May 24, 2011

David versus Goliath

Of all the Biblical stories, David versus Goliath remains my favourite. Not because it showcases individual triumph over adversity or fortitude or anything like that. Many other tales do that. At the simplest level, it is a story of insubordination, of taking on authority, of challenging the popular and the established, of breaking away from the herd to make yourself heard.

Came across 2 such examples recently and thought i'd share them.

When I read Ratan Tata’s comments in the above story, I was pleased. The article has two moot points – Mr Tata’s criticism of the exaggerated and vulgar opulence that’s evident in Mukesh Ambani’s 27-storey Antilla abode and the poor work ethic displayed by the management of his UK-based company – Jaguar Land Rover. Both comments should be read in the context of the larger issues he is talking about – developing a social conscience amongst India’s rich and the abysmal work ethics of UK-based managers who are not willing to go an extra mile when the occasion so demands as opposed to their Indian counterparts.

Now, you may agree with Mr Tata’s views or formulate your own counterview. Indeed, I harbour my own reservations about the work ethic part since what’s seen by him as a valuable precedent can also be read as the Indian disregard for work-life balance and scant respect for an employee’s private time. But that’s not the real issue here.

I find Mr Tata’s remarks commendable because in the current climate of political correctness where every truism, every sentence, has to be endlessly pondered and edited before it is fit to be echoed in public, it takes courage to voice such thoughts. If Mukesh Ambani has a right to build his house according to his tastes, so does Mr Tata to criticise such tastes!

In the second instance, a nice forum has grown around Umberto Eco's comments in the Guardian. I am mostly ok with whatever he wrote, save for the last paragraph where he seems to be justifying his not reading those books. What surprised me was that most of the commentators didn't seem to get the slight insult, or rather the pomposity inherent in his those words. Until I came upon this comment (copied below.) 

"Dear Mr. Eco, 

I am a reader and not a writer.
I hope you can understand that we are different.

When you ask "Who has actually read Finnegans Wake – I mean from beginning to end? Who has read the Bible properly, from Genesis to the Apocalypse?", I understand that you are asking rhetorically, and with some incredulity, if not also with some defensiveness, as i can only assume that you have not, or else your question would be more dismissive of readers than it appears.

I have read both of those books, several times.
I have taken great enjoyment from them, as they are central to the Western tradition of narrative.
But, i am not a writer, and if you, as a writer, have not read them, as you may be suggesting from your provocative question, then i am concerned for you.

Several of your books make reference to the Bible, and make use of some of the devices that are central to what is groundbreaking in the Wake.

If what lurks behind your question is the admission that you did not understand the very material that you were using in your own writing, then i feel an obligation to let you know that i will not be reading any more of your books.
I am not a writer.

But, as a reader, what i expect from a writer is that they are in command of their work, and that they are aware of what they are doing. I do not expect that they have read everything. Nor do i expect that they are able to talk about what they do not know, but i would hope that a dismissal of a work because you could not finish it at that point in your life is not used as a dismissal of the work.

This is not an unreasonable pact between readers and writers. Readers need to trust that writers are writing something that is structurally sound, and that will be worth our time and effort.

Also, as a reader, there are books that i have read, and books that i have not read, but to make a value judgement on the work that i have not read, and am ignorant of, or to make a value judgement on the nature of reading in a world of such wondrous variety is insulting.

A dismissal of books that one has not read is selfish, solipsistic, and cynical toward any audience. 

Please think of the readers when you are cashing your cheques from the employment that you have gained on the back of your success in the field of writing and publishing your work. From this day forward, it will be slighly lighter due to those you have turned away with your posturing.

No longer yours,

Ah David! How I love thee? Let me count the ways ...

May 19, 2011

Our Didi

V asked me yday how things would evolve in WB now that the Left had been unseated from their throne. I told him that the Left would go back to doing what they do best – throw a spanner in the works of any and every developmental activity Didi planned. After all, that’s what she did too, right? That’s the beauty of multi-party democracy.
 Anyway, the topic meandered off to Didi & how she’d mobilized the movement for change so much that even avowed Didi-critics like V and my dad claimed that they’d voted for her because they were sure that even if nothing changed, the party in power had changed. Now I’m the odd one out here for such change doesn’t mean anything to me and I abhorr her. But after the conversation I tried to evaluate her achievement as neutrally as I could and something struck me – Didi’s victory means nothing to me politically for I’m that jaded old cynic who has given up hope things will improve in WB. But her victory means something to me as a woman, as a mother to someone who will grow up to be a woman.

Of all the other female politicians in power in India today, Didi is the only one who hasn’t reached the position of CM by climbing on the back of a man or a familial dynasty. Be it Sonia Gandhi or Jayalalitha or Mayavati or Rabri Devi or Renuka Choudhry – they have all either had men who were entenched in party politics mentoring them and granting them a platform to enter the political fray or come from dynasties that were in power. But not didi.

Eccentric and irresponsible as she is, she nurtured a dream long ago while in college, like many of us. Unlike most of us, she didn’t let it die, nor did she trade it for false Gods. She did it all without the support of a man. This is the only aspect of her victory that makes me happy.

May 18, 2011

Long Overdue

I've been following Rick Gekoski's columns with bated breath ever since the shortlist was announced almost a month ago. Like most avid Roth fans, i was afraid he'd be passed over yet again. i read his recent novel Nemesis in January while on vacation. I didn't think it compared to his best work like Portnoy's Complaint or American Pastoral or The Human Stain, but then no novel by Roth can ever be called bad.

This is more well-deserved than any literary award i've come across in recent times.


May 10, 2011


It is not unlike salt,
My love for you.

It ‘s fine grains season and garnish,
But a lil extra, does spoil the trick.

It is even willing, for your sake,
To brave the skillet and flavour your life.

It stands proud and tall,
Behind mine eyes.

When you clasp my hand,
It breaks out in a cold sweat.

You tasted salt last,
When I passed it during supper,
Our fingers brushed askance,
I never felt happier.

May 5, 2011

Rant UnLtd

There is a reason people like Sathya Sai Baba and Anna Hazare manage to enthrall us. We Indians are completely bereft of imagination which is essential for a basic modicum of sensitivity. We do not understand that breaking queues at a toll booth will only impede the flow of traffic, not hasten it; we don't understand that driving garbage trucks around with their hoods open will strew the streets with rotting stench and dropping garbage; we definitely don't see how smashing a few fingertips while swinging through doors is in any way wrong. Toh kya hua ji?.

The building which houses our office is being painted. Today as i was leaving work i noticed that the paint dripping from the workmen's brush had coated the entire flower bed which lay around the right side of the building a stark white. These are beautful peonies, daisies and marogolds. The flowers could be recognised only by their shape since all of them seemed a uniform white. In all likelihood the plants will die soon. In Fremont i recalled, the painters would first take care to cover with a light tarp any plants that were likely to be smudged with falling paint when the external walls of any structure were being painted. It wasn't a matter of a great investment, just some simple steps. I spoke to our security staff and when he called the workmen's supervisor, his whole attitude was that i was the one who was out of my mind. The whole while that we kept arguing, he refused to accept that it was absolutely simple to cover the flower beds while the men were at work and remove the cover in the evening!

This is why we will never win any Nobels, never get anywhere while China will build nuclear power stations and SEZs and the US will keep inventing cheaper and better antiretroviral drugs. You need imagination, you need sensitivity to do those things and we lack both.

Good Fun

The Guardian has a nice article about a particular website which retitles famous books in accordance with what they are really about. According to Dan Wilbur, the Brooklyn-based writer and performer who runs, "This blog is for people who do not have thousands of hours to read book reviews or blurbs or first sentences. I will cut through all the cryptic crap, and give you the meat of the story in one condensed image. Now you can read the greatest literary works of all time in mere seconds!"

Check the comments on the Guardian story as well. Some of the commentators have suggested really wacky names. My favs:

Pride and Prejudice - How to Marry a Millionaire
A Farewell to Arms - The Amateur Bombmaker's Guide
Lord of The Flies - Children Are Vicious Bastards
Great Expectations - Greater Disappointments
Lady Chatterley's Lover -- Shagging and Ranting
Anna Karenina -- Men are Bastards, Buy a Dog

I'm thinking up some of my own. Why don't you too?