Scarlet Letter

Had been away from Classics for a while, so picked up this one, knowing for sure it will keep me good company in the days to come. But didn't anticipate such a long run; took me almost whole of 5 months to actually finish it. Ofcourse the vacation intervened, but still, it wasn’t as if I couldn’t read then.

Had conflicting reviews when I mentioned to friends about the book, as I was reading it, and most of them not very flattering. So knew I was not in for a veritable treat. But told myself I wouldnt give it  up, but find out for myself what left the slight distaste, and discover why it had a scandalish hood all over it, over the ages.

Well, the book  has been universally certified as ‘morbidly intense’, and so was it. It has flashes of good prose, where you find yourself glide into the dark corridors of the churches and walk down the streets of an old England puritan village, led by the elaborate description of Nathaniel Hawthorne. But, at times the writing tends to become tedious and excessively overpowering, that to ease oneself from its grip becomes an effort.

The story is about Hester Prynne, who is made to carry the burden, wearing a scarlet red, embroidered hologram, on her dress, everyday of her life, as redemption for an act of adultery committed. It screams out to the world the debauchery she allowed herself to be immersed in, symbolically and is meant to put her to abject shame and misery. Two other central characters, being Rev.Arthur Dimmesdale who goes through a phase of self-afflicted torment, ridden by guilt and shame; and Roger Chillingworth, who ironically posseses some chilling attributes, which enables him to be the diabolic co-tormentor of the former.

Issues as adultery, sin, shame, guilt and redemption are handled with elaborate justifications and its ramifications, as observed in  the puritan era, but they comes across as too severe and  melodramatic. The reader is all along made to sympathise with Hester Prynne, the author trying hard to convince that she or the act was never ever a heinous crime. So what was the whole book about, one is left to wonder. It is an attempt to portray an era, a section sliced from the past, and elaborate on the lives, morals and values, people preached and in most instances practised too, I would think.

Back to our home ground, going through Rajaji’s adaptation of the Mahabharatha, and completely overwhelmed by the number of characters and anecdotes woven and all tied up together so well, and of which many of us (I think/assume) are not very familiar with. The main plot and characters remain to a certain extent clear in memory, but there is so much more to it. What a tremendous script!

It rained. It is tantamount to occurrence of hailstorms in India. So in for some showers, which would play hide and seek this November. Aren't we glad!

20th  October 2011

Golden Stag

A saga of five generations, drawn beautifully on a canvas set in the deep regions of South India, the author leads us through a journey, dotted with sharply etched characters, coming alive through bold brush strokes of tumultuous emotions that surges and pulsates, all along the narration.

The Western Ghats serve as the essential backdrop, and with graphic descriptions, one becomes almost familiar and at-home with, the locations; be it Mayan's humble thatched abode under the harsh scorching sun, or Manickam's sprawling bungalow along the dusty lanes of Chitur. Great care has been taken to capture the essence of life  lived in this part of the world, the everyday instances, the attitudes ingrained and adapted, the tenets held since eons, the tug of the roots, and the quest for the unknown, and sadly for many it turns out to be a hunt for 'the Golden Stag'.

The author has delved deeply into subjects as Siddha and Hindu Philosophy, that seems to have a tenacious hold on two of the protagonists, Naren and Nagalingam. It serves to soften them, but also confound them with innumerable questions and undecipherable qualms, that plague them incessantly. And as a stark contrast to these characters, are Manickam and Vasan who are impeccably practical, business like and feet firmly on ground. And there is Chandrasekaran who strikes one, as having shades of both, and trying to establish a workable mean, and successfully does so; or so I would think.

The author through the lives of these five main characters, and sub-characters weaves an enchanting tale that subtly brings out, the deceptive vagaries of human nature, even as man tries to wage the battle of life, with his own set of arms; it uncannily reminds me at this point, of the battle scene in Kurukshetra, where Lord Krishna advocates Karma Yoga to a despondent Arjuna, " Therefore, O Arjuna, surrendering all your works unto Me, with full knowledge of Me, without desires for profit, with no claims to proprietorship, and free from lethargy, fight."

The "Golden Stag" leaves one with a sense of having lived life, along with the characters, experiencing their emotions, and identifying oneself totally with it, as we do know, life, emotions, relationships, death, love, touches all, deeply. And Ms.Sivasundari Bose has managed to touch the reader in more ways than one, and that bespeaks of her success, in bringing out a piece of art, that edges the reader to ponder and reflect on the multifarious facets of life.

September 2011

Indira Parthasarathy  – Sirukathaigal (short stories)

The book is a collection of short stories by Indira Parthasarathy, who is a well renown Tamil writer and playwright. When I decided to pick up this particular edition, was not sure if I had read his previous works, though had a faint memory of having read, maybe years back.  In the recent past, find myself being pulled into Tamil works, good ones, as if to appease the guilt, I seem to have harboured right from my teen years.

 Opted for French in my final years in school, as foreign languages, seemed to lure you like no other. Tamil was so ‘local’, of course when compared to its more romantic and alluring counterpart! Well, so when most of my friends used to spend hours labouring through their Tamil literature and grammar, we the lucky few had a heyday, skimming and dilly-dallying with basics, a la l’ecole, le garcon, la fille, and and by the end of the course, found myself bursting with pride, that I could dash off a decent letter, all in French, even if it be to a Bookseller, to order quelques  livres!

Well, back to the book in hand, was thoroughly impressed and even inspired by the writing. The style and content speaks of infinite command and mastery over the art of storytelling. Very powerful yet subtle. Silences brimming with intensity.  Characters with morphed rage and lust, vice and greed. Characters with pain, borne of abject poverty and self damnation. They’re all there. Reverberating hollowness amidst the opulent class, stark bleakness that strangles the lower class, and the just about surviving, caught-in-the-middle class, are elicited, through sensitive and intricate character sketches. The author sustains the anticipation of the reader by presenting in each story, a surprise element, either in the form of content or the persona he portrays.

So many images rush through my mind, as I try to recollect or list a few of them. The father with his 10yr old daughter, on a hot sweltering Sunday noon awaits a bus, to take them home; what transpires then, seem  to reinstate the absurdity, of trying to make a decent living, holding on to your mores.  A soft spoken aspiring poet forced into a marriage of convenience, in a quirk of destiny transforms herself into a thumping success; her friend though tries in vain to search for traces of the lost someone. Are some things lost forever, overridden in pursuit of success? The flashy call-girl who turns up as the friendly neighbour, the conniving politician, making a fool of himself before a phirangi, the ever faithful manager, quitting because he finally realises what it is, to stand for what ones very being believes in. The list is endless, and the characters are endearing, each in their own way.  

Another feature of Indira Parthasarathy's writing is that, the social issues, inconsistencies, delusions, codes, pressures, are brought out vividly, through the eyes of the protagonist, in accordance to his state of mind prevailing then, at that point of time. This helps the reader to totally identify himself with the situation, and the plethora of thoughts and emotions conveyed, making the reading process a very genuine experience, to be savoured and mulled over at leisure.

I would definitely recommend the book to all Tamil readers, and there seem to be translated versions available too. Seriously thinking of looking up his other award winning works, especially Kuruthi punal, the Sahitya Academy winner. Glad this quest for Tamil books, has turned out to be a rewarding and satisfying one, so far.

April 2011

Yann Martel's Life of Pi

The Life of Pi was interesting to say the least; a novel that effectively manages to transform you into a 12yr old lad,  'Pi' as he makes this indomitable journey across oceans, in a little bobbing boat.

It is slowly enthralling, a lullaby sort of book, which does not necessarily put you to sleep, but soothes you, as you slip into the folds of the little town of Pondicherry. The author manages to hold a conversation with the reader, a very direct one, where he draws you into his theories on religion, relationships and life at large, with consummate ease. 

Yes, it does have a lull, especially towards the end when you start yearning for land as much as the boy lost in sea does, his body shrivelled and dried to the bone, dusted with salt from the air, spirit almost squelched brutally, after many a battle with his once-sane mind. But the end does arrive, and you do make a landing, but find yourself having difficulty in bidding goodbye.

Not one of the 'truly awesome' books, but yes one that transcends you to places, where only the author and the reader are entitled to visit. Places that do not exist anywhere in the physical world, but captured and unfolded in those small grey pages, 'for your eyes only',  which is what a good book is all about.

( Latest news is that it is being made into a movie, with Irfaan Khan, Tabu (as parents I presume) and the Spiderman boy, Toby Maguire in the lead (as a 12yr old?!!)

May 2011

Girls of Riyadh - Rajaa Alsanea

A completely different novel, from the previous one(Life of Pi), packed with stories of a real, but a veiled world. The book had made waves, when released,  and why not, for what happens in these parts of the world, have always been kept under wraps. A bold attempt indeed by the young author, all of 23, to have attempted to rip open the cloistered shades of the hushed up social life, in and around the cities of Saudi Arabia. 

Its a very racy narrative, done in a distinctly contemporary style, in the form of a very popular blog entry. Characters are interesting, at least most of them, who are kept alive through a simple, unflowery flow of language. There is more focus on the incidents that happen in the lives of 4 unmarried women, woven around the theme of marriage and love. What and how they make these dramatic and crucial events shape their lives, all the while trying to emerge from a the shrouds of a male dominant clan, is what the book is about.

Sadeem, has her engagement brutally broken, and when she thinks she has found solace in the arms of a sensitive political leader, finds herself deserted, all over again. Qamrah, enters a sham marriage, and is sent back uncermeniously across the seas, from Chicago by her husband and his Japanese concubine;  Lamees, is the stablest, who finds what she wants in life, relatively with lesser upheavals, in both her profession and love life. Mashael, the flamboyant of the lot, sadly struggles to find her self, caught in an inextricably painful process, of growing up in her multi-cultural upbringing. But  the author ties up all loose ends in a very positive note, the ladies finally discovering their individual needs and paving out paths to realise them too, on their own. 

A peep into a world, where such inspiring tales will definitely serve to break the mental shackles of people who refuse to open up, to the wider spectrum of life and what it has to offer. A very small, meek wake-up call I would think, when tolling of the bells would seem to be the need of the hour.