Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Old Friends

I am no wine-snob (Or oenophile, I hear, they are called), who raves about the wine from 1872 that is the best ever. But some old things just get better and better with age. Like some books that I go back to after years and still find them as relevant, or more, to me. Some of these....

- The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy
- The Handmaids Tale (Margaret Atwood)
- Heidi
- Sophie's Choice (William Styron)
- The Little Prince
- To kill a mockingbird
- All the Calvin & Hobbes series

Where I laughed before, I laugh harder now; And where I cried, well.. I always cry at the sad bits, so never mind!

The bookshop is going...

So I hear Trent has bought a majority stake in Landmark. What does this mean for the bookstore?

The first Landmark in Nungambakkam was, and still is a favourite haunt for me. Its a comfortable place to stand, browse, read, just walk around looking at all the new covers that are in etc etc. The new Landmark at Spencers somehow is just not a bookshop at all. The book section is quite small and all squashed together so that there is hardly any space at all to stand and check out anything.

The kids toys section, the furniture section, the hep cafe section, the assorted junk section, all these possibly occupy more space than the books. And if you stand in the aisle for just a fraction of a moment, make sure you have your lucky charm with you. Or else you will be prodded in the back by wandering elbows and shoved aside by sundry-teenager-hordes-with-nothing-else-to-do-on-a-sunday.

Now with Trent doing a takeover (practically, since their share is going to be aout 75%), and the bookstore getting fully 'corporatised' , maybe we can expect a chain of Landmarks, all outfitted alike, stocking every single thing on earth, including, did you say books?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


One of my earliest poems...Dont write poetry anymore these days though....This one I think uses a bit of cliche, but passable for a 16 year old I suppose :-)

Here lie two torn tickets for a concert
Where, listening to Tchaikovsky and Schubert,
I wanted to withdraw my love for you
And do it, oh-so-politely too.
I watched you, seemingly rapt,
Listening to the sad music – so apt
To this occasion; To be unkind
Was farthest from my mind.
I wanted to make it easy
For you – Just a final breezy
Goodbye. Felt the heavens drop on my head
When outside the theatre you just said,
“I don’t think we should meet again.”
I stood still in the pouring rain

Before the Word Came...

If you saw the movie, Ice Age, you will remember the scene where the animals walk into a cave to find their likenesses etched on the walls. Kind of cheesy sentimental moment, when the mammoth remembers his parents as he sees the signs of an animal hunt drawn on the cave walls.

Before the age of the wood tablets and stylus, much before the invention of ink and paper, early man found his own way of leaving behind a record of himself. This urge to say something, leave an tiny imprint on the gigantic face of time - looks like it has been there forever, from ice-age man to present-day blogger. (Ok, Ok, I admit that’s slightly ambitious for the blogger, but no harm in being optimistic). It was also probably a part of early human rites and rituals conducted to appease the elements.

I am not a history or paleontology student, so I just stumbled upon this site of the Chauvet cave artin Southern France by chance. It’s a lovely site, in terms of design as well as content…This is the account of how the cave was first ‘discovered’.

“They explored almost the entire network of chambers and galleries, and on the way back out, Éliette saw an amazing sight in the beam of her lamp: a small mammoth drawn with red ochre on a rocky spur hanging from the ceiling. "They were here!" she cried out, and from that instant they began searching all of the walls with great attention.”

I like the way they describe the moment of discovery, so exciting and yet almost in a matter-of-fact manner!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The ones that got away

So if you read that recent post on Kafka on the shore, you will know just how bad my finances have been. I discovered two new books out today by two authors I really like, and ofcourse was in no shape to buy either, each totting up at over 500 bucks.

The first one is The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco, that master writer of the Name of the Rose. Here is an interesting review in the Post-Gazette that explains how the novel subverts the theme of a man creating literature from his memories into one of a man trying to recreate his lost memory and therefore his self from the literature that he has read.

The second one is John Irving's new release, Until I find you. John Irving was once upon a time my absolute favourite. Now however I am a little more ambivalent about his writing. The World According to Garp remains one of my best novels, but he does tend to get a little repetitive in other books. This one has received fairly ambivalent reviews, with some critics slamming it for the excessive melancholy and length.

What did I pick up finally? A copy of Kafka's Metamorphosis, an author I have never read before despite the intellectual pretensions it bestows on the reader when seen with a copy. Besides, he was cheap at Rs. 125.

Love - Whats Columbus gotta do with it?

One of my favourite musicians, esp one whom I admire for her song-writing abilities, is Suzanne Vega. Her songs, even on that most over-used (and over-rated?) of subjects, L-O-V-E have a refreshing quality to them.

Here are the lyrics to one of my favourite songs,World before Columbus, which you may enjoy even if you havent heard the song before.

If your love were taken from me
Every color would be black and white
It would be as flat as the world before Columbus
That's the day that I lose half my sight

If your life were taken from me
All the trees would freeze in this cold ground
It would be as cruel as the world before Columbus
Sail to the edge and I'd be there looking down

Those men who lust for land
And for riches strange and new
Who love those trinkets of desire
Oh they never will have you

And they'll never know the gold
Or the copper in your hair
How could they weigh the worth
Of you so rare

If your love were taken from me
Every light that's bright would soon go dim
It would be as dark as the world before Columbus
Down the waterfall and I'd swim over the brim

Those men who lust for land
And for riches strange and new
Who love those trinkets of desire
Oh they will never have you

And they'll never know the gold
Or the copper in your hair
How could they weigh the worth
Of you so rare

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Kafka on the Shore

Last week after realising that I was miserably broke as usual and telling myself that I couldn’t or shouldn’t spend 600 rupees on another book, I found myself walking in a sort of haze to one of the assistants at Landmark and asking for Murakami’s latest book, Kafka on the Shore. The book came out in Japanese in 2002, but it took about two years for the English version to hit the shelves. Settling down nicely over the weekend, with a minimum number of breaks for eating, sleeping and other necessary activities, I managed to finish the book today.

Not that it was a chore by any means. Murakami is one of the easiest authors to read that I know. No big words. Short sentences hardly ten words long. He is by far one of the easiest authors to just read through without understanding anything of what is going on.

Kafka on the Shore deals in symbols, metaphors and seemingly unconnected events in an even more bizarre manner than Sputnik Sweetheart and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, both of which have their share of eccentricities. The book has however one of the best, I should say, infact, superb characters Murakami has ever created – Mr. Nakata. Instantly lovable, he has the outward simplicity of most Murakami characters with the added attraction of a mysterious inner life which allows him to talk to cats and open the doors to a secret world.

This secret world is perhaps the core of the novel. I say, perhaps, because it will probably take me another reading to really figure out things, but as I understood it, the secret world is the world of the individual’s deepest desires, some of which live on forever as memories. The novel is about the confrontation of those desires and memories, in a way the confrontation of grief and loss, and the ability to move beyond the confrontation and go on living. The main “confronter” if I can use the word is the eponymous Kafka, a fifteen year old boy with an unusual past.

Though this Kafka is the main character (or one of them, the other being Mr.Nakata), I didn’t find it as easy to empathise with him as I usually do with Murakami heroes. For one thing, in many Murakami novels, the heroes are usually ordinary people to whom extraordinary things happen. But in this one, right from the start, one gets the feeling that Kafka is a special, maybe strange person, who is destined to go through strange happenings, so no surprises there. He is no boy next door. The supporting cast in the novel, Oshima the librarian who helps Kafka, Sakura, the girl he meets on the bus, Hoshino, Mr. Nakata’s fellow-traveller, all these actually turned out to be a little more interesting than Kafka himself.

In between all the strange happenings, coincidences and seemingly supernatural events, the part about this novel which touched me was still the very earthly stuff – themes of abandonment, love, the loss of love, the themes of memory, longing and identity, and the fundamental theme of all, the struggle between good and evil that wages through the real and the secret world. I like it, that in the middle of all the imaginative sequences, Murakami never forgets the essential things, which after all determine what our lives turn out to be!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Your poison comes wrapped in...

Paperback or Hardcover?


Usually cheaper than hardcover edition. Convenient to carry around. Lighter to lift in the case of thousand page tomes.

The negatives –

Tend to get dog-eared.
Doesn’t come back when lent since everyone assumes it’s just a cheap copy.


More Expensive. Can be a weight-lifting exercise on occasion. Take up a lot of space on the shelf.

The positives –

Better display value.
Comes in handy as a blunt weapon when required (Overstaying guests, Intruders, In general irritating specimen).
Smell good – good as in that woodsy, dry, warm smell you get from the binding.
Useful as a weight to smooth out wrinkled objects.

Anymore, Anyone?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

My writing and Me...Reflecting on Each Other

After I posted a comment on this post by Uma, I got to thinking about this whole issue again. Writing in the mass media is very much an audience-oriented affair. Maybe not in the sense that a writer reviews each and every piece for likeability, but yes, every publication does have its tone and standards of what and how it will publish, partly atleast based on what readers like. Plus in the age of focus-group-driven everything, the “did they like what they saw” question is inescapable.

On-line writing by very virtue of its immediacy, to me, does mean some kind of relationship with viewers. Not in the sense of I-will-write-to-maximize-views (though it is still gratifying to have people reading you) but surely the immediacy of feedback can strengthen or affect writing in some way?

What I think about is my non-blog, non-work related writing, my fiction work that has never been published anywhere, and I don’t know if it will ever be. I can’t recall where, but I read something recently about most Indian writers writing predominantly for the benefit of literary agents in London. It may sound naïve, but honestly, I found that somewhat bizarre.

Its not that the lure of money isn’t there. The dollar is always tempting, a big green piece of paper taking over the world, its expansionist tendencies only being countered and rivaled by that other biggie, the Euro. Or maybe it will be the Yuan in the future?

For me, writing is truly the expression of my self. By that, I mean it is one of the things I genuinely do for myself. I am not a writer who can spill out five thousand words in a jiffy. It’s not an easy thing to do. Writing is tough work for me. But at the end of something well done, I feel satisfied that I have there something on that piece of paper which didn’t exist before. Something worthwhile that has come up from the spaces of my mind. I have a few readers whom I send out my work to. I like it when they find something meaningful in what I have written. I like it even better when what I have written is so good that it makes them go back to and think about the work. I suppose its not really possible to separate the too, but more and more, I want to create afresh, work that causes reflection on itself and reflects less and less of me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Femina, Woman of Substance to Gen N

I have been reading Femina the magazine that used to be for the Woman of Substance, from my teenager days. Nowadays ofcourse they call themselves the magazine for Generation N, which I am probably already too old to be. Somehow lately I felt as though I was able to skim through the 150-odd-page magazine in about fifteen minutes. My mother manages it in even less time! I wondered how, when once upon a time I could read a Femina for an hour atleast. I don’t think my reading speed has gone up so much, atleast not as far as I can tell.

So, I decided to actually go through a recent copy of the magazine page by page, and put down what I was reading into different categories. Here is what I found:

Letters 2
Beauty Ads 12
Beauty/Fashion 37
Entertainment 11
Profiles 9
Features/Articles 34
Q&A columns 6
Other Ads 13
Editorial 3
Food 13
Fiction 3
Others 2

Total 145

Before doing this, I had an impression that cosmetics ads, especially for expensive brands I could never afford were overrunning the mag. Surprise, surprise! Beauty Ads actually covered only 12 pages. But add onto that the beauty and fashion articles and you get a total of 49 pages, roughly about a third of the magazine. Apart from this ofcourse, many of the Q&A columns and some of the features, profiles and entertainment pages also cover Fashion and Beauty.

Now I have no issues with free-market capitalism. (Or atleast thats for another post!) Femina is pretty much free to print whatever they like, but... why do they not call themselves the magazine for the Woman of Style instead??

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Lost for words

I dont usually write stuff related to events in my own life here.. Not judgemental about it, but somehow not yet comfortable putting up slices of my own life on the net. but there is something that happened today, which I would like to wrote about.

I visited today one of my very dear friends who has had a baby girl. Ofcourse babies are born everyday, the majority of them looking very much like each other, and may I say, fairly like little monkeys. Still when I saw that little one, with her ten perfect little fingers, and her ten perfect little toes, the big toe shorter than the next one just like her mothers, how tender a moment.

She is called Anushka which I always thought was a Russian name, but turns out that it has a meaning in Sanskrit as well, "one who has no enemies".

Her mother, my friend...How roles change so quickly...Her mother asked me to pen a note in Anushka's little book. I consider myself something of a writer, and yet, I could not really think of anything to say.

How could I say how happy I was for her, for her child and happy for myself to be part of this wonderful time. I ended up just writing some regular cliched stuff about wishing the child all happiness!

Da Vinci Code, Not again!

Well, Da Vinci code again? The reason being that apparently, the book has actually increased visitor numbers to the Rosalyn Chapel, as mentioned here, though no numbers are given. Readers of the Da Vinci Code will recall the Rosalyn Chapel where one of the final clues is hidden. I am no great fan of the Da Vinci Code. And not because I am one of those who looks down on 'popular fiction'. I enjoy my Jeffrey Archers and John Grishams. Dan Brown on the other hand is just a poor writer.

Fast paced as it is, some of the characters are faintly ridiculous – I though Leigh Teabing was so transparent as to make any mystery writer turn in his or her grave. Add in a fairly juvenile kind of romance on the sidelines and a climax worthy of a Bollywood potboiler. I mean, the heroine recognizes her brother because he has the other half of the box? C’mon! When our Hindi movie heroes and heroines do the same thing, recognizing the sibling long-lost in a mela years ago, we call them ridiculous, but by and large, most people I know seem to have swallowed the same in this book!

Ofcourse poorly written books are many, but what is amazing is that by bring a fairly esoteric subject and putting it down in an easy-to-read manner, Dan Brown seems to have convinced many readers that he is giving them something new, and infact scholarly.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Airy-Fairy Tales

On her excellent blog, Uma has this link on the Arabian Nights stories from a different perspective – a new look at Scheherazade as a resourceful woman who used her wit and knowledge to outwit the oppressor than succumb as a victim. It made me think however of all those fairy tales that I read as a child, taking them at face value, not understanding the many stereotypes they hide.
Infact if you take any story such as Cinderella, (which was a favourite as a child), or others like Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel, it is clear now that they all perpetuate the image of the long-suffering heroine who is released finally only by the arrival of the Prince Charming or a benevolent Fairy Godmother. This archetype persists till today in the form of our numerous Fairness Cream and other beauty products advertising that promise to give you this much-sought-after beauty upon which the Prince Charming will appear mysteriously and carry you away into the sunset The Adbusters site has some interesting ads that spoof the beauty industry campaigns.
That reminds me of a lovely play I acted in during school – A spoof on Cinderella where the heroine is actually a scheming beautiful woman who subverts the myth to use it to her advantage and ultimately control all the other characters in the play. Since none of the others can see through they myth, they fall for the façade of innocent victim and end up becoming victims themselves. Lovely!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Search in Secret India

I am quite a regular on the Lonely Planet's Indian Subcontinent Discussion board. Apart from the queries on whether it is safe for a woman to travel in India, and where to see tigers, every other week, I am amused to see someone posting a question on where enlightenment is available for the seeker and how to go about finding a Guru to this purpose. I visualize these posters landing at the Mumbai airport and coming out dazed into a smog of assorted voices and noises, finding no Shanti, Shanti on the streets. However, much before the hippie hordes invaded Goa in search of love, sex and nirvana (not necessarily in that order), there were some Westerners who had started to explore the ‘mysteries of the Orient’ as they were clubbed together in those days.

Paul Brunton’s A search in Secret India is one such book which documents the authors travels in India in the early years of the twentieth century. The language of the book naturally falls into the style of the Raj, with a slight meandering tone to it and a tendency sometimes to make simplistic classifications of the ‘natives’. Still, it is an interesting example of a spiritual travelogue if there is such a classification. Brunton travels to various parts of India, meeting different men who call themselves yogis, rishees or spiritual gurus of other kinds. He records in detail the impressions that these holy men make on him (some of them later revealed to be conmen or just harmess pretenders). His journey through many cities and towns, is parelleled by the journey in his own mind, as he moves from interested seeker to probing sceptic to ending his quest at the Ramanashramam in Tiruvannamalai.

Possibly Brunton is one of the first Westerners to have met the Maharishi in person, and his recording of his first meeting is highly readable.
“ There is something in this man which holds my attention as steel filings are held by a magnet. I cannot turn my gaze away from him. My initial bewilderment, my perplexity at being ignored, slowly fade away as this strange fascination begins to grip me more firmly… One by one the questions which I have prepared in the train with such meticulous accuracy drop away. For it does not now seem to matter whether they are asked or not…I know only that a steady river of quietness seems to be flowing near me, that a great peace is penetrating the inner reaches of my being, and that my thought-tortured brain is beginning to arrive at some rest”

Aptly enough, I read this book on a pilgrimage of my own, to Shirdi!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Ice Age Momma - Jean Auel

When younger, I was rather vain of my prodigious reading, and often pleased that I had read authors whom no one had ever heard about. (Well, atleast no one I knew). Vestiges of that remain, leading me to hunt for newer writers or atleast writers whose work is new to me. About two years ago, I was exchanging notes with a colleague on this, and I asked her to recommend me some books totally new to me. She tried four or five names, all of which were familiar, and then she asked me, “How about the Earth’s Children series?” “Earths Children, whats that, sounds like some new age mumbo-jumbo”, I said. “What, you don’t know Jean Auel - Ayla, The Clan of the Cave Bear?”, she said and smiled a superior sort of smile. I was getting my just desserts for my childhood smugness!

I managed to get her to part with the Clan of the Cave Bear, and since then, I have gone on to read all the books in the Earths Children series – The Valley of the Horses, The Mammoth Hunters, The Plains of Passage, and the last one released a few years ago, The Shelters of Stone.

These novels are all set in the prehistoric ice age (Around 25000 years ago), played out in a backdrop where early modern humans co-exist with the last of the Neanderthals. While the setting is prehistoric, these are nevertheless fiction, and not field studies. Ayla, the main character, is left orphaned and separated from her modern human tribe as a young girl. Picked up by a group of travelling Neanderthals who call themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear, she grows up in a harsh environment where the clan must keep together with its own unique social codes and strategies to survive.

What I like about these novels is the rich, clearly well researched depiction of early human life, with its struggle to evolve in an environment where predators still outnumber human beings. The human dimension is also well etched, as the novels follow Ayla’s rise to womanhood, her natural traits which conflict with those of the more rigid clan codes and the relationships that she forges with the clan members, as well as the Others. (which is how modern humans are described by the clan). There are rich doses of emotion when Ayla leaves the clan to find her own way in the world. This is a crucial juncture, since early human society was fundamentally dependant on community living for its very existence, where a young girl’s striking out on her own could be life threatening.

The language can get monotonous at times, especially as one progresses through the series, but it is usually compensated by the richness of setting, and the turns and twists of the plot itself. I hear there is to be one final book which will complete the Earth’s Children series. Hope that comes in soon!
For those who have already read the books, there is an Earth's Children quiz here though it hasnt been updated for some time

Friday, August 19, 2005

Shalimar the Clown, Rushdie's new offering

Salman Rushdie’s latest novel, Shalimar the Clown, set in the turbulent backdrop of Kashmir is due to be released soon. Satanic verses bypassed me owing to the Indian government which was one of the first to bypass it. Since then I have read and liked most of his books. Here are some links to the new book.
This is the official carefully scripted laudatory one by the publishers.
Here is a more story-line focussed one while this one , to me, is a good example of a review that really gives nothing away but doesn’t much capture the flavor of the writing either!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

List : Books I failed to finish reading

Books I started to read but could never finish:

Three Men in a Boat (Jerome K Jerome)
The Impressionist (Hari Kunzru)
The life of Pi (Yann Martel)
The Tropic of Capricorn (Henry Miller)
The Tao of Physics (Fritj Capra)
The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky)

As you may notice, all of them are well acclaimed books stuffed full of literary merit, but failed to convince my fastidious brain cells to carry on till the end. Somewhat embarrassing to admit! Well, Atleast the last of the list, I hope to be capable of reading someday.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle And other Murakami novels

Considering that I have stolen my blog title from one of Murakami’s books, I guess it is only fair that I have a post on him. Besides which, he an author I really like, so it makes sense that way too!

Till last year I had never heard of a writer called Haruki Murakami. Murakami is not really well known in India, and I had no clue that this is a writer with so many novels behind him. I just wandered into a large bookstore and suddenly noticed a book called Norwegian Wood on one of the shelves. I am not a major Beatles fan, so the name meant nothing to me. I picked it up simply because of its spare rather minimalist cover design, which I found attractive. For the next three days, I had to actually attend a company meet in Singapore, and I found myself just waiting to get out of those dreary conference and organised-fun events and back to my room where I could get back into Norwegian Wood.

One good book leads on to another and since then I have read a number of Murakamis including After the Quake, Sputnik Sweetheart, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and just got my copy of his newest work, Kafka on the shore. What attracts me to his novels?

To me, Murakami is all about fantasy that meets reality – even if it doesn’t inside the novel, the possibilities of a meeting exist. Murakami is often cited more for his use of fantastic incidents, dream-like events and characters wandering in the rootless alienation of modern urban life. The fantasy is no mere entertainment though; it always leads to something deeper. In the Wind-up Bird Chronicles, the wind-up bird is ofcourse a figment of the narrator’s imagination, but it is a damn powerful figment, then. The idea of a bird that winds the spring of the world, your world and mine, is superb, simply because this everyday world of events and happenings and regular everyday people whom we meet is taken for granted by all of us. It is only when the wind-up bird stops singing, when the known world changes that we realise the absence of its song.

Similarly, in Sputnik Sweetheart, Miu is torn apart by a seemingly supernatural incident where she is left behind in the locked box of a giant wheel unable to escape. From this prison, she has a clear view of her own apartment where she sees a vile man making love to her. This fantastic and horrifying experience leaves her torn in two, unable forever to enter the sphere of normal human experience with intimacy. The fantasy throws up to us disturbing questions of what identity is, and infact, what normalcy is.

Beyond the fantasy, Murakami’s characters are the modern day equivalents of the ancient heroics; Their heroism is in their very ordinariness; In the competitive urban context, they are often the losers; the ones who have the dead-end jobs, the ones whose wives leave them, the ones who love the women who will never love them back the same way. They are so ordinary that sometimes it is only the “things” which happen to them that are extraordinary in any way. Kind of like most people, I guess.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Way of the Weasel

What I am reading today : Scott Adams' Way of the Weasel. Dilbert and his cronies (or anti-cronies if you would prefer to call them hat way) are still hilarious, but somewhere Adams' humour is getting a little predictable I think. I mean, the man is good, but at the end of the day, all the jokes are about cubicles, pointy-haired bosses and the rats who man the HR desk...How much variation can there be? If I am getting so good at predicting the punchlines (And I am not exactly renowned for my sense of humour), I bet more faster, funnier readers arent exactly lapping it up anymore....

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Futurama on authors

When it comes to reading tastes, one subject which has always intrigued me is the line of difference between popular fiction and serious literature. How exactly are these lines drawn? Is it a function of the awards - the ones that win the Booker and so being categorized as serious literature? Or is it the passage of time, which decides once and for all, which books retain their space on that rarified pedestal called literature, while the other perhaps more contemporaneous ones have been knocked out by now?

Last week, I read an article on TIME, though it possibly could have been Newsweek, about the 'great' actors of our times (the 80's to date) and who among them would qualify to be remembered 50 years on from now. It mentioned Nicole Kidman as someone whose movies are possibly talked about more than watched, while perhaps Nicolas Cage may hardly be talked about so much for himself, but maybe his movies like Leaving Las Vegas would last for a pretty long time.

I wonder if we apply the same test to writers today, who would pass. Of the authors I read recently, two come to mind as potential candidates. One was Alan Hollinghurst's Line of Beauty. The second, Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide. Both these novels have their similarities in the painstaking recreation of a time and place through language. The Hungry Tide does a fair account of the Sundarbans, a place still unknown even to most Indians. In the context of the many environmental crises taking place today, the book does justice to the relationship between the land and the communities living in the Sundarbans, sometime harmonius, sometimes conflicting. The main characters, Piya, Fokir, Kanai are well etched, demonstrating Ghosh's fine understanding of class and economic disparity in India. Where to me the novel falters is in perhaps the excessive emotional turbulence - it is difficult to understand the attraction between strangers put together under unusual circumstances. Or perhaps the story has been used so often that it is now an impossible coincidence.

Alan Hollinghurst's A line of Beauty is on the other hand a far more finely wrought work, doing a very delicate balancing act between its setting, a very English 80's England, if that makes sense and the private lives of its characters which plays out against this background without obscuring it. If anything, the background adds to the understanding of the characters, their actions, their motives. This is somewhat absent in The Hungry Tide, where Ghosh's research into the Sundarbans and its communities is obviously extensive and well chronicled, but somewhat fails to add anything to the lives of its characters. One feels Piya and Kanai could have met anywhere, the Sundarbans is just a more exotic landscape to have as a backdrop! The depiction of emotion has been carried in The Line of Beauty with a wonderful restraint, which makes even more sense considering its "reserved" British setting.

Obviously there would be many other contenders from the set of contemporary writers, but I would place a bet on Alan Hollinghurst as someone whose books you could look for on library shelves, 50 years hence!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

How do you like your bookshops done?

I dropped in at Odyssey today, a bookshop in Chennai, where I live. Walked in to a colorful reception from Harry, Harry on the front window display, Harry peeping from all the aisles, Harry at the billing counter. Harry Who? You know, The Harry Potter. Now dont get me wrong. I am no intellectual snob (slob?) who refuses to get her IQ sullied by Harry Potter and whatsitsname, yeah, that Da Vinci thingy. I confess to reading both, the first avidly and dying to know the ending, and the second, not-so-avidly and still dying to know the ending.
The point being, however, that surely a bookshop should stock other books as well? Turns out they were all very much there, sitting quietly behind their little jackets and artistic blurbs while Harry hogged the limelight. An interesting new release that I managed to notice though. Amartya Sen's 'The Argumentative Indian'. Hope I can get a copy from my library.

Monday, August 01, 2005

A wind-up Bird Chronicle

Well, I guess, I am a late entrant to the world of Blogging. Having suddenly been spurred on to do my own blog after seeing a friends, I gingerly stepped onto blogger and started following the instructions faithfully.
When I came to the title space, I was stumped. No idea what kind of a title I wanted. And then this occurred to me. A wind-up bird chronicle. A chronicle of odds and ends, events and stances, rants and opinions, a chronicle ultimately fuelled by the wind-up bird who drops in each day to wind up the spring of the world, and mine, in the bargain. Not my idea, in case you think that is. For more details, read of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Aaah! Now you get a gist of what most of this blog is likely to be about!