Saturday, January 03, 2015

When you restart a dormant blog, I think it is the best to do so without giving a reason.  So, here I go.  To begin the n-th innings of my blog (which hopefully will not end with this post, or worse, before I post this even), I choose to review a few books I read last year.  Count-wise, the year was not that rich, but quality-wise, I ended the year with a few more than 10 books to review, but I think I should restrict myself to 10, for fear that I may not complete the list otherwise.

10. Hard-boiled Wonderland and End of the World- Haruki Murakami: Murakami-sque in every way, this book, as with many of his books, alternates between parallel universes- one, a futuristic world, and another, a mindless end of the world.  The complex mystique nature of the book led my impatience through the book, and the way the two worlds are interconnected presented an uncanny possibility of what the author wants to present to the world.  Classic Murakami, requires patience if not already into similar literature. Fantasy.

9. Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk. Finally I did it.  Better late than never.  Fight Club is a modern day must read classic, even for those who have seen the movie.  Yes, obviously, the book is better.   The way the story builds up and explodes is wonderful.

8. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close- Jonathan Safran Foer.  Pain and senselessness of loss felt by a kid affected by 9/11.  Yet another novel adapted into a movie, but then, novel is better.  A nine-year old boy whose father was killed in 9/11, discovers a key hidden in a hidden vase in his father's closet.  The boy, who has solved numerous puzzles created by his dad before the latter died in 9/11, takes this up as another one of those, the toughest so far, thinking that his dad had left a message for him.  And a message, he received.  Touching, sensitive and socially relevant.

7. Bury My Heart at the Wounded Knee - Dee Brown.  Subtitled "An Indian History of the American West", this historical non-fiction provides a serial description of events during the 'Conquest of the West' from a Native American perspective.  This could be the story of any population exploited and cheated out of their land, and also raises a question of whose land, and what one's own means when the world changes.  History, Non-Fiction.

6. The Bosnia List - Kenan Trebincevic.  Yet another story of contemporary barbarism.  Even when we say we are in the 21st century, the world doesn't act, and has never acted, in the way it is supposed to be- civilized and mature.  This book is written by a Bosniak Muslim refugee of war, who grew up in the midst of Bosnian civil war which began when the author was 11.  His family tried to escape the war for almost 2 years, before they were allowed to leave, and nearly 15 years later, his father, brother and he go back, in reconciliation, in revenge.  But when he is there, he changes.  The book is haunting.  Biography. Contemporary.

5. Mullappoo Niramulla Pakalukal, and Al Arabian Novel Factory - Benyamin.  (മുല്ലപ്പൂ മണമുള്ള പകലുകൾ, അൽ അറേബ്യൻ നോവൽ ഫാക്ടറി ).  Two books set during the Arab spring in an oil-rich Kingdom which is never mentioned by its name, the ingenuity of the author is in bringing out two books, interconnected with each other.  One book is not the sequel or prequel of the other.  And, since this happens in a geography that is familiar to Malayalis, it doesn't feel odd at all, when we read a Malayalam original set in foreign lands.

Benyamin explores the background of Arab Spring in an unknown Arab kingdom, with reference to the various religious and ethnic factions as well as its impact and roles played by various immigrant communities.  As with his previous master-piece (ആടുജീവിതം, Aadujeevitham, Goat Days), the books haven't gone well with the authorities in the region where it has been set.


4.  Edge of Eternity - Ken Follett.  The Finale of the Century Trilogy.  A very good example of historical fiction.  As with other masters of the genre, Ken Follet has an amazing ability to place his characters in the midst of the most happening things of the century, right from the first book of the series.  The finale starts during the peak of the Cold War, with the major characters spread on either side, as well as some along, the Iron Curtain.  With characters placed in Moscow, Berlin, London and various cities of USA, Edge of Eternity is an enjoyable study of the second half of the past century, spilling into the 21st a bit, as is necessary for closure.

A take on the prominent happenings of close to 50 years, and well-connected with the previous two installments of this amazing adventure that Ken Follett set himself upon, this book leads through Cold War, Civil Rights, Counter-culture, fall of the iron curtain and a painful end to the 20th century from a western viewpoint.  Heartbreaks, lighter moments and drama galore in the book.

Historical Ficton.

3. New York - Edward Rutherfurd.  History and Historical Fiction seem to be the trend of my reading, the past year.  This giant of a book about the city starts when Europeans had just settled in what is currently Manhattan.  The conflicts - between the Native Americans and the newly arrived and expanding European colonialists, among Europeans of various nationalities, all take up the initial third of the book, at the same time presenting a strong family background for the main characters.  As the book progresses into more recent years, it takes us through the most important happenings, including signing the Declaration of Independence, Civil Emancipation, installation of Statue of Liberty, Wall Street Crashes, and to end with, the 9/11.

The book somehow misses the Asian settlers, but may be, we Asians may not be as important in the city as we think of ourselves to be.  But, on the whole, the novel does justice to the city, the city that is rich, diverse and culturally overflowing.

Historical Fiction.

Now, between the top two books, I am yet to decide which book comes second, and which one comes first.  So, I present, in the order that I read, the top two books of 2014, in my list -

1. East of Eden, John Steinbeck.  Always my favourite author, John Steinbeck's East of Eden is an epic.  Set mainly in the areas close to where I currently am, this book traces the life of a few individuals who somehow get tangled with each others' life in friendship, neighbourliness, evil, hatred, jealousy and bloodlines.  Steinbeck draws his characters with crystal clarity, and makes startling revelations in what happens when they interact with each other.  Drawing parallels from good and evil of Biblical proportions, East of Eden retains the innocence of some characters, and the helplessness of evil of some.

An epic battle of emotions, principles, East of Eden is very rich in symbolism, sometimes very surprising ones.  A huge book, heavy to read, but this book gave me the satisfaction of having read a classic.

1. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak.  A book narrated by, none other than, death.  Wow.  I started reading it once, earlier in the year, and left it a few pages into the book, as I didn't like the feel of the e-book.  Then, I saw it in my local library, on a 7-day loan.  It didn't take me 3 days to finish this book, and, realized that this is one of the best books I had read this year.  Set in Germany during the Second World War, this book is a different view of the holocaust, from the perspective of a girl not directly affected by it, the innocent bystander, a collateral in the game played by someone else, entirely unknown and foreign to her world.  Adopted by what appears to be a rough woman who cares more for the money that the adoption would bring, and her easy-go husband, we see as the family bonds through some very tough times. The girl, a strange misfit, in an already well-fitted village, gets well along with her friend, some of the best depictions of friendships in a book for adults.

It shows the depravity of war, of a vindictive rationale that the ruling enforces on the ruled, the ideological ruthlessness that blinds the human nature.  The book is cruel at times, as fate and death, often are.  Raw and emotional.

Some books that didn't make it, narrowly

Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck
The Sea is my Brother, Jack Kerouac
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami
The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

Monday, May 03, 2010

the ways of terror

panic may have ruled delhi. the US, UK and Australian governments have sent across intelligence reports saying that terrorists are planning a massive operation here. police is on high alert, and so are people. i am not sure if footfalls have fallen, but in the places where i frequent, i see the same level of activity. then, in time square, half way across the world, they discover an explosive device.

what place is safe? how long can people continue to live in a state of high alertness? or, as the LG of delhi said, how practical is making vigilance a sixth sense? is it that we should learn to live with terror? or, that we should learn to live, in spite of terror?

in reply, people may quote people living endlessly in siege in palestine, iraq or afghanistan. with all due respect to them, suffering elsewhere should not be taken as a justification for suffering inflicted on someone else. if we have the potential to conduct the world cup hockey and to get the city ready for commonwealth games, we can survive this as well.

to wind up, the athletes who are reluctant to visit India for the games because of terror alerts should look around their own more familiar surroundings and see for themselves that terror these days is boundary-less. and if you give in to fear, you are conceding defeat; you are losing to them, against whom you are engaged in a war.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Enlightened Politics- Poltu…

The premier institute where I’m doing my MBA has a very active political scheme with a very exemplary instance of working democracy. Coming from a highly politicized state and having studied in a college where politics was a day-to-day affair, (we had a single party ‘democracy’) the lack of political activity here during the first 8 months of my stay here took me by no surprise. I had heard of how only colleges in Kerala wasted time over ‘useless’ exercises of campus politics, and since I’m at a premier institute now, I thought I would miss all of it now. I did. Hostel council election here is a model for how democracy could work in Monaco or other rich European principalities. It is divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’. A typical election campaign conversation:

Campaigner: Sir, aap free ho? [B.Techies here still call seniors ‘Sir’, as it has been embedded in their culture. Not that we care.]
Sir: Haan. Bataa. Kya baat hai? [‘Sir’ is genuinely surprised, because this seemingly active and popular guy has never talked to him before this]
Campaigner: Sir, elections aa raha hain. Aapne dekha hoga ki pichhle baar ve log kuchh bhi nahi kiya.
Sir: Oh, aisa hai kya?
Campaigner: Haan, sir. Ve log election time pe jo promise kiya tha, jaise ki baddy court, basketball court sab- ek bhi nahi hua. Hum log aise nahi hai, sir.
Sir: Ye, ‘hum’ aur ‘ve’- kya hai?
Campaigner: Sir, hum yaani, hum log. Hum sub, sir. Ve log jo pichhle baar elections jeete the.
Sir: Haan, mujhe wo to pata chala. Utna to logic mujhme bhi hain. [Sir was a JMET qualifier. :P well known for logical ability.] Par, ye division kis basis pe hain?
Campaigner: Basis? Sir, hum jo hamare saath hai. Ve jo unke saath hain.
Sir: To agar aap kal unke side defect karoge to kya ‘ve’ hum ban jaaoge?
Campaigner: Sir, defect karne ki koi baat nahin.
Sir: To aap un logon ke saath kyon nahi hain?
Campaigner: Ve log bahut bakar karte hain sir. Bahut promise karte hain, lekin kuchh hota nahin.
Sir: Aur tum log?
Campaigner: Sir, hum log jo kehte hain, wo kar dikhaate hain.
Sir: Kya aap un logon ko useless bula rahe ho?
Campaigner: Aise nahin hai sir. In all due respect, ve log kuch karte nahi. Bas faltoo main baatein karte rahte hain. Hum aise nahin hain.
[Sir is looking for some real political issues come out of the campaigner, but, to his surprise, he keeps on repeating that the others are useless.]
Sir: Hmmm. To aap log bahut active log hain, aur ve log bas bakkar maarte hain. Na?
Campaigner: Haan sir.
Sir: Phir bhi ve log pichhle baar jeet gaye.
Campaigner: Sir, pichhle baar election me bahut politics hua thaa.
[Sir is confused. Election me politics nahi hota to kya hota?]
Sir: Ek baat samjhaa mujh ko, theek se. Kal phir kayee log aayenge. How will I know if they are from your group or from the other group?
Campaigner: Sir, A, B, C, etc. are from our side. Baki X, Y, Z, sab unke side main hain sir.
Sir: Phir bhi, I can’t understand. Ye division kis basis pe hain. I mean, koi political ideological difference toh nahi hain. Aap ko bhi nahin pata ki why there’s a difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Campaigner: Sir, sach bataoon, when we were in first year, C floor pe sab active seniors rehte the aur D pe sab bakwaas karne waale. To hum ‘C’ waalon ke saath join kiye aur ve log ‘D’ waalon ke saath. Wo ab bhi continue kar rahe hain.
Sir: I’m staying on ‘A’ floor!
Campaigner: Ab aise kuch nahi hain sir.
Sir: Thank god, you didn’t say that since ‘C’ is closer to ‘A’, vote for ‘C’.
Campaigner: In short, sir, hamaare panel ke liye vote keejiye. We’ll ensure ki mess mein south Indian khaana bhi miley.
[Sir thinks, brilliant election campaign! Are these the kind of people who started that political party of intellectuals?]

This is based on last year’s election campaign. Elections lurk around the corner for the next academic year. I eagerly await more such conversation. Poltu people, please don’t ignore me after reading this blog. I’m very much interested in the ‘issues’ and will vote, like an ideal citizen of a model peaceful democracy. I can’t wait for it to be scaled up and implemented throughout the country, where the division will be based on which floor you belong to and who you know the best.

P.S.: One good thing is, it is violence free and doesn’t affect the studies and lives of students. No outside political power can influence them as far as I can notice, and I hope that it remains so.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Random thoughts reposted: what if...

Pre-script: (since i'm tired of writing post scripts; i promise i used to, some time back.) this is a post that i made a long long time back, maybe during my summer internship. i know i can check the exact date, but i don't want to. so, this is what i had to say, then:

Vernon God Little is a book i read ages ago. that book begins wid a small town police lady asking the 15 year old suspect of a high-school firing mishap about two things of everything. two underlying forces, two kinds of people, two kinds of statements. it turns out that two kinds of forces are cause and effect; two kinds of people- citizens and liars; n two kinds of statements- truth and lies. is there a grey area?

our minds generally hate the grey area. the area that questions- what if. for example, what if today was a sunday in winter at delhi? what if i was elsewhere, and not at delhi. what if ... what if people didn't hate "what-ifs" so much. the problem is that, most of the times, what lies on the other side of what-ifs are things that we want to have, things that we like.

for certain things, people don't care about what-ifs. "What if the earth was flat, not a sphere?" who cares. what if Delhi wasn't the capital of India? at least, I don't care.

for certain things, people are afraid of "what-ifs". "what if it was me in the crashed car instead of him?" or "what if I get caught while dozing off in the class?" (Nothing much happens in the second case. but still!)

so, even grey areas have classifications. it is the inherent nature of man to classify things in the name of simplifying them. you classify stuff into various bogus names that often don't reflect any of their properties- Class A, Class B, Class E...

now back to the present.
it is winter now. well, almost past winter. i am writing one of the last set of exams that i would, in any educational institution. hopefully. because, i had had such thoughts a coupla years ago, when i was in the final year of my graduation. but this time, i'm pretty sure.

it's been my habit to leave things half-done. like what happened to this post, and many more like this. and i'm sure at least some would have been left better unpublished. i guess i'm getting too much philosophical about life, at 23. blame me, yes. go ahead.

current set of what ifs:
what if i had completed that post then itself?
what if i didn't feel like completing the post now?
what if i don't feel the desperation to publish this post now?
what if i had not joined mba immediately after my graduation?
what if i was in a different b-school?
what if i had got placed in a different company?
what if i was a poet, instead of a b-school student? or maybe, in spite of being a b-school student?
what if i stopped asking what-ifs?
what if someone found this post interesting?

i just told (i mean, over gtalk) a friend of mine, an ace blogger, that i won't be posting anytime soon, due to a creative block i'm facing. but i can't help it.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

as the swine flew...

i know, and accept, that the title has been inspired by a very very pj... the one where one lady says "oh! this bird flu!" and another replies, "Oh! don't most of them fly!"

anyways, as my classmate says, most of those diseases abt which we used to hear, when we wr back home, are getting closer to us now that v are in delhi! the dengue, chikun guniya, malaria, the swine flu. btech and mtech students over here have exchange programmes and it's arnd this time that they return from their internships abroad, from hongkong, singapore, Europe and the US. and two of my collegemates have been diagnosed with the swine flu, leading to some extraordinary actions being taken in the insti.

it includes a directive by the director with instructions including a ban on hugging and kissing socially. socially? so u can do it personally? wow! tat wud b cool, had i had someone to do it wid. jus joking!

yet another part of the directive wants the students to eat only the healthy and nutritious hostel food. have been searching for it since the directive has been put up, and am really hungry now!

another notice put up near the hostel water cooler proclaims the ban on using drinking water for other purposes, in order to prevent swine flu from spreading. now, tat's interesting. hw does washing your face with drinking water help in spreading swine flu? mus ve some reason to it, this insti is known for its logic. but this one totally escapes my brains!

enough said, but am really scared. scared to cough. scared to sneeze. n scared of being infected by h1n1. hope it bypasses me!

p.s.: Overheard in the mess: "X came from Shanghai. Hope he doesn't have the flu."
"Naa! He returned from china, yaar. the viruses have a low quality there!"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

revival of a golden age?

this blog is in partial fulfilment of a promise made to someone close to my heart. I had promised that someone a long time back that i wud blog soon after returning from a visit to central UP as a part of my internship, nearly 2 weeks ago. now is that 'soon after'. and this, as that person said, can be attributed to writers' block, being at a loss for words and more importantly, sheer laziness. those who know me, will understand.

it is, i think, a revival of the golden age for malayalam movies. the last few months, mallu movies i've seen have been remarkably 'not that bad' and some, even good! shaking off its obsession with 'westernized' (read tamil-like or bollywood like) music n romance, and coming back to a brush wid simple realities of life, and actors becoming more like human beings than superheros (leave the actual superstars), malayalam movie scene is breaking out from a jinx. many movies have left a nice feeling these days. i don't remember all of them, but some are arabikkatha, thirakkatha, makante achhan, passenger and even 2 harihar nagar. unlike the situation 2 or 3 years ago, you don't feel sad that you've watched a movie. so much so that passenger reminded me remotedly (I'm not speaking of acting) of Vellanakalude Naadu. blame me for that, if you want to, but i liked that movie. and it is the fact that I watched that movie in a cinema next door to my house. a cinema theatre that shut its shutters down 5-6 years ago after years of showing b-class and soft porn movies. now an AC theatre with DTS. back in action, and that too with good movies.

maybe I'm being overly optimistic. but when a theatre coming out of a shutdown can afford to play movies like passenger, one can be optimistic. maybe something like (i won't say exactly like) the golden age is coming back.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

awaiting the monsoon

i wake up. it's raining. the view outside the window is lit by sodium vapour lamps. the laptop's still playing pink floyd. i reach up and shut it down. i look outside the window of my room in delhi. i can see the rain, hear the rain falling on the leaves. the trees lining the avenue cast long shadows in the yellow light. across the trees i can see the b and d blocks of- wait! am I back in GEC thrissur?

i open my eyes to realize that i'm lying in that usual pool of sweat in my room in delhi. gosh! i dream of rain now! outside the window, during daytime, i can see the wall of the campus and houses beyond that. it's pitch dark now. the fan makes a lotta noise to prove that it's working. honestly, it's a lot better with the fan than without.

monsoon's on its way, proclaims the newspaper. 10 days, 1 week, midweek, 2 days... phew... i'm tired of waiting for the monsoon. and i hope, it will be a good heavy one when it comes. India's planning to start cloud-seeding next year onwards, so hope it won't be this long a wait for the rain then.