Things Fall Apart

19 08 2008

Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things Fall Apart ; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

—W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

“Things Fall Apart” novel is a widely acclaimed African novel in English, and often considered as a magnum opus in Chinua Achube’s literary history. Having throughly enjoyed ‘Things Fall Apart’, I could see the why. It acted as an eye opener for me, and made me discover the African cultural fabric in a much more wholesome way.

This book protagonist Okonkwo, is a self made warrior, driven by the fear of failure and the zeal to overcome weakness. In his passion to succeed against all odds, Okonkwo led his life and family with a iron hand, never giving away his affection or emotion. From rags, Okonkwo raises to fame as one of the reputed warriors in Umuofia by sheer hard work. Under the pretense of strength, he even survives the sacrifice of his adopted son’s sacrifice and endures severe hardships to earn his way as one of the most powerful men in the clan. Yet, inadvertently he commits a mistake and had to leave the clan for a period of seven years.

Here is the novel takes an interesting turn where we are introduced to the silently creeping change in the Igbo culture due to introduction of Christianity, missionaries and modern education. Rooted in the ancestral beliefs, Okonkwo finds it difficult to accept the shifting norms of the village under the colonial rule that altered many deep seated cultural customs of the village. With a dignified grace, Achebe narrates the cultural change that happened in the history to highlight how certain things would be so difficult to mend once broken. Things fall apart. Agreed and that could be a powerful perspective to explore the sweeping change in a cultural or a historical context. I loved the way Achube brought forth the complex norms of the African culture and dispelled the stereotypical imagery of the primitive Africa.

Here are some of the quotes from the book that moved me immensely.

“Why should a man suffer so grievously for an offense he had committed inadvertently? But although he thought for a long time he found no answer. He was merely led into greater complexities.

Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow. The pot fell and broke in the sand. He heard Ikemefuna cry, ‘My father, they have killed me!’ as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his matchet and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak.”





What I Am Reading Now – Tag

17 06 2008

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”
“That’s some catch, that catch-22,” he observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.

I just loved this book and there is no exaggeration here.

Raji has tagged me with “what I am reading now” tag sometime back, and since then I have been caught between work and home and those moments with Books and Blog have become rare. Now that am back from the hiatus, I got a reason to get this posted. 🙂

The rules to be followed for this tag are:

1) Pick up the nearest book
2) Open to page 123
3) Find the fifth sentence
4) Post the next three sentences
5) Tag five people, and acknowledge the person who tagged you.

Page 123 in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 talks about Captain Black, one of my favorite sections in this book that evokes a wicked grin in an instant. The six to eight sentences in that page are posted below.

“When other officers had followed his urging and introduced loyalty oaths of their own, he went them one better by making every son of a bitch who came to his intelligence tent sign two loyalty oaths, then three, then four; then he introduced the pledge of allegiance, and after that ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ one chorus, two choruses, three choruses, four choruses. Each time Captain Black forged ahead of his competitors, he swung upon them scornfully for their failure to follow his example. Each time they followed his example, he retreated with concern and racked his brain for some new stratagem that would enable him to turn upon them scornfully again.”

Now for the people to tag, (its kind of easy to spot fellow bookworms 🙂 )

1) Lasya

2) Reema

3) Sai

4) Hrish

5) Salz

Go ahead and take this up. I hope it would wake many of you from that cozy slumber in blogosphere. 🙂





Never Let Me Go..

6 06 2008

What would you do if you find out that you are brought into this world for a special purpose? A purpose of brightening somebody’s life at the expense of yourself. What if you are made to live in an artificial world with sole purpose to unzip your organs when needed?What would you feel if someone walks up to you one day to announce that, “You were brought into this world for a purpose, and your futures, all of them, have been decided.”

A thought so chilling to even to think about, finds life and voice in ‘Never Let Me Go’.

This novel is set in a school by name ‘Hailsham’ where cloned children are reared in an artificial establishment to be the donors of future. A world completely devoid of moral implications and incredibly insensitive to the sensitivity of human emotions. A world of three kids: Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, filled with what seems like a benign bliss of childhood unravels into a great sham of artificiality, where simple words like ‘donations’, ‘complete’ assume grotesque ramifications.

Kathy’s observation about Madame’s revulsion: “Madame was afraid of us. But she was afraid of us in the same way someone might be afraid of spiders. We hadn’t been ready for that. It had never occurred to us to wonder how we would feel, being seen like that, being the spiders.”

Or the silent acceptance of donations reflected thus: “All the same, some of it must go in somewhere. It must go in, because by the time a moment like that comes along, there’s a part of you that’s been waiting. Maybe from as early as when you’re five or six, there’s been a whisper going at the back of your head, saying: “One day, maybe not so long from now, you’ll get to know how it feels.” So you’re waiting, even if you don’t quite know it, waiting for the moment when you realise that you really are different to them; that there are people out there, like Madame, who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you–of how you were brought into this world and why–and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs. The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it’s a cold moment. It’s like walking past a mirror you’ve walked past every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange.”

Subtly dark and infinitely sad, this book casts a fatalistic note on human lives that are led in a cloak of artificiality. Probably, thats why my heart didn’t ache for the characters, though it bled for the sheer helplessness of the situation. A deep seated loathness for a place from which there is no escape, rather than to await the dead end that is reserved by the time one is born. This book sets itself not to explore the technicalities of cloning or the perils of being a clone, but rather captures the fine nuances of humanity in minute detail and makes one wonder about the core definition of it. The context of the book feels artificial, the tone has a note of fatality, yet the people feel awfully natural. Albeit, cast in a cloud of cold desolateness. This book is not for those who are on look out for heroes. For all the characters are patient victims in waiting for their end, leading a life as if its on loan, with an air of detachment around them which they flaunt mercilessly, accepting in silence the grim fatality of the life that they are leading.

How glad I was that this story is still a piece of fiction and not a disgusting manifestation of the modern day genetic experiments that intend to deliver greater good to greater lot at the cost of assured unhappiness for some.





The Bridge Of San Luis Rey

2 06 2008

In early 18th century in Peru, a famous suspension footbridge over a deep gorge broke and took the lives of five people into the gulf below. After this unfortunate accident, Brother Juniper is haunted by the question: “Why did this happen to those five?” As quoted in the book: If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan. Pondering over the cosmic order, Brother Juniper investigates the secret lives of those five people in rich detail in an attempt to discover the reason behind their demise.

Here is when Thornton Wilder excels in introducing us to the intimate details of those five people who seem to be united only in their longing for acceptance, and love. There is a rich, aristocratic and elderly Marquesa suffering from unrequited maternal love and pangs of loneliness, spends her time composing brilliant and elaborate letters to her cold hearted daughter Clara in Spain. Accompanying her is little Pepita, an bewildered and distressed teenage orphan girl trying to live up to the high expectations of an Abbesses who is grooming her as a successor. There is Esteban, the poor twin who is left alone and bereft in an uncomprehending world after his twin brother dies. Uncle Pio is a wise wanderer, a man of exceptional talent who has devoted the best part of his life for the flourishing career of actress Camila Perichole. He becomes disappointed when actress Camila Perichole renounces her stage career for becoming a Lady and shuns herself from the world when she contracts small pox. Uncle Pio requests Camila Perichole to send her youngest sickly son Jamie with him to Lima so that he could educate the boy into a gentleman. Little Jaime joins his Uncle Pio only to loose his life on the fated bridge.

The relationship between the identical twin brothers Manuel and Esteban, when Manuel falls in love with actress Camila Perichole is beautifully highlighted here. “Now he discovered that secret from which one never quite recovers, that even in the most perfect love one person loves less profoundly than the other. There may be two equally good, equally gifted, equally beautiful, but there may never be two that love one another equally well.”

The beauty of this book lies in the description of these five characters. Thornton puts to use all the finery of the English language to delicately highlight the nuances of these five central characters. Sample these observations on Marquesa’s Son-in-Law. “the Conde delighted in her letters, but he thought that when he had enjoyed the style he had extracted all their richness and intention, missing (as most readers do) the whole purport of literature, which is the notation of the heart.”

Though we still are not sure whether the loss of these five people is by accident or by divine intention, this final words from Abbess sums up the meaning of love in life: “But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”





The Making Of A Superstar..

28 05 2008

I can almost feel a few raised eyebrows now! I came across this book in the most unlikely fashion, during a short trip to Blossoms over weekend with a pal. He is the one who introduced me to ‘Almost Single’ and now to ‘The Making Of A Superstar’ by Susmita Dasgupta. I was expecting a prosaic tome filled with anecdotes and Bollywood gossip which I could skim through, and what I got was a well researched book on the evolution of Amitabh Bachchan‘s public persona with a keen insight into the Hindi Cinema.

Susmita presents a careful analysis of Amitabh’s roles in some of his epochal movies and tries to track the sociology of Hindi Cinema from the perspective of Indian Audience by tracing the evolution of Amitabh’s image from the angry young man of “Zanjeer”, the tragic antihero of “Deewar” and the entertainer of “Amar Akbar Anthony” to his more conservative turns in “Mohabbatein” and “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham”. She traces the evolution of Indian Heroes from the times when they martyred for social causes to the modern era when they became more focussed on personal pursuits.

I believe that the movies that are produced in any age are a mirror of the community thought process and the set of values they endorse. Popular film stars often represent the aspirations and dreams of the masses. Why do we watch some movies just because of star cast? It is because Stars have an image that extends across all the movies or ads that he is cast in. I remember those days of anxiety for Cadbury and Pepsi. when they went through quality issues, and Amitabh’s voice of authority restored them from their fallen grace.

Why is that some impressions last forever in the mind space? Why is that some movies go to attain ‘The Larger Than Life’ status? Why do we idolize some actors and share their emotions and trails? Not all feelings can be explained, neither can everyone explain the social significance of a movie. Amitabh’s cinematography is indeed engaging. What comes to your mind when you think of Amitabh today? A fighter against of all odds, a conventionalist or the angry young man of yesteryears. I think he is an exemplary example of a personal brand and the way he reinvented himself to a national icon over the passage of time is simply amazing.

I was amused by Laawaris (remember Mere Angane Mein?), shed tears over Sholey, enraged at Amitabh role in BOOM, chuckled at ‘Cheeni Kam’ and clapped instinctively for the divine justice that happens in the climax of ‘Aakhree Rasta’ (I was probably 12 then). Amitabh could don the role of a conservative disciplinarian, or play the dignified patriarch, or be the martyr for the underclasses, he remains close to my heart, and that must have been the secret motivation behind my reading this well presented academic research on sociology of Indian Cinema that traces the journey of Amitabh’s golden era with gusto.





A Handful Of Dust

27 05 2008

… I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
THE WASTELAND

‘A Handful Of Dust’ from Evelyn Waugh is one of the first and finest satirical fiction that I read since a long time. With an intriguing title lifted from ‘The Wasteland’, Waugh indeed paints a satirical stylish picture of the society through the breakup of the marriage of Brenda and Tony Last. Laced with wry wit, sarcastic humor and subtle irony, Waugh elegantly draws out the superficiality of the upper class.

The novel begins with one of the friend’s of Tony quoting, “I often think Tony Last’s one of the happiest men I know. He’s got just enough money, loves the place, one son he’s crazy about, devoted wife, not a worry in the world.”

Tony is happily married to Brenda and to his Victorian Gothic country home. In love with the happenings around London and bored by the country lifestyle, Brenda fancies herself in love with an opportunistic and worthless social climber Mr. Beaver. When Tony’s Son is killed in an accident, Brenda reveals her affair to Tony and requests for a hefty divorce settlement that forces Tony to sell his home. Betrayed by his wife, Tony embarks on a harebrained expedition to discover a lost city deep in jungles, only to find himself as a prisoner to a Mr.Todd. The novel signs itself with Tony resigning himself to read Charles Dickens’s works to Mr.Todd in jungles for eternity, and Brenda marrying one of the obliging Tony’s friends as her lover Mr. Beaver leaves her for New York, whilst the house went to Tony’s distant relatives.

The novel is filled with impersonal and often cruel satire. Sample this musing of Tony towards the end: “He had always rather enjoyed reading aloud and in the first year of marriage had shared several books in this way with Brenda, until one day, in a moment of frankness, she remarked that it was torture to her.”

The casual tone in which Brenda’s betrayal of Tony is handled and the social sanction it received makes one wonder at the moral corruption of the society. Being Amusing, melodramatic, tragic and cold, Waugh brings out the phoniness of the aristocratic society in a subtle sarcastic fashion that’s beautifully supported by a vividly descriptive style. A great example of dark humor that presents a scathing commentary on the society and the phony relationships.






the CATCHER in the RYE

24 05 2008

“You know that song. ‘If a body catch a body coming’ through the rye? I’d like —“

“It’s ‘If a body meet a body coming through the rye!” old Phoebe said. “It’s a poem. By Robert Burns.”

“I know it is a poem by Robert Burns.”

“She was right though. It is “If a body meet a body coming through the rye.” I didn’t know it then, though.

“I thought it was ‘If a body catch a body,'” I said. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody around — nobody big, I mean — except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

I was in half love with this ‘Holden Caulfield’ by the time I am through. I really am. For his age of Sixteen, I didn’t know anyone who is more clear thinking and muddle headed than he was. A bundle of teenage rebellion, that he indeed was, with little regard to play by the rules. He has these itsy bitsy darn complaints about the phoniness in the world that makes you dig into the childhood memories and offer a sigh at those days of carefree innocence. The disconnect that he feels from the world, the perils of growing up, the burden of responsibilities, the alienation from the society, the loss of his brother Allie, his pursuit for independent identity, and his naive frustrations – didn’t we all go through some of them in our adolescence?

Just like the Lagoon in Central Park which is “partly frozen and partly not frozen”, Holden comes across as an embodiment of teenager who is caught between the dilemma of growing up to a responsible adulthood from carefree mirth of childhood innocence. Holden narrates his two days of his life after getting an ax from Pencey Prep School for his poor academic performance. We share the deeply private fantasy world of Holden, through his candid confessions which fill the book and occupy your mindspace. Often endearing and often shallow, refreshingly, Holden remains the same simple ‘heart on my sleeve’ kid even as he ends his narration by celebrating Phoebe’s cheerful mood on a park ride. What is unique about this novel apart from Holden’s red hunting hat, is the flow of Holden’s experiences in first person which run as a simple commentary on life. Cynical, bitter, nostalgic and intimately introspective, one can’t help but appreciate the colorful innocent world that Holden inhabits.

Some Voice of Reason that Holden encounters in the novel:

“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them – if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”