping as the rest of the novel.

Nahal's next novel, Into Another Dawn, is basically an East-West love story, set chiefly in the U.S.A. Nahal's fourth novel, Sunrise in Fiji, is a psychological study of Harivansh, a successful architect in his forties, who finds his personal life empty and meaningless. He goes to Fiji to bid for a building contract, and uses the break from routine to do some much needed soul-searching.

The English Queens is unique in Indian-English fiction; it is a very funny but hard-hitting satire against the elitism of the English-speaking groups in India, such as the officers of the defense forces, the nouveau riche, the highly placed civil servants, or Indians having foreign wives. Nahal unfolds a fantastic plot hatched by Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy of India, to ensure India's subjugation to Britain. On the eve of handing over political power he prepares a charter for the "safe transfer of linguistic power" by which he gives the English language to India. To "preserve, propagate and spread" English in India he appoints six women in New Delhi to "The Order of the Queens." Rekha, the daughter of one of these queens, horrifies them by wanting to marry a young man from a working-class slum; worse still, he wears Indian clothes and is an expert in Indian classical music. The novel takes a further fantastic turn when the bridegroom reveals himself as an avatar of Vishnu, who has come to destroy this pernicious second-hand English culture. He flies back to heaven with the charter, but it drops out of his hand accidentally, and comes back to continue its destructive work; perhaps even God cannot help India! Of course, Nahal is not against the English language as such; his satire is against the kind of Indian who thinks that it is shameful to know anything about his own culture. One wonders whether non-Indian readers would enjoy the book as much as Indians do, because much of the humor rests on topical allusions.

"The Gandhi Quartet" covers three decades of Indian history, from 1915 to 1947. Azadi, which describes the last phase of the struggle for independence, was the first to be published. The Crown and the Loincloth is the first of three novels with Mahatma Gandhi as central character. Nahal presents Gandhi directly as well as in terms of the effect he has on the family of Thakur Shanti Nath, a landowner in a Punjabi village. This novel is set in the period from 1915 to 1922, and deals with many historical events such as Gandhi's return to India in 1915 and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Sunil, the landlord's son, and Sunil's wife Kusum are followers of Mahatma Gandhi. Sunil dies in 1922 while saving the Prince of Wales from an attack by terrorists, and Kusum joins Gandhi's ashram at Sabarmati with their young son Vikram. The second novel, The Salt of Life, centers on Gandhi's salt satyagraha of 1930. The heroine, Kusum, leaves the ashram when she gets married to Raja Vishal Chand, the ruler of a small princely state in the Himalayas. Her son Vikram stays on with Gandhi and participates in the Dandi march. When Vishal Chand dies, Kusum comes back to the ashram. The Triumph of the Tricolour, the third volume, deals with the Quit India movement of 1942. The narrative style of the later novels is quite complex, integrating Indian modes of storytelling with Western techniques like the stream-of-consciousness novel. But they lack the power of Azadi, which remains Nahal's best novel.



  • My True Faces. New Delhi, Orient, 1973.
  • Into Another Dawn. New Delhi, Sterling, 1977.
  • The English Queens. New Delhi, Vision, 1979.
  • Sunrise in Fiji. New Delhi, Allied, 1988.
  • Azadi (Freedom). New Delhi, Arnold-Heinemann, and Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1975; London, Deutsch, 1977.
  • The Crown and the Loincloth. New Delhi, Vikas, 1981.
  • The Salt of Life. New Delhi, Allied, 1990.
  • The Triumph of the Tricolour. New Delhi, Allied, 1993.
  • The Ghandi Quartet. New Delhi, Allied, 1993.

Short Stories

  • The Weird Dance and Other Stories. New Delhi, Arya, 1965.
  • Uncollected Short Stories
  • "Tons," in The Statesman (New Delhi), 12 June 1977.
  • "The Light on the Lake," in Illustrated Weekly of India (Bombay), 22 July 1984.
  • "The Take Over," in Debonair (Bombay), August 1985.


  • Moby Dick (for children), adaptation of the novel by Melville. NewDelhi, Eurasia, 1965.
  • A Conversation with J. Krishnamurti. New Delhi, Arya, 1965.
  • D.H. Lawrence: An Eastern View. South Brunswick, New Jersey, A.S. Barnes, and London, Yoseloff, 1971.
  • The Narrative Pattern in Ernest Hemingway's Fiction. New Delhi, Vikas, and Rutherford, New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1971.
  • The New Literatures in English. New Delhi, Allied, 1985.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru as a Man of Letters. New Delhi, Allied, 1990.
  • Editor, Drugs and the Other Self: An Anthology of Spiritual Transformations. New York, Harper, 1971. 

Jan 9, 2012

The Ring and the Book

The Ring and the Book is a long dramatic narrative poem, and, more specifically, a verse novel, of 21,000 lines written by Robert Browning. It was published in four installments from 1868 to 1869.

The book tells the story of a murder trial in Rome  in 1698, whereby an impoverished nobleman, Count Guido Franceschini, is found guilty of the murders of his young wife Pompilia Comparini and her parents, having suspected his wife was having an affair with a young cleric, Giuseppe Caponsacchi. Having been found guilty despite his protests and sentenced to death, Franceschini then appeals - unsuccessfully - to Pope Innocent XII to overturn the conviction. The poem comprises twelve books, each a dramatic monologue spoken by a different narrator involved in the case, usually giving a different account of the same events.

Total Books with Names:
   1. The Ring and the Book
   2. Half-Rome
   3. The Other Half-Rome
   4. Tertium Quid
   5. Count Guido Franceschini
   6. Giuseppe Caponsacchi
   7. Pompilia
   8. Dominus Hyacinthus de Archangelis
   9. Juris Doctor Johannes Baptista Bottinius
  10. Pope Innocent XII
  11. Guido
  12. The Book and the Ring

Major Characters
    Count Guido Franceschini
    Pompilia Comparini, his wife
    Pietro and Violante Comparini, her parents
    Giuseppe Caponsacchi, a priest
    Pope Innocent XII

The poem is based on a real-life case. Under Roman law at the time, trials were not held in open court but rather by correspondence, whereupon each witness was required to submit a written statement for future adjudication. Browsing in a flea market in Florence  in 1860, Browning came across a large volume of these written statements relating to the 1698 Franceschini case, and bought it on the spot. This volume - later known as the Yellow Book, after the colour of its aged covers - struck Browning as an excellent basis for a poem, but he was unable to get any further than the basic idea and often offered it as a subject to other writers, notably Alfred Tennyson, upon which to base a poem or novel. Luckily for posterity, there were no takers, and following his wife's death and his return to England, Browning revived his old plan for a long poem based on the Roman murder case almost eight years after the idea had first struck him.

The first book features a narrator, possibly Browning himself, who relates the story of how he came across the Yellow Book in the market and then giving a broad outline of the plot. The next two books give the views and gossip of the Roman public, apparently divided over which side to support in the famous case, who give differing accounts of the circumstances surrounding the case and the events which took place. Book 4 is spoken by a lawyer, Tertium Quid, who has no connection to the case but gives what he claims is a balanced, unbiased view of proceedings. Book 5 sees the start of the testimony from the trial, allowing the accused murderer Franceschini to give his side of the story, Book 6 is the young priest who was accused of being Pompilia's lover, and who asserts no affair took place, that he simply tried to help Pompilia escape her abusive husband; Book 7 is the account of the dying Pompilia, mortally wounded but not killed in the attack. The next two books are dry, academic depositions by the two opposing trial lawyers, and are filled with pedantic legal bickering and infinite discussion of tiny, irrelevant points; these are darkly humorous attacks by Browning on the quibbling, unproductive legal system, and have practically no bearing whatsoever on events. Book 10 is perhaps the best-known of the monologues in the poem, as Pope Innocent considers Franceschini's appeal against a wider backdrop of moral issues, and a deep reflection on the nature of good and evil, before rejecting the condemned man's plea. Book 11, which features Franceschini in his cell on "death row" the night before his execution, is similarly well-regarded, with the narrator veering from near-psychotic spleen to begging for his life. Book 12 returns to Browning's own voice, wrapping up the aftermath of the trial and ending the poem.

Reception and Reputation:
The Ring and the Book was, by some margin, the best-selling of all Browning's works during his lifetime. The depth of its philosophical, psychological and spiritual insight is a step up from anything Browning produced before or since, and the poem was almost universally hailed as a work of genius, restoring the pioneering reputation among the first rank of English poets which Browning had lost with Sordello nearly thirty years previously. The book lost popularity with readers during the 20th century, but has recently been reprinted and sold reasonably well.[citation needed]

Facsimile copies of the Yellow Book (the source documents for the poem) are also available, and they reveal the extent of conjecture and invention Browning used when writing the poem. After Browning's death, a cache of documents relating to the case almost twice the size of the Yellow Book was found in an Italian library in the 1920s; the true story of the murder is told in Derek Parker, 'Roman Murder Mystery', London, Sutton, 2001.

The actual ring and book which inspired Browning—and which are described at the start and end of the work—are preserved at Balliol College, Oxford University, having been donated by Browning's son Pen.

Jan 8, 2012

Bird Flight: Michael Ondaatje

Early in the English Patient, Michael Ondaatje describes how a character likes to narrate stories: "There are stories the man recites quietly into the room which slip from level to level like a hawk." This is also Ondaatje's own literary secret. Over the years, his material has been almost absurdly diverse — he's written about Billy the Kid, jazz musician Buddy Bolden, his own family's history, contemporary Sri Lanka — but his idea of how to structure a book has been reasonably consistent: start a story that whets the reader's appetite with exquisite metaphors and sharp observations of psychology and society, then abruptly slip into another story, which may involve the same character or may introduce new ones. He will return later to the stories he has apparently abandoned. Or he may not. Yet the reader who makes it to the end will be convinced, somehow, that there's a profound, even mystical, connection between the broken stories — that they are part of the same hawk's flight. This is a tremendously difficult trick to pull off, and part of the thrill of a new Ondaatje novel lies in seeing if he has managed it once again.

Divisadero, his latest book, starts as the story of Anna and Claire, two sisters growing up on a ranch in California with their father and an orphaned boy named Coop. The sisters later develop an almost pathological competitiveness and Claire loses out: Anna gets Coop. Then the father discovers Coop sleeping with Anna, and almost kills him. The characters split up, and so does the novel. One narrative strand follows the boy after he leaves the ranch. Longtime Ondaatje fans know they're in for a treat when Coop turns into a gambler. Ondaatje has a talent for mixing highbrow writing with lowbrow material, for serving caviar as street food; references to Kipling and Matisse sit alongside descriptions of hustlers, hookers and high rollers. Coop learns from a gambler who lives in the desert in an abandoned plane, pulls off a fabulous score, has a romance with a duplicitous drug addict, and gets beaten up. This is when he meets Claire. Delirious from his beating, he mistakes her for Anna. It is a kind of wish fulfillment for Claire; she takes him back to meet her father and force a reconciliation. And now, when we are most curious about these characters, the hawk slips.
We find ourselves in France. Anna, estranged from her family, has come here to research the life of a dead writer named Lucien Segura. She moves into the writer's house, takes long country walks, and falls for a man with a guitar. Then we slip again — this time into Segura's life. We hear about what made him a writer; how he dealt with the sexual tussles between his two daughters; about his experiences in World War I. And now the hawk has ended its flight.

Admirers of Ondaatje's spare, yet poetical prose will find much to enjoy. Describing two people who make love robustly in a grounded plane, he writes: "Their sex takes place in the late afternoons, and shortly afterwards they emerge from the Airstream like humbled dormice." Ondaatje has a gift for capturing music and landscape in words, and there are gorgeous descriptions of strumming guitars, running horses and swooping hawks. But the second part of the book is a letdown; the descriptions in France are often too contrived, too literary. We want less about Segura's art, more about Coop and his crooked card games. And then there's the question of whether the book coheres. In addition to the echoes of repeating themes, characters are linked by shared sentiments of hurt, dispossession and a love of solitude. But for once, the hawk master has failed at his game: for all the delight of the slips and falls, it doesn't all add up to one story.

Jan 7, 2012

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength of youth!
Cursed be the social lies that wrap us from the living truth!
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Locksley Hall”

Perhaps adolescent students are often impervious to the appeal of literature because for them words do not represent keen sensuous, emotional, and intellectual perceptions. This indicates that throughout the entire course of their education, the element of personal insight and experience has been neglected for verbal abstractions.

The history of criticism is peopled with writers who possess refined taste but who remain minor critics precisely because they are minor personalities, limited in their understanding of life. Knowledge of literary forms is empty without an accompanying humanity.
- Louise M. Rosenblatt, Literature as Exploration (1995 [1938])

The ceremonies that open the new school year of 1959-60 at Welton Academy in Vermont are reminiscent of a church service. There is, of course, nothing wrong with such ceremonies, nor can we find fault with the “four pillars” of the school, “Tradition, Honor, Discipline, Excellence.” The immediate aftermath of the opening ceremonies continues the church-service feel. Mr. Nolan, the headmaster, stands in the doorway shaking hands with the parents of returning students who compliment him for the “thrilling” or “lovely ceremony” he has just performed. It is also here, during the opening ceremonies, that the new English teacher, John Keating, is introduced to the student body.

As we witness the hustle and bustle of students settling in, certain students emerge from the nameless crowd as young men who will play a prominent role in the story. Among these are Neil Perry and his new roommate, Todd Anderson. Though John Keating, their English teacher, is in some sense the hero of this film, the story really belongs, in a sense, to Neil and Todd. The other students who figure in an important way in the story include Knox Overstreet and Charles Dalton as well as Richard Cameron. Cameron quickly shows himself as possibly the most conformist among the circle of friends who occupy our center of attention, and Mr. Perry, Neil’s father, also quickly emerges as the instigator of a conflict in the story that will ultimately have tragic consequences.

Mr. Perry comes up to Neil’s room (to the surprise of all the students present) and tells him that he has talked to Mr. Nolan and has decided that Neil has taken on too many extracurricular activities and that he is to drop his assistant editorship of the school annual. It is clear from the beginning, therefore, that Mr. Perry is adamant about Neil’s progress towards a future that only he, Mr. Perry, envisions for him. Thus Charlie Dalton’s innocent-sounding question (“Why doesn’t he let you do what you want?”) is replete with ominous implications this early in the game.

In what follows we get three quick glimpses into the routine of Welton Academy. We see, for a moment, students in the chemistry lab followed by a Latin class followed by a math class. The next class is English. And it is here that we get our first real introduction to John Keating. He enters the class whistling a tune from Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, walks to the back of the room and goes out into the hallway. He sticks his head back into the classroom and invites the puzzled students to follow him. The first words out of his mouth are “O Captain, My Captain,” the opening line of a Whitman poem about Lincoln’s death (in light of what is to follow, this choice is more telling than its immediate significance – that is, as a possible nickname for John Keating himself).

Keating’s first act of business is to ask one of the students to read the first four lines of Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” the most famous “carpe diem” or “seize the day” poem in English: “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may: / Old time is still a-flying; / And this same flower that smiles today, / Tomorrow will be dying.” Keating follows this up with a reminder that we are “food for worms.” This is a somewhat unorthodox invocation of the time-honored adage about life being too short. It is certainly appropriate for a teacher to use this perhaps unusual but highly effective method to drive home the point that young people are only young for a “short” time and that they should thus make the most of their time by seizing the day, thus making their “lives extraordinary.” The fact that all this takes place in front of a class picture of a long-ago student body on the wall (the members of which are by this time probably all dead) just delivers the point Keating is making with that much more relevance and effectiveness.

The students seem delighted with Keating’s ways. The only exception appears to be Cameron. When he asks “Think he will test us on that stuff?” Charlie Dalton aptly replies “Don’t you get anything?” Later it will be Cameron again who will be most reluctant to tear out the pages from the textbook at Keating’s request and who will later still have doubts about renewing the Dead Poets Society Keating was a part of when he was a student at Welton Academy at an earlier time. In the scene where Keating asks the students to tear the pages out of their textbook, we witness the second major scene involving Keating’s ingenious and most effective teachings methods. Part of the secret of Keating’s success with his students is, of course, the fact that he levels with them, that he tells them (and occasionally shows them, too) what he firmly believes is the truth.

The essay, “Understanding Poetry,” by J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D., is indeed “excrement” (to use Keating’s own characterization of it). The “greatness” of a poem is not to be grafted onto horizontal and vertical lines where the first represents the “perfection” (as to rhythm, meter, and rhyme) and the second the “importance” (as to theme) of a given poem. As Keating tells the students after they have torn the offending pages from the book, “[w]e don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are all noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

With Neil’s discovery of Keating’s senior annual, the old Dead Poets Society that Keating was involved with when he was a student at Welton (Hellton, by nickname) rears its head. The students, who are naturally curious, ask Keating about it. He tells them how a group of them used to get together at the “old Indian cave” and “in the enchantment of the moment . . . let poetry work its magic.” When Knox has doubts about a bunch of guys just “sitting around reading poetry,” Keating claims that they were not just a “Greek organization,” that they “were romantics,” that they “didn’t just read poetry” but “let it drip from [their] tongues like honey. Spirits soared, women swooned and gods were created, gentlemen. Not a bad way to spend an evening, eh?”

That evening, under Neil’s leadership, the boys “reconvene” the Dead Poets Society. As usual, the only student who worries about this “underground” activity is Cameron. Neil honors tradition by opening the new “chapter” of the society the way Keating and his classmates used to open it, by reading from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden the passage about “going to the woods” in order to “live deliberately,” to “live deep and suck out the marrow of life,” so that when they came “to die” they would not “discover” that they “had not lived” at all. This first meeting of the renewed society is a tremendous success. The boys really get into reading poetry, reciting it with gusto, including the concluding lines from Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” which Neil reads and which, in the context of the movie as a whole, conjures up a special significance:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . Come, my friends.
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are -
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

It is as if the splendor of these words, spoken by an aged Ulysses in the poem itself, performed a double function by reflecting both on Keating’s generation of the past and that of Neil and his classmates in the present. There is indeed “tradition, honor, discipline, and excellence” in this student-led initiative to revive the Dead Poets Society, in spite of the fact that (as Keating himself puts it) the school’s “present administration” would not “look too favorably upon” it.

It is in the next classroom scene that Keating performs his famous stunt of standing upon the desk to remind the students that – as he puts it – we “must constantly look at things in a different way.” “Just when you think you know something,” he tells them a moment later, “you have to look at it in another way.” He urges them to think when they read “not just what the author thinks. Consider what you think” as well. He urges them, too, to find their own voices. There is no time to waste. The more habitual their thinking becomes, the more difficult it will be to change it later on. It is interesting to reflect in this connection on the fact that both George McAllister, a fellow teacher, and Mr. Nolan object (the first mildly, the second vehemently) to Keating’s attempt to make 17-year-olds think for themselves.

The “magic” of Keating’s teaching soon begins to show results. It encourages Knox to “woo” Chris (who is engaged to a “jerk” of a football player) to “seize the day” and not give up prematurely (we should recall in this connection, too, that – as Keating tells the students at one point – language was invented not in order to let us communicate, but in order to “woo women”), and it enables Neil to let his own hidden ambition to become an actor come forth. Once Neil decides upon trying out for a role in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, he bubbles over with joy and enthusiasm:

So, I am gonna act. Yes, yes! I am gonna be an actor! Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to try this. I even tried to go to summer stock auditions last year, but, of course, my father wouldn’t let me. For the first time in my whole life I know what I wanna do, and for the first time I am gonna do it whether my father wants me to or not! Carpe diem!

Neil knows that his father would be adamantly opposed to his ambition to become and actor, so when he gets the part of Puck, he forges a letter of permission in his father’s name. In the meantime, Mr. Keating continues to encourage the students to be their own persons. In order to illustrate the dangers of conformity, for example, he lets them march until they begin to step in unison on the school’s grounds in a location where Mr. Notan happens to be able to observe what goes on. Keating tells the students that while they each started out with “their own stride, their own pace,” they soon began to conform. He tells them how difficult it is to maintain one’s beliefs against opposition from others. He tells them, too, that while we have a “great need for acceptance,” we should nevertheless try to strive to be ourselves even in the face of the disapproval of the “herd.” He ends by quoting Robert Frost’s famous lines: “Two roads diverged in a wood and I, / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”

In the meantime Charlie Dalton brings two girls to one of the Dead Poets Society meetings, where he also owns up to having written a surreptitious article for the school paper “demanding that girls be admitted to Welton.” Though the group as a whole objects to Charlie having taken upon himself to “speak for the club,” it is Cameron, once more, who is really worried about what the administration is likely to do about this mischievous breach of conduct. When Mr. Nolan insists that whoever is responsible for the “profane and unauthorized article” reveal himself on pain of expulsion from the school, Charlie adds insult to injury by pretending to receive a phone call from God whose message to Mr. Nolan is that “we should have girls at Welton.”

In the scene that follows Mr. Nolan administers a rather nasty paddling upon Charlie Dalton’s backside while demanding to know what the Dead Poets Society is and also by demanding “names.” As Charlie later tells Neil and others, it appears that if he turns everybody in and apologizes to the school as a whole, “all will be forgiven.” It is after this scene that Mr. Nolan pulls Mr. Keating aside for a little talk. Nolan tells Keating about “rumors” concerning his “unorthodox teaching methods.” And while Nolan doesn’t blame Keating for the stunt that Charlie pulled, he does want to know what the boys were doing “marching, and clapping in unison” a bit earlier.

To Keating’s explanation that the “exercise” was to “prove a point” about the “dangers of conformity,” Nolan responds with, “Well, John, the curriculum here is set. It’s proven it works. If you question [it], what’s to prevent them from doing the same?” “I always thought,” responds Keating, that “the idea of educating was to learn to think for yourself.” “At these boys’ ages? Not on your life!” exclaims Nolan. “Tradition, John. Discipline. Prepare them for college, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Though not in agreement with the administration on many issues, Keating nevertheless reprimands Charlie Dalton for the stunt he has pulled. He reminds the student that “sucking the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone.” With the jocular reminder that one of the consequences of being expelled from Welton would be that Charlie could no longer take Keating’s courses, the student see the point. “Aye, aye, Captain,” he says.

In the meantime it seems that Mr. Perry has gotten a wind of Neil’s newly launched acting career. He is, of course, dead set against Neil’s continued association with the play. He also suspects that “this new man,” this, “ah, Mr. Keating” may have put him up to it. In any event, regardless of the fact that Neil has a leading role in the play, which is to open the day after, Mr. Perry orders his son to quit immediately. He doesn’t care, as he says, “if the world comes to an end,” Neil must be “through with [the] play.”

Neil now turns to the one person he is sure will understand his dilemma, Mr. Keating. In a private conference Neil tells his teacher that his father wants him to quit the play, that he is “planning the rest of [his] life for [him],” that he has never “asked [him]” what he (Neil) wanted. Keating wants Neil to talk to his father, to tell him how he feels. But Neil says that he “can’t talk to him this way” (that is, the way in which he can tall to Keating). Keating nevertheless urges Neil to talk again to his father in order to be able to stay in the play. The next time they see each other, Neil lies to Keating by saying that he has, in fact, talked to his father who, though reluctantly, has agreed to let him remain in the play.

Though Mr. Perry is not supposed to be at the play (he is supposed to be in Chicago), he does walk into the auditorium and stands in the back as the play comes to a close. Neil as Puck sees him and then seems to address the play’s epilogue to his father as well as to the audience so that the final words of the play take on a special and unique significance in what thus becomes a private/public context:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do no reprehend;
If you pardon, we will mend;
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

But Puck/Neil’s final words fall upon deaf ears as far as his father is concerned. When after the play Keating (as well as all the students) congratulate Neil on his magnificent performance, Mr. Perry rudely tells Keating to “stay away from [his] son.” Having forcefully dragged him home, Mr. Perry, as if speaking on behalf of Mrs. Perry (who looks on in apparent despair) as well as in his own right, tells Neil in no uncertain terms that he is to go to military school immediately and then to Harvard where he is to study medicine. Mr. Perry completely disregards his son’s wishes and browbeats the latter to the point where Neil simply gives up even to try to get his father to let him be what he wants to be.

During the quiet of the cold winter night, in front of an open window, Neil seems to enact a strange ritual with what appears to be a crown of thorns on his head (a stage prop left over from his role as Puck, but also reminiscent of the crucifixion), while he exposes his naked body to the elements. He then quietly walks down to a study where, pulling a handgun from what is apparently his father’s desk, he shoots himself dead. The sound of the gunshot awakens Mr. Perry who immediately goes searching for his son by walking from room to room in the house, followed by Mrs. Perry. When he stumbles upon the body, he cries out repeatedly, “Oh, Neil! Oh, My God! . . . Oh, my son! . . . My son! My poor son!”

When Charlie informs Todd of Neil’s death, they all run out into the wintry night where it is Todd who repeatedly says that it was Neil’s father who killed him. The context of his words (Neil “wouldn’t have left us. . . . His father killed him”) seems to imply that Mr. Perry had, in fact, literally killed his own son. In a way, of course, it is clear to us all that he is, above all, the most responsible for Neil’s death, for it is clear that Neil felt totally “trapped” (a word he actually uses when talking to Keating about his father wanting him to quit the play), that he felt that his father was simply forcing him, against his will and against all of his heart’s desires, to go to military and then to medical school.

Yet now, in spite of what we (as audience) know, the film takes a turn for a perhaps predictable but ultimately unjustifiable assignment of blame. When Mr. Nolan announces that he “intend[s] to conduct a thorough inquiry into this matter,” we may already guess that Mr. Keating will emerge as the villain in the eyes of official justice and established morality. Cameron is, of course, the first to “fink.” And when one of the students wants to know what Cameron could possibly fink about, Charlie Dalton hits the nail right on the proverbial head:

The club . . . Think about it. The board of directors, the trustees, Mr. Nolan. Do you think for one moment they’re gonna let this thing just blow over? Schools go down because of things like this. They need a scapegoat.

Cameron has the unmitigated audacity to speak of the school’s “honor code” when he admits that he has, in fact, “finked.” He tells the others that if they are smart, they will do as he did. “They are not after us. We are the victims. Us and Neil.” When Charlie wants to know who they are after, Cameron says, in no uncertain terms, “Mr. Keating, of course. The ‘Captain’ himself. I mean, you guys didn’t really think he could avoid responsibility, did you?” When Charlie is horrified by the suggestion that Mr. Keating is to be blamed for Neil’s suicide, Cameron continues:

Well, who else do you think, dumb-ass? The administration? Mr. Perry? Mr. Keating put us up to all this crap, didn’t he? If it wasn’t for Mr. Keating, Neil would be cozied up in his room right now, studying his chemistry and dreaming of being called a doctor.

This misleading and illogical explanation, the falseness of which Todd, for example, vehemently objects to (“That is not true, Cameron. You know that. He didn’t put us up to anything. Neil loved acting”) will nonetheless become the official explanation as well. In the scene in which Todd, for example, is “interrogated” (in the presence of his parents) by Mr. Nolan, and then made to sign a “document” (the scene is reminiscent of phony confessions that prisoners, after having been tortured, were forced to sign in the former Soviet Union, for example), Mr. Nolan says:

I have here a detailed description of what occurred at your meetings. It describes how your teacher, Mr. Keating, encouraged you boys to organize this club and to use it as a source of inspiration for reckless and self-indulgent behavior. It describes how Mr. Keating, both in and out of the classroom, encouraged Neil Perry to follow his obsession with acting when he knew all along it was against the explicit order of Neil’s parents. It was Mr. Keating’s blatant abuse of his position as teacher that led directly to Neil Perry’s death.

Needless to say, this highly distorted version becomes, as I have said before, the official view of what has led to Neil’s suicide. The upshot of the whole affair is that in the end things are back to normal at Welton Academy. When Mr. Keating, who has obviously been dismissed, comes for his “personals,” Mr. Nolan is in charge of his class. And the students are asked to start all over again by reading what Mr. Nolan calls the “excellent essay by Dr. Pritchard on ‘Understanding Poetry.’” It is Cameron who explains that the pages of the essay have been torn out of the book, so he is forced to read the essay in question from Mr. Nolan’s own copy.

As Mr. Keating is about to leave the classroom, Todd exclaims that “they made everybody sign” the document leading to Keating’s dismissal. When Todd jumps up on his desk to the exclamation of “O Captain! My Captain!” and when other students follow suit, it becomes apparent that Mr. Nolan is not going to be able to maintain control of the class. In the end, only a handful of students remain seated (including, of course, Cameron), the rest are on their desks shouting “Oh Captain! My Captain!” The students thus undo the injustice imposed upon Mr. Keating by the administration, but not officially. That is beyond their power. The movie nevertheless ends on a note of moral triumph. The taste of bitterness and sadness which remain with us as we witness Mr. Keating, with tears of gratitude in his eyes, say “Thank you, boys. Thank you,” reminds me not just of the “four pillars” of Welton Academy (Tradition. Honor. Discipline. Excellence), but also of the parody of this we hear early on in the story, shortly after the opening ceremonies: “Travesty. Horror. Decadence. Excrement.” Those words in the end are indeed better at describing what has happened not just to Mr. Keating in this case, but to all the students who have thus been deprived of a truly dedicated and brilliant teacher.

What this movie tells us – nay, what it shows us – is that excellence is not always rewarded in our world, that discipline is at times nothing more than the rigid application of misguided and illogical distortions, that honor can be horribly twisted to suit dishonorable ends, and that thus tradition may indeed become its own travesty. When will we ever learn? And why not in school, of all places?

*This article is written by Steven C Scheer.
*The writer note: This essay on Dead Poets Society is from my book called Hollywood Values.
The book has a lot to offer, so please consider ordering it. It’s easy, just click on the link below and you are steps away from having your own copy. This link will also show you what the whole book has to offer. You will find that it offers a whole lot.

Jan 6, 2012

Indian English Literature

Indian English Literature pertains to that body of work by writers from India, who pen strictly in the English language and whose native or co-native language could be one of the numerous regional and indigenous languages of India. English literature in India is also intimately linked with the works of associates of the Indian diaspora, especially with people like Salman Rushdie who was born in Indian but presently resides elsewhere.

Development of Indian English Literature
Indian English literature precisely conforming to its gradual evolution had all begun in the summers of 1608 when Emperor Jahangir, in the court of the Mughals, had welcomed Captain William Hawkins, Commander of British Naval Expedition Hector, in a gallant manner. Though India was under the British rule, still, English was adopted by the Indians as a language of understanding and awareness, education and literary expression with an important means of communication amongst various people of dissimilar religions.

Indian English literature, quite understandably, spurs attention from every quarter of the country, making the genre admired in its own right. Creative writing in English is looked at as an integral part of the literary traditions in the Indian perspective of fine arts. In early times of British rule, the novelistic writing, indeed the Indian English dramas and Indian English poetry, had tremendously arrested attention of the native masses. Every possible regional author was dedicated in their intelligence to deliver in the `British mother tongue`, highly erudite and learned as they were even in such periods. The man that comes to surface more than once in all the genres of Indian English literature is Rabindranath Tagore, who possibly was an unending ocean of knowledge and intellect, still researched as an institution in him.

The truthfulness and honesty of the writers writing in English is often made a theme of suspect in their own country and in other English-speaking countries they are indeed addressed as `marginal` to the mainstream of English literature. Indian English literature writers are sometimes incriminated of forsaking the national or regional language and penning in a western, "alien" language; their dedication to the nation is considered in much suspicion, a rather unfortunate sensibility for such intelligent and cultured wonders.

Indian literature in English dates back to the 1830s, to Kashiprasad Ghosh, who is considered the first Indian poet writing in English. Sochee Chunder Dutt was the first writer of fiction, thus bringing in the tremendous attraction and brilliancy of admiration of Indian English novels. In the beginning, however, political writing in the novel or essay format was dominant, as can be seen in Raja Ram Mohan Roy and his extraordinary output. He had written and dedicated pages about social reform and religion in India, solely in the medium of English.

Style of Indian English Literature
`Stylistic influence` from the local languages appears to be an exceptional feature of much of the Indian literature in English - the local language construction and system is very much reflected in the illustrations, as is mirrored in the literal translation of local idioms. Yet one more breathtaking and praiseworthy feature of these English Indian writers is that they have not only `nativised` the `British mother tongue` in terms of stylistic features, but, they have also acculturated English in terms of the `Indianised context`. A broad view that the mother tongue is the primary means of literary creativity is still generally held across cultural diversity. Creativeness in another tongue is often measured as a deviation from this strict norm. The native language is considered `pure`, it is addressed as a standard model of comparison. This however have caused difficulties for non-native writers of Indian English literature and it is more than infrequently that they have to guard themselves writing again, in English.

Writers of Indian English literature
Besides the legendary and hugely venerated Indian English literary personalities like Rabindranath Tagore (Sadhana) or R K Narayan ( Malgudi days), later novelists like Kamala Markandaya (Nectar in a Sieve, Some Inner Fury, A Silence of Desire, Two Virgins), Manohar Malgaonkar (Distant Drum, Combat of Shadows, The Princes, A Bend in the Ganges and The Devil`s Wind), Anita Desai (Clear Light of Day, The Accompanist, Fire on the Mountain, Games at Twilight) and Nayantara Sehgal, have ceaselessly captured the spirit of an independent India struggling to break away from the British and traditional Indian cultures and establish a distinct identity.

Dur ing the 1980`s and 90`s, India had emerged as a major literary nation. Salman Rushdie`s `Midnight`s Children` had become a rage around the world, even winning the Booker Prize. The worldwide success of Rushdie`s ` Midnight`s Children ` made him the first writer of the Indian Diaspora to enter the sphere of elite international writers and leave an indelible mark on the global literary scene. Other Indian English literature Novelists of repute of the contemporary times include - V.S. Naipaul, Shobha De (Selective Memory), G.V. Desani, M Ananthanarayanan, Bhadani Bhattacharya, Arun Joshi, Khushwant Singh, O.V. Vijayan, Allan Sealy (The Trotternama), Sashi Tharoor (Show Business, The Great Indian Novel), Amitav Ghosh (Circle of Reason, Shadow Lines) and others.

The writer in the genre of Indian English literature, who took the world with a storm, was Arundhati Roy, whose `The God of Small Things` won the 1997 Booker Prize and became an international best-seller overnight. Rohinton Mistry, Firdaus Kanga, Kiran Desai (Strange Happenings in the Guava Orchard), Sudhir Kakar (The Ascetic of Desire), Ardeshir Vakil (Beach Boy) and Jhumpa Lahiri (Interpreter of Maladies) are some other renowned writers of Indian origin. Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao`s The Insider; Satish Gujral`s A Brush with Life; R.K. Laxman`s The Tunnel of Time, Prof. Bipin Chandra`s India After Independence, Sunil Khilnani`s The Idea of India, J.N. Dixit`s Fifty Years of India`s Foreign Policy, Yogesh Chadha`s Rediscovering Gandhi and Pavan K.Varma`s The Great Indian Middle Class, are also outstanding works of the recent times.

The mid-20th century Indian literature in English had witnessed the emergence of poets such as Nissim Ezekiel (The Unfurnished Man), P Lal, A K Ramanujan (The Striders, Relations, Second Sight, Selected Poems), Dom Moraes (A Beginning), Keki .N . Daruwalla, Geive Patel were profoundly influenced by literary movements taking place in the West, like Symbolism, Surrealism, Existentialism, Absurdism and Confessional Poetry. These authors heavily had made use of Indian phrases alongside English words and had tried to reproduce a blend of the Indian and the Western cultures.

Indian English literature is an honest enterprise to demonstrate the ever rare gems of Indian writing in English. From being a singular and exceptional, rather gradual native flare-up of geniuses, Indian English has turned out to be a new form of Indian culture and voice in which India converses regularly. While Indian authors - poets, novelists, essayists, dramatists - have been making momentous and considerable contributions to world literature since the pre-Independence era, the past few years have witnessed a gigantic prospering and thriving of Indian English writing in the global market. Not only are the works of Indian authors writing in English surging on the best-seller list, they are also incurring and earning an immense amount of critical acclamation. Commencing from Mulk Raj Anand, R. K. Narayan, Anita Desai, Sarojini Naidu, Toru Dutt to Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Allan Sealy, Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Banerjee, Arundhati Roy, Vikram Chandra - the panache of fine Indian writers is long and much augmented.

Jan 5, 2012

Meeting Lives: Tulsi Badrinath


Tulsi Badrinath's Meeting Lives was on the longlist of the Man Asian Literary prize. It is easy to read and the translated verses from the Upanishads and biographical texts of revered Vedantins that liberally intersperse the narrative are a pleasant surprise. This allows the author to travel in time and history and connect the vignettes to the present time and the physicality of the storyscape.

Aditi inhabits and traverses many worlds in her search for meaning of her role and identity. She is a well-educated, well-informed, Vedanta-inspired, independent woman and introspects periodically on her various roles as daughter, friend, wife and mother and an empathiser of an abandoned woman. The storyline is fairly straightforward. There is hardly anything unusual about a plot that engages with a young woman's concerns about her married life and motherhood which unfold a sequence of disappointments and frustrations.

Aditi marries a person of her choice and has a baby who becomes her central focus as she tires to raise him single-handedly. The narrative throws up unusual challenges to the reader as Aditi sometimes goes into overdrive in her internal dialogues with mythological and historical characters to seek and find understanding, parallels, and solace. At times the joy of reading gets overwhelmed by cross references and requires a dogged approach to get through to the end.

Badrinath wanted her novel to reflect her life as an Indian and wanted it to be about India. Like her protagonist, Badrinath is a young mother, spiritually and philosophically informed, a trained Bharatnatyam dancer who loves to write fiction. So far, this bears up with her ideas of what she wanted to do with her story.

The storyline and its conceptualisation, however, suffer from weak ideation. Aditi struggles through her period of motherhood in trying to raise a baby who is a handful. She is disillusioned in her relationship and finds it hard to cope with being a single mother living in her parental home. The Juxtaposition of Thayee - an old, abandoned mother of four who lives on the street - with that of Aditi adds an interesting contrast. The only thing that ties them is their individual isolation and the fact that both live their lives in total surrender to what comes their way.

The part of the insensitive husband is meant to lend support to why Aditi feels abandoned and distraught when overworked and tired with the baby. This somehow does not wash.

Mothers all over the world are the primary nurturers and caregivers, even in bonded relationships. Her frustrations with not having her husband around for emotional and physical support cannot justify a full novel. It is her choice that Aditi rejects outside help and becomes a fulltime mother. The conflicts and insecurities are her own as she remains a dutiful daughter and unchallenging in her husband's life decisions. This novel needs a sequel to see how the situation gets resolved.

Motherhood and a spouse indifferent to child-rearing is hardly what exciting fiction is made of. What saves and enlivens this narrative are the beautiful verses from spiritual treatises cleverly interwoven with the running story. But if Badrinath is looking for a global audience then she will unfortunately fall into the trap of using spirituality to attract a foreign readership. Fortunately, the book had a detailed glossary and references pages.

The novel must be read not so much for its complex ideas but mostly to feel its inner fabric of soft and calm vibrations of positive resonance.

Article from the Newspaper THE HINDU
Meeting Lives, her first novel, was on the Man Asian Literary Prize longlist 2007. Her second novel, now titled Man of A Thousand Chances, was also on the Man Asian Literary Prize longlist, 2008.

Tulsi Badrinath's “Man of a Thousand Chances” (Hachette India), recently launched, is very different from her first novel, “Meeting Lives” (Niyogi). If that one used an unconventional format with a dreamy, arty quality that actually made some readers ask “where's the story?”, this one very much has a plot — and a plotter.

Harihar, an employee in a Chennai museum and an earnest, doting father of Meeta whom he has to marry off in an opulent style befitting his community's expectations, plots to “borrow” and pawn a priceless coin minted by Emperor Jahangir. His job gives him access to the antiquities stored in his office, and an object not displayed to the public will not be missed for a long time. By that time, Harihar will have redeemed the coin, having paid back the pawnbroker using money from an investment due to mature just a few days after the wedding.

Taking advantage of a hubbub caused by an errant temple elephant that escapes from its mahout and enters the museum compound, Harihar sets his plan in action. It seems, like all meticulous schemes, the perfect crime.

But first-time thieves forget to calculate the stress of being on the wrong side of the law. Or leave a margin for unforeseen developments, or the possibility that others can be dishonest too. So the novel from the first has a suspenseful tone. We know ‘whodunit', but we don't know if he will be caught.

“Yes,” agrees Tulsi, adding. “The resolution in the end is both at the level of the narrative as also the philosophical.”

Here we come to the crux of her interests. Tulsi says as the daughter of a philosopher (Sahitya Akademi Award recipient late Chaturvedi Badrinath), she wants her novels to have something the reader can take away beyond the storyline. So there is, behind this seemingly simple story of a middle-class man in a socio-economically induced fix, a more complex question: We find ourselves in a discussion of karma, of why some actions have logical results and others seemingly don't.

“I wrote this book to answer the question, if only to myself, what is it that makes things happen? Fate or providence, self-will or karma,” says the author. “And the plot was woven around this theme. It is a question that begins to preoccupy Harihar when the unity of his world is breached by the loss of Ratan, his son.”

Harihar, suffering guilt pangs, wonders if he is just a pawn in someone else's chess game. Are we finally responsible for our actions? Tulsi suggests that perhaps the punishment one expects for knowingly committing a wrong has already been dealt out to Harihar, “since we will never know which action is being matched in which life with its reaction/punishment.”

She remarks, “Harihar arrives at the conclusion, which matches my own view, that regardless of what makes life happen, rather than trying to control the capricious outer world, he could try to concentrate on his inner nature... for the only thing that he can control are his responses to a puzzling, often brutally unfair, world.”

It is a long way to come for a man born into an orthodox business family, whose early life lessons have been about how to keep money safe from greedy relatives. “These are people who don't read very much and don't examine their lives to any great degree,” notes Tulsi, “which is why Harihar is surprised by his own growth once he joins the museum.” Tulsi emphasises that Harihar's wife Sarla is a pivotal character. “She truly is fundamental to this story as well, sliding out from the confines of her house into the world of men, a scary world for her…She's the unsung hero.”
Historical details

The setting also ensures the story is peppered on the one hand with cameos from a North Indian style wedding, and on the other, details about Indian history and numismatics. Did this require a lot of research? “Not a lot of research but yes, very specific research relating to coins. I was looking for stories of hoards, and found the lovely one relating to the Bayana hoard, and also interesting details such as Jehangir shown holding the wine-cup in a particular coin, or peacocks on Roman coins.” Then there is the iconography. “I wanted to write about Indian art, to share my love for it and actually wanted to fill this imaginary museum with the best examples of Indian sculpture and bronzes, etc. but soon realised that would not work in a novel. So I chose just one bronze, my favourite, the absolutely unique Vrishabha-vahana Shiva of the Thanjavur museum and described him,” says the author, a Bharatanatyam dancer trained under the Dhananjayans, adding, “The Hindu had carried an article about 11 years ago with all the details I needed.

I had actually cut out and saved that article!” Tulsi says her next work will likely be a non-fiction book, though she has started on another novel too. Meanwhile, she is shortly off to Ahmedabad to read a paper and perform at a colloquium of women writers organised by the Sahitya Akademi. A cool convergence of vocations: meeting lives!

Jan 2, 2012

Solved UGC-NET Dec 10

1. Jeremy Collier’s A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage attacked among others.
(a) John Bunyan
(b) Thomas Rhymer
(c) William Congreve
(d) Henry Fielding

2. The Crystal Palace, a key exhibit of the Great Exhibition, was designed by
(a) Charles Darwin
(b) Edward Moxon
(c) Joseph Paxton
(d) Richard Owen

3. Influence of the Indian Philosophy is seen in the writings of
(a) G.B. Shaw
(b) Noel Coward
(c) Tom Stoppard
(d) T.S. Eliot

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