Sunday, August 31, 2014
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Friday, August 22, 2014
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
I saw this video of Robin Williams' standup comedy (full performance, because it's an hour-long performance) and laughed and laughed. I checked Twitter in the morning after I woke up and found he was dead, a suicide. I went no, no, no, not him. I was devastated. Why does a comedian commit suicide? For what reason? He is so much loved, so much adored. He can say whatever he wants without being sued for libel. He has the world under his feet.
I watched the video and then wept. For him, the world, the way the world is ridding itself of talented people. Why does God take away such good people and leave the dregs behind? Why are comedians' lives so tragic? Is it because all our lives are tragic?
I loved his movies. I have seen quite a few of them and liked the way he made you laugh, the funny faces he made. I liked him a lot less than Jim Carey, but Jim Carey is Jim Carey. I don't like Chevvy Chase and Adam Sandler type of comedy acts. No. They are too stiff, while Robin can make things funny with his voice and his actions. Turns out he was shy as a boy and then picked up confidence doing plays. He did many stand up routines like the one above.
He ridicules everyone: Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, George Bush, Tony Blair, Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the whole lot. Doing comedy is not easy. It's tough. You have to work hard on your lines, act them out, be perfect, because there is no room for failure. And to act out in front of an audience (a packed auditorium as you see above) is even tougher.
It is said he liked to put people at ease and help people. He was also good to his fans and talked to them. In a world increasingly devoid of comedy he was one beacon of light that shined on us humourless people.
I hope - up there - you are making God chuckle with your cracks. Rest in peace Robin Williams.
Monday, August 11, 2014
There's something frightening going on. Yes, it's fearsome, it's unprecedented, it's disturbing. It's the lack of literary criticism we are witnessing. Anybody can write anything and get away with it, provided it isn't communal, doesn't offend the majority community (or, the minority), outdoes the doodhi in blandness, and veers towards the occult and mythical figures in phantasmal settings.
Yes! Literary criticism is dead in India. Was it there in the first place? Did anyone venture to write a critical review of Nehru's Discovery of India and get published? But that was in the days of the independence euphoria. Hardly any English books were published. We thought criticism would become more mature. Today with around eighteen thousand English language books being published in an year, in India, the absence of literary criticism is worrying. That's more than a thousand books a month.
This total absence of literary criticism is disturbing. The newspapers have given up reviewing books, unless it makes news. They have included the really stinking tell-all memoirs into their breaking stories. A book makes it to breaking news when the subject of the memoir visits the author and requests (threaten, rather) to withdraw the book. And, they don't give space to a first-time novelist looking to hold on to some straws before his book sinks into oblivion. And they don't give a damn for those novelists as Maria Carey is divorcing husband Jermaine Dupri over poor album sales, which, for them, is breaking news.
The Times of India used to have book reviews, and then they stopped them. India's leading newspaper having a circulation in million doesn't think literature or literary criticism is important. So, no book reviews. Instead it reviews the colourless and tasteless books issuing from their own press. DNA used to have book reviews, which were also withdrawn.
So as expected, shit happens. A man appears on the collective conscience of us literary types, the dregs, that is. His name is Dinanath Batra and the organisation he spearheads called Shikshan Bachao Andolan Samiti (SBAS) specialises in book extremism (I didn't say terrorism, deliberately). Roughly translated his organisation means "Society for Saving Education through Revolution." How far-fetched can one be?
He is reported in the press as saying that Indian culture must be saved from external influences, however, erudite, however, well researched. We must do this and also uphold the concept of India being a Hindu nation. So he asks the publisher of Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: an Alternative History to pulp the book. The publisher does. Another book On Hinduism by the same author is also likewise withdrawn. Now the literati types are aghast. The shock is tremendous. How did this come about? How can a published and distributed book be withdrawn from the shelves and made into pulp?
That's because the literary types didn't give shit when literary criticism itself was given a go-by by the media. They didn't raise a finger. Nada. If they had they could have pointed out to one or two reviews in newspapers praising the book. Then the publisher would have had a case if the matter went to court. In this case the publisher had not even the straw of literary criticism to fall back upon.
If we don't have a healthy literary community, criticising or praising a book, we give rise to the likes of Dinanath Batra and SBAS. If you don't like a well-researched book you pan it in the media, or, else, write a rebuttal. We, the literary types, have nothing, or, nobody to go to, we are in disarray and the foe is at the gate.
So, then, literary criticism is dead. Long live literary criticism! Welcome book extremism!
Monday, July 28, 2014
Monday, July 07, 2014
Saturday, July 05, 2014
And, then, look at the picture below. It is a picture of a slum where there is no water, no electricity and people shit in the open space around it. To make things worse, it gets flooded in the rains.
These days it is raining in Bombay, India's richest city, and the richest man has to protect his house with the same plastic sheet as the poor man. (See the blue plastic sheets on both buildings.) Perhaps, the rich man's architects have bungled, they didn't think that glass if not properly fixed would leak. So now they have had to fix the humble plastic sheet used by slum-dwellers on their wonderful architecture stretching into the sky.
What is obvious from the picture below is that our urban city planners and architects have also bungled. A one-bedroom flat in the city costs around Rs 1 Cr ($ 166 thousand). If a man buys a flat he is a slave to his employer for ever. (I was one of such employees.) If you can't buy a flat, you can live in one of the huts seen below.
The rich man I mentioned is the chairman of the biggest corporation in India. All his employees are required to work six days a week and, sometimes, more. He doesn't believe in charity. His hospitals and schools are the most expensive ones in the city.
The problem is seeing a corporate captain behaving thus, the lesser bosses have also started imitating him. Thus most of the offices of the corporation work six days a week giving employees neither free time for hobbies or for their children. The belief is that if you have political patronage you can do anything in India. Nobody can touch you. India is like a tinpot African regime (sorry Africa!) not a genuine democracy in the hands of these people.
Need I say more?
Sunday, June 29, 2014
Narcopolis is a many-layered piece about a man castrated to be a eunuch. I guess this is a system that is prevalent in India, only in India, that is. Here we have the eunuchs come to our home and if the child is born with inadequate sexual organs he is castrated to be an eunuch. A eunuch thus castrated can only become a beggar or a sex slave. Nothing could be sadder than a story of an eunuch (nowadays called transgender) in the class- and community-conscious Indian society. The transgender Dimple also works in an opium den set in the seventies when Thayil came of age and what is interesting is his re-creation of those days.
Through his exquisitely crafted prose – having the ring of poetry – Thayil recreates an era that has been forgotten. Those days in Bombay opium was easily available. There was marijuana in every street corner; there were the dons of Dongri who managed the narcotics business with diligence. Today the dons are on the run and drugs aren't easily available. The opium dens of those days have closed down; the curtains have come down on an era of hedonistic excesses. Commissioner JRF Ribeiro the supercop and his brave men have seen to that.
The author moves easily across boundaries and time lines as is seen from Lee's – a top-ranking Chinese official – story. Lee is marking his days in Bombay and is Dimple's customer. Dimple is employed by Rashid in his opium den and Thayil reels out a stream of slang terms which stands for the use and abuse of the narcotic. Rashid is a man damaged by the profession and indulges in excesses of sex and gluttony. He seems like a man beyond redemption.
And, of course, there is the six-page opening sentence which as Thayil says "is a good sentence." I find nothing wrong in that since Joyce has a page full of outdated degrees and qualifications in Ulysses.
The famous Malayalam writer MT Vasudevan Nair has said that every novel puts across a novel concept, a novel idea, something for the society to ruminate on. I can't fish out the original Malayalam words, but he said as much. True Thayil has presented the unrecorded past of Bombay as a novel idea of which we may be unaware, but in which surely have played a part.
My only complaint with Narcopolis is that it ends too soon. I would have liked to see some more resolution and closures. I would have liked to read more about Dimple's life and about Ramesh, Rumi, as he is called. He has some interesting quotes ascribed to him: "This chooth country, this cunt country, how the fuck are you supposed to live here without drugs?" But then a novel has to end somewhere doesn't it?