February 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
Originally published at goodbooks, a website for reviews, discussions and more on Indian Children’s books.
Every once in a while, one ends up with a book which sounds promising, gets excited, only to be disappointed in the end. Madras, Chennai, if you want, is my home and it isn’t common to find a children’s book, set here.
The story as such is truthful- Balaji Venkatramanan takes us through the world of IIT classes, cricket coaching, spelling bees etc- the cold, planned summers which are built by zealous, domineering parents for their wards. The book is a journal of Ravi, the child who decides he is to have a few fun things as well, and, along the way learns a few invaluable lessons.
Where the book fails though, is the writing. Children’s books are about children. As such, the best writers for children are great story tellers- they bring to life a world of adventure, discovery and most of all, do not impose adult views of the world on to the story. The author has liberally sprinkled his take on everything under the sun as the view of the narrator. A few examples:
“Storytelling- it’s such a girly session. The less said the better. Only girls and the girl-type guys attend. I am too old and macho for that.”
“Sanaa, though thirteen, is wearing a six-year-old’s top and a five-year-old’s shorts. Seriously, where are they from- Delhi or Denmark? GRUMPY GRAPES I dare not think what they would wear if they went to US or elsewhere.”
“Mom thinks marbles is a game for those who use Indian-style toilets. What skewed logic! But that’s mom for you.”
“One thin AIDS-patient-like guy asked for Suresh’s cigarette to light up his own.”
“Every moron these days can play the keyboard or sing or dance with the exception of me…”
“I do really hate the retired types. The JACKFRUIT retired cases. I think they should keep a warning board in every apartment ‘beware of dogs and retired cases: one barks, the other bites, guess who?”
’Who won it? Was it the yellow-underwear girl or the black-underwear girl?’ Would you believe it? It was our tennis coach”
Not sure what exactly is the author’s intention here, but a plain reading of it, does come out as distasteful, sexist and utterly inappropriate, especially in a children’s book. Not merely the comments, but their position in the book- these could have been done away with entirely and don’t add much to the story. Wonder if the publishing house (Duckbill) holds similar views, considering they have kept it.
Ravi Venkatesan, a twelve year old boy, loves to swear. Of course, there isn’t actual swearing, just names of fruits, as he fears the journal might land up in the hands of his mother. Funny name calling should be fine, but page upon page, we are put through mangoes, grapes and watermelons- bigger the fruit, the more intense the emotion. It is almost tiring even, to imagine an adolescent with such a big gutter mouth. JACKFRUIT tiring.
The strength of the book is the plot. Ravi gives the slip to his parents to play with Durai, the son of his family’s ex-maid and Durai’s friends along with his best friend, Ramesh. The adventures are exciting and fun. We are even taken on a tour of the Mylapore street festival. As the boys lounge in a graveyard and Ravi ensures they win a few bet matches against rivals, the trouble comes when there is a “gang” fight- Ravi and his friends jump into a flat, where a car with broken glass gets them into trouble. The two worlds of Ravi meet, with an obvious ending.
Ravi is also obsessed with breaking coconuts for God, with him offering the tropical fruit for all sorts of favors. Nothing wrong with that, just might not be everyone’s cup of filter coffee, especially when the same thing is repeated over and over and over and over.
While the story as such is exciting, it wasn’t a fun read, as the author keeps tripping on his shoelaces, imposing his sordid views throughout. Overall, the book could have been made to work. Looking at the plot objective, there is nothing wrong with it, in fact the book presents a reality. If the author had kept out his prejudices and merely written the story, the book might have worked.
February 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
There is a certain comfort in letting a book consume you. You turn into that person who watches all, and yet doesn’t take part in it; except that you do. You let the deaths, the tortures to become your own. You let the joys, those frivolous little things bring happiness. You see people walk into lives and walk out, crushing, churning, screaming, loving, but in the end, it has to end, inevitable.
Is it at the last word on the last page? Or is it when a week later, finally the plot germinates to become complete, to become yours, rather than the writer’s? When the story however strange and alien, becomes your own, to tell, to discuss? Or is it when the story after months shreds everything, and all that remains is that character, that condensed plot, and the emotions condensed to a few frames, to a certain smell, an image maybe?
When is the beginning? The day you first hear of the book, or see its cover in a book store? Or is it when you buy it, steal it or borrow it, to read? Is it when you are through a few pages, when the writing pattern and the tensity are established, when the tempers morph to a familiarity?
The book consumes you. You begin to live it. You are in it. At first it is like adolescent love, but soon it becomes a person, complete. And it becomes a part of you- not as a child, born and separate, not a conjoined twin, but a begin much closer, within you, which exists apart from you, but still with you.
The book finds you and then devours you, slowly. It squiggles into your reality, mercilessly eating into it, opening the cracks and in a while making you change. Out of it, you come, as a different being, one who has gone through the book, literally, musing over, lost to words, which seem to be images, which seem to be sounds, which seem to be smells; but surely they are words?
Let a book consume you. Don’t be afraid of it. It might seem unreal, but it is real. The story is true, the people are alive, whatever the disclaimers tell you- don’t be fooled by the writers, that is what they do. And while it might all seem like an almost forgotten dream, dreamt on a long Sunday, it isn’t really a dream. It is part of you. Let the book consume you.
February 8, 2014 § 1 Comment
In his sleep, he turned over and inadvertently cut the cord.
The knowledge sunk in, under its own weight and drowned.
The sea swelled a bit and touched his little toe.
He felt a tickle.
It was the end.
Maybe the beginning.
He was afloat, he lay, straight.
He opened his eyes.
He felt the world within.
And the terror grew.
He closed his eyes.
And the world rested.
A cord grew, through his navel, yearning for light.
He was dreaming again.
A flower bloomed.
Knowledge was reborn.
The more you know, the more you believe.
The more you believe, the more you are lost in it.
Someday you too shall dream, like the God.
January 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
Inspired by an experience, a friend had recently. This isn’t a real dream, rather a work of fiction,er…I think.
And the gas cylinder burst. I woke up with a start, only to find myself in a room full of what seemed like Oompa-Loompas. They peered at me, curiously, through the bright light; a few moments later they panicked when I blew my nose and a boogie hit one of them in the eye. A big ruckus followed, I lay there, tied, unable to shut my ears, nose or other er…entries,er…access points? Before I could choose the right word,a big needle emerged, which I guessed, they intended to poke me with.
And I screamed my lungs out- never, ever use a needle which you are unsure about; or razors. I have screamed quite a bit in my life, my voice holds its own at those decibels, much like the singer who can out shout..er, sing, supersonic planes, but for some reason my lungs decided to tear. Blood splattered as I continued to scream and splattered the white wall, the whitest thing I have ever seen, except the face of the Oompa-Loompa on whose face the boogie had landed. The blood painted the wall and suddenly the red queen came up to me. She was happy and even conferred a title upon me; the plaque awkwardly placed, caused itches, and I desperately wanted to scratch. At that moment my lungs decided to disintegrate- they seemed to have popped out through my mouth and lay on the floor, the queen stamped on them and the alveoli popped like bubble-wrap. The red queen tasted the blood which seemed to have hit her face, concluded that I was a slimy wretch, decreed I had to be executed.
And I whimpered unable to move. There was water all around, I could feel it and see it out of the corner of the eye, but I couldn’t turn. Above me were the most beautiful colours I had ever seen; what a lovely sunset, I thought. I relaxed, though I knew my limbs were bound and was waiting shark food. It was night, but the sea was lit by some sort of light, I knew not what- maybe a meteorite making its way to end humanity or a volcano- but I wasn’t particularly in a mood to think about our very evolved species. Suddenly, a single horn appeared at the horizon of my sight. I was glad, I would be saved, this was surely a manifestation of the god who has over numerous ancient, not-to-be-questioned books saved quite a few from impending doom. I wasn’t sure I had done enough to merit this, but, strange are the ways of…this is when I became aware that this was a dream…but what if…
And I was right. This wasn’t a dream, I saw that it wasn’t a fish approaching me, rather there was a school of them. Each of a religion, I thought. Food for thought, maybe now their brain might build with that tiny-winy additional protein. I heard screams, so there were others here, lots of good protein, though I am sure they aren’t as fit as I am. As the fish(one, not the school) swallowed me, I felt a tug, there had been a string attached to me all along, so this was all a ploy to catch them…
And I felt the acids burn. It corroded me, my skin was coming off…I was on a mountain top- die, they said, burn, for that is the law of this land, they said, I felt something moving below me, it left familiar, it was my fiance and he was dead. I didn’t scream and accepted it, for there was nothing else to do; it wasn’t done yet. Wait, I am a guy or am I- my hands are still tied.
And they planned to pull my brains out of my head. This seemed comforting, for this would all surely draw to a tame close. At that thought, the doctor looked at me; they wanted to peel my skin, for science. They wanted to test the pain barriers, apparently, for science. Presently they taped my mouth, and the man in the white coat walked up to me and assured me that it would all be deliciously painful.
And bear our sins, they chanted. You are our messiah, I could still smell the perfumes they had sprayed me with a few hours ago. It all burnt, like old cloth I burnt, a mess…
And I could smell the paper burning. I woke up with a start. This was the issue all along, I guess, the paper burning. What a way to wake me up, I chided my head. The paper had caught fire from the mosquito coil, and was burning. I picked up the water bottle and doused the fire, dark the other half.
And the nurse walked in- there she stood, a nurse in perfect whites, hair in a perfect bun, perfectly shined shoes, with a perfect shine, perfect in every way a nurse is perfect. I could even smell the shampoo she had used on her lovely, perfectly curly hair. I smiled, but she looked perfectly horrified. I did not know what and glanced at the bottle. The terror grew, with the pain. At first a tickle, and then a recognition, by the time the terror reached adolescents, my head hit the pillow, I lay.
I could hear someone else walk in, not nurse shoes, maybe a male nurse? But…it was the doctor. I could feel the light slowly fading out, exactly like in the thousands of movies you have seen, but just before I popped off, I saw the doctor, he smiled and stroked my jugular, and said something which didn’t sound too promising. Vampire food, but don’t they like it fresh? I felt something pierce my neck. Damn you, twi…
And blink now, thrice or you shall die.
January 17, 2014 § 1 Comment
The problem with pulling up issues in a system in India is that you will be given examples of thousands of other things which are wrong. “That is the system.” You will be told, as if it is the vedas reduced to a mantra.
In a country where rapes are staple, and we pretty much don’t do anything about it, what do you expect to be done with regard to anything else?
Here’s the low down- the results are out again, and surprise, surprise, 3.15% of those who the exam have cleared. Is this really such a difficult exam? Maybe yes, maybe not. But what the majority of us feel is a frustration. Frustration that this system is like a lottery. Just because we are ‘students’ doesn’t mean we lack the instinct to know if what is needed has been done- especially when the papers are made of questions from earlier papers and the board has given out its answers.
Marking is subjective. Does it make sense to have a system where the bias of the corrector would affect the paper? We go through at school- where people with a prowess in a particular subject are marked down for ‘showing too much’, but in a professional exam? It isn’t about ‘showing too much’ here, rather where thousands of people write and evaluated by thousands of others, how do ensure consistence? This question stems from a larger issue, which might sound ugly on paper, hence left out.
Add to this a subject with outdated syllabus, (56 kbps internet connections, anyone?) and you are in hell. But looking beyond this- we are told time and again that results are manipulated to suit the demand and supply. Whatever that is. We are told horror stories, of how bad the evaluation is, by people who have made it to the other side. And you know what is annoying? Not the system, but people who refuse to do anything about it.
It is like screaming into the dark and the voices reply you are right; turn on the light and ask them, they shall say, you are wrong. No one will do anything about it, because this is our system. It ensures, I really don’t know what. We believe that people’s lives and careers are numbers, and who cares what happens?
Maybe this post is all wrong- maybe I am really not good enough for this course, like all my friends out there, who are at least as frustrated as me. But that’s another story. Stop giving me advice, I can, we can, deal with it. If you really want to help, do something about the system; if you care. We can very well see the albatross around out necks, we don’t need you to point it out, time and again.
This post is written in frustration. The only way I know to deal with things is to write about it. Don’t bother commenting on this with nine yards of advice- it amounts to nothing. I refuse to understand this is how things in this country work. It is wrong and I refuse to rationalize it. I am now sure even if I were to clear this exam, I wouldn’t feel a sense of achievement. At the same time, taking nothing away from those who have cleared these exams, now, in the past and in the future- a few might say you were lucky, and maybe you are- but you still had to give enough for that luck to come into play.
At the moment, all that remains is an utter sense of hopelessness. I will recover, because that is what I always do. I am glad to have friends who can help me through this, but again, another 7-8 months of my life would be left in a lurch. The exams require mental and physical strength, apart from a good few months of prep. and that is no fun. And there is nothing which says things are going to be fair next time.
It is okay to fail in something- no one ever succeeds in everything they undertake. But to know you were given a fair shot at things is more important to be able to move on.
Again, maybe I am all wrong about this. Probably, I am? After all, this is your favorite, trusty old system.
December 17, 2013 § 1 Comment
A city is a beast made of dreams; built house by house, and then home by home, slowly laid, and then cramped into little matchbox rooms where the cement holds unabridged, the promises of a tomorrow. This creature of wonder, an ensemble, of people together, almost the same, yet ever so different when you look closely, is best understood when you walk it.
Walking a city is a learning. Each step is a surprise, even if you have lived there forever. That morning you wake up to see the slight haze hang over the complexes or the walk along a promenade near the sea, you discover a crumbling building which you never knew existed or that there is an old man in your neighborhood who sits at the same spot everyday.
And then you learn a city is made of parts, an area has its own air of unique dirt and smoke, a road is full of wisdom and another full of vice, yet another lane is where you would find blinkered tourists buying their share of memorabilia. There are lakes where chirping birds saunter their days, away from the screaming horns; there are rivers filled with sewage, with kites circling over, even while crows scout from atop hoardings selling underwear, condoms or perfume.
There is food, in all shapes, tastes and hygiene. You could brave diseases or choose to obey what your mom thought you and eat from seemingly neat looking places with tampered mineral water bottles. As you walk, you can chew on that bit of fine bajji coated with oil reused and reused, or better still just watch a friend do it.
A city is an adolescent who woke up on a morn to find that she’s a teenager; a teenager who finds that she an adult. The old lady of the village, she would never be- forever left in the drive of one generation or another, spewing and spawning, breaching, growling and growing, in mind and spirit, guilty, then wont and then unaware of her past, left to dry like tanks and ponds, only to be covered by landfills, dirty roads and finally buildings of hopeless belief.
A city eats as much as it feeds. She takes away the best from those gamble all they have in hope to quench their purple dreams and feed them vanilla days of slow despondence, with taints of fading grey- uncertain virtues and decided vices, tears of ephemeral pain and fleeting joy.
A city is of the people; but not made by the people; rather by those cramped buses which carry to work, the hoards in crumpled shirts and salwars, even as the gears groan tiredly in arthritic pain. As you walk into those districts of tall and taller buildings, as you push past the crowds of the shopping streets, haggling with fate itself(of others and yours), and walk into those stations which lead into the mofussil, you can feel a pulse, sometimes strong, sometimes not so loudly, but surely of a beast who is growing, stretching her arms, ready to embrace all those would dare, maybe even a little peck on the cheek, maybe even clandestine love like those behind her parks’ bushes.
A city is best understood walked- through her broad arteries or narrow bazaars leading to temples, mosques or churches. A city is best known in the eyes of those who push and shove each other out of the way, those who push through her breaches, in as much to redefine this bit of humanity as to define her, to decorate her and in the end to berate her as they stand cramped in locals or stuck in foreign air-conditioning.
A city is a beast you grow to love, and then to hate, but in the end who will still love her. A city is your hope, as much as you are her’s, and as you walk past the shut door late at night, there is always a crow which shall cry in sleepless fright, for another day shall soon follow, to wallow, to screech, to grow, yet another day, mighty, with her own usurped grace.
November 17, 2013 § 3 Comments
As Carlsen pulls another one out of the proverbial magic hat, a reporter throws a question to Vishwanathan Anand about Sachin. Frankly a very silly thing to do, when a fellow has just battled for about 5 hours and lost it for seemingly a single error. But what it does bring to light though, is the story of a generation for whom a guy with a short stride forward and push through the covers did more than anyone else, a guy on whose shoulders they let the weight of their expectations rest, An atlas of sorts; and he held it.
The praises and the tears flow much like an overflowing river, perhaps to touch the feet of this cricketing god, or so it would seem. This country loves to worship, loves to throw it all in, to gamble its emotions and let the stars do their bidding. On a little man, for years, it gambled all that it could, and in some measures it was repaid. Personal hopes and unfulfilled dreams were left in a blissful abeyance, as he shooed away those miscreants who dared impose their presence on his bright side screen. As the little red cherry was wistfully driven away to the fence, at a Perth, at a Wacca or at a Lords, the fellow drove the placid to tears.
The story isn’t really about cricket, or golf for that matter, or curling. The story is about how a boy who as grew into a man came to define a generation. How a name could turn penury into a few seconds of ecstatic bliss. It doesn’t matter, how he did it, rather what he did for those who pledged their hours to wristy cuts leaves an emotional footprint to be fossilized for a couple of centuries, at least. He might have stood against wall, he might ridden plaintively in quiet determination through those years when games were supposedly thrown away at a price, but that night he flicked away an Akram at Sharjah or the day he swept away a Warne at MCC was enough for the nation to taste its heart, sweaty, greasy, but still hopeful.
This is the story of a boy who caught the tails of television, of live telecast and the clever commentary of a certain Bhogle. With him they could let their dreams seem bigger than they were, feel a bit more whimsical about life in general, even while at the other end a Dravid slowly worked a boring reality of sorts, grinding the willow, adding flying bits of the leather to a grassy top. This is the story of a man of not merely stats, but of the unstated. A man whose dash across the 22, seemed to solve more problems than yatras did.
This is the story of the generation(s) who were ready to give their hearts and years, who coveted happiness and instead found joy unbound in those fleeting moments. None shall be able to the same- because with the little master of unbroken dreams retires that fleeting love affair. Talent, ability and achievements are elements, yes, but more than that, to sate belief through darkness and to sally hope through foggy yearnings is a task of a different order.
None shall be the same, because that generation has now grown up. The romance has already been written and now shall be allowed to while away till it acquires that particularly lovely tint that old books do. The generation gambles no more, but sullies in thought of days ahead. Maybe it would find a hero, but she shall be of a different sort. The story it wants to write is no more romantic, but of bravery, boldness and unflinching strength. That is how it wants to be seen, and for that it will hunt far and wide, peering deep into its own musty soul.
As the masala moves along, this story ends with a national award, which till date has been reserved for life time achievers, the rulers and their friends. In a sense, the script has been worked wonderful, with shades of the 90′s even. In this, shall the generation recount its tryst with star-dust, with the same gusto reserved for certain stars, a la Rajanikanth.
While not a fan of the game or the player, leaving aside records, contributions, controversies, what strikes me as an observer, is the emotional impact Sachin Tendulkar had on a whole generation which grew up watching him in their little screens.