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Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Nobel Laureate and India's most prominent poet - Kobiguru Robindronath Thakur, or Rabindranath Tagore as many know him, completes 150 years of his life this year. And though he is long gone from this mortal abode, each and every of his timeless creation will live on till the day man will continue to appreciate poetry and literature and all that the intellect stands for.
I remember my first brush with the man. Having born and brought-up outside Kolkata, I was never a typical 'baangali', though my parents tried their level best to inculcate a taste of the bengali culture and sensitivity in me at every given opportunity. It is a completely different thing that over the last few years, I have myself begun to see what richness the language and its 'typical' culture has to offer. But I am straying from the point here... Starting my school in a convent, I had not a single bengali friend. All my literature was of the British syllabus and English and Hindi were the languages I was comfortable in. In those initial years my mother tried to teach me the bengali script but I always managed to escape.. I thought it had no use for me. It was only later, when I had to change school in class V and go to one which had bengali as a compulsory language, that I finally sat down with ma and learned the bengali alphabet.. though many of my friends still remember what a disaster I was at that..
All of ma's efforts at making me read Tagore's works had gone to waste. She would place a book of Tagore's poems and tell me to have a look. She would keep it on the shelf so that I knew where to get it if I wanted. She would sit me down to oil my hair and begin to recite a few lines... But I always escaped meeting the genius myself.
Then one day I read a poem called 'Taalgaachh." I think I was in class V that time. I remember only the first three lines - taalgaachh aek paaye daariye, shob gaachh chhariye, oonki maarey aakaashey.....
It was not how I had expected a Tagore work to be. The man was such a heavy-weight legend that I had always thought that his works would be too difficult to understand. But this proved to be the opposite with this poem. It was a simple poem, and I think one of the firsts that KobiGuru composed (though Im not sure about that)... The poem talked about a boy who could see a tree outside the window of his room. He went on to talk about how the tree, that seems to be standing on one foot, is trying to move up over all the other trees and snatch a peak at the sky.. It was nice, and simple....
As the fear and the weight of his genius was somewhat overcome, I decided reading Tagore would not be as difficult as I had been thinking all along. But the fact that my bengali reading was very very and very poor, was a big hurdle. If I sat with a bengali book it would take me hours to go through just the first page, and became a kind of hindrance over the years.
In all this while, ma always poured over some of Tagore in my life through her constant humming and singing. I remember each year when there was a recitation competition at the local Durga Puja pandal, she would egg me on to recite one of the poems that she had so laboriously taught me. But I never did recite them. Instead, I listened when ma sang - there was so much of Tagore in there- like 'aami chini go chini tomaarey', 'hey nuton', 'oyi mohamaanobo aashey', 'puraano shey diner kotha' 'aamar baela je jaaye' 'aakaash bhora shoorjo taara' 'aaguner poroshmoni' 'ae monihaar aamaar naahi shaajey'..... and so many more.... I loved the way she hummed and sang, the music was always so calm and soothing, though I always made a face whenever she began to sing, especially as I didn't understand the lyrics then, I slowly realised that these songs and their rythm would form a strong bond in me. That they would stir up a nostalgia in later years whenever I heard them being played in any part of the world, and hardly did I know then that, in all such occasions, I would end up lending my voice to the song as well.
I realised my penchant for singing Tagore songs soon. Well, it would be wrong if I say Tagore songs only. I loved to sing, especially in a choir, and the fact that my music teacher and the choir of my school was one of the best in Delhi, I was really excited to be a part of it. And every time we sang a Robindro-shongeet, I could feel the bond strengthening and my emotions lifting. It was strange that the one genius I had always (un)consciously tried to ignore would slowly seep into my life like this. Almost all of those who were a part of the choir knew much about Tagore, I was the only ignorant fool.... but even then I never picked up a Tagore book to sit and read.
Till date that has not happened... though I have a volume of his works displayed proudly on my book shelf.. I have yet to sit and read it... Ma has given up on me finally... perhaps she feels I am destined to be one of those 'baangaalis' who will spend their entire life on this earth without ever having read Tagore.. Not that she feels it to be compulsory for me to do so, but just that she would have liked it.
But for my mother, there is one thing that has more than made up for my earlier lack of interest in Tagore... My daughter, who is not yet three years, has already started singing songs penned by Tagore... she loves to sing and has picked up a few lines here and there that she hears me humming as I potter about the house... strange is the way of life...
Rabindranath Tagore (07th May 1861 - 07th August 1941)
Poet, novelist, musician and playwright and the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature..
Saturday, November 27, 2010
I first happened to chance upon a book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez almost 10 years back. Till then I had never heard the name...
And the name was what fascinated me the instant I heard it. There was a certain ring to the name that lent it an exotic feeling, like it came from a different part of the world altogether, a world with different customs and different folk tales and smells and sights that were part of a completely different and enchanted place. How I wanted to see what this man would write about and where his words would take me....
The first and till now, only, book I read of his was 'Chronicles of A Death Foretold' and its been 10 years I read it...But I still remain one of its biggest fans till date.
Now, after a whole decade, it is only right that I get back to do what I should have done long back. To get back that same world for me once again - that land of the mystic and the fabled beings and stories that are real yet so captivating and 'fairy-tale' like sometimes. So now I am reading 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' and next in line is 'Love In The Time of Cholera.'
I have already set my sights on collecting each and every title by this master story-teller. And the best part about his works are that though most of them are fiction, each of his stories are so infused with real life and happenings that the borderline between real and fiction almost ceases to exist.
So here is a list of his works that you should surely read in this lifetime:
No One Writes To The Colonel
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Leaf Storm and Other Stories
The Autumn of The Patriarch
Innocent Erendira and Other Stories
In Evil Hour
Chronicle of a Death Foretold
The Story of A Shipwrecked Sailor
Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littin
Love In The Time of Cholera
The General in His Labyrinth
Of Love And Other Demons
News Of A Kidnapping
Living To Tell The Tale
Memories Of My Melancholy Whores
The Solitude of Latin America
The Fragrance of Guava
A Country For Children
Living To Tell The Tale
I am in the midst of reading one of the most impressive and wonderful historical texts that has ever been written - 'The Last Mughal, the fall of a Dynasty. Delhi. 1857' by William Dalrymple.
I had heard so much about this book, especially as it is about my homeland, and one of my ever-and-most favourite cities, Delhi, that I was more interested in reading it. And as I began turning the pages I realised this would be one of the most precious books I will ever own, not in a monetary sense alone, but more because of the priceless information that lies between the 550-odd pages.
More on this book will keep appearing in other posts as I keep reading, but for now, I simply had to share these lines from the book, these lovely lines that talk about my city, Delhi, and bring back beautiful memories, of a city that has raised me and made me fall in love with it despite its many pitfalls.
Excerpts from the book, describing William Dalrymple's first encounters with the city of Delhi:
'I would take a rickshaw into the innards of the Old City (Old Delhi) and pass through the narrowing funnel of gullies and lanes, alleys and cul-de-sacs, feeling the houses close in around me. In particular, what remained of Zafar's palace, the Red Fort of the Great Mughals, kept drawing me back, and I often used to slip in with a book and spend whole afternoons there, in the shade of some cool pavilion."
"I have now divided my time between London and Delhi for over twenty years and the Indian capital remains my favourite city. Above all it is the city's relationship with its past which continues to intrigue me: of the great cities of the world, only Rome, Istanbul and Cairo can even begin to rival Delhi for the sheer volume and density of historic remains. Crumbling tomb towers, old mosques or ancient colleges intrude in the most unlikely places, appearing suddenly on roundabouts or in municipal gardens, diverting the road network and obscuring the fairways of the golf course. New Delhi is not new at all; instead, it is a groaning necropolis, with enough ruins to keep any historian busy through several incarnations."
"I am hardly alone in being struck by this: the ruins of Delhi are something visitors have always been amazed by........
For miles in every direction, half collapsed and overgrown, robbed and reoccupied, neglected by all, lay the remains of six hundred years of trans-Indian Imperium....hammams and garden palaces, thousand-pillared halls and mighty tomb towers, empty mosques and deserted Sufi shrines - there seemed to be no end to the litter of ages."
"One of the most enjoyable aspects of working with him (referring to William Dalrymple's colleague Mahmood Farooqui) on Bahadur Shah Zafar has been gradually piecing together the events and shape of this book over a Karim's kebab, a Kapashera biryani or, more usually, a simple glass of hot sweet National Archives chai."
"...Delhi has always been quite clear about its superiority to the rest of the country. It was the seat of the Great Mughal and the place where the most chaste Urdu was spoken. It believed it had the best-looking women, the finest mangoes, the most talented poets."
And here is a look at the treasures that lie hidden in the National Archives in Delhi:
"Yet all this time in the National Archives there existed as detailed a documentation of the four months of the Uprising in Delhi as can exist for any Indian city at any period of history - great unwieldy mountains of chits, pleas, orders, petitions, complaints, receipts, rolls of attendance and lists of casualties, predictions of victory and promises of loyalty, notes from spies of dubious reliability and letters from eloping lovers - all neatly bound in string and boxed up in the cool, hushed, air-conditioned vaults of the Indian National Archives."
Truly, just the first few pages and this book is already such a revelation !!!!!
I have only just begun, but if you have not read this book yet, really, it is time you do so. For this is the first book ever that has impacted me so much into reading on history and reliving all those events and memories that happened at some era in the past.....Thanks Mr. Dalrymple....
Friday, November 26, 2010
I am one of those eternal book-worms who, no matter the place or time, is always found with a book in hand, or as is the case on certain occasions, in the handbag. All my friends have at one point or the other, given voice to this statement.
I have always proudly stated the fact that I am die-hard book-lover. And my house is a testament to that statement. My bookshelf is packed from bottom to top with books – horizontal, vertical, diagonal, wherever there is even a teeny-tiny bit of space left, I have used it all up to introduce a book in between.
My love for books is a little partial – the older the book the more I love it. And I just love the smell of old books, though I also love the ones that are fresh off the press, but there is always a certain charm and story in a book that is old, that has had another keeper before me, and I love to smell those pages, to feel the hands that must have turned these very pages that I am now turning, in a different era, in a different place, maybe in another country altogether.
One of the oldest books that has lived on my bookshelf, is the novel titled ‘Hotel’ by author Arthur Hailey. It’s been almost twenty years now that I have the book with me.
The story of me becoming the proud keeper of this book is very close to my heart.
As a child I have always been drawn to books, even as I was a little girl of three, I remember my ma would sit with me on a cold winter afternoon, the sun shining shyly through the clouds, and me and ma poring together over a book -my eyes wide with the bright big pictures, while ma would read out the story word-by-word. And it was no wonder where my love for books came from. My ma was, and still is, an avid reader, and my maternal grandfather is the one before her who always shared a love, no, passion, for books.
So it was always a treat whenever we used to visit him during school vacations in his home in Assam, his room filled with bookcases that were stacked from top-to-bottom with books, very much the way my bookshelf at home now looks.
It was always my most favourite spot in the house. The bookshelf with all its charming titles was left open to me to browse and go through. As I grew from a three-year-old to a young child who could understand and appreciate books more, I was allowed to open the titles and read books that I could understand. My maternal grandfather never stopped me from picking up a title and reading it, just because ‘I was not the right age.’ He believed that, if I understood the concept and the writer’s point properly, I could try and give it a read. Of course there were certain books that were always off-limit – ‘you will get these when you grow up.’
On one such visit I was browsing through the bookshelf when I came across this red-covered book amidst thick leather-bound books. The red of the cover was what drew me to it in the first place. And the fact that it had a door-knob on its cover with a key dangling from it that said ‘St. Gregory’ was an even bigger mystery. I took out the book and turned to the back cover. It was a story about a ‘hotel’ , ‘St. Gregory Hotel’ in New Orleans to be precise, and the book’s characters were vividly drawn from tycoons of the hotel industry, the guests, the staff, men and women, young and old, the dedicated and the amoral. There is a robbery and blackmail at the hotel, a near-disastrous orgy and a takeover battle and a love story, and many more such incidents that remain etched in the minds of the readers along with the characters.
Of course I was not at an age right then to understand the whole of it. So I took the book to my grandfather and asked him if I could borrow it. The rule that time was that whatever book I could understand I was free to keep, but a book that I did not understand needed to be borrowed from him and returned. He told me I could read a bit of it and try again later, when I grew up a little more. I started reading the pages, but by the time my vacation was over, though I had only been able to understand the first few pages, I had started to like the book a lot. So I begged him to let me keep the book. ‘I know you will take care of it, so take it, and read it slowly. You will understand it better once you grow up.’ And that book became mine. It has been on my bookshelf ever since then, and I spent the initial few years reading it a few pages at a time. As I grew up, the book and its characters seemed to grow with me, and I began to understand their lives better, in a more understanding light than what I had thought the previous year.
The first page of the book has my grandfather’s handwriting on it, his name, Kalibhushan Banerjee, written in cursive with an ink pen. He is now no more, and this sign of his will always stay with me, reminding me of those wonderful visits I had at his place, and the love of books that he has left me as a priceless legacy.
The second page of the book has my grandmother’s handwriting. She had presented it to him on his birthday, and it lovingly reads in her cursive handwriting, in an ink pen again, ‘To K Banerjee, on his birthday, from Bibha. 6.1.79’ she too is no more, and I can only look at this handwriting now to smile at those wonderful years that will forever be cherished in my memory.
As I see these handwritings, even now I can see the way their hands and mine write in a similar fashion.
I can never let this book go. How can I? when it represents to me the love and memories of my grandparents. They are the ones who helped and fuelled my ma’s and my interest in books, and for that I am forever grateful. I can never let this book part from me, it holds too many precious memories, memories that are mine and I will not allow to be shared. Memories of those days spent at the bookshelf, at those evenings discussing a writer or a book, those tea-time chats of who is reading what and sharing our thoughts on varied topics.
I thought I would forever keep this book with me, well, that cannot be. I have to be gone one day, the book will still live on. And though I was sure I would never be able to decide who to pass on the book to, now I know who is its rightful owner.
My little daughter of three is exactly like me. She is a book-worm, and can spend the whole day happily by just reading books. Like me, she too has her own bookcase, already crammed with her many books. And going by the love she has for books, I know she is the right person who should be made the keeper of this book and its memories.
My grandfather never had a chance to meet her, my grandmother did, that too only once, and I am sure this book will give her a piece of all those memories that have been mine over all these years.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
Title: Brick Lane
Author: Monica Ali
Publishers: Black Swan
Price: INR 300/-
Monica Ali’s Brick Lane is another story about an immigrant in London. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2003, the book traces the story of eighteen-year-old Nazneen in Bangladesh, who is forced to marry a man twenty years her elder and leave her home in a small village in Bangladesh for a home in London’s East End.
A sudden change in surroundings and the way people look at life, living in London proves to be a task for Nazneen and she is highly confused with what she sees. Coming from a place set in extreme poverty, she is surprised and thrown off balance at seeing the immense money people have and the many ways they have to spend it. It’s a culture shock, a yearning for the loved ones left back home she knows she will never see again, a bank of memories she keeps alive within herself.
The man she was married off to is sure he gives her a great life, but is unable to understand her despondent face and her lack of interest in things that make his life. She is supposed to take care of his each whim and fancy – after all that is what wives are for.
With each passing day and month, Nazneen learns to accept her new home and adopt the lifestyle of the place she is in, giving in to her fate, when suddenly, a young radical steps into the picture.
Personal verdict: Okay read.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Title: The Raging Heart - The Intimate Story of The Tragic Marriage of OJ Simpson and Nicole Brown
Author: Sheila Weller
Publisher: Pocket Books
MRP: Rs. 800/- (INR) US $18
This is the true story about the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in June 1994. Quoted as being one of the most publicised criminal trial in American history, the main suspect was Nicole's ex-husband OJ Simpson, the now-retired American football player.
On June 13th 1994, Nicole and Ronald were found with their throats slit and their heads decapitated outside Brown's condo in LA. Her two children (Sydney 8 and Justin 5) were asleep in an upstairs bedroom at the time.
The book Raging Heart shares the inside details of what all actually transpired between the couple, from the time they met, to when they got married and when they divorced and the time after that till the murder was discovered.
Based on the unprecedented cooperation of Nicole Brown Simpson's family and exclusive access to friends who reveal private information in this book for the first time, Raging Heart is the untold story of Nicole and OJ Simpson.
Each and every friend of the couple were stunned by the circumstances of one of the worst nightmares of their lives.
This is the story about a couple that was madly in love, a love that went out of control, a love that turned too dependent and had to keep returning....and finally went horribly out of control...
Personal Verdict: Amazing Read.....Cant believe it was all real...
Title: The Palace of Illusions
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
MRP: Rs. 495/-
Release Year: 2008
We have all seen the Mahabharata - literally,a little adulterated maybe,but yes, we have seen the epic unfold before our very own eyes on each Sunday morning courtesy (now underrated Doordarshan).Who doesn’t remember the silver-bearded Bheeshma Pitamah, the strong and charismatic Karna wrapped in a gold armour, the 'satyavaadi' Yudhishthir, the ever-powerful Bheem, the brave and famed Arjun, the smiling and hugely popular Krishna (who was actually thought to be a God by many mere mortals), the vision-less Dhritarashtra and his 'loyal' wife Gandhari, the one with the blindfold on her eyes...And Draupadi? Of course you must have heard of the beautiful and arrogant Draupadi, Paanchali, the one with the five husbands, the haughty and arrogant one, the one whose pride and the need for vengeance ultimately led to one of the biggest blood bath the lands of Bharat have ever witnessed.
The book Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is immensely apt in its title in the sense that even by the time the reader moves on to the second page, a lot of the illusions created by the epic Mahabharata are already beginning to clear off. You will see questions where earlier you had only taken each of the mythological fact at sheer face value. As the book begins we see King Drupad invoking the blessings of heaven and bringing forth from the fire a ‘blessed’ son Dhristadyumna (Dhri), who will help him in avenging his rivals. But even as the king begins to move away from the fire holding the hand of his beloved son, something else tugs at them. This something is a girl, who too has been sent along with the son. Not sure what to do now, the king brings her out of the fire too, and since she was unwanted and unasked for, he simply names her Draupadi, meaning daughter of Drupad. The gods warn Drupad that Draupadi will eventually change the course of history and even as the little girl hears the same remark repeated over and over again, she cannot for one moment comprehend how it will be that she would cause such a change in history that it would become something monumental.
From the moment she steps into this world Draupadi realises what it means to be a woman in this male-dominated world. She will receive none of the education that her brother is privileged to get, though she has a penchant for studies and has a sharp intellect. We get a glimpse of the little Draupadi, how, as she is growing up into a woman, she gets more and more self-conscious about her dark complexion, until she meets Krishna, who is even darker than her. He tells her that ‘others see you as you see yourself’ and her words soon put a confidence into the nervous and shy Draupadi, who now holds her head high and is amazed to see a change in the way people behave with her. Where earlier there were nudges and whisperings about the dark girl, now there are praises and comments on her beauty and the way she carries herself.
Early on in life Draupadi meets the sage Vyasa who gives her warnings about what is about to happen in the future and tells her there will be three major moments in her life that will change the course of things.
To help her he warns her thus: (1) just before your wedding, at the time hold back your tongue (2) when your husbands are at the height of their power, at that time hold back your laughter (3) when you’re shamed as you’ve never imagined possible, at that time hold back your curse.................
The sage tells her that if she can do the above, maybe it will mitigate the catastrophe. The reader can only hope that Draupadi remembers the warning and acts accordingly. As the story moves forth we see the growing relationship between Krishna and Krishnaa, as Krishna calls Draupadi. The friendship, which almost can be termed as love, proves to be one of the most strong points in Draupadi’s life. Krishna assists her in situations when she believes there is no hope, he instils a sense of confidence in her and tells her to be cautious and to keep a check on her temper as well as her curious bent of mind. During her swayamvar Draupadi sees Karna and we can immediately see how her heart goes out to him as it is love at first sight. The attraction is not one-sided and the reader can clearly state that Karna too feels the same way. But remember sage Vyasa’s warning, that there will be a moment just before the marriage? The moment arrives and Draupadi speaks, and something is set in motion that will change many things. We see how the newly-wed Draupadi is taken to a hut, where she weds all the five brothers, as per the command of their mother Kunti. Arjun, who cannot counter his mother’s command, directs his pride and anger towards Draupadi instead, and a husband who was once almost caring and loving, will now turn his attention somewhere else. For how else can a man behave when the code of marriage, arranged by Vyasa, states that Draupadi will be wife to each Pandav brother one year at a time, starting from eldest to youngest, and during this time the other brothers will have to maintain a distance from her. The command of the mother-in-law will prove to be the root for her marital disharmony – the woman who had so looked forward to be a good wife will never be happy as a wife again. At Indra Prastha, the Palace of Illusions is set and the Pandavas are at their height of powers.
Remember the warning – hold back your laughter?
When the game of ‘chaupar’ or dice is on in full swing, our very own ‘satyavaadi’ Yudhishthir, who has developed an intense liking for sura and gambling, will lose his all, so much so that he will put his wife as a pawn, trying to salvage what is lost. But when the most shameful act is performed on Draupadi, sage Vyasa’s warning of holding back her curse is forgotten again and hence the beginning of the doom. Her temper, her pride, her curse, her need for vengeance has been attributed to be the cause for the biggest war on Indian land. But how did that little unwanted girl, the one who wanted to be the cause of love and peace and who never wanted to have anything to do with ‘astras’ and violence lead to a war that shattered the very core of the human nature? As Chitra Banerjee takes on the tone of Draupadi we are witness to what transpired between those years from Paanchali's childhood to her youth that made her one of the most controversial women figure in Indian history...
Personal verdict: AWESOME
- Debolina Raja Gupta