In one of his columns titled “Growing Up With Books In India”, Shashi Tharoor talks about his voracious reading habits. He mentions that one year he kept a journal of all the books he read [comics didn't count] to see if he could reach 365 before the calendar did. And sure enough, he reached the mark before Christmas.
I tried the same this year, and found I reach nowhere near the Great Indian’s impressive total. Firstly, I didn’t strictly maintain a journal; I just compiled one whenever I felt jobless [which wasn't very often in sem 5; the first time at NITK I felt like we had work we could do]. However it turns out to be quite an okay number, thanks to my jobless period in the summer vacations. However, not all of them are worth listing here, so here are some of the better books I read:
- Loads of Asimov – Entire Foundation series, the whole Elijah Baley bunch, I, Robot and his complete short stories – Essentially the entire Robot series. Also read Nightfall, which IMHO is his best work, after A Fantastic Voyage which is a biological thriller.
- Silence of the Lambs – Was a disappointment. I’d expected it to be a bit more wild, the movie had raised my expectations.
- Orwell’s Animal Farm. Good one, I’ll say.
- Orwell’s 1984. Easily the scariest novel I’ve read.
- The Motorcycle Diaries. I think I should get the sequel, too. I came across a version written by Alberto Granado… it wasn’t half as good.
- A bit of Wodehouse – Psmith, and Jeeves.
- A lot of Perry Mason, so much that I’m sick of it now.
- And I also started on Agatha Christie. Never liked her mysteries before, now I think they’re okay.
- The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. Yeah, the book that was banned on account of it having a “negative influence” on its readers after it was found in the possession of John Lennon’s assassin, who was said to be obsessed with the lead character. Awesome read. Makes you never want to grow up.
- A House for Mr. Biswas by Sir VS Naipaul. And lo, I’m a Vidiaphile! After a long, long time, I’m reading a book where the writer focuses more on the story than on how he tells it. I read somewhere that if, while reading a piece, you stop and say, “Wow, this guy writes well!”, the writer sucks. That doesn’t happen with this book; you’re so riveted to the fate of Mr. Biswas [referred to thus throughout the book, even when his toddlerhood was being described] to worry about anything else. And you know the end before it happens, but all the same, you can’t help but feel elated when you read that he’s finally got a house to call his own, and that he didn’t let his widow suffer the same fate as her sisters; she didn’t have to depend on her mother’s fast-fragmenting house for anything.
- The Great Indian Novel, by Shashi Tharoor. It lives up to its name. Easily the best Indian English novel I’ve come across. Most others are written with the writers oh-so-conscious about the fact that they’re Indian.
- Jug Suraiya’s Where On Earth am I?. It’s a great travelogue, the writing style is quite OK, ranging from descriptive to satirical, like his Sunday column in the Trash of India [ToI]. Which isn’t surprising, considering that some of the shorter pieces have appeared in his column Jugular Vein.
- Satanic Verses. And got introduced to one of the most endearing characters in fiction ever – Gibreel Farishta. The novel isn’t all that great, and other than the fatwa, there isn’t too much shock value about it. Not as good as Midnight’s Children, or The Moor’s Last Sigh.
- Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Pseudo SciFi. Avoid it unless you really really want to read something that has PRETEND written all over it.
- And, oh yes, The Fountainhead. I really wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Some woman who can’t write dialogue to save her life spun a 500-page yarn filled with walking-metaphor characters just to say she wants to do her own thing.
- Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Dunno why, but I feel it’s only for people who don’t, or can’t make their own philosophy.
- Ice-Candy Man by Bapsi Sidhwa. Sad one. Don’t bother.
- And oh, yes, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by AlexanderMcCall Smith. It’s a useless bit of pop-lit, not the sort you adorn your bookshelf with; finish reading it in the store itself. I’ve particularly grown to despise the author, and this lack of regard I have for him only increased when I saw that he had written the preface for an illustrated version of RK Narayan’s autobiography, My Days [With excellent illustrations by RK Laxman - It does really bring alive the reckless schoolboy in Madras with his monkey and peacock, his headmaster father... it's worth a buy]. All he does is summarize the contents of the book in boring prose with absolutely no personal touch, as a preface to an autobiography should be.
And some I hope to finish some day:
- Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
- Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina
- Mein Kampf
- Hemingway’s For Whom The Bells Toll
- Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea. Bit surprising I haven’t, yet.
- Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Liked the movie.
- Salman Rushdie’s Grimus, Haroun and the Sea of Stories
- …….just want to exhaust the neighborhood bookstore: it might not be as large as Landmark@Forum or Crossword on Residency Road, but it certainly has a large collection of books, and a lot more variety than the two-floored Crossword offers: A lot less self-help, a lot less pulp fiction and chicklit, really few coffee-table books, a lot more fiction, a lot more volumes worth stocking your bookshelf with… the sort that’ll keep you company on a rainy day when there’s no electricity…
There’s a lot more to look forward to in 2007… hopefully HP7 will release – JK has revealed that the book’s going to be called Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It hopefully won’t disappoint, and the finale will be something that’ll be enough to keep us engaged for a while after the book’s hype has died down. And us Numbskulls are Pottermaniacs, so I guess we’ll work ourselves to a PotterFrenzy and come up with a long, long list of speculations like this one, and possibly a review like this one.
Hopefully, we’ll widen the spectrum of our literature. I’ve never found nonfiction enthralling, save travelogues, collections of letters and a few columns. In the coming year, I hope to come across well-written specimens of the above, too.
Most people probably curse the end-sem exams for taking the fun out of their lives, and cite them as the prime reason for the loss of their reading habit. I used to be among them too, as I found that that was the time when you’d want to do anything but cram, but can’t. Over the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve learnt to let fiction coexist with textbooks over the period of endsems. For that is the time when you’re most aware of what you’d like to read, what you’d like to write,which book is best suited for which mood, what JK Rowling should do to Harry and his friends after Book7…… not quite thoughts you’d want to fly away from your head, right? To top it all, you’d feel like going through the first fifteen pages of that very unreadable The Hunchback of Notre Dame just for the vivid description that suddenly seems so soothing to the senses – certainly not a mood you’d like to let slip away.
And, apart from all of that very enjoyable reading, we have a killer semester coming up. Which might mean huge volumes to be pored over and notes made from. And yeah, there are three-and-four-lettered competitive exams coming up, too, which means there are more pages for our noses to be between. It’ll be the same as reading good fiction – you don’t really believe what’s said to be happening, you’ll learn new words, new facts, and read the same thing over and over again, and on each subsequent reading, come across something you hadn’t noticed before.
Here’s a prayer to Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of Learning and all things literary asking her to bless us that we might be successful in all our endeavours this year, starting with acads [including job interviews and competitive exams], and all the other sidetracks we’ll have [like this blog], and also bless us further, so as to never let the reading habit wane or die, and may we help proliferate it, and also thanking her not only for letting us read, but also for the fact that others read us today.
I was at the railway station, pacing up and down the platform to fight the cold that somehow got to me through the layers of my jacket. I tried sitting on a bench for a bit, but those metal ones are too cold to the touch and instantly, I felt walking would be better.
Li’l bro somehow convinced me to accompany him to the other end of the platform, where there was an engine he was simply dying to check out. “You are not to go there!” yelled aunt. “But ma, I’m with an adult!”, said bro, tugging at my arm. At which the request was promptly shot down.
Anyway, the train did arrive on time, and there was a scramble to get in. The lights were still off, and we started switching them on as we moved in. Then there was this young man who was getting out of the train when everyone seemed to be getting in. And was he in a hurry! He ran at a marathon-ish speed, picked up a bag along the way, and continued running, colliding with many people, never slackening his speed. It was pretty surprising that someone’d be in such a hurry to get off the train when there’s a whole twenty minutes to departure. Not this much of a hurry, anyway, thought Mum, who voiced her thoughts by screaming “Thief! Thief!”. Her brother was kind of surprised at this, but then came to the same conclusion and gave chase. The young man ran faster.
The chant of “Thief, Thief!” propagated throughout the compartment, and the next one, and a huge crowd of people got out and collected, gheraoed the young man, who, by now, had discarded the bag and had started running even faster. He found a crowd blocking his way, and gave up… the crowd then proceeded to beat him up [I thought this only happened in movies] and hand him over to the Police. Thanks to ‘investigations’, we left a half-hour late.
Ah, Indian Railways. You never come back without an anecdote or two.
PS: The title translates to “Thief, Thief!” in Tamil, and is also the name of a Mani Ratnam movie, which I’ve recently grown to obsess about, thanks to the recent Mani-a I’ve been subjected to… more on this later.
Looking around, we see so much of hatred. So much of doubt. Brother suspects brother of fraternizing with the enemy. The Enemy. Yes, the concept exists.
Where Ubuntu exists as just a flavour of Linux.
Where you have to shout to be heard, for there are millions of others crying out in agony, drowning your cry, and worse, no one hears them, either. For the tympannum of sensitivity and sense have long been ripped apart by continual violence and bloodshed and neglect.
Where distrust is what you feel with a stranger, and most of the times with friends, too. Where you don’t even trust yourself.
Where people are asked how they feel on following the same religion as “terrorists”.
Where a strange-sounding name and appearance is cause for fright and scrutiny at baggage-check.
I wonder if I used to even care about all this a week ago. Still, there comes a time, an experience, which makes you start to. Like walking 2 km and back just to get a passport application. I need permission to get out of my country.
On a different tangent, thank heavens for people like Prof. NS Ramaswamy who insisted on establishing the IIMB campus in Arakere on the then-outskirts than in a centrally-located area. Coz, then, the walk to the post office would have been far worse than 2 km.
Oh, well, the IIMs have long deviated from what they were designed for, but the vision still lives on.
Hols are here, and sis has exams, so for once, I get the remote all to myself.
As is usual, I, as an accomplished zapper, was zapping through channels when I came across HBO showing Troy. It’s pretty surprising that even with LAN, I hadn’t seen this movie before. I’d always gotten bored with the helmets and shields and swords and Brad Pitt’s oh-lookie-me-im-so-gorgeous looks [Women who read my blog, don't thrash me for this!].
One hour of the movie was already up, having gone in me flipping between Friends and their clone on Jaya TV called Krishna Cottage [It's a sad rip-off, don't even bother watching].
A long, long time ago, this childrens’ magazine called Chandamama used to carry out a monthly series on the Iliad and the Odyssey. In keeping with the intended audience, the editors had given short shrift to the Iliad [the war for Helen of Troy], and spent more time on the adventures of Ulysses/Odysseus as he made his way back to Ithaca from Troy. So Achilles [Brad Pitt's character in the movie] got just a paragraph: It mentioned that he was the son of Peleus and Thetis, who was a goddess. And that he’d been dipped in the river Styx by his mother to make him immortal, but she held him by the heel, so that part of him was mortal. And also that he’d offended Apollo [the Sun God, I think], so Apollo sat on an arrow during the war and slanted it so that it hit Achilles in the heel.
I really wanted to see the last bit. Apollo riding an arrow.
So I endured it as Achilles beheaded the statue of Apollo outside his temple. Ah! Finally he’s offended Apollo. And lookie! There’s Hector, Prince of Troy riding right up. Where’s the arrow? Oh, daarn! Hector was badly outnumbered and relieved of his spear, the thing that came closest to an arrow in the frame.
Next, King Priam is talking strategy with the rest of the Trojans. Some old man in a blue tunic says Apollo sent an eagle – a sure sign that the Trojans would win the next day. Okay, this is when it comes. Hector rides out of the fort, screaming “Archers!!!”. Oh, cool, this is it. But nope. All the archers did was shoot into the air, and there was no sign of whether the arrows hit anything.
King Priam talking strategy again. Old man saying Apollo is pleased with them yet again. Paris says he’ll fight a Greek for Helen, and winner takes all. But the Greek, instead of being Achilles as I’d hoped, turned out to be some Viking-looking villain. He defeats Paris, Paris runs away pleading for mercy. His brother Hector is challenged by the Viking. Hector drives a sword through the Viking. All-out war, as Paris violated the terms. Yell of “Archers!” yet again. Achilles on the top of a fort, away from all the action. Darn!
Next bit of all-out war. Hector thinks he’s fighting Achilles, and kills him. But it turns out to be the winner of the Brad Pitt lookalike contest, who in this movie is Achilles’ cousin. Darn again.
Anyway, thanks to that, Achilles is enraged, and goes all alone to the Trojan fort yelling for Hector. And fights him: I was becoming hopeful every time Hector picked up a spear. And kills him. And drags his body away. Darn, why did Hector stop his archers this time?
Trojan Horse next. God, wasn’t this supposed to be the very end, AFTER Achilles had died?
Paris is shown practicing archery. Hey, doesn’t that remind you of Legolas? Oh, what the heck, it is Legolas. Orlando Bloom. Okay, avenger of thine brother’s death, do thine stuff.
Greeks looting and pillaging Troy. Greeks, including Achilles ransacking the temple of Apollo. Murdering King Priam right in the temple of Apollo. Dear God, where the heck are you?
Anyway, Paris does away with his sword. It’s some sword that’s been in existence since the founding of Troy. And all his family are dead, so he gives it to his lookalike who luckily happens to know how to handle a sword. Paris takes to his bow’n'arrow.
Achilles rescuing some woman [I never got to know who she was, except that she was a cousin of Hector, and Prisoner of War who Achilles fell for]. Paris spots him. No one else around. Paris shoots.
Arrow 1: hits Achilles in the chest. He plucks it out.
Arrow 2: hits him in the stomach.
Arrow 3: Goes right through his ankle. He staggers.
Good God, where the heck was the part about Apollo slanting the arrow? Where was Apollo? Why was that blotted out completely? How else do you explain how the arrow hit his heel? It wouldn’t hurt to have a wee bit more of animation, would it? Darn! Tchah!
What can I say? The Book Is Always Better? Leave It To Hollywood to Mangle Elaborately-Thought-Of Plotlines?
Disclaimer: This is NOT a review of Troy.
The coast is supposed to be healthy – none of the smoggy air of Bangalore that lines most softie-lungs now. BUT IT ENDS THERE.
NITK was recently plagued by a conjuctivitis epidemic. I don’t know how exactly started, but we all came back after the Diwali hols looking our healthiest, and Nam was nursing red eyes. We thought it’d just pass, but nope! Next was a red-eyed Ro, and then Prat, then most unexpectedly Ivy. Loads of eye-drops later, just when we thought we’d seen the last of the inflamed conjuctivae, we were proved very, very wrong.
The main lobby looked like MIB had planned a mass memory-erase operation [hmm.. maybe the lime-green Main Building had achieved its aim by finally attracting extra-terrestrial attention] and junta were wearing their darkest shades to save their mugging efforts from going waste. And after that, conjuctivitis found its way back to GB [that's Girls Block] through vJ who passed it to Bond’s roomie. All us wing-mates went paranoid at that, washing our faces with Dettol each time we came out of Bond’s room. Why, even our conversation-opener question changed from “Wussap?” to “Are my eyes red?”.
Ah, so much for the background. Sometime between the mass-memory-erase operation and the paranoia, I was gossiping in the mess with – um – let me call her JuG, short for Junior Gossiper, which isn’t to suggest she’s in any way junior when it comes to gossip.
Me: “…………. So, everyone in Madras has Madras-eye* now?”
JuG: Which world are you in? They all have Chenn-eye now.
Me: Amma thaaye….
JuG: Ha, well, the latest there is chikungunya.
– Gasps from the rest of the table –
JuG: Every house has atleast one case.
Me: [mortified] What happens with Chikungunya? What are the symptoms?
JuG: Joint pain, fever… – And your nails bleed. You can’t do a thing.
At this, the whole table, I suppose, was having visions of not being able to use the newly improved bandwidth just ‘coz our fingers bled on the keyboard.
Now, this woman – let me call her Tee – cut in.
Tee: Chikungunya, oh, that guy in Mech2, [arbitGuy'sName] has it. He got it from Chitradurga.
Er…. is that the same tone as “He got his laptop from the Gulf”?
Me: Is he being quarantined? I sure hope he is..
Tee: Dunno.. He’s still coming to class.
That did it. The Latesht shifted from RedEyeReduction to Chikungunya. Next day:
Me: Hey, know what, some junior mechie got chikungunya!
Me: Chillesh.. no chance of us getting it. You need the African mosquito to bite him, then bite you…
Classmate: Er… isn’t the class right next to ours Mech SecondYear? I’m wearing Odomos to class now on.
Me: Class? Forget it. It’s bunkyard for me now on.
And I kept my word. Later:
Bond: Hey, while you’re at DC, get me Odomos. And GoodKnight.
Me and Roomie: Why both?
Bond: Chikungunya… haven’t you guys heard?
Next thing you know, there’s an increase in total sales of anything that has graphics of a mosquito being subjected to torture.
Next at the mess, we see Tee and her friend Vee discussing their highly interesting lives at the top of their voices. Me and Classmate are in full-sleeves, and jeans. I have a second reason for the denim – Once bitten.. **
Vee: Yaake fullSleeves?
Tee: Chikungunya’s on campus note the next word Apparently.
Vee: Uh huh??
Tee: Yeah, some mechie has it. I heard some seniors discussing.
At this, I choked and sputtered on the dal [ A stray coriander sprig or whatever it really was] and thus was prevented from yelling out my indignation as I coughed and watched Tee getting away.
— Yells of “BackStaaaaab!” —-
At the next table, JuJu [short for Jumpy junior] is enlightening the rest of the table with a highly animated description of the symptoms of chikungunya. Me and Classmate shrug and get back to speculating who’s gonna be the next conjuctivict.
Boy are we jobless.
*Madras-eye: another name for conjuctivitis
** Once bitten, twice shy: A reference to an incident that happened last year this time, where I got bitten by a mutt, and wasn’t ravaged too badly thanks to my jeans.
There was a green ball and there were a pair of green eyes…
It was one of those serious discussions with my mum
on my own shortcomings. She showed me a photo.
“Look at those eyes, thats how you should be…”
Early morning. The Hindu, Sports section. Results of
some tennis match.
There was a green ball. And a pair of green eyes fixed
on it. A raquet poised to strike.
The audience was blurred. The ground was blurred.
Her chic clothes were blurred.
Sharapova’s eyes, I’ll never forget them…