Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Old Man And The Sea - Ernest Hemingway

He loved green turtles and hawk-bills with their elegance and speed and their great value and he had a friendly contempt for the huge stupid logger heads, yellow in their armour plating, strange in their love-making, and happily eating the Portuguese men of war with their eyes shut.

He had no mysticism about turtles although he had gone in turtle boats for many years. He was sorry for them all, even the great trunk-backs that were as long as the skiff and weighed a ton. Most people are heartless about turtles because a turtle’s heart will beat for hours after he has been cut up and butchered.

It s a fable – of an old man, a young boy, the fish and the sea. 99 pages. It won the Nobel prize for literature.

By the time I picked up this book, I had read the nobel prize winning Outsider by Albert Camus. Disappointed and clueless, I had been.
So this one, I picked up without expecting to be blown away.

Your experience is so much better in the absence of high expectation.

There lived an old man in a coastal village who had set his heart on catching a big fish. He decided to venture into the sea all alone, unlike before when the small boy, who had become his friend, had accompanied him.
He set out hoping to be able to find the prize not very far away and soon enough. But once the sailing begins, he continues to sail, a little further, a little more into the heart of the sea, in the hope of finding his prize.
He is aware (and may be apprehensive) of the fact that he is all alone and there is no other boat in sight, that he is an old man with no one to help him and that the sea always has its share of dangers to offer.
All the same he is courageous and not deterred by his position.
He ventures really far, until the shore is completely out of sight and it’s just him and the sea. The reader gets a perspective of how life takes on a new meaning when a man has been exposed to elements and has to deal with them all alone.

The story gets absorbing as the old man steers, guided by his knowledge and familiarity with the sea and its ways, its children and their language, the winds, the colour of the sky and what they communicate to man.

There is the subtle suspense of what awaits the old man, just as there is suspense in the most banal of lives.

After days of sailing and stumbling upon the smaller fish that tug at his fishing line, he feels the pull of a strong force at the end of the line that is deep below the surface. His mind tells him it’s a very big fish and he is happy at last for having caught it. But his odyssey is not over yet. He has to wait for days before his prey will surrender before him.

The patient waiting finally bears fruit. The big fish comes to the surface and gives up after a struggle.
The old man ties it alongside his boat as the fish is really big and will not fit inside the boat. His return journey begins.
But as he sails, time after time, the other fish in the sea, that have by now tasted and smelled the blood of the big one, come to the surface and bite into its flesh. The old man struggles to ward them off, kill them even - with the apparatus he has in possession. Every time the predators attack his prize he hopes that there will still be enough left when he returns.
Finally. when he returns to the shore, only the skeleton of the fish and the useless head and tail remain.

There ends the story.

The narration is very matter-of-factly, although there is scope, at least in the end, for theorizing and moralizing. It is not very descriptive nor dramatic although there is much scope for drama, what with the sea and its depths full of dangers.

The book is a perspective presented to the reader. The book is a glimpse of a different world as seen when you step into the shoes of another - an old fisherman – what life means to him, the realm he lives in, what he dreams about and what he hopes for, what his life is all about.
The book has conjured or created an environment that makes perceptible the suspense that lies in the banality of life. Rather, it’s the portraying of a situation in the life of a most ordinary man in such a manner as makes perceptible to the reader, the suspense that lies in the banality of life.

The point of the story is not really explicit. The below though is what I could make of it.

Futility of life – All our endeavours amount to nothing in the end sometimes. Life is full of uncertainty. Often we are helpless before unexpected forces that bring to naught what we have earned. But that’s life. Rather, that is life too.

At times in life, having found success in a direction, we take some more risk, a little more, just a little more hoping to find the bigger and the better, with the unfounded assurance that disasters always happen in others’ life. Until… we have lost even what we had.

What I loved about the book most...
The story is a realistic representation of life in the face of all the clutter of incorrigible optimism and delusion - the promise of the fruit of hard work, the guarantee of the power of positive thinking, the theory of the whole universe conspiring to help one man achieve what he wants, the vote for free will against destiny, the false assurance that ‘its all in your hands‘ and the frequent allusion to the brighter side of life.

It’s a representation of the fact that life sometimes is unfair. And it offers no explanation. At times, there is simply no brighter side to it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Waiting For Godot

19th Feb 2010
English Play - Waiting for Godot - Chowdiah Memorial hall

Nasiruddin Shah, Benjamin Gilani, Akash, Randeep Hooda

Brilliant performance by all of them.

The opening scene shows two men dressed in rags in a nondescript land engaged in a most casual kind of exchange (I can’t call it a conversation). The audience gets to know in due course that they are waiting for someone called Godot.
Who this Godot is, what the relationship between them is or what the purpose of waiting is – are not made known to the audience at any point during the play.
The two of them wait day after day and Godot does not arrive.

While waiting thus, there enters a traveler and his slave carrying some baggage. They are portrayed to be most strange in their manners, in the way they interact – the master treating the slave like he would a beast.
The two initially hope that the man is Godot but discover he is not.
They all converse without purpose, sometimes without meaning.

The curious duo ask of the traveler many questions – about himself, about the slave, about why he treats the slave the way he does, etc. – without receiving any satisfactory explanation from the traveler.

The slave is made to dance and ‘think aloud’ by the master at the instance of the duo. I must mention that Randeep Hooda has done a brilliant job of delivering a hundred dialogues, at such speed, almost all of them in the same breath. And I don’t think that the fact that all those lines were meaningless made his job any easier.

As if most incidentally, there are these lines that have a deep and profound meaning and philosophy.

To each his due.
The total amount of tears in this world is a constant. To each one that starts crying, someone in the world stops. And the same goes with laughter too.
Let us not believe that our generation is any worse than the ones that preceded us or any better than them.

Thus they go on for some time and the traveler departs with his slave, leaving the two to themselves.
There enters a small boy announcing that Godot is not to meet them on that day but the next day. This leaves the two guys marooned since they don’t know how long the waiting will be and more importantly what the two of them are to do while waiting for Godot.

They try to kill time with various means – looking at a tree, contemplating hanging themselves from its branches, trying a new pair of shoes, talking, changing hats... They tire of it all but do not give up and start all over again.

While they go on thus, there enter once again, the master and the slave in a different guise, this time the slave leading the blind master, holding the same leash to which he was tied the previous day. There is some more desultory talk between them all.

The small boy makes the same announcement as he did the previous day – that Godot is to arrive the next day.

The play ends as without a conclusion. Just the way it began without a definite introduction.

It is an abstract play, left to or open to interpretation. The following is as deep as I could get.

First of all the uncertainty of life – suggested by the act of indefinite waiting for Godot. Day after day, the two wait, not knowing how long they will have to wait and if their waiting will ever come to an end.
Uncertainty is also suggested by the reversal of roles of the master and slave in a sense; the arrogant master holding the slave by a leash goes blind one day and is led by the slave, who controls the same leash.

Futility and purposelessness – all the waiting does not lead the two anywhere. Their waiting does not fructify in the end. The exchange between the various characters is without a point and without purpose (or so it is as understood/perceived by all of them).
The various things they do – talking, observing the one another, observing the tree, the sky, exchanging hats – also serve no purpose in the end except keeping them engaged while they are there.

And lastly, - and this is something I have written about in my blog twice or more – “That is life. A perpetual neglect of what we already have and an unending pursuit of what we don’t have…”
The two guys while waiting for tomorrow, do not quite know what to do with their present. They do not mind filling their present with frivolity, insignificance as they attach more importance to the coming tomorrow. The beauty of their surroundings, the opportunity presented to them today - that of friendship and association with a fellow being, the philosophies of life coming to the surface occasionally - are all lost on them.

Our eyes are fixed on the bigger questions of life. The smaller ones - small people, small incidents, small talk - that our lives are made up of suffer complete neglect. Our minds are preoccupied with faraway objects and goals. Our immediate surroundings, we take for granted.

If you think you have the patience for abstractness and can appreciate abstract art, you may like this one.
Apparently, a lot has been said and written about this play.
I hope at least to read the play someday.

Having talked about the play, how can I not tell you about the extraordinary incident that took place in the auditorium when the artists were performing?

A lady and her husband barged on to the stage abruptly. I thought they were there to provide some comic relief or announce the interval or some such thing. The lady shouted angrily to all of us “Can you please take out your cars parked in front of our house? For the past half an hour, we have been trying to get our car out.” and coolly walked away. The artists were visibly taken aback. Nasirudddin got up and said “we are not used to performing like this. The rest of the show is cancelled”. For 5 minutes, the auditorium buzzed with people walking in and out, and murmuring.

And then Benjamin Gilani addressing everyone said the show would go on. The artists were badly shaken and they would take some time to regain composure but the show would go on.

After the play ended, Nasiruddin made all of us applaud the lady for her pluck and said she wanted to become an actress for sure! :)

It was truly an evening of Double Tamasha!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ladakh - Day 5 - Nubra - Sand Dunes

I had my breakfast at the guest house - Ladakhi bread, Apricot jam (lovely).
There was a bus passing that way carrying school children and villagers. My owner stopped it and I ran. I sat by the window. The bus moved slowly through the village showing unexpected scenes at every turn - fields, gardens, people, their neat houses and the faraway mountains. What a delightful ride it was.

I was dropped off at the main road from where I took another bus that was to pass by the desert. I got down when I was asked to. Here.

I could see at a long distance away some dots that were supposed to be the camels with their caretakers. I walked into the desert. Up and down sand dunes. I lost perspective and sense of direction for sometime. And then when I climbed to the top of a sand dune, I could see the camels again and I was relieved. I walked on with difficulty, heaving my feet that were buried in sand.

And then at last I saw two men on a sand dune some 100 meters away. They were looking for a memory card that a traveller had dropped. They talked to me. I was happy and cheerful again. Its so nice to be spoken to by another human being when you are lost in a strange land.
I followed them to their settlement.

I had to cross a small stream of clear water on a makeshift wooden bridge. Ah! This place and its never ending surprises!

300 rupees for a 15 minute ride. That was the deal.

And I rode the Bactrian camel!!!

One of the caretakers walked me till the main road from where I was to take another bus to Diskit.

My first experience of a desert. In the least expected place - the midst of snow capped mountains!

"The desert is one of the highlights of a Nubra visit. Against the backdrop of the rugged reddish brown mountains, the rolling sand dunes seem truly out of the world. A pair of double humped Bactrian camels, treading through the sands in the distance, often completes the scene. The desert is just by the road that connects Distkit and Hundar. A vast stretch of sand dunes that seems to have been transplanted from the Sahara or perhaps the Gobi.

Hundar’s greatest attraction is the Bactrian camel safari. Strange double humped shaggy-haired animals. Not as tall as their single humped Saharan and Rajasthani cousins, they have 2 coats, -a down inside layer and an outer rough covering - to help survive the intense cold and winds of the Gobi. They have bushy eyebrows and nostrils that can close and ears lined with thick hair all to protect against the ferocious wins and dust storms. The animals can drink upto 120 litres of water at a time and carry almost 200 kg.

Nubra’s Bactrian camels are leftovers of the Central Asian trade. A native of the Gobi desert and its surrounding regions, they were used extensively on the trade route to Yarkand. But when the trade abruptly ceased in 1949 following the communist takeover of China, the animals on this side of the border became superfluous. Some of the herds had been brought here over a hundred years ago from Hunza, in what was once the far northwest of J&K state (and now ruled by Pakistan),. In 1960’s and 70’s, many of the animals tuned feral as their owners, Muslim Baltis settled in Diskit and Hundar, let them loose; their numbers declined alarmingly. But with the arrival of tourists, the camels have again become valuable to their owners and are now well cared for."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Car Reverse. Character Upside Down

Thanks to IT companies, call centres and BPO’s for giving us a horde of these English speaking rustics.
For all the rocket science that they dabble with, they don’t need to be choosy about whom they take in. Anyone with some training can do the job of copy paste.
So a company recruits a slum dweller for want of resources. It gives him the kind of money that he has never seen before. With that he goes to jazzy malls, buys branded clothes and accessories and drives an imported car. And what about his core? His culture? That does not change. He remains what he is. The scum of earth. And his low culture becomes all the worse, now mixed with the arrogance of new money.
The trouble with such people is they pick up confidence as they go along.

Talking loudly into mobile phones in public, using the F word in every sentence, partying, singing, dancing late into the night in an apartment building not caring about the disturbance caused to neighbours, honking away to glory in a traffic mention a few. All of them having the common attitude of “It’s your problem, not mine”.

The latest thing causing vexation to my spirit is this jackass who wakes up the whole neighbourhood every night in order to proclaim that he has a car and feels no shame to face his neighbours the next morning.

Warning: This is a crib blog (after the longest while, therefore pardonable).

I live in a very quiet street. In a residential area. South Bangalore. Neat houses. Working men and women, homemakers, old people, children and infants dwell in these neat houses. Slumber comes upon them after 9 in the night.

Every night, jolting everybody out of their rest comes this car, a white swift, to this house just opposite mine. The owner of the car (and the house) starts driving in the reverse. This is accompanied by a tune that is as unbearable as the rubbing of fingernails on a metal surface. The music or tune is very unpleasant in itself – it’s just continuous beeping like that of an ambulance van. And then on top of it, this civilised fellow insists on parking the car with a precision that’s used in manufacturing electronic chips.
Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth - some 10 times until the car is parked exactly parallel to the wall and exactly six inches away from the wall. This, in the night, at a time when there is not a sound to be heard in a really quiet neighbourhood.

Sometimes he comes at 9, sometimes at 11, sometimes at 12.

The whole street is empty. There isn’t a single soul in sight. Who is he trying to warn with that annoying sound? What purpose does it serve? Does he even pause to give it a thought?
Why should all of us wake up to hear this uncouth fellow’s proclamation to the world about his car?

I put up with this disturbance for 8 months. One day he came at 2 in the night. The beeping started and I woke from my sleep with a start.

I waited and waited and waited for the beeping to stop. But no. He did not care. He did not care that it was 2 in the night and every soul in the neighbourhood was sleeping without an exception. That old men and young children, resting after a tired day would be rudely shaken out of their sleep. He parked with the same precision as always and having awakened everybody, he went in to catch his share of sleep.

That was the last straw. The next day, as I was returning home, this pig was parking. Addressing him, I asked if I could make a request. He looked up.
“Can you please turn off the music after 9 O clock?”
“You are waking up the whole neighbourhood everyday”
“I am sure if you take the car to a mechanic, he will do something about it; reduce the volume or something...”
He glared at me angrily as if I had offended him!

“THANKS FOR YOUR COOPERATION” said I and walked in calling him a bastard for the 100th time under my breath.

The beeping continues. So does the gnashing of my teeth.
These are times when I wish I was James Bond and had the license to kill. Or that we had a Hitler in our midst.
India is too free a country; it has one billion plus people with freedom and without responsibility and that's a case for disaster; democracy? huh, more like demo-crazy!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Paradise And Other Stories - Khushwant Singh

Somewhat disappointing from the man who wrote “Train To Pakistan” and “Delhi”.

It’s a collection of 5 short stories. ‘Titillation under 5 pretexts’. That’s my evaluation of this book In one line.


Paradise - A foreigner woman who visit’s the banks of the Ganges, seeking solace, is disillusioned by an experience she has in a certain ashram.

Life’s horoscope - Madan Mohan relies on horoscope and Kamasutra for a perfect marriage. But soon after marriage, he discovers that he has the biggest imperfection

Zora Singh - Zora Singh, an object of dislike and mockery for his ways among many, manages to earn a Bharat Ratna by unscrupulous means

Wanted a son - A woman secretly visit’s a peer Baba to beget a son while the family makes vows to God for a grandchild.

The mulberry tree - Vijay, a non-descript 54 year old is occupied with the vain pursuit of a woman in a market place

Basically the first 4 stories are trying to dispel popular beliefs. What is common to all of them is ‘the inside story’. As for the fifth story, I do not know why it was written.

The author takes up religious superstitions.

There is no judgment in his narration. It is very matter-of-factly. He is merely stating what happens in the world around us. But inadvertently he would, with these stories, serve to verify the preconceptions of many a cynic, many a skeptic.

There is the reference to the atrocities done by Muslims to the Hindus – this reference, though impartial in its observation, is common in all his works.

There is the usual dose of titillation… somewhat unsavoury, and distasteful.

The stories do not have a strong theme. One part of the story moves into a second one and ends in a third without tying up really.

This work reminds me of the way I felt when I read Paulo Coelho’s ‘Zahir’ with respect to one aspect - effortless writing, hence the poor quality. When authors become famous, they can sell even what they have not written well.

Lines that I noted as usual…

What cannot be cured must be endured.

No one can go before his time, no one can live a second beyond the span allotted to him.

I would not recommend this book.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ladakh - Day 4 - Gompa At Hundar

Fortunately for hungry souls like me that can never have enough of natural beauty, sun sets quite late in Ladakh. I set out to explore Hundar. There was this small boy, a teenaged helper working in the hotel who became my tour guide. And we set out.

We first visited the Gompa.

The village Gompa is a modest 2-storied structure with a giant Mongoloid featured statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha, dominating the Dukhang. A thousand armed Avalokiteshwara, the Buddha of compassion, stands in one corner. The walls of the dukhang are embellished by murals . ‘Hundar’ means old village and though it is now surpassed in size by Diskit and other settlements, it once was the region’s largest place.

After the Gompa, we came out and the boy told me there was nothing else left. There was this huge mountain rocky behind us on which were three or four small gompas, at different heights, not visited by tourists as it required climbing the mountain on a narrow trail.

I decided to climb. If nothing else, I would get superb views of the landscape from such height. The boy agreed. The trail was covered with crushed, broken, powdered rock that was slipping away from under my feet as I clambered up.

We covered all the Gompas except the last one right on the top. The views were indeed splendid. We walked down with a sense of achievement. The boy originally from Assam, worked here during the season, that is, summer and worked in Goa when it was season there. Lucky, I thought. Does he think the same? Perhaps not.

We decided to take a different route to the guest house. We walked in the wrong direction for more than a kilometre (I was clicking away to glory) and then we returned.

Note : there’s no electricity between 10 or 11 in the morning till 7 in the evening. Again at 11 in the night, there is no power. I had to recharge the camera battery for the next day’s clicking!

After bath, I walked to the kitchen where dinner was waiting.
A small wooden table with carvings on it, food spread out, Roti, Dal, vegetable and rice. The lady of the house dining with me. And the boy clicked a picture.

One of the most fulfilling days of my life.