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Life in First Gear, At times, Static or in Slow-motion

I ask my vagrant heart : ‘Where is there to go now?’
No one belongs to anyone at this hour. Forget it.
No one will receive you at this hour. Let it go.
Where can you possibly go now?

 – Faiz Ahmed Faiz, “The Hour of Faithlessness’

 

Saul Bellow, recognized as a Philosophical Novelist, is one of the influential 20th century literary giants. The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to him in 1976 ‘for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work’.  Bellow in a way has invented a refreshed phrenology, or theory of the humors – by the time Seize the Day arrived, it was clear he was on to something few moderns would wish to believe in : the human head as characterological map. Cynthia Ozick writes ‘Bellow’s attraction to the idea of soul may or may not be derived from an old interest in Rudolf Steiner; but no one will doubt that these surpassingly shrewd, arrestingly juxtaposed particulars of physiognomy are inspired grains of what can only be called human essence’. Bellow’s bodies are not bodies, they are souls.

In Seize the Day, Tommy Wilhelm, the protagonist experiences a day of reckoning when he reviews his past mistakes that can not be undone, all those bad decisions that he took in his life, the existential crises, and efforts to preserve some dignity in the face of personal destruction, and finally accepts the ‘burden of self’. 

Tommy Wilhelm, in his forties, still retains boyish impetuousness that has brought him to unnervingly a chaotic financial mess – a father of two boys, a failed husband who lost his job as a salesman for a firm that promised him career advancement and then fired him in an act of nepotism. He feels strangled by the recurring memories of the bad decisions that he took in the past, which includes his acting career (a fiasco – a Hollywood agent placed him as ‘the type that loses the girl’) and his estranged wife’s overblown expenses. Stuck in a state of helplessness {even his successful father, an elderly widower, though affluent enough, disappointed in his son, remains indifferent to Wilhelm’s plight and refuses to help him financially), the effectively fatherless Wilhelm sees a glimmering in a mysterious, philosophizing conman Dr Tamkin,  a market gambler, a fly-by-night speculator, an opportunist and exploiter, a shady if not an out-n-out crook, who takes Wilhelm’s last seven hundred dollars, introduces him to the commodities market, promises him a killing in lard, while also spilling out a string of philosophies on how to live ….unfortunately, his last chance to make some dough turns out to be a whopper of mistake!

“..Wilhelm at 44 may be the youngest tenant, and surely the healthiest – big and fair haired, mountainous, with a big round face, a wide and flourishing red mouth, stump teeth…see himself as a reckless, burnt sad sack, a hapless comic figure : fair haired hippopotamus, Ass! Idiot! Wild boar! Dumb mule! – but he is also the humblest: failed husband, failed actor still carrying a phony Hollywood name, broke, appealing to his father for the rent money, pleading with his wife not to squeeze him so hard…”    

Read how he captured Dr. Tamkin, a central character – who may not be a doctor at all : 

“What a creature  Tamkin was when he took off his hat! The indirect light showed the many complexities of his bald skull, his gull’s nose, his rather handsome eyebrows, his vain mustache, his deceiver’s brown eyes. His figure was stocky, rigid, short in the neck, so that the large ball of the occiput touched his collar. His bones are were peculiarly formed, as though twisted twice where the ordinary human bone was turned only once, and his shoulders rose in two pagoda like points. At mid-body he was thick. He stood pigeon-toed, a sign perhaps that he was devious or had much to hide. The skin of his hands was aging, and his nails were moonless, concave, clawlike, and they appeared loose. His eyes were as brown as beaver fur and full of strange lines. The two large brown naked balls looked thoughtful – but were they ? and honest – but was Dr Tamkin honest? “ 

Tommy Wilhelm embraces his blunders, his miscalculations and misjudgment…

“….maybe the making of mistakes expressed the very purpose of his life and the essence of his being here. Maybe he was supposed to make them and suffer from them on this earth…..he had decided that it would be a bad mistake to go to Hollywood, and then he went. He had made up his mind not to marry his wife, but ran off and got married. He had resolved not to invest money with Tamkin, and then he had given him a cheque…” 

Tommy Wilhelm’s interaction with his higher consciousness at a stranger’s funeral is the most masterly scene in the book – which pours out through his convulsions of grief, almost like a turbulent wave of introspective terror… 

“…..standing a little apart, Wilhelm began to cry. He cried at first softly and from sentiment, but soon fro deeper feeling. He sobbed loudly and his face grew distorted and hot, and the tears stung his skin…soon he was past words, past reason, coherence…the source of all tears had suddenly sprung open within him, black, deep and hot, and they were pouring out and convulsed his body…the great knot of ill and grief in his throat swelled upward and he gave in utterly and held his face and wept..” 

The masterfully crafted Saul Bellow’s Broadway Uptown in the middle of the 20th century…because of its sheer vividness, still, lingers in me.

 “…On Broadway it was still bright afternoon and the gassy air was motionless under the leaden spokes of sunlight, and sawdust footprints lay about the doorways of butcher shops and fruit stores. And the great, great crowd, the inexhaustible current of millions of every race and kind pouring out, pressing round, of every age, of every genius, possessors of every human secret, antique and future, in every face the refinement of one particular motive or essence – I labor, I spend, I strive, I design, I love, I cling, I uphold, I give way, I envy, I long, I scorn, I die, I hide, I want. Faster, much faster than any man could make the tally. The sidewalks were wider than any causeway; the street itself was immense, and it quaked and gleamed….”

The author’s contemplation on today’s materialistic pursuits rings so true. Most of us, whether or not like it, do have to engage in varied kind of materialistic pursuits which come with  too many stressful obligations …”In the old days a man was put in prison for debt, bt there were subtler things now. They made it a shame not to have money and set everybody to work”  

Award-winning Australian Illustrator Shaun Tan reflects on the quiet mysteries of everyday life in his collection of stories with pictures, Tales from Other Suburbia. In this story, a family gets a surprise when a foreign exchange student, Eric, comes to stay…….

Read the full story On Guardian.Co.UK {click the link}

Eric-1pic(pic 1) Eric-2pic(pic 2) Eric-3pic(pic 3) Eric-4(pic4) Eric-5pic(pic 5) Eric-6pic(pic 6) Eric-7pic(pic 7)  Eric-8pic(pic 8) Eric-9pic(pic 9) Eric-10pic(pic 10) Eric-11pic(pic 11) Eric-12pic (pic 12 – Thank you for a Wonderful time) 

Sweet and Charming story…I loved the pictures…each picture has a loaded message!

 

PersepolisbyMarjane Satrapi

A few quick points about this book in a few broken & semi-constructed sentences …..! would love to spend more time on this later…

It is a Graphic Novel that sways through simple & innocuous looking child like drawings in stark black and white, and manages to surround the reader with a web of complex experiences, successfully, in the end. It is a portrait of a culture, which scrutinizes social practices &  traditions, & the relationship between Faith & Fanatacism,  in an intimate tone of a memoir blended wonderfully with the light stimulation of a comic book. While also touching upon the conflict between fundamentalism and the people’s basic desire to exercise  their right to  freedom of expression & freedome to be themselves…..intelligent, funny, and yet sensitive,  this book introduces us to Marji – an inquisitive six yr old kid who comes of age against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution, and who grows up to face tumultous and introspective phase as a  Tween/Teenager.

The first book Persepolis : The Story of a Childhood, is the story of Marjane’s childhood and adolescence as a young Iranian in the times of the 1979 revolution, while the second book Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, is all about her stay in Austria, where her parents sent her at the age of 14, her return to her home country after struggling to adjust in a very different cultural  milieu. 

 Persepolis-1 …..The childhood of Marji, an intelligent and outspoken child of radical Marxists, is wonderfully merged with the historical moments in her country’s journey – the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war and the resultant astounding contrasts between home life and public life….Persepolis 1 ends at 14-yr old Marjane leaving behind her home in Tehran, escaping from the restraining influence of fundamentalism and the country’s war situation with Iraq, to begin a new life in the West.  In Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, one meets a young, intrepid heroine through the next eight years of her life: lonely four years of high school in Vienna, followed by discomforting & depressing  four years back home in Iran – reflects a scorching criticism, in an incredibly honest voice, against fundamentalism and its damage to the human spirit – this phase captures one’s struggle against the reality that drives one to behave almost like an outsider at home, where one has no right to do things that one desires to do, date, or question authority.

 The true influence of fear on people and their daily lives is captured quite aptly – ‘It’s only natural!  When we’re afraid, we lose all sense of analysis and reflection.  Our fear paralyzes us.  Besides, fear has always been the driving force behind all dictators’ repression”. The never ceasing & palpable conflict between the people and their repressive government is quite compellingly striking….and can one forget that highly discomforting feature of modern age – Passive consumption of lies : People sitting in their living rooms, consuming lies churned out by media, passively, and forming opinion about their nation and its relationship with the other huge influencers in the world culture….and that realisation of the never ceasing dynamics in the society that one lives, the ever increasing significance of ‘Family – concept’ in everyone’s life & the society, the differences one feels between the culture in which one was raised “We Iranians, we’re crushed not only by the government but by the weight of our traditions!”, the guiding philosophy {of resignation, here} “When a big wave comes, lower your head and let it pass”, and the other alien culture into which one tries to assimilate. One could easily identify self with the strategies that younger generation employ, in the book, to make sense of the political realities of the world around them and the palpable disparity between their public lives and their private lives, while negotiating a wide range of restrictions planted across their paths. And their conscious effort to embrace the age-old rituals and customs, enthusiastically, post exposure to an alien culture that they originally do not belong to.

“Humor is the writer’s armor against the hard emotions….” said American Writer – William Zinsser, and for Satrapi “every situation offered an opportunity for laughs” ….she feels laughter is “the only way to bear the unbearable” satrapi Persepolis” was adapted into a sensational animated feature by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud – a seering story that makes a compelling point of view on complex things in life through simple pictures… 

Satrapi claims the film isn’t meant as a political tract. ‘I think that people who see the politics [in it] need to find an answer – and they want to give me a responsibility that I don’t have to have,’ she says. ‘I didn’t want it to become a movie with the pretensions to become this lesson of history, politics, sociology. I’m not a sociologist. I’m not a politician. I’m not a historian. I’m one person. If you start with one person, this one person is universal. If you want to make a history lesson, or politics, there is nothing less universal than these things. Tolstoy used to say, “If you want to talk to the world, write about your village”.

elinordashwood1edashwood-1

You are Elinor Dashwood of Sense & Sensibility! You are practical, circumspect, and discreet. Though you are

tremendously sensible and allow your head to rule, you have a deep, emotional side that few people often see.edashwood-2 

…………….Take the quiz!

suicide-theloser

“Suicide calculated well in advance, I thought, no spontaneous act of desperation”

Thomas Bernhard (The Loser)

pamuk

“One of the pleasures of writing this novel was to say to my Turkish readers and to my international audience, openly and a bit provocatively, but honestly, that what they call a terrorist is first of all a human being. Our secularists, who are always relying on the army and who are destroying Turkey’s democracy, hated this book because here you have a deliberate attempt by a person who was never religious in his life to understand why someone ends up being what we or the Western world calls an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist.”  -Orhan Pamuk  snow-1


SNOW by Orhan Pamuk captures a plethora of themes such as the never-ceasing confrontation between the Secular and Extremist Islamic universe, Atheism (…), Political Secularism, the so-believed Spiritual fragility of the Western world, staunch determination of young Muslim women to wear headscarves,  ambivalence about religion, etc.  Snow (in Turkish, “kar”) is both tender metaphor and unifying symbol. Snowfall covers everything and everyone indiscriminately, throughout the story, which is set in the city of Kars {in the north eastern part of Turkey},  the remote city on the Turkish border, the most neglected region with a glorious past  – once a haunt of the Ottomans and the Russian tsars, now forgotten, lends it a melancholic spirit– in author’s words, “Kars was an important station on the trade route to Georgia, Tabriz and the Caucasus, and being on the border between two defunct empires, the Ottoman and the Russian, the mountainous city also benefited from the protection of the standing armies each power has in turn placed here for that purpose. After endless wars, rebellions, massacres, and atrocities, the city was occupied alternately by Armenian and Russian armies, and even briefly by the British”

 

Ka, the protagonist of the story, a journalist and an exiled poet who lived in Hamburg, arrives in the city amidst heavy snowfall. His bourgeois Istanbul accent and his charcoal-grey coat {fascinating!} define his status as an outsider who has to be treated with certain degree of care and reverence. As he enters the city, the weather condition worsens further and the blizzard cuts of the city from the rest of the world for three days, which is events-filled a period. His claimed primary objective of reporting on an epidemic of suicides among the city’s young women, the “Headscarf girls”, who killed themselves as a reaction to a law that prohibited women from participating in public life with their heads covered, is more like a mask , concealing his individual desire of finding some kind of revival to his not-so fruitful existence as a poet {has not  written a poem in four years} and his austere lonely existence without any kind of sexual intimacy. His innate desire for making a trip to Kars is to tangibalise his growing attraction for Ipek, an acquaintance who he remembers only for her beauty {this is further accentuated by her current status of being a divorced}, with who his lonely and sad heart, eventually, desires to settle down. As he reunites with Ipek, he meets her father Turgut Bey who is an atheist and her sister Kadife, the most admired head of the headscarf girls who nurtures feelings for the mysterious Islamic militant, Blue. Ipek, though is willing, but is cautious enough not to make love when her father is under the same roof.  He wanders about the streets of Kars, searching for some kind of creative inspiration in the ceaselessly falling snow, and learning about the political rifts that are destroying the remote city’s fabric, through chance encounters. Snow is a journey, which is haunted by the discomforting religious suicides in a region that is rife with the political strife, with “happiness” being the only constantly playing concern for everyone. It materializes the state of confusion that an individual finds himself in, as he or she trudges along the path that leads to a well defined belief system, amidst varied worldly developments as triggered in by ideological pressure and cultural change.

 

“We are poor and insignificant. Our wretched lives have no place in history. One day all of us living here in Kars today will be dead and gone. No one will remember us;no one will care what happened to us. We will spend the rest of our days here arguing about what sort of a scarf women should wrap around their head, and no one will care in the slightest as we’re eaten up by our own petty, idiotic quarrels. When I see so many people around me leading such stupid lives and then vanishing without a trace , an anger runs through me because I know then nothing really matters in life more than love”, captures, in a true sense, the sheer helplessness and fury that’s being felt by the youth in the city….

 

What I truly relished about this book is the author’s exceptionally sensitive & meticulous depiction of the moment, desolation & fragile poignancy of the season & the controversial events that are deliciously served up on an exotic Turkish platter, which is hauntingly delicate and only meant to be absorbed slowly. At times, I felt as if I am staring at a painting that’s made of words…

…were the streets empty because of the snow, or were these frozen pavements always so desolate? As he walked, Ka studied the writing on the walls – the election posters, the advertisements for schools and restaurants, and new posters that the city officials hoped would end the suicide epidemic. Through the frozen windows of a half-empty tea-house, Ka saw a group of men huddled around a television. It cheered him just a little to see these old Russian stone house still standing. In his memory they had made Kars such a special place….

 

Does not the paragraph given below remind us of sometime when we, certainly, would have felt so, while putting in certain efforts to lend a tangible format to those pieces of conversations we journeyed through with others….

 

…it took some effort to maintain the conversation, but they both applied themselves to the task with admirable determination. At least they could both discuss the snow with ease. And when they exhausted this subject they moved on to the poverty of Kars. After that it was Ka’s coat. Then mutual confessions that each found the other quite unchanged, and that neither of them had been able to give up smoking. The next subject was distant friends …the discovery that both their mothers were now dead and buried in Istanbul’s Ferikoy Cemetery that induced the greater intimacy both were seeking. ..they soon turned to the pastry shop in which they were sitting…

 

 

Too much of Turkish influence is happening right now in my life. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s climates….Faith Akin’s  head-on{German film with a Turkish Immigrant as the protagonist}

{I received this book as a gift from Nilanjana 

I am, these days, enjoying a fabulous selection of books, which includes “The Hungry Tide” by Amitav Ghosh, a lovely parting gift from Nilanjana, who is an avid reader. I started reading this book in the flight back home, post a few months of pleasant morning walks by the sea side, innumerable hours filled with a sense of emptiness at the work table, a whole string of earthy-humane-yet depressing evenings filled with many a kind of existential questions and a plenty of precious moments of solitude and introspective conversations by the sea. The book, as declared by Nilanjana, is enthralling and poised to be a pleasant getaway where I can put my turbulent mind at rest.

 

The book jacket summary reads as “Amitav Ghosh has discovered another new territory, summoning a singular, fascinating place, another world, from its history and myth, and bringing it to life. The book also explores another and far more unknowable jungle : the human spirit. It is a novel that asks at every turn : what man can take the true measure of another?

 

I, especially, liked this part of the first chapter, where the author introduces “the tide country” to the reader and felt a compelling need to upload the content, soon after which, I would vanish from the world to submerge under the intense tales of water-bodies. As you read, you can feel the voice rich with the most authentic Indian-ness singing Ode to the awe-inspiring grandeur of nature through string of words, which captured powerfully evocative images of the territory.

 

 

 

 

 

Amitav Ghosh wrote …….In our legends it is said that the goddess Ganga’s descent from the heavens would have split the earth had Lord Shiva not tamed her torrent by tying it into his ash-smeared locks. To hear this story is to see the river in a certain way : as a heavenly braid, for instance, an immense rope of water, unfurling through a wide and thirsty plain. That there is a further twist to the tale becomes apparent only in the final stages of the river’s journey – and this part of the story always comes as a surprise, because it is never told and thus never imagined. It is this : there is a point at which the braid comes undone; where Lord Shiva’s matted hair is washed apart into a vast, knotted tangle. Once past that point the river throws off its bindings and separates into hundreds, maybe thousands, of tangled strands.

 

“Until you behold it for yourself, it is almost impossible to believe that here, interposed between the sea and the plains of Bengal, lies an immense archipelago of islands. But that is what it is : an archipelago, stretching for almost three hundred kilometers, from the Hooghly river in West Bengal to the shores of the Meghna in Bangladesh.

 

“The islands are the trailing threads of India’s fabric, the ragged fringes of her sari, the achol that follows her, half-wetted by the sea. They number in the thousands, these islands; some are immense and some no larger than sandbars; some have lasted through recorded history while others were washed into being just a year or two ago. These islands are the rivers’ restitution, the offerings through which they return to the earth what they have taken from it, but in such a form as to assert their permanent dominion over their gift. The rivers’ channels are spread across the land like a fine-mesh net, creating a terrain where the boundaries between land and water are always mutating, always unpredictable. Some of these channels are mighty waterways, so wide across that one shore is invisible from the other; others are no more than two or three kilometers long and only a few hundred meters across. Yet, each of these channels is a “river” in its own right, each possessed of its own strangely evocative name. When these channels meet, it is often in clusters of four, five or even six: at these confluences, the water stretches to the far edges of the landscape and the forest dwindles into a distant rumor of land, echoing back from the horizon. In the language of the place, such confluence is spoken of as a mohona – a strangely seductive word, wrapped in many layers of beguilement.

 

“There are no borders here to divide fresh water from salt, river from sea. The tides reach as far as three hundred kilometers inland and every day thousands of acres of forest disappear underwater only to re-emerge hours later. The currents are so powerful as to reshape the islands almost daily – some days the water tears away entire promontories and peninsulas; at other times it throws up new shelves and sandbanks where there were none before. When the tides create new land, overnight mangroves begin to gestate, and if the conditions are right they can spread so fast as to cover a new island within a few short years. A mangrove forest is a universe unto itself, utterly unlike other woodlands or jungles. There are no towering, vine-looped trees, no ferns, no wildflowers, no chattering monkeys or cockatoos. Mangrove leaves are tough and leathery, the branches gnarled and the foliage often impassibly dense. Visibility is short and the air is still and fetid. At no moment can human beings have any doubt or the terrain’s utter hostility to their presence, of its cunning and resourcefulness, of its determination to destroy or expel them. Every year dozens of people perish in the embrace of that dense foliage, killed by tigers, snakes and crocodiles.

 

“There is no prettiness here to invite the stranger in: yet, to the world at large this archipelago is known as “the Sundarban”, which means “the beautiful forest”. There are some who believe the word to be derived from the name of a common species of mangrove – the sundari tree, Heriteria minor. But the word’s origin is no easier to account for more than is its present prevalence for in the record books of the Mughal emperors this region is names not in reference to a tree but to a tide – bahti. And to the inhabitants of the islands this land is known as bhatir desh – the tide country – except that bahti is not just the “tide” but one tide in particular, the ebb-tide, the bhata. This is a land half-submerged at high tide: it is only in falling that the water gives birth to the forest…”

 

“we, who have always thought of joy

as rising….feel the emotion

that almost amazes us

when a happy thing fall…”

 

Isn’t it truly a gorgeous chapter? Next time, when you walk into the book store, do spend some time at this book, at the shelf where the books/works by Contemporary Indian writers (such as

 

 

 

 

Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh and a few others), whose magnificent works takes us back to our rich Indian cultural identity which does not have space for petty & trivial regional & religion-al quabbles, the sheer beauty of Indian-ness with a modern-worldly attitude. Do skip the junk notes by Shobhaa Dé and her ilk, it’s like Junk food, extremely unhealthy. Now, I go back to the next chapter “The launch” . Thanking Nilanjana    🙂

 

I am currently reading Akira Kurosawa’s “Something like an Autobiography”,

 

lingering at his “Boyhood” phase,  each paragraph is a rich visual feast, a  breathless journey into a magical landscape as captured by a little boy who was  a slow learner who loved kendo and painting. I, particularly, terminated myself at this chapter…

“The Fragrance of Meiji, the sounds of Taisho”…the master-crafter took all of us back to the days of his boyhood, a mystical world of sounds that does not exist anymore

 {Akira Kurosawa}“….the sounds I used to listen to as a boy are completely different from those of today. …everything was natural sounds. Among those natural sounds were many that are lost forever. Among those natural sounds were many that are lost forever. I will try to recall some of them. The resounding boom of midday. This was the sound of the cannon at the Kudan Ushi-ga-fuchi army barracks, which fired a blank each day precisely at noon.

The fire-alarm bell. The sound of the fire-watchman’s wooden clappers. The sound of his voice and the drumbeats when he informed the neighborhood of the location of a fire.   The tofu-seller’s bugle. The whistle of the tobacco-pipe repairman. The sound of the lock on the hard-candy vendor’s chest of drawers. The tinkle of the wind-chime seller’s wares. The drumbeats of the man who repaired the thongs of wooden clogs. The bells of iterant monks chanting sutras. The candy seller’s drum. The fire-truck bell. The big drum for the lion dance. The monkey trainer’s drum. The drum for temple services. The freshwater-clam vendor. The natto fermented-bean seller. The hot-red-pepper vendor. The goldfish vendor. The man who sold bamboo clothesline poles. The seedling vendor. The night-time noodle vendor. The oden (dumplings-and-broth) vendor. The baked-sweet-potato vendor. The scissors grinder. The tinker. The morning-glory seller. The fishmonger. The sardine vendor. The boiled bean seller. The insect vendor. “Magotaro bugs!” The humming of kite strings. The click of kite strings. The click of battledore and shuttlecock. Songs you sing while bouncing a ball. Children’s songs.

These lost sounds are all impossible to separate from my boyhood memories….when I saw the child of the freshwater-clam vendor, who raised a pitiful wail to sell his goods, I felt fortunate in my own lot in life…Children of today probably wont be able to fashion very rich memories from these sounds. Perhaps they are more to be pitied than even that freshwater-clam seller’s child…”

 (Jyo….The influence of each word was so intense that I ran down a specific memory lane when I was so scared of fire-alarms (every summer, I was the first one in my family to raise an alarm about the houses struggling under fire, in our neighborhood. Every monsoon, I stood on a dry place, with tears-stained face, feeling helpless and small, observed my parents shifting our belongings to a safer place)

 

 

 

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