A Decade in Blogging: A Journey through 20th century Russia

Sometimes time flies, and sometimes it stands still. Before I knew it, 10 years of writing the book annual digest on this blog had passed. Reading them makes me nostalgic and occasionally rekindles my interest. At times, my own words sound surprisingly unfamiliar. Taking a view of a decade gives me a perspective that is not discernible when I look back at the end of each year.

Quite a lot of my reading has been at the blurry edges of literature and politics, between paradise and labyrinths. These labyrinths traverse across many lands and times. They have taken me to to places made familiar by past reading- Russia, Hungary, various countries in South America — all places I have visited only via books. In the last decade, a few new countries surfaced on my literary map — Guatemala, Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Norway and Bolivia.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

But nowhere feels as familiar a home as Russia does when it comes to literature. The universal themes of Russian literature make us all feel Russian at heart. For me, this started during adolescence and continues to be of interest, though less intensely, in the decades since.

The reason isn’t too far to seek; the classical Russian novel was more than a work of literature. More often than not, it was a means for communicating ideas and philosophical reflections. There is also a remarkable continuity of themes, what with Russian writers taking up, as it were, themes from a previous novel by a different writer and forging ahead on the trail. .

If Latin American literature is an Amazonian river, Russian literature is like a constellation providing direction to lost voyagers– as we all are at some point or the other.

***

During the last decade, I have journeyed through 20th-century Russia through some of its novelists of this period. Some of the more significant writers that I read in the last decade are Andrey Platonov, Vasili Grossman, Evgeny Zamyatin, Mikhail Bulgakov, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and, more recently, Boris Akunin. What follows is a digest of this journey through my reading lens. Continue reading “A Decade in Blogging: A Journey through 20th century Russia”

Anhey Ghorey Da Daan- A Review

It takes some time for the film to sink in, but when it does, Anhey Ghorey Da Daan (Alms for a Blind Horse) has mastery written all over it.

That Anhey Ghorey belongs to niche contemporary cinema is not insignificant, even more striking is that the film is in Punjabi. This is a dissonance- the film in every way is far removed from what one expects from a Punjabi movie, or even the Hindi movies that Punjabis make.

Isn’t any movie in Punjabi about a Jatt on a revenge spree? Isn’t every Hindi movie with Punjab in the background about lush green fields swaying with bright mustard crops? If not about the big fat Punjabi weddings, isn’t it supposed to be about the valour of militant patriots like Bhagat Singh?

Based on a novel of the same name by Gurdial Singh, Anhey Ghorey presents a contrarian perspective- something that isn’t found in the Bollywoodized versions of Punjab. The story is not about the revenge of the Jatts, it is not about a militant valour either. It is a life that at best is stoic, and at its worst is impassive in the face of hardships. It shows one day in the life of a Mazhabi Sikh family that lives on the fringes. The characters don’t jump into a frenzy of song and dance every few minutes- instead they eek out a  precarious existence against a a volley of brutal attacks on their daily existence.

Continue reading “Anhey Ghorey Da Daan- A Review”

Links…

A very comprehensive essay on The Dreyfus Affair that split French opinion in the 1890s- 1900s.  (wikipedia link) and which in literature is most remembered for the references it finds in Proust’s works. I found the following observation to be quite insightful though it is tangential to the topic.

In any modernized country, the backward-looking party will always tend toward resentment and grievance. The key is to keep the conservatives feeling that they are an alternative party of modernity. (This was Disraeli’s great achievement, as it was, much later, de Gaulle’s.) When the conservative party comes to see itself as unfairly marginalized, it becomes a party of pure reaction…

Githa Hariharan has a fine column in The Telegraph where she writes about the ‘kitsch in everyday life‘:
Continue reading “Links…”

Le Clézio’s Nobel Lecture

This year’s Nobel laureate Le Clézio gives an impassioned Nobel Prize lecture, in a sense taking off from where Doris Lessing had left it last year. He quotes a passage from Stig Dagerman that influenced him as a writer and touches on many themes including a call for re- claiming the word “globalization” as well as for reclaiming a place for literature in face of the audio and visual media. Among others, he dedicates his lecture to the Mauritian Hindi writer Abhimanyu Unnuth, Qurratulain Hyder (for Aag Ka Darya) and the Mexican writer, Juan Rulfo.

A few excerpts from the lecture: (link via Literary Saloon)

How is it possible on the one hand, for example, to behave as if nothing on earth were more important than literature, and on the other fail to see that wherever one looks, people are struggling against hunger and will necessarily consider that the most important thing is what they earn at the end of the month? Because this is where he (the writer) is confronted with a new paradox: while all he wanted was to write for those who are hungry, he now discovers that it is only those who have plenty to eat who have the leisure to take notice of his existence.” (from Stig Dagerman’s The Writer and Consciousness)


Continue reading “Le Clézio’s Nobel Lecture”

Tamil Pulp Fiction


Mukul Kesavan in the Outlook in a superb review of an anthology of Tamil Pulp fiction, wonders why India apparently lacks popular ‘pulp’ fiction.
This has something to do with the narrowness of the social class that reads English for pleasure in India. But even within this sliver, publishers seem to aim their books at the tiny minority that’s willing to be bored witless in the name of art. The idea of fiction as guiltless diversion where the reader turns pages in search of reliable narrative pleasure, doesn’t seem to exist.

This is because all the popular fiction produced in India is published in Indian languages.

Which brings me to this anthology, a riveting collection of stories written by 10 bestselling Tamil writers. They are real professionals who make Stephen King and Barbara Cartland look like amateurs. Indra Soundar Rajan, who is represented here by a splendid story on the theme of reincarnation, has written 500 short novels. If that sounds like fiction manufactured on an industrial scale, wait till you get to Rajesh Kumar, who has published 1,250 novels and 2,000 short stories in 40 years.

Related Posts:

Tamil Dalit Poetry
Rajan Iqbal

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Wrong Heaven by Rabindranath Tagore

Continued from here:

That day, too, the workless man stood on a side.

The girl asked, “What do you want?”

He said, “I want more work from you.”

“What work shall I give you?”

“If you agree, I will make a ribbon for your plait by knitting together colourful threads.”

“What would that do?”

“Nothing at all.”

A ribbon of many different colours was made. Ever since, it takes the girl a long time to tie her hair into a plait. Chores are left undone, time passes by.

4

On the other hand, with time, big gaps started appearing in the working people’s heaven. Tears and songs filled those gaps.

The heavenly elders became deeply concerned. A meeting was called. They said, “Such a thing has never happened in the history of this place.”

The heavenly messenger came and admitted his mistake. He said, “I have brought a wrong man to the wrong heaven.”

The wrong man was brought to the meeting. His coloured headgear and waistband were enough to tell everyone that a grave mistake had been committed.

The chairman said to him, “You will have to return to earth.”

He tucked his bag of colours and brushes to his waist and with a sigh of relief said, “Off I go then.”

The girl came and said, “I will go too.”

The elderly chairman became a little abstracted. This was the first time he had witnessed something that had no meaning at all.

THE END

Image source: http://threadsofatattinggoddess.blogspot.com/

(Short Story by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Bhaswati Ghosh)

Wrong Heaven by Rabindranath Tagore

The man was totally out of work.

He had no occupation, just many different hobbies.

He would stuff mud inside small wooden cubes and decorate those with little shells. From a distance, those appeared as a haphazard painting with a bunch of birds within them; or a patchy field with cattle grazing on it; or undulating hills, out of which a waterfall or a trodden path peeked out.

There was no end to the chastisement he received from his family members. At times, he vowed to drop all this madness, but the madness never deserted him.

2

There are some boys who are lax with studies the whole year, but still pass the exam for no reason. The same happened with this man.

His entire life was spent without doing anything, yet after his death, he heard he had been approved to ascend to heaven.

But even on the way to heaven, destiny doesn’t forsake a man. The messengers put a wrong sign on him and took him to the working people’s heaven.

This heaven has everything except leisure time.

The men here say, “Where’s the time to breathe?” And women say, “I am going, dear, there’s a lot of work to do.” Everyone says, “Time is valuable.” Nobody says, “Time is priceless.” They all lament by saying, “We can’t take it anymore.” This makes them very happy. The music here plays to the refrain of the grievance “Oh, I am so tired!”

This man doesn’t find any space, he can’t fit in. On the road, as he walks absent-minded, he blocks the path of busy people. Whenever he he tries to rest by spreading his sheet at some spot, he learns seeds have been planted at that very place for cultivating crops. He has to always get up and move.

3

Every day, a busy girl comes to the source of the heaven to fetch water.

She darts through the path like the quick gat of a sitar.

She has tied her hair into a hurried rough knot. Even so, a few restless strands of hair bend down her forehead to get a peek at the black stars of her eyes.
The heavenly unoccupied man was standing on one side, still as Tamal tree standing beside a sprightly waterfall.

Just like a princess feels sorry for a beggar passing by her window, the girl felt sorry for this man.
“Aha, so you don’t have any work to do?”

Letting out a sigh, the workless man said, “There’s no time to work.”

The girl couldn’t understand any of his words. She said, “Do you want to share some of my work?”

The unemployed man said, “I am standing here only to share your work.”

“What work will you take?”

“If you can give me one of those earthen pots you bring to carry water…”

“What will you do with the pot? Will you fetch water?”

“Nah, I will paint on it.”

Irritated, the girl says, “I don’t have time, I am going.”

But how could a working person beat a workless one? Every day, they meet at the waterfront, and every day, the man makes the same request, “Just give me one of your pots, I will paint on it.”

Finally, the girl accepts defeat and hands him a pot.

The man began encircling the pot with layers of different hues and strokes.

When it was done, the girl lifted the pot and looked at it from all sides. With a raised eyebrow she asked, “What’s the meaning of this?”

The workless man said, “It has no meaning.”

The girl returned home with the pot. Hiding from others’ glances, she viewed it by moving it at different angles and shades of light. At night, she would get up from her bed to light the lamp and look at the painting. At her age, this was the first time she had seen something that had no meaning.

The next day, when she came to the waterfront, her brisk feet seemed to have hit a pause. As if while walking, the feet were carelessly thinking of something–something that had no meaning.

…To be continued

(Short Story by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Bhaswati Ghosh)