Sunday, June 24, 2012

Some from the recent past

Some random thoughts about some reads over the last few months. Better unedited thoughts than nothing...
Madhulika Liddle’s The Englishman’s Cameo was also a book that I picked having read something good about it on a blog. It’s a murder mystery set in Delhi of the Mughal era, Shahjahan’s time to be precise. What I enjoyed was the lucid writing, the writing style fit the era. But somehow it wasn’t a page turner - maybe it was because of the language and the plot, a detective story set in an era where it can unfold with only the aid of the protagonist's keen observation - I just can’t put my finger on it now. But I remember being quite glad when I turned the last page over. The ending itself was quite disappointing, very rushed up - in contrast to the tone of the book. Muzaffur Jung, however, is an impressive creation.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri was a wedding gift. I wish I had jotted down what I felt when I read it because it would probably sound like I was on a high. An effortless read, a page-turner, an honest tale with characters well etched out. Every line breathes life. 

Invisible Lives was a light read thrown in between at the suggestion of the librarian. I'd call it chick-lit, but not a very good one at that. It's probably one of the better written ones in the Indian writing category, but that wasn't what I was looking for. 

Sister of My Heart by Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni was another wonderful read. Divakaruni is probably the only author whose works I will pick up without hesitation. Narrated alternately by two 'sisters' it takes one through their lives from the time they are born, through to their adulthood. Anju and Sudha's narration and perspectives of what they see around them is what adds life to the tale. 

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino is or was supposedly the rage in Japan when it came out. It's easy to see why. A must read for anyone who enjoys a tale, genre no bar. A fast paced page-turner this is a book full of surprises till the very last word. This is a lot given that the crime is perpetrated a few pages into the book with all details laid to bare for the reader.What's the suspense about then, you ask? Just read it. 

When I was out of books to read, and unwilling to commit myself to a library book, I eyed my husband's 'Thinking in Systems' a primer by Donella Meadows. This got me thinking, and I was glad to read something of a value of a different kind. Maybe I'll put down something on this book later on. 

And now, the trigger for this post which was like a head fake. These days I find myself unwillingly to (ok, chicken about) reading anything too 'emotional'. "Nothing too sad", seems to be an oft-used phrase at the library. The first time I said it, there was a pause before I was assured "that's fair enough". I don't know if it's a good change to become suddenly restrictive in what you read.Sometimes for no reason other than, I don't feel like reading a tale of this sort (this is really new to me, a look at my shelfari will tell you that) So there goes 'The Famished Road' by Ben Okri, its fate decided less than a day after it was issued. Just because I don't feel upbeat about reading something with all these innumerable spirits thrown in. Maybe, no, I'm sure from the books I've read in my previous reading life that there's more to the book than these spirits, but whatever it might be, it just isn't enough for me to keep reading it right now. I'm growing up, or old... I'm just growing. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Help

By Kathryn Stockett
Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s when segregation was at its peak, and the fight for 'integration of the races' had just begun in the US. The book plays out in three different voices, that of Aibileen, Minny and Miss Skeeter. The first two are black maids, and the last, a moral misfit, an educated white woman who gets wondering about the blacks' perspective of the way things were. Together they brave odds, and risk everything to chronicle black maids' stories - good, happy, ugly - bringing into print voices that had never been heard before. 

The story has real events interspersed - sit-ins at the Woolworth counter, killing of Medgar Evans, Kennedy's assassination, Martin Luther King's famous march in Washington, but the book is really just an entertaining read, and covers issues on a broad, top level.
It always seems ridiculous this suppression based on race, suppression of any sort for that matter. Just wonder what the future would find so about our times. A lot, hopefully.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Twentieth Wife

By Indu Sundaresan 
Chanced upon this author recommendation a few months back in one of the blogs I read. Glad I remembered when I visited the library after a long while a few days back. The novel is about the eponymous twentieth wife, Mehrunissa (or Nur Jahan which was her imperial name when she married Jahangir), the happenings in the Mughal empire during her life up to the time of her becoming an Empress. Quite like the intelligent, industrious and the very strong woman that she is portrayed to be. Of course, this is part fact, part imagination, part accounts from the past - but it's a great way to be taken back to those times. The royalty, splendour, the riches, the patriarchy.. historic fiction is a good way of reading about the culture, politics of the past. To pick a tiny snip of the past and live through it for a little while. 

The author decided to fill the gap that existed in literature by writing about this famous queen Mehrunissa who is said to have really ruled the empire for 15 years though Jahangir was the Emperor. This the book does, and there is atleast one sequel to it. 
But even in general, very little (nothing, if I remember my history lessons) is mentioned about the women in royal families. There is only mention of heirs to the empire - (in this book-) of only the sons of Akbar, or Jahangir. What about Akbar's daughters, were there any, where were they? What did they train in? Were their tutors any different from those of the common-man's daughters' tutors? Could they marry (rather, were they married off) into Hindu families like the male heirs were in the Mughal empire for political reasons? Do you know of books that would answer these? Definitely a genre to read more of.
And I'm back!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Music from an Unknown Source

(From the drafts : on an exhibit held last December)

'Music from an Unknown Source', an exhibition of German artist Sigmar Polke's works was held in Max Mueller Bhavan earlier this month. The exhibition focussed on 40 gouaches that the artist had painted around 1996.

(I can safely say that I know nothing about painting techniques let alone their interpretations. I like to look at paintings, photos, just about any snapshot from outside. That is to say this post isn't a review or anything close to it, but you knew that already, didn't you?)

Immediately noticeable was the unique use of dots in most of the works on display. Painstaking effort surely to paint pictures in just the right light by using only dots, I later learned that these are called raster dots. I could only appreciate the style, splashes, colours in the works. For most of them were really abstract, could mean just about anything you wanted it to (isn't everything that way?)

A personal favorite apart from one of the first I set my eyes upon (see pic below) was the sketch of a little girl-boy pair playing tennis and a larger-than-life cat playing the violin on the side. The cat was sketched as though it was vibrating, a white dash'd outline and  then a black one. That ought to be some clue. Then there was a painting like a strip of photo negative, focusing on two shots of the same scene.

About the artist (from the Goethe Institut site)
Sigmar Polke was born in 1941 in Oels/Lower Silesia. Today he lives in Cologne.
His position as one of the most important artists of the current art scene has its seeds in an inexhaustible richness of ideas, the joy of experimentation, mechanical skills, but also because of his ironical perspective on social reality.

Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell was the last read (and almost re-read). True story of Julie who gets out of a rut by cooking her way through it, but it's more than that really. Was hooked on to the book from the start (though it isn't a page-turner sort), for various reasons that I wont dwell into here. The key being this is the most honest piece of writing I've come across recently.

What I like about this book is somewhat akin to what Julie says about the Book. In her own words:
I didn't understand for a long time, but what attracted me to MtAoFC was the deeply buried aroma of hope and discovery of fulfillment in it. I thought I was using the Book to learn to cook French food, but really I was learning to sniff out the secret doors of possibility.
Sometimes, if you want to be happy, you've got to run away to Bath and marry a punk rocker. Sometimes you've got to dye your hair cobalt blue, or wander remote islands in Sicily, or cook your way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, for no very good reason. Julia taught me that.
Oh, and Julie's admirable...but Eric's the star :)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Read It: March 2010

I'm going through a reading ebb now where the words and worlds I register are limited to those that The Hindu, magazines and random site-hopping introduce me to. And this at the end of a month when I bought a record number of books! Retail therapy, many call it.
I've also realised that I can't devote a post each for books that have been read earlier, I just don't have much to say about these except that if I had to own a handful of books, these would be vying for the space. So I'll just post lists of books a month, be assured that these come highly recommended (but follow the external links for real reviews! :) )
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Though I read this many years back, I still remember that reading the first two pages of this book just put me off. But it is in the third page that the narrator introduces herself. And that's when I went back and re-read the start - with the guiding perspective of six year old Scout Finch.

 It's through delightful little Scout, Dill and Jem that the reader enters Maycomb, a fictional town in Alabama in the early 1930s. Life in a small town, racism that was very much prevalent back then as seen by the children, like mixed up little pieces of a puzzle. Vividly etched characters -Atticus Finch, Calpurnia - the family's black housekeeper, Boo Ridley - and the very visual style of writing makes you wonder if this isn't an autobiography. It seems it isn't though the author has written about many events that happened during her childhood in Alabama. Just read it.

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni was a fairly recent discovery. She seems to be well known for The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart. The first was made into a movie, the latter into a Tamil serial (Anbulla Snegithiye)

The Palace of Illusions is a narration of Mahabharata from Draupadi's perspective. A contemporary one at that. Draupadi got me hooked on to the book from line one. Taken apart from the setting, the narration of her  birth, childhood and adolescent days are so  next door-like - even in today's terms ... the differences between the way her brother is educated and she is, her special friendship with Krishna, her infatuation with Karna (fictional..but well, who knows), her relationship with Kunti. The few lines on the disrobing incident that Draupadi is remembered for generally are amongst the best.
All this time I'd believed in my power over my husbands. I'd believed that because they love me they would do anything for me. But now I saw that though they did love me - as much perhaps as any man can love - there were other things they loved more. Their notions of honour, of loyalty towards each other, of reputation were more important to them than my suffering. They would avenge me later, yes, but only when they felt the circumstances would bring them heroic fame. A woman doesn't think that way. I would have thrown myself forward to save them if it had been in my power that day. I wouldn't have cared what anyone thought. The choice they made in the moment of my need changed something in our relationship. I no longer depended so completely on them in the future. And when I took care to guard myself from hurt, it was as much from them as from our enemies.
I'm sure most women will enjoy reading this book, it's one of the rare peeks at epics through a lady's point of view. Classic, contemporary, magical.

All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot
This book takes me back to the time of an apogee when I spent some minutes browsing through a dog-eared copy while seated on mattresses, surrounded by many such second hand books. 

James Herriot was a country vet and the book is a compilation of true incidents he experienced during the initial years of his practice. Country-side England, 'English' writing, loyal pets, stubborn horses, insecure father dogs, ewes, pregnant cows, animal owners and farmers, pet contests, the starting days of a young vet's career and love life. What's not to love?! I laughed out aloud, turned a bit squeamish, even shed tears over an utterly devoted and trusting dog, just sat back and soaked in the beauty of Darrowby. I can't recollect what exact time lines are covered in each but they sure are books for all times for animal lovers.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Jaaga - Creative Common Ground

Pallet racks are shelves used to store heavy materials in horizontal rows and on multiple levels. So they are an integral part of industrial warehouses. But pallet racking has now found its way to a nondescript part of Rhenius Street in residential Langford Town.
Jaaga (meaning space in Kannada) is a structure made of pallet racks, with metal wire mesh and plywood for flooring, paper honeycomb panels for doors and discarded Korean tarpaulin sheets for the ceiling, for tent-like flaps rather. It was built in 15 hours on a plot on Rhenius Street off Richmond Road. So the space in the true sense is the structure rather than its location for it can be dismantled and reassembled elsewhere anytime. Jaaga rose out of artist Archana Prasad's wish to have a place dedicated to art forms. The suggestion of building it out of pallet racks came from Freeman Murray, an American technologist who has built similar structures in the USA. 
Last week I attended an event that happened on the ground floor of this space. In the dark, the Korean lettering on the front attracts attention but for which there is not much sign of this unique building's existence. There isn't a 'foundation' to the structure so it's just the ground covered with gravel. It's airy, minimalistic, yet equipped with the wiring needed to conduct events. The venue is available free of cost to those interested. 
Do check out this jaaga sometime. You can also visit the website for pics of how it came to be