Tag Archive | India

Arzee The Dwarf – Chandrahas Choudhury

Arzee The Dwarf

 

It is habitual for my speculative ponderings to move beyond the close quarters of a book, but seldom do these contemplations seek out characters beyond the fluttering scripted pages, prompting a vague attempt to affiliate the wonders of fiction to factual generalities. Life is betwixt and between the diametrical parallels of birth and death. The commonality of the ‘act of living’ is magnified through the eventful narratives of the people and by the people. The allegorical metaphors laced among the fabricated world of a novella resting on symbolic characterization similitude denoting that indeed living is the most laborious, a battle against myriad unforeseeable forces and yet it is promising, a hope lurking through the dream of a beautiful future. The nonsensical plan of seeking the presence of a silhouette amongst the animated mass of people came to a standstill when the disorderly traffic overwhelmed my irrationalities. Why was I keen on finding the presence of Arzee on the streets of Mumbai? The image of a man who walked through the lanes of Grant Road encumbered by the pessimism of his reality and the optimism of an impending future. A man who stood atop the Grant Road Bridge looking down as the Virar train came into the platform, the sea of little figurines alighting from its compartment , wondering if the morning buzz of the railway station was akin to a movie scene being played. For a couple of nights, at the slight echo of the radio humming , why did I ponder whether amidst the serpentine line of parked taxis, was there someone similar to Dashrath penning the dialogues for a Bhojpuri movie or scripting a poem underneath the flickering street light to the warm sips of a‘cutting’ chai? Dreams waft through the scalding roads of Mumbai , the rays of hope colliding with the sun, the broken dreams of the past soaring into the humid skies beckoning an allure of a bright future, while the man walks in the present in the sweltering heat.“What I’m thinking is, do we live the life that’s given to us, or,’ said Dashrath, lifting his saucer up into saucer-skies, ‘do we really live a kind of dream life? We are to be found in the present, yes – walking, sleeping, working. But all the while, aren’t we really living in the past and the future?…”

Ergo, do we truly dwell in the ‘dream life’ or the expectation of a ‘dream life’? The life bestowed to us either by birth or circumstances, may take root in its mediocrity but living is neither simple nor easy. We stand firm, dance through the processions of troubles, are at loggerheads with our own convictions and our own impediments. Imagining our own future victories, we industriously strive through the present trying to achieve lost dreams of the past and create even better ones in the future.

 

The forlorn heart embarks on a flight of fancy oblivious to the old fears dwelling within it, the chimerical world leisurely shaping up the mental imagery. The proverbial castles in the air may not find a standing beyond the realms of its momentary pledges, still, the resourcefulness of a fantasy breathes vivacity within a humdrum life even if sways on the slippery perils. The deserving belief leans upon obscure laurels of deciphered mystical signs, taking a last chance on hope. The dream of his daughter’s wedding gives an optimistic father the vigour to go on working into his twilight years. The vision of his daughter decked up in an elegant wedding trousseau makes him forget the wretchedness of his depleted two room home in the corridors of the dusty chawl housing. The singleness of its purpose keeps Phiroz K. imagining his own little victories in the thick of the stuffy projectionist room. The aspiring thought of an imminent work promotion motivates Arzee to diligently walk towards the grandeur of the Noor. To face his fragilities when school children cross his path and on those disturbing days when Arzee knows he is much closer to the earth, the stench of a tar road reaching towards him sooner than the person walking next to him. Imagination gifts a sense of hope to the hopeless. It unshackles an individual from the woes of gulping the bitter pill of reality. Notwithstanding the risk of seizing the freedom from concocted illusion, the adorned metaphorical rose-tinted glasses seduces the lucid intervals of a rational mind, the doleful heart sheltered in its rosy shed of comfort.

“That’s right. Man is in chains everywhere!’ ……….‘The only thing that keeps him alive is his imagination. His feet are always shackled to the earth, yet he flies on the wings of his imagination. He is convicted by reality, and pardoned by the imagination.”

Proficiently, Choudhury underlines the essence of ‘imagination’ coupled with its consequential conundrum, generating a chain reaction to the vacillating dispositional idiosyncrasies. Imagination, as Dashrath asserts, is indeed wonderful, possessing the might of an exhausting mind, the waves of glittering hope navigating an ocean of emptiness. Still and all, when the rosy lens refuses to let go of its alluring abode, it shackles it creator, caged away from the winds of change, a diabolical tormentor. And, when finally the fated chains come off, does it set a man free or misplaces the sanctity of his sanity? Imagination then becomes a wonderful deceiver. Amid a modifying present, when the past becomes more powerful than the future, Man and his thoughts are stuck in the prism of time. The charms of the new avenues nauseate those left behind by the changing world. Arzee solely cared for the Noor Cinema; he did not care if everything else around him altered as long as the fate of Noor remained unaltered. The majestic Noor, becomes the ultimate symbol and a victim of a changing world and its citizens.

“My secret life grows bigger by the day, like a shadow in which I lie concealed. Ah, Noor! It was a great wall protecting me from abjectness, indignity – from the scraps thrown by the rest of the world. Let this night not end – let the day never come! But I know it will.”

For Arzee, Noor Cinema was a world within a world. Noor with its Noorian quirks sheltered Arzee from all the worldly vulnerabilities, all his inbred bitterness towards life; the agony of a questionable love; it was a home away from home. In an enigmatic celluloid world of Noor auditorium, Arzee towered all mortals. It is here that Arzee looks down upon his audience with contentment. He no longer needs to stretch his neck to see another face in the crowd. The metaphorical world of Noor makes Arzee taller. It is here in the two weeks of Arzee’s journey, where I find my answer to my search of Arzee’s silhouette among the swarming morning Mumbai streets. Aren’t we all in search for a world of our own? A world where we won’t be subjected to the prejudicial reality; where our vulnerabilities won’t be our sole liabilities, don’t we yearn to take refuge in such figurative world, ephemerally? Dashrath found solace in his penned words, Phiroz and Arzee had Noor and as for me it is the world of books, the realms of literature.

 

Here and there, on a few odd occasions, a book from the domains of Indian literature grapple my reading faculties holding me under a spell of engrossing thoughts and indulging in cerebral speculations, making me a sitting duck to my own sensibilities. To say that Chandrahas Choudhury pens an edifying erudition of Arzee and the people around the said protagonist thriving amid unruly, undisciplined world of Mumbai, would be an understatement, indubitably. Choudhury ups the quotient of this novel by rewarding the unassuming commonplace life with the caricatures of audacious and promising characters with a touch of dark humour. .. He Saw this life was to be a journey and that there was no home for him anywhere except in the hut of his own crooked self”….. ‘Living’ as it is known, likely encounters the risk of an insipid journey steadily culminating into a null and void hollow journey. It is the people who make every effort betting upon the odds of a possible far-fetched dream and the probability of dreams crumbling into the vicissitudes of life; impart the momentous eminence to the magnitude of subsistence. The ambiguity of life edged on a fateful coin flip, a fair shake on one’s livelihood brimming with memories and taking fighting chances on facts of life being stripped of all illusions.

Of course, he was still small – that he could never do anything about. But…he wanted people to always find themselves up against that ‘but’ when they thought of him

Being small, a dwarf, was Arzee’s biggest burden. Its weighty multitudes surpassing Arzee’s three-foot-five humble stature. Arzee yearned to be bigger, taller, amassing odds and ends, paraphernalia of life emancipating him from the societal trappings. In a prejudicial world, Arzee longed for normalcy, a sense of self-confidence diminishing all the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ thrown in his way. In the quest of no more being labelled as an ‘outsider’, Arzee relentlessly explored ways and means to be like everyone else; to amalgamate into the gigantic sea of people. Along the periphery of a world where gradations of physical traits equates the measures of normalcy, the fractional chalk talk established on commonness uniformity, Arzee may be lone wolf. But when viewed beyond this myopic palpable flippancy, Arzee was no different from any man, any individual walking on the streets of Mumbai, who is convicted by reality and pardoned by imagination; desiring a paradise of a requited love. Arzee in some admirable way represented every man and yet, sadly, he was singular in his status quo.

4/5****

Advertisements

Em and The Big Hoom – Jerry Pinto

Em and The Big Hoom
I’ve known her. Since the days when I was pudgy child panting from the summertime games, grabbing the large glass of cold crystalline water right off her benevolent hand. I’ve known her through those ritualistic morning temple walks with my grandmother buying radishes from her garden. When she birthed three lovely children gifting them with her naivety of grey irises, I’ve known her. But, she doesn’t know who I am, not anymore. Not even my mother, at times, who when heavily pregnant with me relied on this woman’s help. The peaches and cream complexion mislaid among the heavily sunburnt dermal cells, the hair haphazard in monochromatic shades demarcating the fading cheap black dye. Every alternate hour of the day, tucking her flimsy end of her sari in the folds of the wrinkled waist, she immaculately stands at the corner of the street fervently gesturing the obstinate transparency of the muggy air. Her incessant ramblings never cease to stop as she makes a detour to her house and then back again to the street corner shaking her head in dismay at the unsuccessful symphony of her hands and the invisibility of delusional opaqueness. She has her “good” days and “bad” days and then those daily loquacious outings reprimanding an unknown entity with the bus horn honking behind her. “Poor thing, she’s gone mad!”……….”Tsk, Tsk, what a shame… her brain is devoid of oxygen supply….”……” What can her family do? She’s a bit mental…”

The Indian Mental Health care system has three main terminologies in the layperson’s world, “Alcoholic”, “drug addict” and “mad/mental”. The third one is dismissed as a mere infliction, something that simply exists. The bulimic, anorexics are “mad” for not eating or puking, bi-polarity, schizophrenia is just some “madness”, post-partum…” the mother has gone “mad”…. The psychiatric ward at the J.J. Hospital or the infamous Thane hospital is dreaded more than submitting a blood sample for an HIV+ testing. Disregarding the essential need to categorise the mental illness treatments, majority of patients are shackled under a general psychiatric ward like cattle tied in overcrowding shed alongside alcoholics, drug addicts, for they are all “mad”. The Indian Mental Health Care system is in shambles with inadequate education imparted for the needy.

Mad is an everyday, ordinary word. It is compact. It fits into songs. As the old Hindi film song has it, M-A-D, mad mane paagal. It can become a phrase – ‘Maddaw-what?’ which began life as ‘Are you mad or what?’. It can be everything you choose it to be: a mad whirl, a mad idea, a mad March day, a mad heiress, a mad mad mad mad world, a mad passion, a mad hatter, a mad dog. But it is different when you have a mad mother. Then the word wakes up from time to time and blinks at you, eyes of fire. But only sometimes, for we used the word casually ourselves, children of a mad mother. There is no automatic gift that arises out of such a circumstance. If sensitivity or gentleness came with such a genetic load, there would be no old people in mental homes.

Unlike the vile stench of the Mahim creek spewing endless annoying grimace, I shall desist from the audacious display of my personal exasperation resisting the simmering urge to execute a meticulous anatomical bookish dissection. Abiding the serenity of the humble candlestick lit at the altar every Wednesday Novena at St. Michael Church and keeping my elitist biases at bay, my apprehensions over Pinto’s prose coagulate within the blurry stream of textual insipidness. Gratified as I am of Jerry Pinto for risking the unchartered waters of Indian Fiction dwelling on the neglected facets of mental health and suicide stemming in the narrow urban lanes of Indian diasporas humiliated by the medically privileged units and cementing the festering ignorance between the diversified therapeutic health care systems , nonetheless, somewhere among the crammed wordings of a lacklustre prose the quintessence of Imelda (Em) is misplaced , pick pocketed from a substantial subject matter that could have been safeguarded by a well-crafted assiduous manuscript. The journey of Augustine from Old Goa to a burgeoning Bombay, the vulnerability of a family in dealing with a system well-suited for the moneyed, fraudulent and mentally sound, languidly jogs around hoping to find a decent outlet through the cups of Nescafe and a faint whiff of a beedi.

Love is never enough. Madness is enough. It is complete, sufficient unto itself……… At times, when I was young, I wanted to be inside the dark tower so I could understand what it was like. But I knew, even then, that I did not want to be a permanent resident of the tower. I wanted to visit and even visiting meant nothing because you could always leave. You’re a tourist; she’s a resident..

All is not lost, yet. Only if Pinto had found a better editor, a smooth platform to run his thoughts and not jam-packed like a horde of sardines parallel to one bedroom claustrophobic continuation, this book would have been superior. The incessant human lines at Breach Candy hospital, needles piercing after numerous taps on swollen veins, the phenyl reeking white floors of J.J. Hospital, the calming doses of Lithium Carbonate and the schizophrenic subsistence of Em behind the flaky walls of a small flat repudiate to be empowered like the gallant Marine Drive breeze through this half-baked prose. A bottle of Old Monk and garlic chicken dry, however have a tale of their own. So does the archaic Indian Penal Code and the nauseating attitude of Indians towards patients of cerebral maladies.

2/5**

Broken Republic – Arundhati Roy

Broken Republic: Three Essays

A month ago, on a lazy Sunday morning peering through inner pages of Mumbai Mirror were a set of colorful pins neatly clipped on oiled hair, the only source of happiness I could find in the photograph flooded with vacant eyes. The women folk of the Dongria Kondh , a little known tribe in the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha must have by now got used to the press photographers clicking their faces ; their revolution against Vedanta ( a mutli-million dollar company owned by NRI Anil Agarwal) has reached its first victorious milestone. India’s first ever open environmental hearings may have been an opportunistic pawn in the political landscape where the tribe’s “sipahi” (soldier) Rahul Gandhi prosper or a simple game of ‘vote-whoring’ (the Dongria Kondh had not voted for Congress for 30 consecutive years). Nevertheless, the political move became their gold pot that put the tribe’s struggle on the Indian center-stage with the Supreme Court prohibiting the Vedanta group from carrying out bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri Hills that begin from the point where civilization as we know ends. A battle was won; a war yet to be conquered.

Time and time again I have inferred that democracy dwells in the homes of the rich. For the poor, it is a hallucinatory dais where their lives survive with a chimerical optimism. Slums spoil the picture perfect of shining India. Pavement dwellers, poor migrants are menace to the picturesque high-rise urban infrastructure. The poor swarm the cities, stink the surrounding with their filthy shanties. The impoverished population is a hindrance to the growth of India. The poor should be sent to the villages; they can’t afford to live in the cities. Where are their villages? Where are their lands? Captured by the very own architects of India shining? Their land is seized, their houses burnt, their tribes eradicated. Everyone knows the written word, ‘the poor are a menace to the flourishing society, like the Dalits who have always been a menace to the Brahmin social order’. To be a refugee in one’s own country is worst than a maggot infested slow death. Hence, where will the poor go? In which corner of the country will they be able to find a home? Are only guns or suicide written in their pitiful fate? After all, weren’t they following the orders of their country’s supreme leader, the Prime Minister who once said that for India’s sake people should leave their villages and move to the cities.

India has fought many wars, internal and external. Political analysts have speculated the 21st century to be a festering bed for civil wars. On the international podium the Indian political leaders have shown diplomatic sympathies to countries plagued by terrorism and civil wars. Yet, blatantly these same leaders chose to ignore the white elephant that strides in their own homeland. The Indian landscapes have been birthing numerous revolutions since the day of Indian achieved freedom from British colonial rule. The impoverish artisans, the landless, the Dalits, workers, farmers, et al.., have been engaged in a wide spectrum over 66 years. Arundhati Roy fires up three scintillating cerebral essays elucidating the insurgent landscape of “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by India.”The Maoist. These members of the banned Community Party of India (CPI) are prevalent and active in Central India, dominant in areas of Lalgarh, Jharkand, Orissa and in W. Bengal . Roy who passionately adheres to her activist image asserts that the Maoist’s guerrilla army in Central India is made up of poor desperate tribal who are fighting for a dignified survival.

Nobody needs a war. Wars annihilate civilization; gift the greedy their authoritative egocentric goals. Mostly, conflict arises from a desperate need for justice; it may arise from the need for authoritative power and in some instances from the falsified ideals of the fundamentalist fraternity. But, what about those conflicts that are organized purposefully? About those wars that become crucial to the government to enhance the climate of monetary investment? Roy, claims that the mining companies need this “war” between the Maoist and the State; an old technique employed to drive away the tribal people from their land.

“To justify militarization, the State needs an enemy. The Maoist are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalist what the Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalist?”

To this, one is then compelled to ask as to why it becomes essential for the combat forces to target only a solitary enemy while the other make speeches on political podiums. Why are the horrendous crimes of one terror outfit vividly splashed in the media while those of the other are clandestinely swept under the carpet? If this is the case, then why are the claims of India being a ‘Hindu state’ dismissed with political fervor? Why is the Indian government treating two terror outfits with vast discrepancies? Doesn’t this scenario infer the obvious? The real problem lies in India’s race to be a superpower and the struggle to sustain a celebrated economic growth rate. India even with its 66 yrs of independence is still a child when compared to the developed First World sovereign nations that have prevailed in their freedom for several hundreds , even thousands years. Akin to a child trying to become an adult, India in its restlessness to become an adult has forgotten the adolescence years of development and advancement. This restlessness has in turn given rise to the necessary evils of corruption and other unlawful practices of empty promises. Democracy has succumbed to fascist doctrines. India’s dirty war has not only crippled its people but also the foundation of its democracy. Furthermore, supporting her stance on the India’s war with the poor; Roy articulates the oddity that arises from the governmental negativity towards the negotiation talk of ceasefire with the Maoist.

“Odd isn’t it? That even after the Mumbai attacks of 26/11 the government was prepared to talk with Pakistan? It’s prepared to talk to China? But, when it comes to waging war against the poor, it’s playing hard ball”.

What a preposterous question? It is like asking a murderer who has already inserted a 6-inch knife in your stomach, whether death would be the final outcome? Why would the sadistic government want diplomatic conversations with the poor, when all they want is their land even at the cost of their life? Do the poor own nuclear weapons like Pakistan and China? This brings to the lingering question of what happens when the poor do really pick up weapons. Roy declares that it is an obvious form of combat for the poor to regain their dignity and freedom after being brutalized as there is no other “better” option rather than to fight. Suicide being a farthest option in this chaos. It is here that I find a bit discomfort in digesting the fact that if every violent action is generalized as self-defense then all the crimes would be acquitted on the ground of self-defense. If the poor who have chosen to defend themselves on their own through combat after being denied the said rights by the government then it also becomes acceptable for the victims on the other side of the conflict zone to raise their guns in self-defense. At this intersection it gets bit tricky to grasp Roy’s sentiments on the topic as in the third essay, she questions Operation Green Hunt’s self-defense theory whilst situating the clause of self-defense on favorable grounds with respect to the applicants of Maoist recruitment.

The main element in Mr. Chidambaram’s War is the establishment of Operation Green Hunt that is talked about in hush tones within the corridors of the Parliament; asserting its presence is an unimaginable thought. Chidambaram ( Union Minister of Finance) has always alleged that ‘Operation Green Hunt’ is the figment of imagination of Indian media and such an combat entity in reality does not exists. Interestingly, generous funds and armed forces have been allocated to the said eradication warfare program. The irony of the entire thing being the very existence of the name ‘Green Hunt’ that is out there to annihilate the environmental greenery, lacing thousand of tribals for the benefit for few yet influential imperialist forces.

What this country needs is revolution.

In Walking with the Comrades, Roy humanizes the brutal image of the Naxalite as she travels along with the Naxalite in the dense of forests aligning Dantewada. One can comprehend Roy’s empathetic demeanor to the Maoist and their struggle, when she questions the validity of Salwa Judum (Purification Hunt); the government sponsored vigilante groups helmed by a shrewd Congress MLA Mahendra Karma that was responsible for rapes, burning down the villages and other related brutality committed in conflicts of land grabbing. Mahendra Karma was killed in a specialized revenge attack strategize by the Naxalites to avenge the brutalities of Salwa Judum in the Bastar region. Do you think the poor tribals who worshipped their lands and mountains want a brutal war? Would they have joined the Naxalites, if their lands and homes were not seized by unlawful tactics and policies? Roy makes a strong case that stands by the helplessness of the tribes that are caught in the crossfire between the State and the Maoist. Roy’s prose is always a controversial one. Opinionated arguments have found a line of attack as far as Arundhati Roy is concerned; depending on which side of the fence one prefers to stand. Duplicitous workings of a corporation become vivid with the construction of a Cancer Hospital on the outskirts of a mining area. In the vein of a laughable diatribe one can assume the company slogan, “First we gift you cancerous cells and then we try and cure them”. Aren’t they a gem of a people? It is at this point I chose to be on the same side with Arundhati , irrespective to my differences with her other political scrutiny. When Roy questions the diabolical aspects of the Maoist and tribals being different entities, it further deepens the hypocrisies and the falsehood of the Indian government. Nevertheless, to be empathetic to the Maoist becomes a transitive factor of defending the bloodshed and the brutalities committed by the Maoists.

Although the word ‘terrorist’ can be easily manipulated by the egoistic political power-mongers, the word should not be loosely labeled. Terrorism is a politically and emotionally charged vocabulary. Hence, it is ambiguous. But, still isn’t the act of terrorism born from the desperation of need of a dignified survival? If you trace the historical events of terrorism, it is evident that the struggle has always been for the rights of people, the land, for freedom. Aren’t the dreams of a terror outfit, nightmarish to the rest of the world? If we start humanizing every act of terror by categorizing them by the degree of helplessness then violence would never stop until the last trace of civilization is eradicated from this planet. Terror can never be empathetic on the grounds of self-defense. There is no pardoning to brutality on human grounds. If that ever happens, then the entirety of terrorism would be acquitted on the said judicial grounds. War would then become a way of life. However, when the question arises of its origin, one is stumped by the much thought. Yes, it is true that Maoist are not the only one who seek to despise the Indian state, Hindu fundamentalist are even nastiest than the Maoist. And, what about the candidates of economic totalitarianism, who have compelled the poor towards suicidal desperation. Unfortunately, the Indian government has singled out Maoist as a terror outfit in order to win their ‘organized war’. Therefore, on the basis of these fundaments, it becomes plausible to identify with Roy’s inferences and viewpoints. Roy also points out the cruelty of the police force being imparted on any poor tribal with even the slightest resemblance to Maoist irrespective whether they being an active member of the group. But, isn’t this modus operandi works the other way too. Don’t the Maoists slaughter policemen on a slightest suspicion irrespective to their stand on the ongoing revolution? This stance has always been questionable.

“If the cinema smelled— then films like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ would not win Oscars. The stench of that kind of poverty wouldn’t blend with the aroma of warm popcorn.”

The poor appeal our fascination when they are framed artistically at an art exhibition or a festoon the cover pages of a book. Like the movie, we want to see the poor without their stench. We want to sympathize with their adverse fates over cups of frothy cappuccinos, but despise their presence in our backyards. ‘Trickledown Revolution’ begins with the lingering inquiry over the status of pavement dwellers being the refugees of India Shining- “people who are being sloshes around like toxic effluent in a manufacturing process that gone berserk” . Roy goes on to make a legitimate point with her analysis of the political execution of Cherukuri Rajkumar (Azad) just months ahead when the senior most member of the CPI was on the verge of negotiating a diplomatic dialogue between the Maoist and the State. Azad has said that “a ceasefire even a temporary one would give respite to ordinary people who are caught in the war”. The truth may have been lost in between the barrage of bullets and bloodshed, but one can’t deny the solid truth of ‘equality being a Utopian fantasy’ in the “other” India. The government needs this war; the tribals need their lands. With almost 100 million surviving tribal population, Roy seeks an alternative.

“Can we expect that an alternative to what looks like certain death for planet will come from the imagination that has brought about this crisis in the first place?”

Ultimately, where would one find India’s true democracy? Would it be found on the political dais at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi? Would it found in the combat of the helpless poor or in the mangled pages of Indian Constitution? Does democracy lurks through the monetary bribes given to the poor in exchange of their electoral votes? Will democracy ever cross the threshold of an affluent household? Or like Roy audaciously asserts, is India truly a ‘broken republic’

“Can you leave the water in rivers, the trees in the forest? Can you leave the bauxite in the mountain? If they say they cannot, then perhaps they should stop preaching morality to the victims of their war.”

Arundhati Roy’s words bring the best of me as a reader and the worst of me as a citizen. As a reader I may have a zealous streak while penning an appraisal , but as a citizen I turn off the news channel with the speed of a light as I’m more concerned about missing my favorite TV show rather than the anti-poverty protests happening in the city. I criticize the deeds of the very corporations while I immensely enjoy their fruits. Until the Niyamgiri revolution I was ignorant about the Vedanta group belonging to Mr. Anil Agarwal , but, I precisely knew which Bollywood star performed at Mr. Agarwal’s family function. I’m more interested in the size of the rice grain and not the farmer who committed suicide on the same land from where the rice had come. I’m pleased when slums are demolished as they would no longer spoil my ocean view. I have luxurious data about various world tribes right from the jungles of Amazon to the deserts of Africa. Yet, when it comes to knowing the tribal culture thriving in my own homeland I’m at loss of words. It is disgraceful to know that my awareness of tribes in India increases with every political conflict that is exaggerated in the media. Unlike, the tribals I understand greed. In fact, it festers within me with every monetary acquisition. The Superintendent of the Police was accurate in his conclusion about the tribals lacking the element of greed.
“See, ma’am frankly speaking this problem can’t be solved by us police or military. The problem with these tribals is that they don’t understand greed. Unless they become greedy there’s no hope for us. I have told my boss, remove the force and instead put a TV in every home. Everything will be automatically sorted out.”

It is the shameful truth! I live with it, guiltless.

The author interviewing the Maoist.

4/5****

Patriots and Partisans – Ramachandra Guha

Patriots and Partisans

To someone who is well-versed with the nitty-gritty of Indian political panorama and exceedingly vigilant to the chimerical democratic garb that Indian politics adorn, barring a few nostalgic personal textual pieces, this book is akin to reading newspaper articles and magazines scouting for scholarly debates over eloquent verses surpassing tapered attitudes to a universal perceptive of secularists farce under autocratic, fascists and pluralists mirages. To the unknown it’s a revelation.

2/5**

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity – Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

It’s been a distressful morning. The milkman won’t be delivering the daily liter of milk; his house was razed by the local municipality. The family of six has to do with a makeshift shanty to prevent them from drowning in the dense showers of late night rains. Futile visits to the local political corporator and pleading to a rigid money-lender for a loan is what his weekly schedule looks like. Troublesome as it is for a detour to the supermarket for packaged milk, my domestic help decided to call it a day as it is the last day to confirm her receipt for a governmental pension of her deceased alcoholic husband. For all those vicious thrashings and numerous marital abuses she stomached for a decade, she truly deserved the so-called posthumous alimony; although a pitiful sum. Oh! What a wretched day it is!! Not only do I have to check the availability of another maid, but go and pick my dry cleaning as the delivery boy was arrested for trying to sell vegetables on the street corner disregarding any philanthropic duties to the patrolling authorities. Dear Lord! Am I the only victim of such suffrage? Mercifully, my chauffeur seems to have escaped from any such problematic liabilities. His tardiness has got me a bit worried on missing my blow-dry appointment. However, I reckon shifting the spa-medic detoxification an hour later could comfortably ease the tea-garden brunch.

It’s still 9am and I’m halfway through my anti-bacterial wipes. I need to make quick stop at the local pharmacy for more supplies; but the snail speed of this wretched sedan is making me perspire through the cool air of the designed interiors, dreading the inevitable. A knock on the window and I’m in no mood of indulging an urchin while fretting over the scarcity of the anti-germ armament. Few more taps and he moves on to the next door amongst the sea of vehicles. Bombay traffic; oh so nauseating! Couple red lights and  I’m ready for a literary dialogue over freshly brewed oolong. As I alight from the car, a pair of white retinas stares at me with a half-broken smile. The offering of green pistachios macaroons seemed supplementary to the actual fancy; a few more arguments over the importance of food and then the ultimate dispensing of monetary funds. The cool sea breeze brushing my cheeks sarcastically mocks the cup of warm tea. I’m finally at peace. Argh! This unnerving stench rising from a nearby engulfment of reclaimed land festering with juxtaposed shoddy shanties ruins the temporary nirvana. Such a disgrace for a posh high-rise! I must take up this issue at the upcoming Housing meeting.

While meticulously placing their cups avoiding the untimely melody of their exquisite china, the urban snobs critique twirling their freshly sprayed coifs; applauded the heroic effort of a certain Katherine Boo for having the balls to submit herself to the putrid cocktail of sewage stench and decaying garbage for nearly four years. It is indeed a medal of honor; elsewhere the opinionated lecturer making a run out of the narrow congested lanes before the eau de cologne evaporates from their handkerchiefs. Katherine, in a news interview said that after her research on the inner-city housing in Oklahoma city, she was curious about the institution of poverty. What ways do the ‘poor’ people execute to get out their impoverish survival? How did they thrive in the existing circumstances? What would you want me to say? To pronounce, that poverty has become the selling point of Indian literary panorama? Does romanticizing poverty give a feel of diving into some kind of exotic uncharted waters? Or does it give one’s heart a philanthropic illusion? On an eventful itinerary to India pick out a slum and pen the daily events of a close knitted neighborhood huddled together in congested housing. If, appreciated by the designated literary elites, spare a thought towards the unfortunate over overtly publicized Literary fest and if Boyle &Co. decides to take another shot at the Oscars; Hallelujah!!! Stories are not only born in slums, allow the tales to pass through through many corners of the vast Indian landscapes. The residents of Annawadi are audacious, unafraid and above all optimistic dreamers. Poverty is the biggest crime. It is better to be a cold-blooded murderer, but it is a sin to be poor. To be poor is to be guilty of one or another thing. Commiserating Raja Kamble- the toilet cleaner; rag picker Sunil, one-legged Sita and the vulnerable Asha who dreams to be the first ever slumlord demeans their very existence. Applaud these residents of Annawadi through the lines of this text as they struggle through the dodgy circumstances with true grit; for if it was one of us we would sooner or later walk the path of death.

In a land where the supermarket does not boast ten different brands of toothpastes, give an Ayn Rand to a youth standing in the ration line and see a potent explosive rise. Crony capitalism, corruption, poverty and economic disparity are necessary evils in a country that is racing at an hare’s speed to meet the global finishing line. The sinister underbelly of Mumbai proliferates with every rise and fall in oil trade stocks. Does that give a leeway to the privileged to dig deep in the trenches and frolic in the slush? Stop romanticizing poverty!! Recognize the white elephant in the room and pen an epic of crony capitalism and its hoarders. Wouldn’t it then be fun to see a panel of illustrious erudite critique the printed words. Would they find it rewarding as the scriptures of impecunious nether world or dismiss it as an unpatriotic insanity like they do with most of Arundhati Roy’s books. There my dearies lay the valid underbelly of a blossoming India and not through impoverished assiduous lives.

I reckon the raspberry macaroons go very well with oolong and I might skip the Housing meeting . As for my concerned nirvana I’ll just spray some Comme des Garçons.

3/5***

A House for Mr. Biswas – V.S. Naipaul

A House for Mr. Biswas

There it is, a modest roofed structure in Sikkim Street standing tall amid the perfumed beds of anthurium lilies. New memories of wet earth after the rain, freshly painted picket fences, the sweet flowers of laburnum tree, mixed aromas flouncing through the warm rooms and wind whiffing through the trees telescoping the painful past. A sense of belonging cherished with merited identity-Mr. Mohun Biswas’s house.

I shy away from the postcolonial contemporary third world fiction. Most of them overwhelm me enlightening the crude aspects of economic claustrophobia which my snobbish approach thoughtlessly overlooks. Keeping in mind this criterion, I cautiously pick out the respected genre books anticipating a satisfying comprehension. Naipaul pens a coherent depiction of impoverished dwelling lost between self-identity and rigid ambitions. It is an exasperating yet rewarding life of a simple man who survives the nightmarish surrealism of being born at the devilish midnight hour. Meet Mohun Biswas, the youngest son of a pitiable sugar-cane labourer whose birth was cursed upon by superstitious omen and was destined to be a ruinous disappointment. Mohun’s life churns out be a metaphoric banner for destitution and misfortune. Blamed for his father’s death and the dissolution of the Biswas family, he struggles through every twisted fate of his life trying to find a speck of self-respect, contentment and independence. His marriage in the celebrated Tulsis family is burdensome and intoxicated with him being a mere accessory in his wife’s home. Dutifully carrying on with the mundane obligations, he berates his sympathetic existence. The only shining beacon of hope is a far-fetched dream of buying a house he can call his own. The notion of acquiring an abode becomes an eternal symbol of Mohun’s own existence as a journalist, a father, a husband and moreover a liberated individual.

Naipaul’s vastly elucidated and slow-paced prose underlines quite a few post- colonization inadequacies prevalent in several third world settings till date. Poverty, illiteracy birthing preposterous superstitious dogma, ethnic categorization of class superiority (restricted only to rural infrastructures) and tribulations of pecuniary discrepancies outwitting social hysteria.

Mohun’s tale is heroic in its own humble way. All the man wants in his life is a cozy dwelling without the fear of acerbic prejudices. Some would ridicule on this psychological aspect of obtaining a house. It’s a house, for crying out loud! Why make a big deal of it? For an individual who not only thrives in poverty but is tossed among bizarre quarters of underprivileged hardships; the belief of owning a house becomes deeply satisfying, somewhat a battle in itself. Hear, Hear! To Mohun for making peace with his maddening ordinary living.

4/5****

The Glass Palace – Amitav Ghosh

The Glass Palace

During my pre-vegetarian days, I used to find solace in a warm, juicy scrumptious steak n’ cheese sandwich washed down by a chilled Heineken. Especially, if the gooey cheese was a blend of Munster, Monterey jack and yellow cheddar; the bread not too soggy but aptly moisten by the beef gravy. It is pure bliss. On the other hand, a classier version for $150 is layered with buttered lobsters, black truffles and caviar. Now, why would someone mess up such a meticulous appetizing combination? Stop! Do not ruin the sandwich. Sometimes finding equilibrium with the culinary fest becomes essential to restrict the malfunction of the taste buds. What a fucking nincompoop you would say, comparing an internationally acclaimed novel to a mere sandwich. Hey! I am somehow craving for meat now and couldn’t find a better way to evaluate this book. I am not going to air kiss and bestow courteous admiring comments as to how the book merges a fascinating piece of history with a gratifying story. The cynical bitch that I am, I want to know if it was worth my money.

Encyclopedia! Encyclopedia! That is the golden word here. C’mon Ghosh, you know better that sometimes too much chronological information in a fiction novel can be irksome and skepticism may prevail over the respective purchase. There were times, many times throughout the narration, I wished to have simply bought a non-fiction Burmese history book and could have used the remaining to purchase some beer. Alcohol did prove to be a crucial company during some parts of my reading. One thing you should be sure of, Ghosh loves history and with his books one can gain knowledge of varied historical eras. For all the history buffs out there, it’s treat fellas!!! Just like his in depth elucidations on the opium wars in Sea of Poppies, Ghosh spans put this plot over a century ranging from the fall of Mandalay, the World wars(I&II), the Japanese invasion of Malay, the Indian independence and finally the modern times with a mention of Aung San Suu Kyi.Phew!!! It is not that bad. The transformation of landscapes and the changes in fortune and agricultural economies turn out to be quite mesmerizing. The exile of King Thibaw and the aftermath of his family life in the western coastal region of India was job well done.As for the creative writing part of it, the lives and families of Rajkumar and Dolly over three generations were loosely scripted and eventually got a bit unexciting. At times there is hurriedness in the author’s writing which can be evidently seen in the abrupt endings of some chapters. It seems like Ghosh, at some point must have been overwhelmed with his subjective research and could not find symmetry between reality and fantasy. Just like the fancy steak sandwich; all those flavors of buttered crustacean, meat, cheese, truffles and maybe salmon roe, it a medley of disaster. It is not worth to separate the ingredients and if eaten in it entirety one cannot taste a damn thing.

Lastly, I like to thank the makers of Heineken for not only making the vegetarians a happy bunch of people, but ,also for a superb fermentation process without which there would not be any chilled beer to be pleasured on a blistering day and help my reading. As for Ghosh, darling, it would be an immense delight to meet you in person; as far as the books goes I would delightfully adore them only through the display windows.

3/5***