Monday, October 30, 2006

Nanowrimo is back!

November is the most exciting month isn't it ! The National Novel Writing Month, affectionately called NaNoWriMo - Yes, its back! I'd blogged about it this time last year, and I can't believe I'm still no closer to signing up...what with the amount of travel (not the fun type, but the work type) planned in November...really, November is the cruellest month of all!
Sign up then, and start your 50,000 words now!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

I never thought I would be saying this, but the last Murakami book I picked up, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, turned out to be a big disappointment. It includes short stories written over a fairly long period of time. Perhaps thats part of the problem, because the quality is extremely uneven. Hanelei Bay, I thought was a poignant story about a woman who loses her surfer son to the sea. In Murakami style, ofcourse, there has to be more to it than that, and so, it turns out this is a grieving mother, who nevertheless, didn't even particularly like her son.

"In all honesty, however, Sachi had never really liked her son. Ofcourse she loved him - he was the most important person in the world to her - but as an individual human being, she had trouble liking him, which was a realisation that it took her a very long time to reach."

This kind of 'twist' or complication to the story I can understand. Also good is Chance Traveller, a story of loss and meetings, where Murakami's classic 'almost supernatural' twists serve to push the story forward in terms of bringing back severed connections between a brother and a sister.

But stories like the Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes and Dabchick seem to sort of hover in the air. They seem almost too clever. I've read enough background information that the Sharpie Cakes story, where specially bred grotesque crows detect 'genuine' sharpie cakes, was meant to be a sort of allusion to the Japanese literary scene where the reigning literati proclaimed judgement on newer writers. But it just doesn't work as a story. It feels too preachy somehow, with there being too much of a moral feel to it. Dabchick again is surreal without leading anywhere. A man reports for a new job, where he is refused entry until he finds the password, which is, ofcourse dabchick, while we realise that the employer himself is the dabchick. (The dabchick is apparently a small European water bird though what that has to do with anything is unclear).

Despite being a raving Murakami fan, this book left me with the uneasy suspicion that in a lot of these stories, the devices are over-riding the stories themselves. Many of Murakami's novels are quite transparent, in the sense, that devices used to build interest, are visible. The parallel narration, for example, in Kafka on the shore. Or the stories within stories, letters, newspaper clippings, supernatural excursions etc in the Wind-up Bird Chronicle. But in this collection, many of the stories feel as though they've been taken over by these Murakami hallmarks, until the characters and their stories almost disappear, and there is nothing but something that feels like style, but is insubstantial.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Sabbatical

I had decided a month or so ago that I would quit my job. To an outsider, it may have seemed like a hasty decision, but the truth was that I’d had enough of this corporate lifestyle. Jet setting around to boring meetings where most people were concentrating harder on the cookies passing around and working out strategies to net the chocolate cream ones. Staying in one hotel which looked just like another, where the staff all wore white uniforms, and pretended not to notice when I was smoking. Trying to steal as much freebies as I could without getting to the point where they would open my bag and search for the goods. From the outside, it looks like the life anyone would want to have, but I was sure that I was missing something. When I was young, my father used to tell me, “Don’t miss the woods for the trees”, but it looked to me as if I could not even tell the difference between the two anymore. So I decided that the best way for me to work out things would be to quit my job and take it a little easy. I didn't know if it was a sabbatical. That would have implied that I was coming back. As of now, I didn’t have a plan either way. Maybe I was coming back. And maybe I wasn’t. It wasn’t the kind of time to make a decision on something as important as that. Or maybe something as trivial. So I just left it quietly at the back of my mind, filed away in one of those cabinets, not so far back that I couldn’t reach in and bring it out if I wanted to, but not too upfront either. No, I didn’t want it too far up front, poking out whenever it got the chance to. So I just served out my notice period, a month, according to my contract, and packed up all my personal stuff at work, and carted it home.

When I told my husband about this, he wasn’t surprised. “I am sure we can manage with my salary and our savings for a few months”, he said, as though he’d seen it coming for some time, “But what will you do, won’t you get bored just sitting at home?” “Oh, I’m sure I’ll think of something”, I said, though the truth was that I really didn’t know. We had a cook at home, and I couldn’t cook and didn’t plan to learn, so I wasn’t going to be spending my time conjuring up exotic dishes. My husband ate very simply most of the time, anyways. We didn’t have kids at that time, so I didn’t have to pay attention to anyone, or pick them up from school or anything like that. Maybe I would just spend the entire day waiting for him to get home, and then listen to how his day had been. Maybe that’s what rich housewives did. But I didn’t see myself getting bored. I just pictured time as this finite thing, cut up into strips of twenty four hours, each of which I would count away easily, one after the other. At that time, I was still young enough to be unafraid of time, either how little or how much of it was left.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Renuka Kirte

Renuka Kirte was the ugliest girl in class. She was so ugly, in fact, that it wasn’t even safe to dislike her openly, all the girls felt. Except my sister. When my sister joined this school in class six, she was already a head taller than any of the other girls in the class. And she disliked Renuka Kirte as soon as she saw her. Her pinafore was more black than regulation blue, and her shirt creased like wrinkles on a monkey’s back. Her collars drooped down below the round neck of the pinafore, and thin strands of jet black hair escaped from her loosely tied pigtails. My sister, on the other hand, was always neatly dressed, and considered the most beautiful girl in the class. I was in class three, and even my friends could see that. What’s more, she was within the first five ranks in class, while Renuka was closer to the bottom, so there was really no reason to dislike her.

One day, my sister asked mother to arrange her birthday party. I was envious that her birthday fell in the school season. Mine came in around April, so I never got to wear new frocks to school or hand out ravalgaon toffees. She chose the girls she wanted invited to the party. I saw the list she made, with many crosses and scratches, and it looked something like this.

Puja (Deepa gang)

Shalini (Didn’t call for her party)
Sonal (Refuses to share homework)
Renuka (NO NO NO)

It had many more names like this, but you get the gist. My sister was always very methodical in everything she did, and this list was no exception. The only name that really stood out on it was Renuka’s, written on again and again, so that the pencil marks had almost pierced the page, and crossed out vigorously. Mother found the list where my sister had hidden it, under the open wooden shelf, where we kept all our books, tucked in where the laminate was peeling away. That was when the trouble began.

Mother insisted that we had to invite Renuka. She stayed in our building, two floors above our flat. Her mother would surely notice that a birthday party was on at our house, and feel offended, she explained. It didn’t make sense to my sister or me, but we had to give way; When mother got really angry, there was no saying what she might do. What if she cancelled the party, sister would never recover from the shame. Most of the girls had already been invited, and news had gone around that Mother would even be serving pepsi. Pepsi! Who had even tasted one before. We had all managed to sneak out one or two rupees to buy the pepsi-cola they sold in tubelike pouches at the canteen, but the pepsi that came in a bottle. We had only seen the big girls standing at the corner shop near our school, sharing these, sometimes even with boys.

Still, it would be embarrassing when sister’s classmates found out that we lived in the same building as Renuka. Now, you may be reading this story, and thinking that perhaps we found out what was wrong with Renuka, and why she had more than her share of bad days. Not really. The birthday party came and went. It was a huge success. Mother made a walnut vanilla cake, no one had ever heard of such a thing before. Did she learn this in foreign, my sister’s friends asked. Renuka Kirte was also at the party, looking funnier than ever in the dunce cap my mother had given out. Most of the girls had pulled it off once my dad started taking photographs. But she kept hers on, and the other day, I discovered her in an old photo album, dunce cap perched on her head like a weird shaped bird. Her frock looked better though, as if it had been ironed with a hundred kilo iron, sticking out sharply at the sides. Some of my sisters’ friends were surprised to see her, but most of them behaved well, with a few parents around watching. One girl did say that she would invite only her own gang when her birthday party came around.

The next day, my sister and I played teacher, teacher. My sister was too old for this of course, but I begged her. She pulled up our old bed sheet and wrapped it around herself, a sari pallu over her shoulder. Then she took an old knitting needle that my grandmother had left behind. She called Renuka Kirte to the front of the class and beat her and beat her and beat her with this scale, while I watched. When she was done beating the air, I asked her what was the matter. She started crying loudly and pushed me away so hard that I hurt my head. The next day, Mother explained that sister was too old for such games now, and I should go play with my friends in the park instead, I was old enough.