Saturday, May 28, 2005

Pather Panchali - Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhyay

A story about a poor Indian Household, told through the eyes of a child Opu that moves you with its realism and authenticity. In parts very much like R K Narayan filled with the bitter sweetness of the hum drum lives the characters leave. The major difference is the view point of a child who notices things without understanding them. His life , His play his imagination. His interactions with his sister. The fate of his sister is tragic, I didn't like it.
The translators chose to translate names as the Bengali pronounciation (so we have Horihor,Opu,Shuresh etc.) which was funny at first but now lends authenticity to the tale.
And the end , a new beginning.

5 Russian Masters

This is a collection of short stories by the following writers, Chekov,Tolstoy,Dostevsky,Maxim Gorky and Ivan Turgenev. There is really no way to describe this collection of short stories each story is sufficiently distinct from the other so to comment on this book as a whole is pointless.
The best writers are Tolstoy and Gorky (and the two stories that stand out in my memory are Ivan the fool and The travelling companion). Most of Chekov's stories lose me. I feel that the author has some point to make which i cannot grasp.(See what you can make out of the first story)
Most of the stories are sad, even tragic sometimes. Perhaps a reflection of the times the authors lived in. However there is a haunting quality to some of the stories that can't really be described
Go ahead read the book!

Friday, May 13, 2005

Ignited Minds - APJ Abdul Kalam

This book is a continuation from India Vision 2020 (which i havent read) and also picks up some threads from Wings of Fire. Kalam makes some suggestions on how to arrive at his vision for India.Kalam recognises as do I that the only way for India(or any country) to progress, to develop the only answer lies in the youth of the country and the the things that they can accomplish if allowed to do so, if taught to do so. It is of course a lot more difficult to do this even as i have found out in practise.Kalam writes in the same vein as he did Wings of fire. Anecdotes from his life which got him thinking and ruminations on the same which makes for an interesting read as it includes opinions of people from varied strata of Indian Society.His interest in meeting the young people and the questions and answers that he gets from them which have the unadulterated innocence are a pleasant read in themselves.However there are also a number of instances where the author and i differ significantly in our views which cause some chapters to jar. Kalams belief in the spiritual side of things, his willingness to listen to the sadhus/mullahs/saints/godmen which i would say are the cause of a number of problems in India. The willingness of people to entertain these people and listen to them with blind faith. Also the extra emphasis on India,India is paradoxical. Kalam wants us to get rid of our prejudices and think of ourselves as Indians. Shouldnt that be Earthlings? or universites? (is that the right word). For humanity to succeed on the whole we have to get of all our prejudices and The country that we are citizens of is one of them. The book is definitely wortha read. It makes you think on a wide variety of things. Which means it has partly accomplished some of its goals. the only thing left is of course to act.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Bookless in Baghdad - Shashi Tharoor

"Show me a writer without an ego , and Ill show you a good actor" - Shashi Tharoor
While reading this book , Tharoors writings on various topics connected with book's , you can definitely tell that the writer has an ego and a big one at that. However this does not take away from the fact that most of the essays are eminently readable, witty in part, preachy in others.
A lot of the space is dedicated to tharoor's own work , which in my opinion is a good thing. I have always been fascinated by the thought process that an author goes through and the reasons for writing things in the way he has. On the other hand its amusing when Tharoor begins an essay on Rushdie, quotes his words on India and then proceeds for the next 10 pages to dicsuss India and his motiviations for The Great Indian Novel. In fact the Great Indian Novel almost always finds its way into Tharoors essays. I think the author hasn't gotten over the fact that he had hit upon a brilliant idea and feels the need to explain it at every instance.
But you do nuggets of information (like why the Jalianwala Bagh massacre was renamed the bibigarh massacre). The snappy comebacks (like the one's for Shobha de when she disparaged Show Business).
Its also nice to note that while young Tharoor and I read mainly the same books and had the same tastes and its only later that you choice of books seem to have diverged.
But a person who is so fond of P.G. Wodehouse cant be all that bad.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Godan - Munshi Premchand

The first time i read a premchand short story was in school - Bade Ghar Ki beti was part of the syllabus. And now i have finally got to reading Godan which some rate as his best book. There is however a problem reading a transalation of someones work , in that you may lose the flavor of the book , which i think has happened in this case. Still It's a very good read( though the spelling mistakes tend to distract you but thats about my only quibble about the book)
The book , set in rural India follows the life of a peasant Hori Ram and his family and people they come in contact with. It attempts to depict the crushing loans a peasant lives under , his exploitation by all and sundry , by the zamindars, the panches , the money lenders. It exposes the hypocrisy of the rich , the high castes and points out the flaws in the poor as well , their actions, their beliefs which serve to keep where they are , crushed under the feet of the rich and powerful. There are also side stories of a miscellany of characters , none really noble or heroic, all flawed in some way or the other , petty, vengeful and ultimately human.
The character that remains with you after you finish the book is undeiably dhunia. Strong willed , sharp tongued, argumentative , soft and hard alternately, loud spoken , opinionated, contradictory everything that i would like in a woman (except my wife!) , she is the character that remains in memory. The chief porotoganist Hori Ram comes across as pathetic loser , though a good man at heart and is representative of a lot that is wrong with India's farmers even today.
This book is indeed a worthwile journey through rural India