Sunday, November 23, 2008

Milan Kundera

Books :
The Unbearable Lightness of a Being
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

There are books, which you read a bit and then look out of the window at the distant view. I do that to cushion the effect, such books have on me. There is a restrained violence that is packed into words in such prose. Un-put-downable is generally a word used for novels having chases and fights on the streets of couple of European or American cities.But, Milan Kundera's works are no where near the mad chases. Still they are un-put-downable.

An urgency in the story makes you flip the pages without knowledge. There's an erotic side to the characters in his stories. Words which are not generally associated with eroticism find their place in his work, in describing the chemistry between the characters. Sometimes , it makes you think of the helplessness of the protagonists that drives them to such permutations of extra marital art. The setting being the containment of freedom in the Russian occupied Czech republic, there might be very few freedoms beyond the scrutiny of the central committee or the Party. Sexual freedom might be one such exception which is never a threat against the state. Kundera's characters traverse in such a latitude. It is a world that's bounded artificially by the dictates of the state.Strange gestures take birth in times of emergencies like in the game of dumb charades. The conversations in his works signify a constant innovation of communication techniques to the reader.

Metaphors are another delight in his novels. From the toilet described as a water lily to the fur hat on the dictators balding head, everything is a metaphor. They are striking, intelligent, comical, quaint and beautiful. You would never look at something the same way after reading some of his metaphors. This is poetic prose. These days Poetry , as a free verse, might only hold out due to the abundance in metaphors. This is like beauty which has shed it's disciplined form of verse to a more wanton sexiness. Kundera makes you feel so.

He is honest, ruthless, ugly, rustic, stylish and satirical in his works. There is a simplicity that will make the reading easy. Some of the theories he propounds might be confusing but they are beautiful in their description. Read them and look out of the window then.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Silent Raga by Ameen Merchant

The starkness of kanakambaram (fire-cracker flower) and the fragrance of jasmines is woven into a garland called “Silent Raga”. The descriptions follow a light rhythmic pattern of back and forth but never over done.

The book starts off in a reflective tone mixed with the early morning freshness. The freshness which can be described only by the sprinkling of water to make way for a new kolam in front of the house. The book is divided into many parts of a raga. Like Varnam, Alapana, Krithi....and in the end Mangalam.

The novel, is about Janaki, a musical prodigy in a small town of Sripuram, not far away from Madras. It is mainly set in the Brahmin community of the town. To manage the house ,Janaki stays away from the school after the death of her mother. Though away from school she doesn't stop taking music lessons which becomes her escape from the daily chores. Gayatri, her aunt ( mother's sister), pays regular visits from Madras to Sripuram. The coldness between Gayatri and Janaki turns deep rooted when Janaki discovers an affair between her father and Gayatri. How she faces this truth and the after shocks in terms of her escape to Bombay is an interesting piece of story. Her return to her past which she dissociated ten years back is the theme for the later half of the book.

The story has stark breaks in continuity at two instances- One is the disappearance of Gayatri from the story line completely and almost suddenly. The story between Janaki and Asgar ( Janaki's actor husband) during her initial days in Bombay is not touched upon at all. These are either discontinuities in the story or too focused an approach on the main characters.

All in all, Silent Raga is a novel which delves into the subtlety of human relations. Metaphors and good description dot the story frequently in the beginning but become sparser towards the end. Happiness has no metaphor, may be?

Not to mention the fabulous cover art would be a mistake. It was the first thing I liked about the book !

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

River Of Fire by Qurratulain Hyder

Time flows with the words,sentences and sometimes between the lines too, in this epoch novel. If you could see the passage of time in a dry leaf floating away in a stream, then there are many streams and many leaves representing lives in this book. It transcends time and makes you think how insignificant we are (when placed in that big picture) and especially of what we think are the significant actions.

The book spans across 25 centuries and the interlacing of the stories is done very well.Though the partition of the Indian subcontinent is the backdrop for the last quarter of the book, it never details the blood-bathed incidents. Instead the essence is translated into the lives of protagonists which gently stirs you and moves you.In a dynamic setting, such as this , death loses it's meaning and is often substituted by a more telling story.

Monday, June 9, 2008

In the clouds

The last weekend was fun. We went for a small but beautiful trek at the Sinhgad fort, roughly thirty kilometers away from Pune. We got up around 6 in the morning and equipped ourselves for the trek. (with snacks, water and fuel in the bike). Then we went to a friends place to start as a group from there. Like always, few of them were in deep sleep when we broke their doors open. Each fellow then got up and lazily finished the morning chores rather quickly I should say. I was half expecting that the trek would be canceled as the clouds had invaded the sky and there was slight drizzle. But we started anyway. The ride was lot of fun and more so because I was a pillion rider who was shielded from the drizzle and the cutting wind on the NH4 highway. We fumbled a bit with the route in a couple of places but finally managed to get on to the right road and met with the earlier group. As we took the road off the high way in the direction of the hills the air was totally dank and we could see the fresh green leaves sprouting from the branches which must have dry till the arrival of monsoon. We walked a bit and then we were on the up slope towards the fort.

The fort itself was not visible from the foot of the hill. It was blanketed by a thick cloud. We started on a stony path whose gaps were filled with water marks. Little trickle of water started flowing along them. In the drizzle we went for a little while and the rain started to increase its pace forcing us to put on rain coats and walk. An experienced trekker among us kept us in the right spirit, by telling us each time what beauty lay ahead. So we were constantly on the move. There were few points on the path where I kept thinking, how we would climb down on such slippery mounds. The rain made it even more slippery. The best thing about trekking in a fairly large crowd is the group mentality. The lack in the individual confidence is often compensated by the group’s confidence as a whole. So we made our way ahead and reached a thatched roof where lemonade was sold. We realized we needed some instant glucose and ate some of the snacks we got from home. There was more than half way to go and the path got steeper, bit by bit.

The rocks became sparse now but still were enough to serve as foot holds when required. I climbed placing my foot carefully against the rocks and climbed slowly. We reached more than half way now and we could here distant howls and screams of another trek party which had supposedly reached the fort on the top of the hill. We shouted, whistled, did some pre-nomadic communication and got along with our ascent. We reached a place from where we could see the clouded fort from near. The path got steeper and again we took rest for some time. The rain had stopped now and we were feeling stuffy in our jackets and raincoats. So we removed them and felt the cool breeze which occasionally wafted across the hills.

Finally we reached the steps of the fort and were completely tired. We ate and drank whatever we could spot-mangoes, boiled pea nut, cucumber, hill fruits and provided some good business for the stalls that waited just for us. Then we started the slow tour of the 16th century fort (or rather what was remaining of the fort) . It was indeed a spectacular view from the top and we were in clouds now. The clouds came in batches and screened our view of the valley and we waited patiently till they skirted away and had the view again. We went to a wind point where the chill wind was cutting through the cloud to reach us.

Few of us chatted away the time. Few contemplated and few just kept framing the view in their memory. After a while no one talked. We were absorbing the images, the nature, everything there.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Just a question - “Can we be best friends?” .

It happened while we waited for the bus. I never realized what prompted me to ask that question. It was one of those wacky moments where you land yourself into some slosh. The coolness of the mud would have its effect slowly. Anirudh said that we will be best friends and told me when his birthday was. I did not know this norm. I just reciprocated at the instinct. I reflected later that best friends should start like that.

I knew that Anirudh came by the crowded bus which stopped near our house. But I always took the less crowded one that arrived 5 minutes later. I wanted to surprise him and took the crowded one that day.

From that day, it had always been the crowded bus.

Sitting in the same bench, sharing lunch, notes and jokes soon followed.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


So uncool it is and yet is so omnipresent. There might be many instances in life where you must have felt to wrangle the next soul who irritates you in the most economical way-may be even a friend who is teasing . Probably you would then count, remembering the moral science lessons, one up to ten strictly under your breath. Thats it. The moment is gone. Violence in it's little dose is stored up in the reserve. The next soul gets it even stronger.

The inherent violence these days, especially in the hot weather, finds the most unexpected vents. Few of them include

  • Giving a politically correct answer and yet senseless , in an involved discussion.
  • Never letting people build their illusionary pleasantness and braking them off into reality
    (only few would survive by counting one Mississippi up to ten Mississippi.)
  • Going to a sweating shopkeeper and asking him “garam kyan hain?” ( “What's hot?”)
  • At a hotel, not providing leg room for the poor soul behind you (in a back to back seating) and making him crouch as if in high gravity conditions.
  • Violating traffic rules, calling for a revolutionary change, Vision 2020 , demanding dismissal of a state government, declaring your house as a union territory are a few, but potent symbols of evaporating brains in this torrid heat.

Things would be different :

  • Had you punched your bench mate ( later your best friend) in kindergarten, when he took your pencil and threw it out.
  • Had you punished the idiot box (with a hockey bat of course) for those tele-shoppe ads in the middle of your favorite spiritual program.
  • Had you written some poetry concatenating the rhyming words to form some obscure picture out of an already hazy outline.
  • Had you argued for Aristotle, that heavier bodies fall. ( “The lighter body” has not yet fallen into place in this sentence)
  • Had you asked some question when president came to your school and gave a vision 2020 presentation. ( You stood mum in the audience while the first rank kid asked a question scribbled on a piece of paper that the teacher just gave him)
  • Had you purchased that red Che Guevara's shirt from a Gap outlet.

These are a few symptoms and their approximate causes. The real ones are yet to be stumbled upon. You can try “We the people” on NDTV for more stumbling and trampling ( of ideas, facts and even classic skewed arguments).

So folks, there is no stopping here . Go on get 'em and knock 'em down. Violence cannot be postponed.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bus No.78

It was 8:15 in the morning and the bus had not yet arrived. We started to feel a bit worried about being late to the Biology class. But in some corner of my mind I was happy that I would be missing at least one day of salmonella typhi and his consorts. There was a certain relief in that wait for the bus. I was sure my friends felt the same.

We broke off from the activity (near the house) after 8:15 in the morning and returned only after 3:30 in the afternoon. I used to wonder of what happened during that time. We had no clue. For us it would be single ruled, broad ruled and double ruled during that period. It was a good chance to observe world beyond 8:15 that day.

The bus stop started to get crowded and was soon filled with many office goers. There were not many children. Just us. An old woman with mouthful of betel came tattering with her cane basket to the bus stop. She stopped and asked what time it was. Some one said it was 8:25; Some one else said “No, it is 8:30” and insisted that his watch was set to the Delhi relay on the radio. She just ignored the difference and sat there with her cane basket and frequently wiping the sweat off her brow.

The old woman had sweet meats, pepper mints, lollipops and chocolates in the basket. There was her cash bag ( an old sack like structure with grease marks where she stored her betel and money) hanging to her waist as she counted the money for the ticket. The nickel coins glittered in the morning sun.

Soon, the sun started heating up the air and we started to sweat. There was no shade to hide. We just stood there and wanted the bus to come quickly now. There was a break in the flow of vehicles as we heard a distant horn. These indicated the bus was here at last. As soon as it stopped, we got into the bus and occupied the rear end seats, as always.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Replica watches
Viagra Pills
You have won a lottery, fly to LA
Replica watches at low price
Go for the blue pill

Were the general spam in the mail box as always, as Anuj skimmed through the mail box. He always searched for some connections between the spam messages he got. That day was no different. He got the same messages as every day. He was bored and left the machine with a sigh.

A little while later, he remembered about the term paper he had to submit online. He gave the final touches to the term paper (as if a copied thing looked different with that) and mailed the document to the Professor. He was about to close his mail box but looked at the spam count once. It showed 1 Unread Message. He opened it to check whether anything new had been invented in the spam world.

The mail had the most uninteresting look to it. It had all the junk about the pills and watches and some unreadable message. But one line attracted him most which read

"There was none to save me, as I opened it and I now wander under the Atlantic"

Anuj, at once, searched for some connections between the spam he had read and this line. He did this exercise every time he got a new spam message. It made no sense. He replied to this spam mail, like always. Every time he got a mail back saying "Sending message failed". But this time it was different, he did not get any message that his mail had failed reaching it. He waited for the reply but gave up and left after a while. He got himself busy in the day's activities and forgot about the mail he sent.

Evening when he returned to his room, he switched on the computer and hurriedly logged into his mail account. There were two new messages in the spam box. He quickly opened it and checked what they were. One was the routine pills thing about 20 % increase with some small font junk. The second mail was very short and interested him. It read

“ We know you . Come to Deluxe cafe tomorrow evening and ask for filters. Welcome to the spammers' meet”

The next day started as usual with the usual spam in the mailbox, in the class room every where indeed.He could not keep his mind away from thinking about the spammers meet. Before he made up his mind, he was on his bike driving it towards Deluxe cafe. It had a new look as opposed to the yellowed walls of the old cafe. He had never noticed this change all these days, though he passed by it very often.

The shopkeeper was eagerly serving the customers who thronged this new Deluxe cafe. He was not the same shop keeper, he remembered. How the shop changed hands so quickly was immaterial now. He went to the shopkeeper and asked for filters, doubting what it really meant. The shopkeeper gave a thorough look at Anuj and asked him to wait for 15 minutes. Anuj waited impatiently. Finally, the shopkeeper escorted him to a corner room and opened the door. Before Anuj realized where he was, he was inside the room.

The room was dark and air conditioned. The walls were lit with dim lights as in the movie halls. There was not a single soul in the room, except a large computer and a few smaller ones and a complicated equipment, which he could not make out for what purpose. He thought he must be really early to this spammers meet. He relaxed himself on one of the chairs. He waited there for an hour but nothing happened. No one came. He cursed himself for his stupidity and walked towards the door. He tried opening the door but found it was locked from the other side. He did not understand how the cafe was closed so early that day. He tried opening the door again, but in vain. He wanted to call his friend who lived very near by but there was no network there. He thought what a place this dungeon could be. He thought he should be able to communicate by some means.

That is when he realized that there was a computer in the room. He went to the desk and started the computer. He was thrilled at the speed at which it started as he switched it on. He logged onto his mail account and composed a SOS message to his friend Rishi, who is online all the time. He finished typing his message and clicked “send” . There was sudden cranking of gears and the complicated machine turned its laser on to Anuj and then the room was dark again.

Christine was late that day to the computer lab. The instructor had warned that if she missed that class, she could be struck off the rolls. She hurriedly took the last seat of the lab and opened her mail account. She too was interested in spam mails and their connections.

There was only one message that day and it read “ Help yourself if you can't end up clicking HERE ”. And the mail was from

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Room

Room: A four walled structure with one or countless windows.

Sudha just finished packing the last item of her luggage. She was graduating in one of those myriad directions. She at once recollected that, that would be the last day she belonged to the room 256. There were no rush feelings of parting for her. While her friends spent solemn moments within their rooms, Sudha hurried to get the luggage to the taxi. She thought such an effort of belonging is a waste of time.She wondered whether her friends really felt sad or was it just a custom.

All the graduating students bid farewell to the security guards and myriad other hostel staff. Sudha also bid them a hearty good bye. They reached the railway station. The taxi took unusually long time to reach. Each one was busy exchanging phone numbers and mail Ids. Sudha took the numbers and mail Ids of all her friends. Then the parting, as they call it began.

Sudha reached her home the next morning. There were some early monsoon showers the previous night. The windows in her room showed the residuals of the drops of rain or was it dew. She was too tired to go further.

She slept the whole day and at dusk she was busy sticking to the ceiling the stars,Sun and moon, made of radium. She used to gaze at them every night and sleep under their faint radiance. Dinner was ready as soon as she was finished with the ceiling. All her favorite dishes were on the table. She quickly finished dinner and slipped into her room. She wanted to gaze at the star system in her new room. Resting on the couch she started thinking how it all started and ended so quickly. There were things that are to be framed as past, Sudha thought. People always moved on according to her, as if nothing had happened. She observed such callousness in people’s behavior.

She spent about an hour gazing and thinking. Suddenly, she felt something was missing from the star system above. There was always a passenger from the sun to the earth and back, every night. It was the spider. Yes the spider !

She leapt up in a quick motion and frantically started searching her bags for the glass case where she housed the spider. It was no where to be found. She remembered packing everything into those bags. But now something was missing.

There was sudden rain on the window pane which cleared the mist. She looked through the window and to her surprise saw her own room !

There was an increased sputtering on the window panes, as she cried that night.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wilderness in the hills

Summer heat always brought vacations along with it. Vacation would mean going to the village and taking the warmth and heat there. But for now these hillocks would offer us a temporary peep into the long visited and cherished village.

Wandering in the wilderness, at the onset of summer would be quite an experience. The summer mornings are neither too hot nor too cold, they are enjoyable. The grass is all pallid,lifeless and unkempt. But the grass offers a fine grip to hold on to when there are some steep slopes. I try to break a twig, just to toss it around while walking. The plant is not dry-brittle. It is full of sap and energy and ofcourse longing for the monsoon in it's heart. Just like us.

We hear both the low and shrill calls of the birds passing messages to their kith and kin. We kept to the shade of the hills while walking. This made us escape the heat which was rising slowly. The pale grass now glittered like an yellow mine of ornamental gold. There were violet Daturas here and there. Defying the dry background some palnts had flowers and tender leaves, as if attracting the monsoons to them first.

Some of the birds that rarely visited the concrete jungle had their nests in the fissures in these hills. They bobbed the heads out of their caves and looked down at the strange visitors. We settled on a rock near the foot of the cliff and sat there. Absolute stillness was defined here. The place was covered with the hill on the three sides. We were so away from the noises of the civilization and yet so near to it. It was almost as if a little child had found a new place to hide. We sat there observing the cliff, it's scales, dried algae, water marks and the birds which occasionally flew in and out of their caves. It looked like the time just stood still in that little hide out. I wondered how would it be during monsoons. Lush green probably.

The shade, silence and the lullaby of the birds almost left me sleepy. Each time I observed the same part of rock it looked different. It formed a different shape. There was nothing static to the cliff, it was as dynamic as a movie. Each time offering a different image of itself. I could sit there till dusk to just capture the whole performance there. So silent and so static yet evoking so much attention, as if the stillness was just to attract me to it.

I felt there were so many stories in these pure,naked hills. So often they are covered with green, a veil probably, which in its beauty hid so many faces.