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Archive for June, 2009

After Unaccustomed Earth, “The Namesake” was my immediate choice.   I was overwhelmed by Ms.Lahiri’s grip on short stories and so wanted to read her first novel, “The Namesake“. And all I can say, she is just incredibly awesome and certainly one of the best !!!  “The Namesake” is one of the best novel I have read and it goes without saying that Jhumpa Lahiri has very successfully carved a place for herself amongst the great contemporary story writers of the time.

Very similar backdrop, Jhumpa Lahiri visits her familiar territory again with “The Namesake”, immigrant Bengali family. But the main theme of this novel is ” name”, the name of  Ashoke Ganguli and Ashima Ganguli’s son Gogol Ganguli !!!  It is interesting to see how Ms.Lahiri has dealt with this very common practice of having two names in bengali family into a full length novel. In a stroke the story line goes like this…
“The Namesake” is the journey of  the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta(Kolkata) through their fraught transformation into Americans. Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Ashoke, an academic does his best to adapt while his wife pines for home back in India. Born to Ashoke and his wife, Gogol is afflicted from birth with a name that is neither Indian nor American nor even really a first name at all. He is given the name by his father who, before coming  to America to study at MIT, was almost killed in a train accident in India. Rescuers caught sight of the volume of Nikolai Gogol’s short stories that he held, and hauled him from the train. Ashoke gives this name as a substitute to his real name which was supposed to be proposed by his grandmother which unfortunately never happened. And this awkward name Gogol sticks there after. Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name, leaving him confused throughout about his identity and individuality. The story revolves around Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path in America, torn between conflicting loyalties ( Parents and his new life), studies, work and wrenching love affairs.

“The Namesake”  is a simple story without much of emotional show off. Its neither a tragedy  nor a comedy but a very simple real life story about  Gogol who is desperately trying to assimilate himself to the American way of life. The story is very  easily identifiable and true to life in every sense. Jhumpa Lahiri’s detailing is something one should look forward to in this novel. Richly infused with minute details of ones daily life, be it food, clothing, language or lifestyle…Ms.Lahiri has painted a vivid and clear picture of an Indian family trying to strike a balance between their traditional way of living and American lifestyle. The penetrating eyes of the author has very distinctly expressed the mind of Gogol and how he deals with the expectations bestowed upon him by his parents, and also the means by which he slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define himself  in this fine novel of identity. The language used is lucid and expressions are dealt with pure sensitivity. Ms. Lahiri masterfully weaves a compelling story and coats it with her authentic familiarity with the lives of the Indian diaspora, making this novel a gift for her readers who can identify with her characters and thus making it a pleasurable read.

“The Namesake” is essentially a tale of love, solitude and emotional upheavals with an amazing eye for detail and ironic observation. Anyone looking for a simple story about common and simple people with utmost reality…”The Namesake” is the one to grab. And for the author…. Jhumpa Lahiri’s unique understanding of complex human emotions and an incredible ability to convey them to the reader is highly commendable and her novel is surely a piece which can keep you wrapped with nostalgia for days to come !!!

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UNACCUSTOMED EARTH” is my first brush with Jhumpa Lahiri’s work and as expected I was not disappointed at all. Whenever I heard people talking about her writings, I always thought that I had missed out on some interesting reading, but only ,till few days back, when a friend gifted me “UNACCUSTOMED EARTH”, Ms Lahiri’s latest venture. And today as I finish the last page of this collection of short stories I  am engulfed with two thoughts!!
The first being of sheer admiration for this brilliant writer for penning down something so authentic and secondly of deep regret as in, why on earth I have not read her previous works….!!! So, before I go on with my review on “Unaccustomed Earth”, I have to promise myself to grab copies of “Interpreter of Maladies” and “The Namesake” as soon as possible !!!
“Unaccustomed Earth” is a stunningly beautiful collection of short stories about expatriate Bengali families.In this set of eight stories, Jhumpa Lahiri have very maturely dealt with common yet complicated issues faced by the parents and their children who are Americans in more ways than one. The gulf between the Indians living in America and their next generation, along with other relationships on the whole, is the predominant theme of this book .To begin with, in the title story “Unaccustomed earth”, there is Ruma who finds it an obligation  when her father arrives at her place to spend time with her and Akash (Ruma’s son) only to discover later how comfortable she was in her father’s presence that she wanted him to stay back forever . Followed by “Hell- heaven” a beautifully woven story about  relationship and dependence. “
Choice of Accommodation” tale about Amit and Megan who in their own ways find their lost love in the dorm of Amit’s school when they actually thought their marriage has crumbled. Then comes “Only Goodness”, story about Sudha and her brother Rahul who struggles with alcoholism and Sudha’s disappointment and bewilderment for his plight as she is the one who introduced him to alcohol. And lastly “Nobody’s Business” is about Sang who loved an Egyptian man only to realise that she was being ditched and cheated for another woman. The part one ends with five mesmerising stories. All about different facets of human life and relationship in different situations and connotation. A poignant portrayal of the ups and downs of life on the lines of expectations and emotions, these stories by Jhumpa Lahiri make you feel as if they are “our own” !!!
The second half of the collection, the trio of stories is what touched me the most. Hema and Kushik’s life intersect each others,first in 1974 when Hema was six and Kaushik was nine; then a few years later, at 13, she drools at the now-handsome 16-year-old teen’s reappearance; and again in Italy, when she was a 37-year-old academic , and he was a 40-year-old photojournalist. They meet at a juncture of their life when Hema is all set to get married and Kaushik still finding a companion. Interestingly, among all the stories this is the only one where the narration ends in the present day unlike the others which are set in the backdrop of 80s making, it very identifiable and realistic.Right from a compelling  narration, to well crafted characterization, exquisite location and amazing story telling with a touch of loss and sadness at the end, ” Once in a lifetime”, Year’s End ” and “Going Ashore” are indeed worth a read.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s take on Bengali- American is very interesting. Her characters are complex and are tangled with lot of emotions, yet I found it easy to sympathise and empathise with them, even though my world is far from theirs.  Ms.Lahiri has literally brought the Bengali culture alive with her realistic depictions in all her stories and her mention of the little nuances of the daily life in a Bengali household has actually left me speechless.  Interestingly, some fiction involving immigrants has been hard for me to connect with in the past,but this time I had a very clear idea of who Ms.Lahiri’s characters were as well as their struggles.Like many children of immigrants Ms. Lahiri’s characters are well aware of their parents’ expectations. Ms. Lahiri distinctly shows how some of these children learn to sidestep, even defy their parents’ wishes knowing fully their parents’ repercussions.. But she also shows how perplexed and haunted they remain by the burden of their families’ dreams and their awareness of their role in the process of Americanization. Ms. Lahiri’s emotions are not demonstrations but a definite showcase of her emotional arithmetic. Specially in the last part of the book, I  sensed the author’s elegant and haunting power of tragedy….a testimony to her brilliance as a writer.
What remains the highlight of this book is Ms.Lahiri’s penetrating eyes on the experiences of the immigrants, their life, marriage, work, and love. The stories are perfect, thanks to Lahiri’s keen sense of life’s abrupt and painful changes, and her avid eye for detailing. This collection of powerful stories about the fates of  Bengali families in America , dramatizes the divide between immigrant parents and their America-raised children in the most realistic and genuine way.

Before I close I have to say that this novel is certainly a revelation to me. A brilliantly put together prose with immaculate precision in terms of people, places and thoughts, “Unaccustomed Earth” is definitely a must read for all those who love short stories.Perhaps…what remains unquestionable throughout is Ms.Lahiri’s intentions…..she surely wants us to get accustomed with her books…and she manages that very well indeed 🙂  !!!!

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..I was asked by a friend of mine recently…what is my favourite poem, after she read Kamal Das… and I.  Here it is, my all time favourite  poem by Robert Browning !!!

A Woman’s Last Word !!!

I. Let’s contend no more, Love, Strive nor weep: All be as before, Love, —Only sleep!

 II. What so wild as words are? I and thou In debate, as birds are, Hawk on bough!

III. See the creature stalking While we speak! Hush and hide the talking, Cheek on cheek!

IV. What so false as truth is, False to thee? Where the serpent’s tooth is Shun the tree—

V. Where the apple reddens Never pry— Lest we lose our Edens, Eve and I.

VI. Be a god and hold me With a charm! Be a man and fold me With thine arm!

VII. Teach me, only teach, Love As I ought I will speak thy speech, Love, Think thy thought—

 VIII. Meet, if thou require it, Both demands, Laying flesh and spirit In thy hands.

IX. That shall be to-morrow Not to-night: I must bury sorrow Out of sight:

 X —Must a little weep, Love, (Foolish me!) And so fall asleep, Love, Loved by thee.

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/a-woman-s-last-word/

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Being a student of English literature, an encounter with Kamala Das’ works was inevitable. I was in the second year of my graduation when I first  read a piece of Kamala Das’ prolific work.  My first impression after reading ” summer in Calcutta” was that of  an awe !!  I was mesmerized by her boldness in terms of expression and her thought which I felt was so profound.  Her poetry had an immediate  impact on me and I could never stop loving Kamala Das thereafter.. My classes got over and we moved on to the next,  …..but somewhere I was still stuck there trying to comprehend what this author was all about and why I felt that her prose and poetry were different from many others I read. I read  “My Story ” and all I realised was Kamala Das spoke about things which are omnipresent in our lives, the basic truths with immense dignity and poise. Thereafter I went on reading her literature and found her enigmatic all through.
Kamala Das was born on March 31, 1934 in Malabar in Kerala. Her love of poetry began at an early age through the influence of her great uncle, Nalapat Narayan Menon,and her mother  Nalapat Balamani Amma. Kamala Das was privately educated until the age of 15 when she was married to K. Madhava Das. Literary works both in English and Malayalam, Kamala Das enjoys a wide readership throughout the world.
When Kamala Das wished to begin writing, she was graciously supported by her husband to augment the family’s income. Because she was a woman, however, she could not do the morning-till-night schedule enjoyed by many others. She would wait until nightfall after her family had gone to sleep and would write until morning: “There was only the kitchen table where I would cut vegetables, and after all the plates and things were cleared, I would sit there and start typing”, she once said.This hectic schedule took its toll upon her health, but she viewed her illness optimistically. It gave her more time at home, and thus, more time to write,  an approach of hers towards life which I deeply admired.
To me,  Kamala Das was someone who had this uncanny honesty  towards her exploration of womanhood and love. In her poem “An Introduction” from Summer in Calcutta,  she says, “I am every Woman who seeks love”. According to her, womanhood involves certain collective experiences throughout her life which makes her omnipotent. Indian women, however, do not discuss these experiences in deference to social mores. She explained,  what is supposedly a taboo in our society , is the first thing which is highly expected of any woman. Along with her expression on woman wood, Kamala Das poignanatly dealt with eroticism and feminism too. She urges woman to give their man ” what make you a women” , a thought which is a clear indication of the fact that she literally broke free from the shackles of the societal norms and emerged as someone bold enough to confront the obvious. Kamala Das ventured into a very restricted territory, but successfully managed to make a point and strike a chord with her readers.She is someone who has  portrayed woman’s love in the most touching manner. Perhaps someone who spoke on behalf of the whole woman fraternity. As puts Shaashi Tharoor, ” Kamala Surayya was a pathbreaker in Indian English writing and translated Indian English. She has left a lasting legacy on literature.”
In December, 1999 Kamala Das converted to Islam sending a whole new message to the world about religion. “The animals of this world did not go into a Christian heaven, a Moslem heaven or a Hindu paradise. They did not claim any God as their own.” Kamala Das. ( http://www.gaia.com/quotes/kamala_das )
Her first English poetry was ‘The Sirens’, published in 1964, followed by Summer In Calcutta. She received many awards and accolades including Asian Poetry Prize, Kent award for English writing from Asian countries, Asan World Prize, Sahitya Academy award and Vayalar award. Her major works include:
The Sirens
Summer In Calcutta
The Descendants
The Old Playhouse And Other Poems
My Story
Alphabet of Lust
The Anamalai Poems
Padmavati The Harlot and Other Stories
Only The Soul Knows How To Sing
Yaa Allah
Pakshiyude Manam
Dayarikkurippukal
Neermathalam Pootha Kalam
Madhavikkuttiyude Unmakkadhakal
On 31st may, 2009 as Kamala Das returned  to rest , I quietly admired her and felt happy about the legacy of  literature she has left behind us.She is someone I would always respect for her take on womanhood and  who has taught me the meaning of love though in a different connotation yet clearly defined….
May her soul rest in peace !!!!

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 The current racism row in Australia has left me numb. It is not an attack on an individual but on a nation as the whole, raising a host of unanswered questions regarding the plight of Indians abroad. According to me, racial abuse is by far the most gruesome assault on anyone.The bruises are more psychological than physical, and the scars on the soul gives rise to core fundamental questions which are sometime difficult to answer and sometimes simply unanswerable. Racist abuses also makes us realise the extent of racial practices in so called developed nations and how vulnerable we are to such situations. Racism is more of an age old phenomenon which we have not been able to come out of. At an age where we talk about globalisation and work towards mutual admiration between nations, a racist attack certainly needs our attention and a possible solution too.

 

But what exactly is racism and why we have not been able to pull out ourselves from its clutches, is something we need to ponder upon more seriously !!! Racism has its roots in the belief that some people are superior because they belong to a particular race or an ethnic group.The concept of race lies in its social construction, and I believe it is nothing individualistic.Racist individuals perceive things on some common differences which are on the lines of customs, values, religion, physical appearance,languages and ways of living. In short, racial separatism is a belief that people of different races should remain segregated and stay apart from each other, a social formula since the existence of mankind.

 

Racism in India if not rampant, is very much part of the society.We have always talked about our linguistics and cultural diversities.But I am afraid how far we actually enjoyed it .. Perhaps, it is something that has become very much a part of our daily lives and thus on many accounts go unnoticed. A disturbing fact indeed !!! People from north east are often referred as ‘chinky’ or ‘chinese’ or ‘japanese’. Many forums have voiced there opinion on this. http://www.ndtv.com/news/india/questioning_racism_in_india.php  There have been discussions against racism and casteism clubbed together in India.Caste based abuses are also not isolated cases and have managed to gather some attention from different spheres. As says dalit ideologue and writer Chandrabhan Prasad. “Caste and race are not the same, but their implications are same — discrimination on the basis of one’s birth.”  http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Deep-Focus/Caste-Racism-in-all-butname/articleshow/4449716.cms  Racism needs to be stopped but first within our on land, if we want to take a call on the atrocities outside the country. I guess its high time that we stand up and fight against the indignities and derogatory remarks thrown at people in every sphere of life. Let us try to seek and give honour to people irrespective of their colour or caste. An incident in Australia or America have many takers.But unfortunately there very few voices raised for such issues within the country. Anyone who is a victim of such abuses are entitled for justice and I strongly feel that we should have stringent law to fight it.. I strongly feel, our faith in our so called unity and diversity demands a little more tolerance and understanding, thus making it possible to have a possible solution to the problem.

 

To me racism is an evil that affects everyone. It damages the morale of the communities by limiting the contributions of its members and disrupts peaceful co-existence of groups. It damages individuals by destroying self-confidence and preventing them from achieving anything to their potential. It is particularly damaging for children as it hampers their thought process. The consequences of racism is never ever good and is always detrimental.It only ends up in social injustice, a less productive economy, a divided community and a destroyed nation on the whole. .

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The Zahir by Paulo Coelho
A beautifully woven story, gorgeously blended with Paulo’s trademark philosophy and spirituality, The Zahir is yet another delightful piece for all those who are trying to find out what love and relationship is all about. A story about an author and his journey for self discovery, The Zahir with its semi autobiographical narration gives the much needed insight to his readers on love and understanding  in the per view of  married life.
The narrator, a best selling author himself is happily married to a war correspondent, Esther, until one day his wife disappears from their Paris home without a word of explanation. The author is at a fix…what went wrong? Was she kidnapped or she ran away with another man or she fled away from her married life? A host of logical and illogical questions begins to linger around him, which not only requires contemplation about the status of their marriage but also his own life.The much needed answers to pacify the unrest in his soul. The author decides to find out his wife and through out the journey is forced to reexamine all the different facets of his life, his profession, love, marriage and infidelity. In this quest of self discovery the author writes books and eventually becomes famous but fails to understand the emptiness in his life. He always believed that his wife loved him  and now that myth has been shattered with his inexplicable disappearance, the author goes into this mode of transformation. Although Esther is physically and emotionally lost to him, but he finds her in The Zahir. According to the book, The Zahir in Arabic means “present”, or “incapable of being unnoticed”. It is something that grabs our thought, mind and spirit and demands our full attention. It lingers around us all the time.It is believed to lead to either Holiness or madness. In this book, the Zahir is a woman, Esther, the Zahir. As Paulo explains ” she fills everything.She is the only reason I am alive. I look around, I prepare myself for the talk I am to give, and I understand why I braved the snow, the traffic jams and the ice on the road: in order to be reminded that  everyday I need to rebuild myself and to accept – for the first time in the entire existence- that I love another human being more than I love myself.”
The author realises that even though Esther is not with him physically but her presence is mounting and there is no way he could  escape it ………” I am pleased that she exists; she has shown me that I am capable of a love of which I myself knew nothing and this leaves me in a state of grace“. During these days, he meets Mikhail, the man suspected to be behind Esther’s disappearance, but through his strange and mysterious way he creates a deep impact on the author and makes him understand that in order to find Esther, he need  to ‘find himself’ first. Mikhail introduces the author to a  “tribe” of spiritual seekers who resist, somewhat vaguely, conventional ways of living. And through the author’s journey from Paris to Kazakhstan till he finds Esther, he explores various meanings of love, understanding, marriage, sex and life on the whole. The author finally finds Esther in the steppes of Kazakhstan. And more than that finds the all important missing threads of their lives.
This story is stunningly beautiful. Each page has a gem which will simply make you smile, think, and then move ahead to find the next. . For me this book is a source of enlightenment. I simple loved Coelho’s take on love. He says ” Love was also a synonym for tenderness, security, prestige, comfort, success.Love could be translated into smiled, into words like ‘I love you…” Beautiful lines indeed !!!  The novel has taught me to leave the past behind in order to move on. Something which I feel is undoubtedly  the best way to move ahead in life. As I always said I vehemently rooted for  the characters in Coelho’s novel. But in The Zahir, it is his profound thoughts and his takes on few very essential things in life along with a mesmerizing narration,  that steals the show and makes this book  wroth a read. It is hard to read Coelho’ works without being touched and The Zahir is no exception.
Finally, as Paulo says, ” ….to me that suffering occurs when we want other people to love us in the way we imagine we want to be loved, and not in the way love should manifest itself – free and untrammelled, guiding us with its force and driving us on,” I wish I had read these lines before !!!

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