May Round Up

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My reading has been sparse. When I say it I mean one and a half books. But nonetheless the reading has been absolutely pleasurable. For who can hope to get less out of a translation of the Mahabharata, the greatest epic ever written?

The Forest of Stories, by Ashok Banker is part one of the MBA series as he calls it. As far as my background knowledge of the epic goes I know most parts of it that the majority knows. At this point I’m so proud to owe all my knowledge to my grandmother and B.R.Chopra. Together they made knowing the epic one fantastic ride for me. In fact I remember little episodes of my wee nine year old self animatedly giving discourses on Yudhishtra(righteousness personified, literally) and Dharma(righteousness)

Now the book takes us back. It tells us the tale of our nation itself right from the beginning. My gremlin half reminds me of ‘The Lion King 3’ where Timon tells something like, “Oh no Pumba! We’re going way back”. Well, the book is everything but frivolous mind you, far from the distractive picture painted here. So I suggest a calm, interested mind while you decide to sit with it.

I’m yet again tempted to take a diversion from the point. But this one’s far more relevant. So hear me. The Tamil(a regional language in India) version of the title song of B.R.Chopra’s Mahabharata features these beautiful lines,

Oru kadhaikul pala kadhai

Pala Kadhaigallil oru vidai…

It literally translates as,

Many a tale within one

And each tells the same answer…

This has much to do with the context but as a new reader you can expect to be treated with stories galore! And Ashok Banker has done a great job of stringing together the many beads of the tale. The attention to detail, the accurate accounts of characters and the seamless conjoining of the stories with engrossing continuity really stands out. These render the translation that enchanting nature typical of the epic. For a sceptic of translations this one came as an exceptionally commendable one.

The narration has that surreal quality which initially creates a hollow and then pulls the reader into its depths. The book starts its magnificent sojourn at the mysterious ‘Naimisha-van’ a thick, majorly uninhabited forest and the focus zooms into the veiled ‘Ashram’, an ancient centre for learning. The beginning teases one’s curiosity to the limit and like a coaster fall delivers an exhilarating experience.

This volume revolves around the various events that eventually lead to the illustrious climax. The tension slowly builds on the periphery while at the centre of the stage are introduced powerful characters like the axe wielding great sage, Parashurama, the king of snakes, the ancestors and descendants of the heroes of the Mahabharata war. Their stories are less heard of but extremely engrossing to read. It’s more of a live streaming of history right inside your mind’s eye.

This little excerpt could well give you a good glimpse at what lies within this fast and fervid translation:

He had walked unstintingly for days, stopping neither for food nor rest. Accustomed though he was to a rigorous pace, a life spent on the open road, the forest unnerved him. There were tales told of Naimisha-van. Rumours of strange inhabitants who resided within its shadowy depths. Not all were human, it was said. Not all were benign. There were tales of horror, wretched stories of hapless travellers who had spent the night within the vaulting embrace of these formidable boles, and had never been seen or heard from again.

It’s one of those ‘un-put-down-able’ books and a must read for all, be it those who are acquainted with the tales or not. It’ll certainly leave you wanting for more, like me waiting to read the next installments. That’s the promise the writer offers.

Last year I picked up a typical yellow, dog-eared copy of the book ‘Vintage Stuff’ by Tom Sharpe. Somehow I never got to it until now and regret having done that. It’s more of a companion to me right now. I turn to it at intervals, when I’m away from my desk and have a good time. It’s everything funny, original and funny! I’ll be back to say more but for now, it’s my comrade that I’ll hold on to until work gets a little less taxing.

 

South Asian Writers Challenge: Gently Falls the Bakula by Sudha Murthy

I’m so happy to have started off with my reading for the South Asian Writers Challenge hosted by S.Krishna’s Books. Before I get to the book here’s a bit about the author.

Sudha Murthy

Sudha Murty was born in 1950 in Shiggaon in north Karnataka. She did her MTech in computer science, and is now the chairperson of theInfosys Foundation. A prolific writer in English and Kannada, she has written nine novels, four technical books, three travelogues, one collection of short stories, three collections of non-fiction pieces and two books for children.
Her books have been translated into all the major Indian languages and have sold over three lakh copies around the country. She was the recipient of the R.K. Narayan’s Award for Literature and the Padma Shri in 2006.

SOURCE: PENGUIN INDIA

The book is a short read but a very impactful one. It’s simple in tone and took me very less time to get into its core though the settings are quite unkown to me. The story parodies the life of a couple, both of who are talented and ambitious in their own ways. It starts off with their early conflicts in schools and flows through the subsequent years where Shrikanth and Shrimathi, the hero and heroine, fall in love and feel they are entangled for life. The domestic disputes between their families, which had lasted for years as far as they remembered, shadows their relationship throughout passively. Though their differences don’t enter directly into their combined happiness, it still penetrates into their personal peace. Life and strife gets the better of them as years progress and Shrimathi feels the pinch of the sacrifices she blindly made for the man she loved. Despite the advice of her mentor, an old Professor from the United States, to pursue her passion for history she goes on to give up all her personal goals for the good of her husband. But even after ten years of unfaltering devotion to her family she finds all her sacrifices being neglected and even worthless. The pain unrequited love is felt clearly through the lens of Shrimathi’s character.

The book deals with a heavy, multi-layered topic of complicated family matters very typical of the Indian society almost thirty years ago. It shows in

crystalclear terms the impact of the IT boom in a conventional gild. A strong feminist voice speaks throughout which is the aspect I most loved about the book. Thetenderness and sensibility of a woman, her sacrifices, her fortitiude, her aspirations and her suppression is all set on a platter for the reader to assimilate. Over and above everything is the beautiful metaphorical allusion to the fragrant Bakula flowers, from a variety of ornamental tree that grows in India.

Shrikant was restless . . . Holding a bakula flower in his palm, he was wondering why he was fascinated by this tiny flower, that was neither as beautiful as a rose nor had the fragrance of a jasmine or a champaka. And yet, it was very special to him. It held an inexplicable attraction for him.’

The book is also pretty informative for a short novel that it is. There’s plenty of love professed generously for the poignant Indian king Ashoka the Great , even more admiration for the artistic ancient cities and marvellous monuments of Western and South India. In tiny little bits in between the flow of the story there’s much beauty to discover in the form of facts and little characters.

I completed the reading in about four hours but the story left me with a considerable impact. As a self-professed student of Hemingway in matters of writing and reading, I say the book was a good one because it ‘hurt‘ me. It left me thinking way after I was done reading about women and life.

Love of letters

I have never received mail by post. But I have definitely
read and heard a lot about the joy of receiving them. And I am missing
something that I never really had a chance to experience.

I feel that the very word ‘Letter’ has something very
elegant about it. And I am sure it takes a great deal of smartness to write an
elegant letter. After perusing some of my recent mails in my sent folder I am a
bit embarrassed. All those words in there were just matter-of-fact ones or
to-the-point ones. What more can I expect when all of those were words typed
while I waited for my favourite blogs and sites to load. Hmph!

And handwriting is something I fear. It’s one of my deepest
and darkest fears. I got to see some manuscripts by some really good writers a
few years back and I told myself, “You are going to have trouble being a good
writer if you continue with what you do in physics notebooks” It came as a
total reliever, a few months later, when a person who analysed my handwriting
told me that I was very talented and creative (No, really. You should ask her).
Maybe I was not the best judge of myself.

But that apart I really feel for the loss of the art-The art
of writing letters. The yearning heightened when I read these.Now if I
ever get to read the original manuscripts I will certainly be on a high. I must recommend you to
read Rainer Rilke’s ‘Letters to a young poet’. I was completely stumped when I
read it for very many reasons which I now reserve for a different post.

There are several other books where I loved the inclusion of
letters and they were often the parts I most cherished.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call these pieces of live
conversation the most intellectual way of communicating.

Unfortunately that art is gone for good. I sincerely hope
there is a novel way to revive it now.