Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Cruelty of the Japanese Army in the Eastern Front, As Told by Richard Flanagan in the Booker-winning Novel "The Narrow Road to the Deep North"

Reading as I am Booker-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North (author: Richard Flannagan) I am convinced that the act of bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified. Here we see a race that has no compassion, love, grace, or, for that matter an approximation of justice. The scenes depicting the cruelty meted out to prisoners on the Death Railway built at that time from Thailand to Burma is indeed horror-filled, inhuman, and insane. If such a people had captured India, our plight would have been worse than under the British. Yes.

Disclaimer: my uncle died in this great and ambitious struggle. He had been enlisted in the British army and then drafted by the Indian National Army of Subash Bose. Impetuous and compulsive (also good looking) he was my grandparents' favourite son. The last letter received from him talked of taking my father to Singapore where he was stationed, before the Nips (as Japanese were described at that time) invaded it. (Aside: if he had taken my father to Singapore I wouldn't have existed, so wouldn't this blog. My father would surely have died with him before siring me! What a sick, but probable thought!) Subsequently, all communication stopped, because the Nips didn't transmit any letters, knowing the cruelty they were inflicting would become known. So, no records exist. That itself is a larger cruelty than killing the soldiers with work, without food, without medicines, without rest, and without tools. Prisoners were punished for simple transgressions as resting when they were sick. He is believed to have died of starvation, though he was a soldier of a friendly army.

The greatest irony of the war in the eastern front is that there are no records, no letters, no any diaries. That is why this novel assumes importance and deservedly has won the Booker. The names of people who have died are also not known. It's a strange mixture of extreme cruelty and atrocious suffering inflicted on people and should be researched, at least, to correct the wrongs done by history.

The Nips were all duty-bound to obey the emperor, obsequiously so. But why deny human beings common facilities like medicine and food? The cruelties on the eastern front surpasses, if not equals that of the Jewish genocide in Europe. Will history forgive the perpetrators? Will some justice come to those who died?

My mind flusters, it goes blank, I am not able write anymore. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Death Railway to Burma and People Who Built It

From Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which I am reading now, it is obvious that the Japanese Imperial Army (JIA) weren't kind employers. Prisoners of war (POWs) were required to work all days of the week in gruelling shifts of twelve hours a day to build what was known as the Death Railway to Burma.


It also appears that when my uncle Cherian Mathew joined the Indian National Army under Subash Bose he might have imagined being treated better than the POWs. But I have a suspicion that he wasn't and the JIA meted out the same treatment as the POWs to the members of INA. There have been eyewitness accounts of how my uncle died of hunger and malnutrition, working in dire conditions. I guess he must have been working on the Death Railway project which sought to connect Thailand to Burma through thick forests. The Bridge over the River Quai is a poignant movie that documents the trials of the prisoners.


In Flanagan's novel the author recounts the experience of Australian POWs working under Japanese supervision. Their boss Nakamura is strict and relentless. Workers are dying around him of malnutrition and cholera, but he shows no concern. He is bound only by the code of honour of serving the emperor, unflinchingly, unquestioningly. He is only worried about meeting his deadlines for the construction of the railway.


It also seems that the Death Railway was built in patches, not end to end. Meaning several gangs were working on different sites, which then would be joined to create the final railway line.


I trolled the maps to find the attached one of the Death Railway. However, on following it to the Burmese border I find that it terminates at a station named Nam Tok and doesn't proceed any further than that. It falters, then comes to a dead end there. So, the railway to Burmah through thick forests was a failure after all. So much effort, starvation, deaths, ill treatment, all happened for nothing.


Now if you search Death Railway on google maps, you will find that the line is dotted by many resorts. I guess, the Thai government must be exploiting the tourism potential of the Death Railway, which happens to be the only saving grace of this wasted effort.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Where Will This Materialism Lead?

This is recent. Very. I was discussing materialism and its far-reaching implications into our psyche with a friend. The papers are full of ads this Diwali season exhorting people to buy and there are discounts to be had, cars to be won, gold coins to be availed of. As often happens during such ruminations, I – self righteously, I may add – defended my non-materialistic aspects.


"My fridge lasted 20 years, my washing machine 10 years, my gas stove was changed recently after 20 years, my teapoy is more than 30 years old, I still have the same drawing room cane furniture of 10 years."


Hm. My high-ass proclamations seemed empty when compared to the following, which I am writing here, and was not told to my friend, who, after all, doesn't read my blogs. So here it is safe. And here goes:


My mobile phone is 10 months old, I had to replace the old one because the battery ran out within hours; my laptop is only 6 months old, a replacement warranted by a bad keyboard and screen; my guitar is only 2 years old, as the old one warped and had to be replaced, my television is only 1 year old as the old gent gave up after 15 years of sputtering.


All those things I mentioned first were manufactured around 15 years ago and were high in quality. Meaning they went through a manufacturing and quality control process. However, the products I mention second don't seem serious about quality at all. They all bring out newer models and advertise aggressively to sell. Try and get your laptop and smartphone repaired. No, they don't have parts.


It is this materialism that is at the root of society's evils. When you invest money in a badly produced product you are wasting your precious resources.


The latest iphone costs around Rs 60 thousand. It's the version six. What if I buy one? Will it last me for five years? No, I will want to buy version seven when it comes out for a fancier price. For that 60 thousand rupees I could have:


1. Repainted my house

2. Bought books

3. Bought half a Tata Nano car (I don't know about this!)

4. Gone on holiday

5. Given to the poor

6. Put in fixed deposit and earned 9 per cent interest (Rs 5400)

7. Some of these and much more....


Man will never be satisfied with what he has. But his greed is giving rise to the adoption of the "use and discard" philosophy. Manufacturing is no longer important, only researching new products is.


Where will this materialism lead?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book Review: Orfeo by Richard Powers

Richard Powers
Orfeo by Richard Powers is a novel that combines sci-fi with sheer mundane things like a hobby turning into an ordeal. Els is a chemistry man, a geneticist, and a life-long music addict, who plans to weave music into DNA strands in his hobby laboratory at home. He tinkers with genetic modification using equipment bought on internet sites. In addition, he composes music, and has done a few shows with his friend Richard. He is divorced, estranged from his only daughter, and lives the life of a recluse. The only thing that goes wrong in his sedate life is that he is found out when his dog dies and the police come to investigate. The policemen suspect him to be a bio terrorist and one day coming back from his morning walk, he discovers that his home has been broken into by the security agencies. He runs away, a fugitive now, sure that his genetic experiment will be viewed as being of grave security concerns by the agency, and he would be implicated.

Desperately, he runs away from home, drives through multiple states using a student's smart phone. He realises he lives in the hell that is the modern world where every phone call can be traced to the exact location. So, wary, he plods on from state to state, depending on cash transactions, as he knows his credit card usage will be monitored by the agencies. There are excellent passages in the novel that brings us closer to the character of Els, his genius, his knowledge of music, his understanding of modern technology. Also he pre-empts discovery and arrest by his vast knowledge of science and technology.

For example, "(Russia) crumbles into a dozen-plus countries. All the world's data weaves together into a web." The language is terse and therefore the author holds reader in thrall, imagining what the next revelatory sentence could be. "Els said 'do not invent simply discover.' One or two of them understood him." These are the sort of stray gems littered throughout the novel.

Els' journey takes him on a whirlwind tour of the states of the United States and his wry humour keeps us involved. He visits his estranged wife and daughter. However, in the end, when he is caught in his daughter's home, the narrative encounters its major stumbling block. There's too much of technical details, beyond the comprehension of the lay reader. That's the only drawback in this excellent novel. However, on the whole it's a novel that entertains with the sheer brilliance of the author's knowledge and innovative use of language and keeps us on the edge wanting to know more.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Trip to Kerala: September 2014


Just returned from a trip to Kerala yesterday. Writing a few words here about the experience: the beauty, the ugliness, the mental forbearance needed, and the agony of waiting.


First of all, Kerala is beautiful this time of the year. The monsoon has retreated so it's not warm or cold, and the bright sun shines on palm fronds and rubber leaves. Beautiful is also the entire Konkan coast. But Kerala promoted itself as a tourist paradise and the name stuck. However, this has ramifications for me, a frequent traveller to the state which is home, second to Bombay, that is. The trains are crowded, tickets aren't available, and I have to suffer the assault of many unknown languages. That's forgivable but what is not is the Indian – I mean general – tendency to litter. Spitting red pan spittle is a malaise in North India and not South India. However, this habit is catching on.


Every home, or, locality, has a resident pest. This is usually a mentally disturbed individual who speaks very loudly, under the influence of the liquor of the night before. My sister's neighbour is one such individual; my brother-in-law's (from my wife's side) has another such pest. They disturb the peace during day and night, talking loudly so that everyone can hear and generally behaving like a tyke. There is no logic in his talk and he claims to be a prophet of god and a god-fearing man. Then why this high-decibel hectoring? Why this boasting and disturbing the peace?


If you want to get anything done in Kerala you need a Bangla Deshi, a Bihari, or an Assamiya. Kerala men won't work even if they are able bodied and look like Salman Khan minus the cute looks. Here every working class man sports a six pack, but still he won't work for a living though the daily wage is Rs seven hundred. Yes, you heard right, seven hundred. Seven hundred plus two breaks for tea and one for lunch won't lure the lousy lout to pick up the hoe and spade. All my life, I slaved for much less. He would rather laze at home and live off his wife because he gets rice at Re one, a plot of land for free and a loan to build a house.


So imagine my surprise when I see the crowd of Bangla Deshis waiting for the Gauhati Express all along the route to Kochi. I am on my return trip and going for a brief stay at my brother's place in Kochi. They are paid only half the mandatory wages, but look prosperous and happy.


Gulf money has spoilt the countryside. There are unsightly bungalows dotting the verdant villages, painted in garish pink, yellow, shocking blue, and screaming violet. All of them have aluminium roofing to protect against the rain which adds to the ugliness. But architectural beauty is a subjective matter and I could be disputed on this. So, I will leave it.


Then the state doesn't have a viable garbage removal policy. Literally every little town reeks with the disgusting stench of refuse. A lot of junk food is consumed and the wrappers are thrown by the side of the street to rot with remains of food, meat, and fish. Even the city of Kochi – the premium city - doesn't have a proper garbage removal system in place. People pay to get their waste removed.  


These are some of the issues, I faced. More, if time permits. Meanwhile, I should run. Wifey has been announcing that lunch is ready.