Friday, September 30, 2005

When life works in mysterious ways....

....No, I am not talking about the mysteries of the universe or the possibilities of my attaining enlightenment in this lifetime, worthy topics though they are.

Simple that I went on a binge last week at the Landmark Sale and bought myself eight books -

- Margaret Atwood's Blind Assassin
- Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's daughter
- Orhan Panuk's My name is Red
- GG Marquez' Seventeen Poisoned Englishmen
- Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie
- John Le Carre's The constant Gardner
- Mary Higgins Clark's On the Street where you live and
- Ray Bradbury's A Graveyard for lunatics

Absolutely of no interest to anyone, really, but the thing is, I havent found time to start even one of them this week.. How cruel can life get?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Different Roads

This morning, on my way to work, I stopped at a traffic signal. The sky was dull and the light was red but vehicles honked behind me all the same, as though I could make it green by sheer will power. Or hypnosis if I stared long enough.

In the space next to me, about space enough for a car, squeezed in a red tempo with open back. Two men sat ahead, using the signal break to spit leisurely. Like an art form that needs to be perfected. It was all very very ordinary and I would have just looked ahead, maybe giving the hypnosis a try.

But I noticed that everyone else was staring at the open back of the tempo, where three large cans were placed, lids screwed on. Between the can and the lid, was a small opening, from which was oozing out something. What was it? Well, it was something. I can't describe it much better than that. It was definitely vapour, not liquid, not solid. It had no colour, no smell that I could smell, didn't seem to have much substance. Was it the kind of thing that would start seeping out slowly and explode with a bang? Should we ask? Should we warn them what was happening? What if it was them who had planted it? Everyone looked at each other, trying to guess the answers to these questions. Everyone, except the two guys in the tempo who didnt seem to have a clue that anyone was staring at them.

The light changed, and I went my way. They went theirs, on a different road.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Outlook last week

Last week's Outlook had its cover story on the sexual changing dynamics in India. I fail to understand why they felt the need to supplement every page with semi-nude photographs...Did they think the text was not enlightening enough? Most of the reporting seemed kind of sensational, focusing on "Aunties" and their paid lovers, rather than any serious coverage of changing attitudes.

The one well thought out and written piece in the whole series was Siddharth Shangvi writing on that antique bit of legislation which refuses to go away, Article 377. If you havent read it yet here it is...

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Why I am so pissed about Musharraf's remarks that I am still writing about them a week later

So, General Musharraf thinks that women would like to get themselves raped, just to make some easy money, and oh yeah, maybe a free ticket to the western world. After the furore, he turns around immediately offering the politicans standard excuse that he was misquoted. This is old news by now, so why am I still blogging about it?

Apart from what it says about the General's attitude to women (Disdain? Contempt?), to me, it brings up this whole issue of how even now, women are treated as the 'honor of the nation'. This does not however mean that they are to be treated with respect. What it means is that any fall in their stature (which is what rape amounts to in such a society) is a fall in the stature of the nation. Hence the problem is not so much that women are raped or mistreated every day. The problem is that these women, who have nothing better to do, they go crying to Washington with their problems, thus bringing down Pakistan's 'izzat' in the eyes of the International community. I mean, not only did they have to get themselves raped, now they have to publicise it as well and bring dishonour to the nation...Thats what the General is effectively saying. Never mind about doing anything concrete to solve the problems.

I see this same attitude when the Anna University issues a diktat on dress code, especially harsh to women - no jeans, no sleeveless, only salwar kameez. (There is a code for men as well, also dictatorial, but atleast a little more realistic than the women's code.)Which age are we living in? Why cannot women who are allowed to vote, be allowed to decide what is appropriate wear for them, atleast in discussion with the University? But no, women are the most visible face of culture; Therefore the only solution to enforce Bharatiya culture, (as though it is something static) is to ensure that the women stay in the 'right' places. Would any public body consider asking men to come in to work in dhotis on the grounds of maintaining bharatiya sabhyata? But no such qualms when it comes to women - Less than their individual selves, they are to be upheld as symbols of their culture, and therefore, conform, they must.

Similar attitude seen sometime ago on the Indian Writing blog when some anonymous twit targeted Uma for constantly writing on such issues...You are bringing a bad name to India, he said. The idea being, suffer your lot in silence, shut up and accept that maybe you did something to deserve this, maybe you wore a skirt too short, a shirt too tight..Whatever, stop talking and put a good face on things, a good face on your nation. Anything less is dishonouring your country, as the General will be the first person to tell you.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Women & Health

This issue came to my mind just today evening, when I saw a programme on DD Pothigai, Magalir Choice, literally Women's Choices. The speaker was the excellent Bharathi Bhaskar, who usually lends such a sympathetic yet interesting voice to all women's issues.

The subject today was Women and Health; the treatment however far from the conventional sympathetic. Bhaskar did not talk about how women's health and related issues are ignored by others; Rather she spoke about how women often 'choose' to play a sacrificial role. She says, women too often assume that the world will come to an end if they admit that they are sick and need a break. Therefore while they will play florence nightingale to ailing parents-in-law, husbands or children, they will force themselves to carry on with chores, refusing to acknowledge that they need to rest. Secondly, and what is far worse, she says, to make the pain go away temporarily, they will medicate themselves, using prescriptions written long ago or simply swallow tablets that worked for someone else. She insists, women need to stop considering themselves the centre of the universe, and make family members take up the slog atleast occasionally, by attending to themselves when they fall ill.

This is ofcourse not an issue that has any clear answers; Bhaskar says women are giving themselves an unnecssary 'martyr' image and feeling compelled to play superwoman at the expense of their health, something that could in cases prove fatal. Why women should feel compelled to live upto this superwoman role is a whole different story. What Bhaskar says obviously applies to a section of middle-class or upper middle-class women who can afford to take that break. How do you tell someone who breaks stones for a living and waits for that Rs. 30 a day, that she needs to respect herself and take a break when she is ill? What will be the alternative source to pay for the medicine and for that lost day of work? Tbese are all very real issues that persist in every place you look, be it homeless squatters on our roads, building the roads we need or agricultural labourers in far off villages.

I dont know when we will find the answers to these. The 10th International Women and Health Meeting is currently happening at Delhi, though I havent seen too much media coverage. Some of the funders behind this event are the Ford Foundation, India, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada and the Dorabji Tata Trust, Mumbai. Conceptually a lot of ground has been covered with the positioning of women's health beyond maternal roles and procreation.

The concept note to the meet says, "Conceptually a lot of ground has been covered with the positioning of women's health beyond maternal roles and procreation. It is now widely accepted that health is dependent on age, class, race, caste, ethnicity, culture, location, disability, marital status and sexual orientation; and that it is also intrinsically linked to the production and reproduction roles that women play.". Well, someday, I hope we can leave out the Conceptually bit.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Kidney-Shaped stone that moves every day

Uma led me to this new story by Murakami in the New Yorker. Its a lovely story but inspite of its mysterious disappearances et al somehow not as 'other-wordly' as many of his novels.I dont mean that negatively though...Read it..

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Big Fish, Small Fish. Part I

In the bustling Satellite City area of Ahmedabad stood a nondescript building with a dingy grey fa├žade that looked as if it were awaiting the next earthquake to take it apart. The outer walls had not been painted for years and the few residents who had hoped to mobilise things were long gone or had lost hope. Moss had made itself comfortable on the intersection of wall and ground and no amount of determined scrubbing could now remove it. There were forty flats, all constructed in the same image. Entry with a small living room that led into a bedroom more long than wide. The bedroom in turn led into a small bathroom where the bathing area nudged the tiny washbasin and the Indian toilet was relegated to the far side.. To the right of the bedroom was the kitchen which emptied its vapors back, or through an exhaust into a small chute area from where they escaped into the flats of the other occupants.In this delicious or nauseating commingling of smells (depending on what you wanted to eat that day) most of the residents led precarious lives atleast as far as their neighbours were concerned. They met them for Diwali or Garba festivities, wished them polite hellos and Happy New Years and evaded their smells the rest of the year. There was one flat however that did not participate even in these occasional sallies.

B12 was where Wasim Ahmed lived. His parents had died years ago after years of prolonged suffering following a car accident. The years of his life had slowly flowed under the rigors of court compensation cases, medical advice and second opinions. The groans of the invalids followed him through the years until they lapsed, one six months after the other . No one had had the time to lookout for a suitable bride for him, nor had he ever thought to find one himself. He was growing old gracefully now, and no longer inclined to need anyone to share his life and time. His routine was simple, his needs were few. Every morning, he took the 7:50 bus to Gandhi Nagar where he worked at the telephone exchange taking in customer complaints and notifying linesmen of the cases they needed to attend. He carried with him his lunch of rice, dal and vegetables which he cooked himself in the morning. Before leaving home, he swept the floor, dusted the TV covers and sofa and washed up the few utensils that he had used. This quiet existence suited him well. For this reason, he even refused to employ a maid, whose chatter and gossip would have disturbed the sedate pattern of his days. The 6:10 bus brought him back home, whereupon he reheated the mornings meal and had a quiet dinner after washing up. On weekends he went to the mosque and picked up a few books from the neighborhood library’s limited collection of English and Gujarati novels. Quiet was the pervading motif of his life, with one exception.

Part II. The fish come home.

On his thirty seventh birthday, a few of his colleagues had planned a surprise for him. Along with the cake and the samosas, he discovered that there was a birthday present even wrapped up in the obligatory shiny paper. Despite his initial reluctance, he was touched. It had been a long time since anyone had done that sort of thing for him. It was a small fish tank. Complete with pebbles and sand and artificial hiding places for the fish. There were two goldfish already swimming in the tank. As time passed, Wasim grew more and more fond of this little fish tank and its inhabitants whom he installed in a corner of the living room. Soon he brought more fish, exchanged the small tank for a roomier one, and made further improvements on it. He placed more realistic looking pebbles and added some foliage to remind the fish of their open riverine homes. Next he made an ingenious little device with a motor that created an occasional movement and tension in the water. He thought it would relieve the fish of their tedium and give them something to do while they swam though he could never be sure if this really worked. He added an aerator to generate air bubbles and keep the water in the tank fresh. He had always been cautious but now he made doubly sure to keep his windows shut tight. The neighbours striped orange cat was known to try a sneak-in if she thought there was something to filch. By now, he had some twenty five fish in the large tank which occupied almost a fourth of his tiny living room. The sofa and tea-table were shunted to one side to make room for the fish. There was an assortment of them – from the tiniest miniature goldfish and guppies, to the tiger barbs and Kissing gouramis and the single large Oscar fish that occasionally threatened the others if it was not fed on time. Once he introduced a piranha unknowingly and it started a murderous attack on the others.Wasim was most upset when he realised that it had devoured two or three of his favorite goldfish in the instant before he could pull it out. From then on, he read up on all the material available and was careful to introduce only species that did not usually prey on one another. He fed them all in the morning before his own breakfast. When he returned from work, even before washing up, he checked to see that the fish were ok, that all of them were there, swimming, hiding, breathing, with their little mouths open. When he had his dinner, he sat in front of the tank with the TV switched on, and their continuous slow race around the tank, made him feel sleepy and relax that all was well with the world. He was a god-fearing man though he did not enquire too deeply into matters spiritual. He did not drink or smoke. His only indulgence was his fish and the contrivances he made to keep them happy. Without them his life had had a sameness to it. Now the fish blended into the routine of his days, and yet the sameness was not as boring. He even stopped making his annual visits to his native village in Kutch as there was no one he trusted to take care of the fish while he was away. He told his grandmother who kept asking for him that he could not be spared at the office or that the fear of burglars prevented him from leaving the flat unguarded.

And the End.

One day the routine was shattered when the Sabarmati express was set alight at Godhra. Soon enough the riots began in retaliation, with looters joining in to earn their stash under the cover of religious duty. At first Wasim did not fear for his life. Although he had lived in this area for twenty years, he was not aware that anyone even knew of his existence. Who would come searching for him? But this was no focused search for a few individuals; It had a broader, nobler mission to wipe out a larger enemy and to that objective, its spotlight was ruthlessly trained. From the small window in his bedroom, Wasim could see large bands of mostly young men, their foreheads bound with saffron dupattas and their hands strong with swords and trishuls. It was inconceivable that this medieval army was marching along the modern urban spaces of Ahmedabad where eateries and book shops, cloth stores and cinema halls jostled for space. But there it was. Armed with its self-righteous anger built up carefully and supplied with well organised lists to ferret out the enemies hiding in every corner.

Wasim knew now that it was only a matter of time before they cornered him. He was not afraid of death in the abstract.He knew that it would be facing him some other day, if not now. He was glad that he did not have a wife, or children, to protect. The burden of hiding, and waiting to be eventually discovered, would be too much. He would not hide, he was not afraid to die. But he was afraid of the fury of the mob which would hack down people and leave them half-dead, half-dying. He was afraid of the pain. And he was afraid for his fishes. The goldfish, the guppies, the gouramis. Who would care for them when he was finished? He hoped that once things had cooled down, someone would find and adopt them. He did not mind even if it was one of the looters. With great effort, he hoisted the heavy tank onto the loft where it would not fall in the way of the violence.
He barred his doors, pulled a bureau against them in a futile gesture and went inside to his bedroom where he switched off the lights and lay down on the single cot. With sunrise, a reddish hue rose over the many bloodstained streets and alleys. A group of ragged young men whom he had often seen lounging around at the local chai shop, burst in and hacked him to death with mercifully few strokes.The fish were swimming faster and faster in their tank but went unnoticed.

The next day there was no one to feed them. Nor the day after. Or the next. They were startled out of their peaceful existence by the disappearance of the hand that fed them every morning. Now they had to fend for themselves. The miniature goldfish were the first to go. They swam in faster circles helplessly, but were no match for the larger, stronger fish that ganged up against them. Next was the turn of the guppies which were swallowed by the larger Gouramis. The Oscar fish attacked everyone. Soon the tank was empty except for the single oscar fish that waited impatiently for food to appear. But the windows had all been shattered by the mob. The neighbours orange cat thad waited patiently for its opportunity. It flew in triumphantly and, sailed to glory with its long awaited prize.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Sultana's Dream and Padmarag

Early feminist writing is somehow not really associated with writers from the subcontinent. I was happy to be corrected of this misconception last this weekend by reading one of India’s (Later Bangladeshi) earliest feminist writers – Rokeya Hussain. This was my introduction to her in the form of Barnita Bagchi’s English translation of two writings – Sultana’s Dream, a short story and Padmarag, a novella.

Written in the first quarter of the 20th century, these works present the lives of ordinary women in the troubles that they face, many of them which exist today as well – little access to education, seclusion in the name of honour, the refusal to allow them any say in the decisions that impact them. But they are also a look at what could be, a different world that Rokeya envisages for women, a world where they are free of these constraints and can play their roles boldly in the intellectual life of a nation.

Sultana’s Dream is a fantasy where a country is run entirely by women, and men have been bound to domestic roles, confined to the ‘mardana’. To me, this was a reflection of the sad state of affairs at the time – Rokeya cannot visualize a time when men will ever “allow” women to occupy the helm – therefore the only time when women can actually lead, is in an utopian (and therefore by definiton, un-real) state where the men have been put away. While it is written humourously, there is a tinge of fatalistic acceptance to it – the writer knows this is a fantasy never going to be fulfilled.

Padmarag is a more gritty novel, partly based on Rokeya’s attempts in running an institution for girls. It showcases the lives of the women in Tarini-Bhavan and workshop, a shelter for oppressed women who are taught the skills they need to resume their lives. I found it refreshing that the heroine of the story, while she indulges in a romance that keeps the interest through the novel, in the end chooses a radically different path for herself, unfazed by a society that expects women to narrow their world to marriage and domestic bliss.

Rokeya mentions this in her preface, dedicating the book to her brother - My composition has not adhered to social norms. I have merely painted the portrait of one whose love embraced the whole wide world".. A book suffused with humility and boldness at the same time, a great effort for someone who had to tread carefully between her feminist ideals and the strict Islamic society that she lived in, and a good read too.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Feats on the road

I wrote this in my journal on the second day of my trip. For those not familiar with this part of the country, Thiruvannamalai is home to the Arunachala mountain, revered as Shiva himself. Girivalam is the walk around the holy mountain, following the footsteps of Ramana Maharishi. A stretch of 14kms over road, stone and occasional blaring horn. I had imagined myself walking this sacred road with a prayer on my lips and a song in my heart. What happened follows.

Trouble afoot literally. Lazy feet unused to walking long distances and without the tender loving care of shoes, began the 14km trek comfortably enough. Dad and I set off at 5 am optimistically. We stumbled outside to realise that some benign soul had forgotten to ensure that the street lights stayed on. 2 kms went by in pitch darkness until sunrise brought some relief and we could see where the road ended and a side path of rock and gravel began.

A quiet morning, the occasional chirping of a few birds, the distant cry of a peacock, unusual sounds or the absence of sound for a city dweller. Occasional horns as trucks to the city roared past. Little shrines scattered everywhere, a profusion of lingams, ashrams sprouting up like weeds on places left unattended. Arunachala looms ahead, a constant central image on this circular route, a peg for the restless mind that pushes out in all directions.

One little shrine called the Idukkuni Pillayar - a tiny structure about 4 feet high and 3 feet wide - crawl in at the back and twist your body into the 1foot wide gap to have a look at the Ganesha and emerge at the front.We weren't brave or foolish enough to attempt it.

The first 7kms passed tolerably although the feet started complaining. I decided to humour them and sit down on a ledge for a few minutes. When I got up and back onto the road, they screamed in protest. Suddenly every little square of foot woke up and started demonstrating, Hey, these grains of sand hurt, this loose gravel is boring into me, this heat is burning me. I felt as though they were on fire, or being poked with a sharp object conscientiously well sharpened. We trudged on for another 2km bravely, but finally the pain was so bad that it looked like I would plon down right there. We hailed an auto and rode the last 5km back to the ashram, acknowledging the defeat of the feet.

Friday, September 09, 2005

For a little while...

This is my last day on this job. A job that I have spent three years in and cribbed about, for the most part of it. I don’t think I am going to miss it. Still, it feels strange to think that I will not be here from Monday. Strange to imagine this lifeless little cubicle on its own, without me sitting here, whiling away the time, mailing friends, net-surfing for exotic destinations I will probably never get to, working on this blog, or sometimes, just working.

So next week is a brief hiatus. Running away from all of this on a trip to many places, although I know none of it can really make me forget that I need to come back. Come back to another job, hopefully not as mind-numbing or political as this one. The places I am going to, I doubt I will be accessing the Internet anywhere, so the three or four kind readers of this blog, goodbye until I get back – recharged to fight the good fight!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

What were they thinking?

The insensitivity of folks in advertising never ceases to amaze me. Last week, I saw this ad for a local brand of milk, Aarogya which claims to have some extra 4 and a half percent fat or some crap like that.

Agencyfaqs unfortunately doesnt really track regional brands, so I cant link to a storyboard here, but the script goes somewhat like this.

Bunch of loony looking fellows (read terrorists) break into a school and take kids hostage. Smarty-pants hero downs a glass of aarogya milk and IQ suitably enhanced, somehow cons them and manages to overpower the terrorists and lead the class to escape.

An extremely serious situation with possibly dire consequences, a hostage drama, is made a backdrop for a milk product? What were they thinking? Didnt they remember that its just been a year or so since the horrific Beslan incident? I cant forget the faces of the kids who died in that massacre - one of them looked so beautiful as though he was just sleeping peacefully, his angelic little face at rest. I cant believe we forget so soon. I am sure his parents didnt.

August, the Month of Winds

Younger readers may not remember this time too well, but older readers will understand very well when I talk about a time of “Soviet children’s literature” – a time from the 60s to perhaps the mid-eighties when a lot of the children’s fiction we got in this country came out from under the Iron curtain. Ofcourse some of it was in the realm of the ‘nation-building’ genre and focused on building-children-to-be-good-citizens rather than great writing or entertainment. But some of those authors were very good and enjoyable.

One of my earliest ‘favourite’ books was by one of these Soviet authors, Vladislav Krapivin. August, the Month of Winds, a book I still read secretly sometimes, is a wonderful warm book revolving around a group of boys, Gena the leader, Ilka the message runner, Yasha the crafty kid, Vladek the blind boy who wants to be a meteorologist. Krapivin doesn’t moralize though there are undertones of good examples lurking around occasionally. Each character is interesting on his own account, and there is a good feeling for the things that matter in little boys lives – gang fights, kite flying, evading the teacher, the fantasies of running away to Africa, the intricacies of friendship – closeness that is never discussed.

Its also interesting how he presents the childrens’ world as a kind of counterpoint to the serious, focused adult world which dictates that learning a second language is a far superior activity to flying kites and shooting catapults. Gena’s granny scolds him for neglecting his German.

“Didn’t Father tell him, the young devil, not to laze about, to be a man. But he won’t, the shameless good-for-nothing!”
But it wasn’t that he wouldn’t, he couldn’t! He just hadn’t got what it takes. They didn’t teach you music, for instance, if you had no flair for it. But what if a person had no flair for German?
“Be a man.” Couldn’t one be a man without knowing German? And why “be”? Wasn’t he human already?

These monologues in Gena’s head are dispelled when he decides to stash the German book away behind the firewood and not worry until the exams, when he will be found out anyway. All problems can be endured until the time comes when you need a solution…

I doubt most of these books are in print today, and sometimes when I re-read them, they seem incredibly innocent for this age of advertising-fed and video-violence immune kids. For a long time I actually wanted to write to Krapivin to tell him how much I enjoyed the book, but couldnt find anything much online about him beyond this official page.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Fiction under fifty-five

I saw this lovely idea of a new game – short stories in 55 words or less, on Mr. Prufrock’s page and thought why not give it a try myself! Here is my attempt at fiction under fifty-five. Didn’t realise it would be so tough!

I sat quietly, waiting, my red dress a flag, my brown face a beacon in a sea of Japanese faces.
Peter Cat. A jazz bar once owned by Murakami.

He arrived, and we decided to leave. “Your place or mine”?

“Yours”, he replied, “Mine is at the end of the hard-boiled wonderland”. The bar vanished.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The New Five letter word : C****

These days every problem in India and for that matter the rest of the world is to be ascribed to or atleast discussed in the context of…yes… China. Be it the potholes on Mumbai roads, poverty levels in Indian society, pollution levels in the most remote corners of Greenland or the cost of living in Guinea-Bissau, it can all be related to China in some carefully uncovered obscure manner.

It follows then that not wanting to be left behind among the lunatic fringe of society who haven’t yet gotten around to dissecting and having China for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I too had to spend some time grappling with the dragon. My choice of books is often pretty disorderly – especially when it comes to non-fiction, which I don’t read much, I don’t really know if the books I am reading are “the books” in the field to be read, or just books that happened to be sitting in the Whats New section of my library when I was passing by.

Inspite of this tendency to believe in karma, my fate usually doesn’t desert me so easily, and I end up with a fairly decent cross-section of books. (Not counting self-help books which I am always disastrous at choosing, probably goes to show that I don’t need much help, or maybe I am beyond any now.) I walked in to the library confidently and picked up two books that just happened to catch my eye.

The first one is Professor Oded Shanker’s The Chinese Century. Shanker makes a cogent case for why China is not just the factory of the world, but a far more potent superpower than that. Unlike previous stars like Japan that faded out, China is not just a production economy – its vast consuming class ensures that China can offer a far more give-and-take relationship to other economies than Japan and the South-east Asian tigers ever could. He also points out why China’s increasing disparity of incomes itself is one reason why China’s domination in manufacturing will continue to grow, atleast for some time. As manufacturing low-end products becomes more expensive in larger cities with a rise in the standard of living, China can still afford to shunt this out to the hinterland where costs are lower, unlike other countries such as the U.S which move out of low-end low-skill manufacturing industries. The analysis is excellent, though Shanker doesn’t really offer any solutions – possibly they are hard to come by.

The second one I had picked up was Michal Lynch’s Mao, a well-told biography of the man who brought greatness to China and China to almost-ruin. The book is written in a very easy-to-read style and traces the rise of Mao in the context of the fall of the monarchy, the formation of the Communist party and the eruption of the civil war. For the man who authored the Little Red book, it appears that Mao’s beliefs in communism were more in the light of using it to consolidate the party and unify China – he comes across as a man concerned with action rather than ideology. Lynch doesn’t quite condone Mao’s horrific actions during the Cultural Revolution and The Great Leap Forward, resulting in the deaths of thousands of people, including some of his closest colleagues. At times though, it feels as if he is parallelly explaining the track of the times, a track that runs on the course of ‘everything is right during war.’ It explains the manoeuvres through which Mao moves from party founder and thinker to Chairman and Absolute Leader. It doesn’t fully explain though, what drives this man in the quest for total control – Fear of civil war resuming? Desire for wealth? Just lust for total control? I thought the mind of the man could have been explored in more detail. Nevertheless, the book is worth reading just for nuggets like its account of the Long March which is so evocative that one can visualize the comrades walking across the harsh land, miles being covered under the banner of solidarity. It was revealing to note that the Long March was actually a flight in retreat as the communists were being drubbed by Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalists. On the route, the long march picks up steam and after a long period of struggle, goes on to victory in Beijing. History is ofcourse written by the victors, and the initial rout of the long march is fairly well hidden in popular reading.

Being a newbie blogger ofcourse, I had very little idea of blogging in China, until I read this article which talks about how China is subverting even a fundamentally open medium like the web. It says : Techno-optimists … take it as an article of faith that all of China's controls are destined to fail… They point out that when chat rooms are closely monitored, people start talking about "cabbages" when they mean "democracy." …But these arguments ignore a fundamental principle in legal theory: A law does not need to be perfect to be effective. If you're talking about carrots and cabbages instead of multiparty elections, the Communist Party has already won. Ordinary Chinese won't have any idea of what you're talking about. Competing discussion threads that rant against the Japanese, on the other hand, will continue to enjoy mass appeal.

A few days ago, though, I had mailed my blog address to a close friend of mine who lives in Shanghai. (Yes, I am now in the phase where you shamelessly promote your blog to everyone you know). She wrote back saying, that she would really love to have a look at it, but could I please maybe send some of the stuff to her in another format, like, say a word document so that she could read it? She tells me most blog sites have been disallowed? That sounds strange to me, perhaps one of you would know better. I thought it was only the politically-incorrect stuff like democracy and freedom, not extending to harmless blogs like mine?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Thoughts at random...

- I like this word Truculent. It just has a nice sound to it. It should be the opposite of Succulent, though it isn’t.

- An Omnibus is a massive carrier of words that doesn’t go anywhere since its too heavy to be lifted off the shelf.

- You can drown your sorrows in a drink. It that why your pocket tends to be considerably lighter after a hangover?

- They call Sunday the week - end when all the fun is just beginning.

- Loggers log, Sloggers slog and Bloggers blog. Sometimes, the English language tends to go by a few rules.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Studying, Not Reading

Last month or so, while traveling on work, I found myself seated next to a gentleman who was in the publishing business. Oh, that’s great, I said, what kind of stuff do you publish then? Well, mostly Kids fiction. I get my content in from China. I reprint here and sell. China? That sounds strange, I thought. Surely, we in India have a far wider base of Indian authors writing in English, and surely some of that must be fine writing for young people?

He saw the surprise on my face and hastened to explain that content that came in through China (possibly sourced from elsewhere) came in very cheap, and he couldn’t afford to source and then produce original content, although he would love to. The reason –Pottermania notwithstanding, Indian parents just don’t want their kids to read, certainly not story books. They can shell out for the encyclopedias and GK books, but fiction, that’s surely just a waste of time. For good measure he added that since the kids fiction market was so small, he had started dealing in cookery, which was a much more promising market.

Now what I know about the publishing business could be compressed into one word (zilch), but surely it’s a sad state of affairs when we don’t recognize that our children’s minds need to grow beyond just mugging up history dates and capitals of countries. Books expose us to a whole new world beyond what our schools can ever teach us. I remember when I was growing up, Amar Chitra Katha brought out the Mahabharat in 42 volumes, one every month. My sisters and I used to wait eagerly at the beginning of every month, for my dad to bring in the new issue. I am sure many kids today can’t tell Arjun from Bheema. (I am not making this up)

Every generation ofcourse likes to say, Oh in the good old days, but sometimes I wonder that in this relay race to get ahead, where we have enlisted all our kids, and we egg them on relentlessly towards the finishing line, are we even noticing that somewhere along the way the baton is being dropped.

I used to think this is a uniquely Indian phenomenon, this tendency to tie up the blinkers securely and forbid any sort of originality starting from school. I read however this interesting post by Chris on his blog Strange Stuff. Looks like things are not so different even in the land of the Queen.

An update : Today's Hindu literary review carries an article by writer Ranjit Lal where he talks about the children's books publishing industry, how it suffers on many counts some pushing into each other - reader disinterest, moralistic writing, poor production and publicity all coming together to form an abyssmal children's section.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

New Star on the IWE horizon

I have been following the activities of this group, Unisun Publishers, which is doing its bit to promote new writing talent. Picked up this week their anthology of short stories called, what else, Winners, a compilation of the prize-winning short stories in a contest conducted last year. While the book title may not be very imaginative, one of the new authors I read here was just so good that I thought I need to post on her.

This is Jaya Madhavan, with her short story ‘The Monarch Butterfly’ winning the second prize. It is a truly well written story with the relationships inside a family revealed in all their complexity. There is no black and white here, only the grays of doubt, self-questioning, un-fulfillment, and perhaps the pain of too much love. The narrative is in the first person, which sometimes can get boring if, it blocks out other perspectives, but in the case Jaya Madhavan manages to keep a fine balance between all the characters. Its also a great look into a typical Tamilian household , and a not so complimentary look at the typical Tamil ‘Man’ of the 60s/70s if there is such a specimen – very proper, and as she says, very boring. Well, I suppose there is some stereotyping there, but my personal experience tells me that she is not too far off. Turns out Jaya is no stranger to fiction, her past forays into children’s writing already having seen the light of day.

I am surprised actually that this one didn’t win the first prize. The first prize winning entry, “The Splendour of a Hundred Thousand suns” I thought was feeble in comparison. The concept of an IISC scientist invoking a secret incantation to keep her man back in India seemed anachronistic.

In any case, at Rs. 125, this book is definitely worth reading, for those of you who may want to read some new Indian English writing.