Monday, March 22, 2021

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy – A book review


I want to read the book all over again. And again. And again. But somehow I know more likely than not, I never will.

Oh what a tragic story; so beautifully told.

Tess, O dear Tess, only if I had found you, discovered you before anyone else did! If only I could be the one your beautiful eyes sought, only if I could be the breeze you enjoyed the intimacy of, only if I was the reason not for your misery but for your miserable loving heart, only if I could live up to the purity of your soul… only if … only if.

This is probably the only story that had me empathizing with the female character fully. I’ve read many, attempted my best to understand the emotions and acts, probably even understood some, but the acceptance of them, I guess has been beyond my intellect. I’ve never really liked the word ‘empathy’ though; it sounds so farcical. I can only imagine but not actually feel Tess’s pain and agony even if I want to; how can I? No-one could have lived Tess’s life, her sacrifices in love but her. So strong in character yet so weak and vulnerable in love.

Tess’s devastating path is paved all the way, very cunningly, by Fate.  Manipulated by Alec d’Urberville, a player, her life changes for the worse as she unwillingly graduates to be a woman from an innocent teenager, without chancing upon and enjoying the imperfection of ladyship. But then, I hold her imbecile and selfish parents more responsible than Alec for her plight; one cannot send Hansel and Gretel out into the forest without the fear of being eaten up, no matter how optimistic and needy they be. Poverty, shame and self-respect guide her on to the path of a dairy in another town and as a dairymaid. Fate brings her to encounter Angel Clare, a rebel with a cause, a man of meaning and virtues, of character and strength, knowledge and passion, a gentleman; a vessel of innocence commensurate with that that of Tess’s.

And they fall in love, naturally like the wind and clouds, like the night and stars. Try as much as she can, Tess fails to reveal her past to Angel and when she does, on the night of their union; the revelation is as much a disaster as Fate. Angel, clouded by his morals and the stringent path of his thoughts and righteousness, can’t place her as the one he fell in love with. He abandons her – a punishment as severe to him as to her. What transpires later is more tragic and as Fate, yet again leaves its marks cutting through the flesh, pricking the soul; one wonders if pain is innate in some; inseparable, necessary, like the torso, the brain, the heart and other organs one is born with. What time heals, time brings back again and it’s futile to ask or reason out the mockery.

Allow me a little exaggeration as I have shouted out a number of times reading those paragraphs of mental turmoil, separation and despair, pleading with Angel to reconsider, not abandon her, not despise her, trying to convince him that Tess is pure, as pure as his thoughts. But Angel Clare isn’t Chaucer’s Troilus, another soul so full of love, so pure in love, an apt match. But who really knows, perhaps Troilus would’ve reacted just as Angel did; alas we are guarded, controlled and manipulated by the fortuities of providence.

We fall in love. We do. Fall.

Tess fell. Angel fell. And the rise is never devoid of sacrifice. And in Tess’s case, murder!

There’s innocence in the story, an innocence to be cherished in its plainness. Not just the characters, but the description of the countryside, the scenery, the expanses of the fields, the rivers and pathways, the horse-carts transport you to an era devoid of technology (how much I’ve hated to use this word here), to a life of minimalism and free of the cacophony of hurriedness.

Throughout the story, I visualized a known face to Tess’s, I morphed it to hers. I sought comfort snuggling myself in the elfin cave on her face shaped with every smile. I took her hand and walked the countryside. But I had to remind myself that it’s a story; Tess isn’t a face, a body. I wonder if a Tess ever existed. Does she? Do you Tess? I hope you do.

 I have put Thomas Hardy on a pedestal; this book has been my introduction to him and I only want to get acquainted more. The writing is so clean, devoid of pompousness, with so much respect to the characters and the reader. There’s something about the classics; there’s something about Charles Dickens, D.H.Lawrence, Thomas Hardy; there’s honesty and innocence.

My rating – 10/10

Images copyrights:

Book cover - © https://oldbookdepot.in/product/tess-of-the-durbervilles-wordworth-classics-2-2/

Thomas Hardy - © https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/thomas-hardy

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra – A book review

 

947 pages in small print. 947 pages about the rise and fall of a ruthless gangster and the lives revolving around him.

Perceptions matter and perceptions differ. So I’ll speak for myself and the multitude like me in Mumbai who have if not directly encountered gangsters, politicians and the film industry, have definitely not been free of or able to escape their tangle of power, ruthlessness and glamour. How can one, if it’s in one’s face every day; when one has news reporters enthusiastically bleeding their ears and eyes with accounts of the unsafe world one lives in, ruled by these handful despots yielding power.

Ganesh Gaitonde is one such despot and the story is about him and his addiction to power. How I wish every such horrendous creature was nipped in the bud, eliminated, annihilated when they committed their first monstrosity. But this isn’t our world though like imbeciles we believe so; we are only acting our parts in someone else’s play. And like you and me, every Ganesh Gaitonde is a part of this play whether we prefer him or not.

There’s a tree called Manchineel found in the mangroves of South Florida, the Caribbean, Central America and northern South America. Resembling a small green crabapple about 1 to 2 inches wide, its sweet-smelling fruits can cause hours of agony – and potentially death – with a single bite. (source: Why Manchineel Might Be Earth's Most Dangerous Tree (treehugger.com)) Nevertheless, it exists, grows. Nature nurtures it with the needed sunlight, water and conditions to survive, just like for any other tree but unlike others, it dubiously produces poison and that’s what it has to offer. Our gangster is nurtured by the police, politicians and the crowd that seeks refuge and money and willingly enslave themselves to this gory power and in return he spits venom.

The story takes you through the meandering filthy lanes of the underworld. If you have watched enough gangster movies and witnessed contrivance and connivance of these manipulative soulless hyenas of control and dominance over the years, Vikram Chandra’s story then becomes just a rendering of facts beaded together by instances of treachery, immorality, fanaticism and more gruesome tales of betrayal; a colourful script for another movie reeking of inhumanity. The indubitable power of money securing ammunition, control, flesh, friendship, religion litters across the pages. There’s a tacit agreement to these acts, in fact an attempt to justify as well. This reminds me of probably one of the most popular dialogues of yesteryear films, ‘Koi apni maa ke pet se bura paida nahi hota, ye duniya use bura banati hai’ (no-one is born a bad person in the mother’s womb; the world turns them into a bad person). And I go ‘Yes, yes, I can only imagine what a world it'd be had every oppressed person thought this way and turned out to be like this.’

So the mentioned men of law whether it be our hero Sartaj Singh, or Katekar, Parulkar or Kamble, work hard but also take bribes, take pride in their infidelity, use their influence to bend and break the law, team up with gangsters, kill for them, kill them, are shamelessly epitomes of lawlessness but are supposedly justified; we are to feel sorry for them. Women like Jojo, Zoya or Kamala Pandey and many others who not reluctantly but willingly contrive for their dreams of a better life, sell themselves for fun, popularity and power are meant to be justified; we are supposed to feel for them as well. A self obsessed megalomaniac like Ganesh Gaitonde who kills at will, offers his own men who trust and idolize him as bait, ravages women just because he can, feeds on virgins for strength, manipulates and contrives to the lowest possible levels is glorified. But there’s always an eagle lurking for a snake. So, there’s a guru that Mr.Gaitonde believes in, trusts and this guru has a plan for mankind and the plan isn’t particularly conducive to your or my safety, happiness and well-being. I guess we need less gurus and more heroes like Batman to save the world; who have no jurisdiction but are truly good.

Have you read ‘Inferno’ by Dan Brown? Just asking.

Have you read ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Roberts? Just asking again.

I wouldn’t say I disliked the book but too much of prose (minus any poetry) probably got to me. Just another gangster movie story I'd say heavily influenced by Bollywood.

Just like the Glocks and AK47s mentioned, the bulk of the book could kill one if it were to fall from a shelf above. 947 pages done with. And what do I feel now? Well, I’m only happy to move on to reading another book; I’d rather go for Dickens or Iris Murdoch this time.

My rating: 5 out of 10

Images copyright

Book cover - ©Buy Sacred Games Book Online at Low Prices in India | Sacred Games Reviews & Ratings - Amazon.in

Author - ©Jabberwock: A conversation with Vikram Chandra (jaiarjun.blogspot.com)

Friday, September 4, 2020

In a free state by V.S. Naipaul – A book review

‘When the student is ready the teacher will appear.’ - Lao Tzu

This is only part of the quote and it’s got great depth. However, in this case, the teacher did appear but I realize I wasn’t really ready when I attempted to read this book for the first time. This time around I seem to have a better understanding of its brilliance and feel educated.

The theme is displacement and it makes its presence in the primary characters in the stories. Mr. Naipaul is an eloquent genius who I think doesn’t believe in packaging; the reader sees the characters as they are because they are precisely as they have been written about. This is prose of immense depth.

These are sketches of people away from their homes in different countries, inadvertently, compellingly, adamantly or consciously trying to adjust and blend in the labyrinths of a new life.

The needless harassment of the tramp aboard the ship in the ‘Tramp at Piraeus’ shows how uncomfortable unconventionality can make us; how ruthlessly it can anger us, how easily we can yield power where it is possible not where it’s necessary. The discovery of himself and his existence in a foreign land, Washington in ‘One out of many’, tells the wonderful story of a house-help from India, Santosh. Dumbfounded by the newness of everything, sleeping in a closet, his world is as enclosed and confined as the closet or his master’s room. You give a child a colourful beautiful toy and then take it away – the child is confused, lost; the crying and tears only come later. In this new country and city, Santosh discovers a toy he never had – his identity, his face, himself; he realizes he’s not just a servant, but a person, an individual. But it’s lost – this toy, this identity, soon after its discovery and what remains is just another brick in the wall, a compulsion for compromise. Like an institutionalized slave, struggling for freedom, he doesn’t know what to do with it when it has been achieved; he’s lost.

‘Tell me who to kill’ is about hatred. A disorientated and resentful youngster from a village, envious of his uncle’s social fa├žade of a status and embarrassed by his own family’s sends his brother abroad to study and follows in tow to check-up on him. But once he’s there, he cannot leave; he’s caught in the mad rush of earning money and giving his brother a better life. A sense of pride is crushed with the indignation he feels towards everyone; a crime is committed and a life is wasted. Who’s to blame?

‘In a free state’ is the longer story and I liked it immensely. A drive through the landscapes of Africa by two office bearing foreigners, whites in a time of political chaos doesn’t remain just a journey on the road; it’s a journey into the conflicting thoughts of these individuals about this country they are in now and its people. A fracas in their heads is out in dialogue when difficult questions are asked and answered by the two about their purpose and perceptions in this foreign land. The conversations pinch you in the right places as they question the basic thoughts of human nature, of seeing things and people in a new state. You realize there’s a huge difference between what one says, what one believes and what one has made himself/herself to believe in and these conflicting thoughts are convoluted over time and undulating between them every now and then, one finally acts in a totally mismatched way. Should one act like Romans when in Rome? But it depends on who that ‘one’ is, probably the dependency is also on the colour of one’s skin, his or her social status, the privileges that one enjoys over others. The conversations and thoughts show how easily one can be judgmental when one is privileged. This is a contrast to the other stories as here the outsider seems to have an upper hand, condescending on the bearing and conduct of the locals. What gives them this right to intrude? Who has invited them to do so – to feel and act superior?

I remember a long time ago a good friend of mine and I were having a discussion about nihilism among other things. Deep into the conversation, I felt and shared with her that these are thoughts of the privileged and she agreed; a poverty ridden society or even a strictly basic one and its people have no time to think about these anthropological jargons. There are people who are ashamed to speak the local language in their own country but are happy to learn a foreign language to impress; there are narcissists who take pride in telling everyone around them how to behave, eat, talk, and dress among other things. The natives didn’t invite these foreigners; they are intruders in a way even if they hold a post in their society. And these intruders are happy to see naked savages perform a cultural dance and entertain them but the delight is limited to that; beyond that the inhabitants turn into ugly, disgusting aboriginals who are to be looked down upon, who need to be taught culture, who need to be despised because that’s what they are worthy of; lions in a zoo or circus are safer to look at, or when they are tranquilized - one can even stroke it’s mane but they’re oh so dangerous in the wild. It’s like visiting someone’s house uninvited and trying to play God.

It took Satan and an apple from the forbidden tree to make Eve and then Adam be aware and embarrassed of their nakedness; it takes an outsider to make the natives feel so – to be embarrassed, to feel wanting, to feel the darkness of their colour, to appear stunted in their esteem, to fall in a hole that wasn’t there. Condescension is an art and who better than the privileged to act it out; it takes great mental skills to make people content with their lives show what’s missing in their lives and then offer help, and then intrude on their privacy and lives, and then to yield authority, and then to transform or wipe them out.

Naipaul’s characters and their thoughts are those of the individuals in a foreign land and these individuals make people and these people constitute a society or culture. These stories are essential.

‘People are generally good till you cease to be the person they want you to be.’ – from an Omeleto video I watched recently.


My rating: 5/5

Images from:

Book cover - https://www.amazon.in/Free-State-V-S-Naipaul/dp/0330487051

V. S. Naipaul - https://www.looptt.com/content/remembering-vs-naipaul-5-things-know-about-author

Friday, August 28, 2020

A Winter’s Night and other stories by Munshi Premchand – A book review

There’s short yet useful information provided at the end of the book about the author’s life and an introduction by one of India’s greatest poets Gulzar. Stories from Premchand have been part of textbooks; he was known as the ‘Upanyas Samrat’ – the emperor of novels though mostly in North India. It was surprising and a revelation to read that his early education was in a Madrasa, under a maulvi and his initial stories were written in Urdu.

This book is a collection of short stories and it is from a bygone era, an era from which India has evolved. More specifically it is from the villages of India, it is from a time India was engulfed by the caste system, the British rule, and hence poverty. It transports you to the villages in India, with wells accessible only to the elite, women drawing water from it, people in their traditional clothing, cattle working in the fields, lands and mortgages; no tractors, no high rises, no smart phones, no televisions – yes, a world still existed then. Though the settings have changed and life and India have moved on, the characters and their plight is believable. The forms have changed - the forms of oppression, the forms of sacrifice, the forms of love and belonging; replace a zamindar with one of today’s politicians, replace the moneylender with the big loan sharks of today and you have a new revised version of these stories.

The brilliance of these stories lies in their simple narrative. A story writer needs to be a good observer and Munshi Premchand was brilliant. In each story, he captures the innate capacity of individuals and the brazen thoughtless acceptance of a divided society at large. The lives in these stories are clearly divided between the oppressor and the oppressed. Stories like ‘The salt inspector’, ‘Kaki’, ‘A quarter and one ser of wheat’ and ‘The price of milk’ clearly portray this divide. Readers will relate with the laziness and shamelessness of drunkards in ‘The Shroud’ even today.

I believe these stories are pieces of history that children of today must be made to read if they are to know where their grandfathers and their grandfathers came from; they are as important as stories of Shivaji and of mutinies and of independence; they are stories of behavior, stories to ponder upon.

This is real history; unbiased, secular.  

Image courtesy:

Munshi Premchand - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premchand

Book cover - https://www.amazon.in/Winters-Night-Other-Stories-Premchand/dp/0143330381

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Snow by Orhan Pamuk – A book review


Lately I’ve been inadvertently reading a lot about God. Graham Greene’s God, Iris Murdoch’s God, Jordan Peterson’s God and now Ka’s and Kars’s versions of God. Yes, versions. Kars is a city in Turkey and Ka is a Turkish poet and this is their story.

For some reason the story and its people have left me irritated. I don’t like them. At all!

And not ‘for some reason’; I know, I know why. They aren’t simply flawed in their beliefs like most beings are; they are ugly in their narrow minded thoughts and uglier in their actions; they want to see the world burn in the name of religion and God.

Ka’s Kars is a city you probably didn’t know about and when you do know, you don’t want to know anymore about. Nothing really happens there except for snowing. Nothing constructive, I mean. And yet people are so obsessed there with their beliefs. And when it thaws, and people are out of their frozen inertia, the ugliness drips with the thawing.

The kind of fundamentalism mentioned is so tiring - towards God, towards religion and yet it exists. And these so called fundamentalists and their beliefs in God and religion in their created capacities, in fact strengthen your thoughts that they are the creations of men. Created capacities for sure because God is a veil they hide behind, a convenience for their immorality and disgusting fanatical thoughts and acts.

God is a favourite of the idle and the disturbed; he, not He, has nothing worthwhile to do. The hard working person, the intellectual doesn’t need to talk about God all the time, he too needs assurance but he knows He’s there, if you do believe at all. All about the people of Kars is ‘Us and Them’; us is them and them is the West. And the West for them is a world of intellectuals and infidels, and intellectualism is atheism. Says who? Says they. And yet they are so concerned that the West disparages them, laughs at them, and finds them to be nobodies. Grow up you wonderful people of this wonderful city; probably the West doesn’t even know you exist! And why are you so insecure and unhappy when you so strongly believe in your God; why should what the West think of you matter? It’s a farce, it’s a farce!

I guess this hypocrisy stems from the basic needs of humanity not being met, from Maslow’s pyramid of human needs. The city of Kars and its people are in poverty, a jobless dump where the youth and adolescents are idling their time away; what better thing to do than to fight for God then and to kill and destroy in his name. And not just kill thy neighbor, annihilate the world if possible – spread the word of God! I’ve come to realize that the things you hate are actually the things you most love or crave for. And most of the characters have an insidious affinity for the West but just can’t be them because they’re not supposed to, allowed to, because you are not allowed to love something you detest. And the internal conflict in their heads, a strong hatred emerging from helplessness creates their own inferno and they don’t want to burn alone.

Movement in this story by Orhan Pamuk where he himself writes about his friend Ka after his death, starts and ends with the changing laws of girls’ suicides in Kars and around for not being allowed to wear a headscarf. It took me a while to actually understand what the big deal of a headscarf was and how it was related to the girls’ suicides and then I realized. And it was a wow moment!

As a character in the book says; the world will grow in leaps and bounds and make technological advances while we are stuck with head-scarves and religion. Thinking logically or intellectually is an abuse in such a society where everyone knows everything about religion and God and good and evil and what you should do and more importantly what you shouldn’t; probably more than the God they believe in.

They are all shamelessly naked and exposed and yet they care about the wearing of a headscarf. Your religion, your religious books and your God don’t really advocate infidelity, deceit, hatred, do they? Ipek, a divorcee, who Ka is madly, rather lustily in love with, who he considers and portrays as nothing less than Aphrodite herself, sleeps with her husband’s friend whom he reveres. Her sister vies for the same man, is sleeping with him as well. And this man is a terrorist who thinks he has all the answers. They call him Blue and the sisters think he’s is truthful and heroic and just and doing the work of God. Just! Work of God! What’s that? Satiating envious vying blood sisters at the same time while their imbecile of a father is busy talking about politics – Is this the call for freedom? And freedom from what? And though the story tries to flavor a woman’s plight, I don’t see Ipek as anything but a selfish woman. She’s cunning enough to make love to Ka even though she’s not in love with him; she just wants to mislead him, she’s still in love with Blue. And these girls have opinions on wearing and the removal of head scarves! A fundamentalist, a fugitive sleeping with two sisters at the same time; how does your God allow that? God is your convenience and nothing else.

And then there’s Sunay Zaim, the theatre virtuoso, a crazy artist who’s ready to die for his art and beliefs and he does, yet not before deceitfully and ingeniously causing a military coup in the snowy city. He dies like the suicide girls; for pride they say. Pride for what you worthless creatures, for what? It’s a puzzle you don’t want to solve; just want to throw the pieces away and not think again.

“Don’t write what you see about us in your book”, a character tells Orhan while he’s leaving the city. Why not? Why aren’t you comfortable in your skin? Why don’t you act the way you want to be then; why hide behind this shroud of the unknown? Why do you need someone else’s assurance? If you yourself have so many conflicts within yourself, then how come you have such strong opinions about God and religion?

Just believing and trusting in God isn’t enough in Kars; you have to prove it every day else you are termed an atheist. You might be a rapist, a murderer but if you climb the cemented or stone steps of the house of God, you’re a believer. Here God isn’t important anymore but what you think of God takes precedence. No wonder they make such heartless terrorists. Kars doesn’t need God; it needs jobs and things to keep themselves busy. They need to clean their houses and city first before trying to build the Garden of Eden.

I’ve got to confess. I kept reading the book till the end because I derived a sadistic pleasure from hating them. Not healthy, I know; probably that shows my current state of mind.

My rating: 6/10

Image sources:

Book cover - https://www.thehindu.com/books/review-snow-by-orhan-pamuk/article24592316.ece

Orhan Pamuk - https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/orhan-pamuk-says-he-misses-turkeys-good-old-days--100243


 

Monday, June 22, 2020

The blind assassin by Margaret Atwood – A book review



‘I look back over what I’ve written and I know it’s wrong, not because of what I’ve set down, but because of what I’ve omitted. What isn’t there has a presence, like the absence of light.

You want the truth, of course. You want me to put two and two together. But two and two doesn’t necessarily get you the truth. Two and two equals a voice outside the window. Two and two equals the wind. The living bird is not its labeled bones.’

Two balls of yarn. Two colours. Take your pick. 
Margaret Atwood calls them Iris and Laura. They are the Chase sisters. 
If not careful, entanglement and a mess are inevitable; with each other, within each other.
And Atwood hasn’t been careful!

‘But in life, a tragedy is not one long scream. It includes everything that led up to it. Hour after trivial hour, day after day, year after year, and then the sudden moment: the knife’s stab, the shell-burst, the plummet of the car from the bridge.’

Laura drove a car of a bridge. Died. She killed herself. Was it an impetuous act? Her mind killed her. But who killed her mind. Laura Chase was born with a black and white cognition; dismissing the grays. She wouldn’t, rather couldn’t read between lines. She saw the literal world in the literal sense; the abstract was too abstract for her. Iris was the elder sister, entrusted with always taking care of Laura.

The book is the story that a contrite Iris writes in remembrance of Laura for her disappeared and estranged granddaughter Sabrina; to tell her the truth. Spanning across generations, the story of her life has devastating secrets, infidelity and complicity. As Laura’s shade gets paler, Iris’s ball of yarn grows darker and darker; unknowingly, deliberately, self-imposed, thrusted. As she herself is pushed gradually into a deceitful marriage, the helplessness and sedation brings out a vulnerable numbness that doesn’t thwart her from finding solace in the one person she shouldn’t have.

And there’s a gory story within the story; a story that is published posthumously as Laura’s but isn’t. As Iris, the wife of a wealthy and prominent person in society, and her insouciant lover, a fugitive, knit this parallel bizarre fantasy tale during their pangs of furtive and passionate love making in rented rooms, another act of treacherous adultery is altering their lives. Who are these characters in the story they create; why does it bear a striking resemblance to them?

Is she the muted girl in the story the lover saves and elopes with; her tongue pulled out; quietened? Is she really being saved? And is the lover the blinded one; an outcast rebel turning a blind eye to the atrocities of life and the people in it with an urge for destroying? Who has orchestrated this affair between a blind and a mute; the lover or her, or both together, but does love need an orchestration, any orchestration?

Iris has answered for herself. At a dying age, will her contrition be accepted? Laura didn’t die of the abuse, of helplessness, she died from the snatching away of one thing that was never hers but always hers.

‘How could I have been so ignorant? she thinks. So stupid, so unseeing, so given over to carelessness. But without such ignorance, such carelessness, how could we live? If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next – if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions – you’d be doomed. You’d be as ruined as God. You’d be a stone. You’d never eat or drink or laugh or get out of bed in the morning You’d never love anyone, ever again. You’d never dare to.

Drowned now – the tree as well, the sky, the wind, the clouds. All she has left is the picture. Also the story of it.

The picture is of happiness, the story not. Happiness is a garden walled with glass: there’s no way in or out. In Paradise there are no stories, because there are no journeys. It’s loss and regret and misery and yearning that drive the story forward, along to its twisted road.’

Most of Atwood’s characters are furtive; she’s imposed them with secrets they need to bury; a few can and a few fail. Crafted vividly, Atwood has given us a patchwork of two stories fused in one. Very well written; a compelling read! Would have liked to read more about Laura – she was different; she had an innocence that comes from simplicity. Predictable, vulnerable yet not boring.

‘”Laura, what are you doing?” I said. “That’s the Bible.”
“I’m cutting out the parts I don’t like.”
I uncrumpled the pages she’d tossed into the wastebasket.; swathes of Chronicles, pages and pages of Leviticus, the little snippet from St. Matthew in which Jesus curses the barren fig tree. I remembered now that Laura had been indignant about that fig tree, in her Sunday-schooldays. She’d been furious that Jesus had been so spiteful towards a tree. “We all have our bad days” Reenie had commented, briskly whipping up egg whites in a yellow bowl.’


‘The sun declines, the shadows of the curtains move across the bed. Voices on the street outside, unknown languages. I will always remember this, she tells herself. Then: Why am I thinking about memory? It’s not then yet, it’s now. It’s not over.’

My rating – 9/10

Picture courtesy:

Book cover - © https://www.unitheque.com/the-blind-assassin/virago/Livre/140224

Margaret Atwood - © https://thegentlewoman.co.uk/library/margaret-atwood


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Je raate mor duar guli - my ramblings on a beautiful song by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore

From the time I first listened to this song, it has kind of haunted me. Not an expert in Bengali, rather far from being one (though it’s my mother tongue), I had to take help from a friend to understand the lyrics (Thank you Shonali Bhattacharjee). 
Like all Rabindranath Tagore songs, this one too has a mesmerizing effect and like I’ve always felt with his songs, open to different interpretations.

Here’s the version of the song I’ve been listening to by ‘Somlata and the Aces’




Transliteration and translation of the song

Je raate mor duar guli bhaanglo jhare,
Jaani naai to tumi ele aamar ghare.
Je raate mor duar guli bhaanglo jhare,
(The night when my doors were broken and destroyed by the storm,
little did I know that it was you who came to my house.)

Sab je hoye gelo kaalo, nibe gelo diper aalo,
Aakash paane haat baaralem kaahar tare?
Jaani naai to tumi ele aamar ghare.
Je raate mor duar guli bhaanglo jhare.
(Everything turned to darkness as all the lamps’ lights went out,
I stretched my hands to the sky, don’t know who I sought
little did I know that it was you who came to my house
the night when my doors were broken and destroyed by the storm,)

Andhokare roinu pore swapono maani.
Jhar je tomar jayodhwaja taai ki jaani.
Sakalbela cheye dekhi, daariye aachho tumi e ki,
Ghar bhora mor shunyotari bukero pore.
Jaani naai to tumi ele aamar ghare.
Je raate mor duar guli bhaanglo jhare.
(I lay there in the darkness thinking it was a dream or illusion,
that the storm was your war flag, I was unaware,
As I looked around in the morning, I saw you standing there – your illusional presence even in your absence,
the emptiness of my abode, lay heavy on my chest
little did I know that it was you who came to my house
the night when my doors were broken and destroyed by the storm,)

© https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/super-cyclone-amphan-190km-away-from-kolkata/articleshow/75844078.cms

Here’s my interpretation and extended ramblings of this dark yet beautiful song.

Disclaimer: These are my thoughts and not be considered a translation of the song.

It was just another day.

I saw a beautiful woman sleeping in the shade of a tree. Careful scrutiny revealed that she was hurt but there was a motherly calm and peacefulness on her face in spite of the pain. Her children lay besides her playing, oblivious rather overlooking the pain; her body their playground. They looked hungry and play is all they could in the absence of food.

Passersby noticed her too. Some called her wretched, a few derided her thinking she was one of those, others thought she was diseased and left there to die, a few poked her to see if she was alive. She seemed worn out, impervious to these disparaging remarks and gestures.

A bizarre thing happened next. The children, her children, fatigued by their play and famished sank their teeth into their mother. They seemed to relish every bite they took of her flesh. A miasma spread in the air and eerily beckoned scavengers to the feast. Like maggots attacking decay, the passersby soon overpowered the children to devour the woman, ripping her flesh with their uncannily developed canines. A gruesome fight ensued for chunks of flesh as the two-legged monsters snarled at each other like laughing hyenas, blood trickling from their bared teeth, lips and chins.

The woman winced; finally. She opened her eyes and all there was in them was disgust; an abhorrence that could be felt strongly. Like a plant giving energy to itself, she woke up and grew; she let out a scream that terrified even the wind. She looked around ferociously as she grew and grew; all her torn flesh replenished. It was her turn now and she didn’t stop when she started.

An insatiable hunger radiated from her bloody eyes and she picked up and gobbled each of the terror-stricken creatures trying to escape her wrath. Not once did she wince as she devoured her children too. Madness reigned; it wasn’t hunger anymore. She ran shrieking hysterically when the last one disappeared, her hair and insanity let loose. The pregnant grey clouds complicit with the gloomy dark sky burst deliberately it seemed its bag of waters. Darkness and raging tempest engulfed as she grew and paced chomping on and ravaging everything and everyone that came in her way; she spared none.

What I create, I can destroy!
© https://www.pinterest.com/pin/525162006538642442/

Do we want to know her when she takes this form? Do we recognize her when she is like this? Can we accept her in her horrendous devastating appearance? Do we have a choice?

And have we loved her really; unconditionally? The garden wasn’t ours; she let us play in it. And we let weeds grow, in her garden, in our minds. She pleaded, she showed us her wounds, our given, but we furtively looked elsewhere, occupied in our superficial intimacies. Like with all mothers, we took her for granted.

She wasn’t ever weak; she was only patient and forgiving. And so we ignored her though we were just a speck in contrast. She still gave us importance and all we had for her was neglect. Like a cruel and ruthless child we went on relentlessly blackening and destroying the coulourful picture she had created, all that she had given us.

Should we be startled then when she comes on a war footing, leading a cavalry, mercilessly to avenge? Howling gales, hurricanes, and thunderstorms ride with her, armed with the ghastliest and most powerful weaponry. The angry war flags are like wild unforgiving storms, flapping wildly, outlines of red against the pitch darkness of the extinguished lights; all lamps blown out.

As the silhouettes grow in the ruins of every house, we look up at the sky stretching our hands begging for forgiveness. We fear and lament. For what, why? Who do we pray to now? We bow down now in the emptiness; helpless, beaten, in despair. We give in to her strength in sorrow; something we should have done in happiness.

Will we love her now, unconditionally; will we listen to her after this veritable reality check? A child slapped hard, we either hold and carry the anger or realize the unconventional love behind it.

Like a mother, hopefully she’ll forgive us yet again and let us thrive. Hopefully, the morning will bring a new beginning.

‘What fabrication they are, mothers. Scarecrows, wax dolls for us to stick pins into, crude diagrams. We deny them an existence of their own, we make them up to suit ourselves – our own hungers, our own wishes, our own deficiencies.’
- The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Thank you Shonali for helping me with the translation
Shonali and I
© Soumen

© https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52765962

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© https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/event/2004-Indian-Ocean-tsunami/articleshow/55071172.cms

© Soumen



Picture copyrights:
Rabindranath Tagore - © https://www.amazon.in/Tallenge-Vintage-Photograph-Rabindranath-Tagore/dp/B076VGJ5K9