I’m home, which means I get a lot more time to ruminate over the three newspapers which I make a point to scan cover to cover every morning.
I don’t somehow do that much in the hostel, the newspaper at Mangalore somehow puts me off completely, coz there isn’t much city-specific news [the presence of which IMHO makes a newspaper less impersonal], and if there is, it is normally about the menace of houseflies in the fishing season, and the odd stabbing at Ullal or Puttur. And, I didn’t used to watch news channels at hostel like I can at home.
All that makes me feel like Rip Van Winkle now. And it puzzles me just WHY someone thinks artwork depicting nudity is obscene and deserves to be put down. And why that someone would bring in that perennial scapegoat Indian Culture into it.
My concern in this issue is not about changing sensiblities and narrow-mindedness. It is about infringement on Freedom Of Expression. A democracy guarantees Freedom of Expression. Hence there are bound to be different opinions, some of which may not necessarily agree with the others. But the entire spirit of democracy is in allowing such differences to exist, in allowing multiple views and interpretations of a situation, for allowing healthy debate to persist. And it is up to us citizens who run the democracy to uphold this spirit. In other words, I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend ’til death your right to say it.
It strikes me as unconstitutional that an individual or a group of individuals take it upon themselves to decide what is good, or bad for the nation’s moral values and act accordingly, stifling the creativity and self-expression of others, infringing upon others’ fundamental rights. One man’s Art will always be another’s paint-spattered-on-paper [IMHO the Mona Lisa looks way too ordinary to be worthy of attention], and face it, artists take pride in their work not being completely understood by everyone, and will always welcome a difference of opinion, if you care to exercise your FoE in such a way that it doesn’t affect others’.
I see that much-abused scapegoat for all things absurd and irrational – Indian Culture – disrobed, shamed and humiliated, her name taken by those unworthy of it. There is no dignity in her, like there is in the much-ostracized works of art depicting nudity. She weeps, but doesn’t have that poise and stateliness of Picasso’s Weeping Woman. She languishes instead, skeletonlike, in the closet, waiting to be brought out the next time someone wants a reason to vent out their frustration at the prudery and hypocrisy that keeps them from breaking out of their own prudery and hypocrisy.
Edit: I’m not the pseudo-secularist this post makes me look like. I would say the same thing about banning the Danish cartoon, banning Satanic Verses, issuing fatwas on Rushdie, the Danish cartoonist, and the Miss World contestant from Afghanistan.
Edit 2: It was suppressed information that the person who filed the FIR was incensed by the painting of Christ. Indian Media, WHY?
I’ve been tagged by Aunt Uma. It being RK Narayan’s birth centenary year, she did her bit to ‘Celebrate the GrandMaster’s storytelling’ by starting a new tag on blogosphere called “Malgudi-O-Palooza”.
And this post is my tuppence for the hat.
Well, for starters, it’s a surprising fact that I was not at all a Narayan aficionado for the first ten-eleven years of my life. I didn’t watch Shankar Nag’s Malgudi Days. I didn’t revel in reading the eponymous collection of stories. I didn’t read Swami and Friends till I was twelve.
Dad, on the other hand wanted me to savour the stories of this man. Mum, I guess, was surprised that I read Roald Dahl’s school stories, lapped up all of Enid Blyton’s schoolgirl tales and other novels and story collections, giggled over Ruskin Bond’s stories of his grandfather [We used to have a story from that collection every year in our English Literature Reader - they were just right for a classroom. These stories always involved Ruskin Bond's grandfather and a couple of his pets. And the titles were enough to keep us interested in class - Grandpa Tickles a Tiger, Grandpa Fights an Ostrich... timeless tales, those, so unlike his attempts at humor, or attempts at inducing some love for the Hills in his readers], but never did pick up a single Malgudi novel.
By chance I picked up a collection of glimpses of RKN’s work called “Malgudi Landscapes”, which had a couple of chapters from every novel of his, and also included many of his short stories, and had a preface by Graham Greene himself. The novel extracts kept me riveted, and I made up my mind to read “The Painter of Signs” and “Talkative Man”, apart from “The English Teacher”, and, I would be committing sacrilege if I don’t mention Swami and Friends. I couldn’t say the same about the short stories, apart from Selvi [This is inspired by the tale of MS Subbalakshmi, and Sadasivam, which also inspired The Guide] and Uncle.
So it took me one summer morning when I was in an extraordinarily low mood to read “The Swami Trilogy” [No, it isn't officially called that, it's just a term I have come up with, for reasons I'll touch upon later]. Dad got me The RK Narayan Omnibus to lift my spirits, and it had more than the intended effect.
The collection was of three books, which I prefer to term as the Swami Trilogy, much in the league of Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy – Swami and Friends, Bachelor of Arts, and The English Teacher. Why I call it a trilogy is coz Chandran of Bachelor of Arts seems more like Swami grown up, and at the end of the story, Chandran marries Susila – and the English Teacher Krishna’s wife is also called Susila; and the story seems like a logical extension from the point of their marriage, when Chandran wants to start off life anew. The point hits home a lot more accurately when you read the three for the first time in sequence.
I wasn’t exactly very moved by any of the three at first. Then I happened to discuss the three books with a friend, after which conversation, I got to appreciate RKN better than I did before. I think I am the only one in recorded history to find Swami and Friends a very depressing book, almost in the league of English, August [Now that's another post I've been wanting to write]. The book captivated me until Swami gets himself thrown out of Albert Mission, after which my attention floundered, and somehow, the whole point of the novel seemed lost, and I seemed to be reading for a lost cause.
Then Bachelor of Arts. It started off tame enough. As the novel progressed, it got increasingly monotonous, and ended on a completely different note. The futility of Chandran’s rebellion hit me like nothing else had till then.
My favourite RKN book of all time is The English Teacher. I think it has to do with the fact that he wrote it with a lot of original emotion, as it was based on his own experiences with his wife’s death, his having to manage his daughter on his own, and his supernatural contact with his wife. The part I like best is that it ends on a hopeful note, unlike Swami.. and Bachelor.., whose ending made it such that the anger and rebellion so prevalent over the rest of the book vanishes, meaningless.
Then there were some really forgettable ones like The World of Nagaraj. Talkative Man appealed to me for its theme and story than for its narrative style. His attempts at humour were, at best, lame, or maybe I was too grown-up to appreciate the mild, friendly, small-town humour.
As for humour, my pick would be The Man-Eater of Malgudi. Based on the legend of Bhasmasura, its plot as well as its half-serious narrative tickled me like no other.
Another favourite that comes to mind is his autobiography, My Days. It is as simple a narrative as the title, and the vivid anecdotes are a treat to read. Recently, I came across a new edition of the book illustrated by RK Laxman. It’s an excellent effort, and as I’ve said before here, it really does bring alive the reckless schoolboy in Madras, and the young man writing poetry by the Kukkenahalli Tank. The only thing I can find wrong with the book is the very impersonal preface by Alexander McCall Smith of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency fame. A preface to an autobiography, more so of someone who has touched so many lives with his books, IMHO should be personal, talk of the man in first person, and should not sound like a Wiki article.
Speaking of which, I must say RKN’s non-fiction wasn’t any less personal than his fiction. His essays A Writer’s Nightmare seems slightly 1984-ish, and another essay of his [I forget the name] about his experiences with Dev Anand, and the making of the movie The Guide really brings it home about how the very essence of a book can be ripped apart to make its movie. Also an excellent read is his travelogue, The Emerald Route about his trip to the USA.
In retrorespect, I feel RKN was a deep, thinking man, with a good feel of the South-Indian psyche, and a captivating storytelling style. Sure, he could have used words with more effect that he did, but that’s part of his charm. His stories sound like they’re happening to someone you know, the characters are so real, you would imagine them to be someone like your aunt, or your old grandfather. RKN himself seemed like a lovable old relation who was telling you stories about someone he knew. Maybe that’s because his language and metaphors sound like they have been translated from an Indian language, which many readers would imagine to be their mother tongue.
Talking of which reminds me of his last bit of work – Grandmother’s Tale. It recounts the story of his grandmother in the days of the East India Company. A well-written work. Worth a buy. [And it happens to be the first-ever book I ordered online ]
All said and done, RKN will remain the most prolific Indian author for a long time to come, and it only affirms my belief when I see the quality of literature coming from Indian writers these days. RK Narayan is a standard to live upto, of good narrative, of excellent stories, characterization you could identify with, hard work. RKN did happen to write for money – his writing was his bread and butter, but he didn’t stoop to add bits just for that. And if he did, it doesn’t show. His writing wasn’t showy at its worst, it was just the middle-class South-Indian Brahmin speaking about issues he came across, about people he came across, about incidents he came across. He managed to retain that innocence about his writing till the very end.
That may or may not work in today’s world of aggressive advertizing, but at the very least, he and his prolific writing merited a Nobel for Literature which it strangely never got.
I’ll end it by saying he may never have been like what Naipaul was for Trinidad, or Neruda for Chile, but RK Narayan stuck to his writing, like a writer should, and his writing speaks for itself, and for where he came from.
As for the “tag” bit of the post, Aunt Uma specifies the terms of this tag as follows:
- The 5 folks I’m tagging will have to blog about R K Narayan or find some “n degrees of separation” with their post and “All Things Malgudi” .
- And the post should include the word “Malgudi-O-Palooza” (for tracking)
- And please tag/categorize the blog with “malgudiopalooza”
- And they will each tag 5 more bloggers .
So here are the people I tag, who I think read Narayan, or atleast, have done so in the past:
So The NITK Numbskulls’ Page has existed for two years as of today. I hate to sound so less pompous about such an occasion – this blog means much more than just 50 MB of free space on the Web to Tuhina and me – but I am at a loss for what to say now.
Maybe that’s because I haven’t really thought of this blog as a blog per se for the past one semester. I haven’t pampered it with attention, I haven’t made any improvements to its look [well, I did try, but the results weren't what can be termed as "improvements", hence it was back to default], I haven’t blogsurfed and advertized this page for ages now, and it’s been quite a long while since this page has pulsated with an unprecedented number of visitors, who are here to read the posts, and not coz some search engine led them here.
In the one year between this and this post, a lot has happened, blogwise. For starters, we shifted to WordPress, and got introduced to a blogging world far better than Blogger, or so we feel. The shift had a few snags, though – I put in my nickname as Wanderlust for a lark, and didn’t know how to change it for a week, and after that decided to stick with it, while Tuna Fish was preferred over DunnoAny.
In more ways than one, the shift has heralded a major difference to our blogging. WP means the end of anonymous comments [needn't be that way, though], hence we don’t get any of those comments which so used to keep the blog alive on Blogger. The crowd reading us has also undergone changes, with many new additions on the blogroll and elsewhere, and some regulars going silent.
Our traffic is less word-of-mouth now; our showing up on search results also gets us traffic. True, that might have existed when we were on Blogger, but only now, with Blog Stats, we know that, and optimize on it.
Whether it is the ambience of WP, or Net in the rooms, I don’t know, but the frequency of our posts has definitely gone up – This is our 76th post. So has the number of people who we know are syndicating our feeds, thanks to WP now getting its Feed Stats from Google Reader also.
As for our writing… I really don’t know what to say here. It’s mainly been shooting in the dark, more about ourselves and about NITK, and less about “Pop Culture, Herd Mentality, and beyond…” as we had originally promised. Yeah, we’ve written about movies, music, books and the big events of NITK, but I’ve noticed that I’ve written things that are a lot more personal [as in not very far from things that I feel very strongly about] than what I’d written in the first year of blogging. Another thing I’ve noticed is that when you have a lot to cram into a blog post, you don’t quite care about the way it’s written as much as writing it all down. Sometimes when you have hardly anything to write about, hard-hitting expressions flit across your mind, and you end up coming up with something all about nothing at all. Then there are times, exam times mostly, when you’ve resolved to stay stuck to your books and something wonderful you want to blog about comes to mind. You try to squash down that voice in your head, but it persists, distracting you from what you want to do. If that is not enough, you have five or six more ideas of that sort coming to mind, and you are at a loss for what to write on. After that much-awaited exam has passed, when you sit down to write, you find that your words and sentences don’t have the same spunk they did in your head…. they are not even the same ones as in your head. And all that enthusiasm for this idea of yours has died and there it lies, limp and lifeless on the WYSIWYG editor.
We’ve also come across some really great blogs, that make for awesome reading, are very inspiring, posts that you bookmark and read again, and again… stuff that you think of long after you’ve read them, things that really ring true to you, posts that you identify with completely….
There have also been quite a good number of posts I’ve found which echo exactly what’s going on in my mind, which have, so to speak, stolen the words from my mind, so much that I give up the post I’ve been wanting to write on the same topic.
And there’ve also been times at the other end of the spectrum, where we’ve come across badly-written, ill-managed blogs, blogs that depress you beyond reason, boring, hackneyed blogs that somehow seem to attract lot of traffic… but those, we keep away from…. they are not quite worth bothering with.
Our high points this year were when we hit 10K views, when we hit 98 views in one day, when – wait for it…. wa-a-it for it – I wrote the Inci Pro-Nite post about Indian Ocean and The Raghu Dixit Project, and – this is it – the bassist of Raghu Dixit left a comment.
There’ve been pet posts that have never got written due to a combination of reasons – one about Communism, mainly inspired by Kamal Haasan’s Anbe Sivam and Rajeev Srinivasan’s anti-Communism tirades. I hope to write that one some day. And one about The Beatles, and what they mean to us – we’ve been Beatlemaniac for a year and a half now, but we just can’t seem to hit the right words that haven’t been said about 45,231 times already. And there’s one I’ve always wanted to come out with – a chronicle of some of the seemingly-wacky B-Plans me and a few others have come up with over the three years we’ve been at NITK, but which we are too lazy to implement.
As for what we plan further for this place – I’ve been wanting to come up with my own WP theme, coz there are very few which give the page the feel I want it to give, but have never been able to hit the right combination of color and images. Then… I’ve been threatening [myself] to take a Sabbath away from blogging, but it somehow never materializes. Which I’m thankful for – Blogging has opened up a brand new world for the two of us, one which has given us new insights on writing, people, books, music and everything else that comes with and without it. Like we’ve said before, we are not those GRE or CAT bloggers. We blog mainly coz we love to, and also coz we like all that that comes with blogging – the feeling of getting heard by more number of people than those who would have had the patience to listen to us rant on and pun about virtually nothing at all, the feeling of comradeship when you read someone echoing your thoughts, when someone rephrases what you said in a more appropriate form, the feeling that you’re not alone when someone you don’t know [or better still, someone you know, or thought you knew] shows an interest in something you wrote about, which you hitherto thought was something no one ever bothered about other than your jobless self.
And now to thank all those who make our time here feel worthwhile – soon-to-be-alumnus-of-NITK TheG aka Dhaval Giani, alumnus-of-NITK rand0mwalker [Markov?] better known as Gautam Shenoy, Picklemaniac Sudarshna [This girl started a blog in memory of her fungus-ruined pickle] soon-to-be-CAT-Don Nitin, Malaveeka – her word is the Law, I guess, the NITWit Tony Sebastian, ze foodie from SVNIT – Jayanth, my aunt Uma [Frankly, chiththi, I had no idea my aunts and uncles listened to psychedelia, and that you were a Doors fan too, just like me ], ze hero from my school AJ [now I guess my goat is as good as got], Karthik aka CB, Karthik Ram aka Speech Is Golden [can't agree more with you there], Dushyanth the BITSian with a penchant for Carnatic classical and K-(-and-other-alphabets)-Soaps [now that's my goat got twice], deep insightful pal of mine who’s stood me through thick and thin, who’s endured my endless tirades for quite a while now,soon-to-be-Infoscion Deepti, and Anjaan, who I’ve been a fan of since I started cramming late at night in class XI, whose tunes and voice kept me company through long hours of JEE prep.
I raise a toast, to more posts, to better posts, to more numbskullery.
Thank you for reading.
PS: If you read this, do leave a comment. We’d really like to know how many read this post, how many come back to it, and who reads the post, and how they got here. Blog stats tell a lot, but only so much.