Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Non-Fiction Reads: The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara

This isn't a tale of derring-do, nor is it merely some kind of 'cynical account'; it isn't meant to be, at least. It's a chunk of two lives running parallel for a while, with common aspirations and similar dreams. In nine months a man can think a lot of thoughts, from the height of philosophical conjecture to the most abject longing for a bowl of soup – in perfect harmony with the state of his stomach. And if, at the same time, he's a bit of an adventurer, he could have experiences which might interest other people and his random account would read something like this diary.
- The Motorcycle Diaries, Introduction 

Who was Che Guevara? For starters, he was an Argentine-born Marxist revolutionary; the leader of Cuban and international guerrillas.

What Guevara became and how much the journey described in the book contributed to it, is another story. We may not approve of the violent path that Guevara walked later on. But here, he is one of us, more recognizable, more accessible, yet apart.

It was only in 1993 that The Motorcycle Diaries was first published, more than 40 years after it was written.Translated from the Spanish, the book was also made into a movie by the same name.The present edition that I possess, The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey was released in 2003. 

In 1950, a young Guevara had already done a 4500-km trip across Argentina on a bicycle with a small motor attached to it. In January 1952, 23-year-old Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado, 29, took a one-year break from their medical studies and embarked on a road trip they had been planning for a long time. Granado's 1939 500cc Norton motorbike, nicknamed La Poderasa (the mighty one) was to be their riding companion. This was to be an epic road trip covering South America in its entirety.

The book is a collection of notes Guevara wrote during the journey. The narration is full of surprises, of the joys, difficulties and the unexpected humorous situations that arise during the journey. Overloaded with luggage, 'the mighty one' suffers many crashes until finally becoming obsolete, halfway through the journey.

The change in Guevara from a carefree young man to the person he finally became can be witnessed in these writings. The duo spends nights at strangers' abodes, get visited by a Puma and are almost done in by possible murderers. On the road, there is the extreme cold to contend with. New experiences greet the travelers at every bend. At the journey's end, Guevara and Granado are bound to travel their separate roads.

A distinct gem of a travelogue, fragrant of youth, enthusiasm and daring.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Poetry Reads: On A Mythical Mumbai Weekend by Snehith Kumbla

On A Mythical Mumbai Weekend
by Snehith Kumbla 

On a mythical Mumbai weekend, 
of no serene start or dubious end, 
with imaginary beauties, invisible friends,

I stepped out of a puffing train, 
my long unkempt hair a lion's mane, 
getting used to my twitching tail,

Posing on the Gateway of India, 
the extraordinary explorer pose, 
took a boat to Elephanta (sans the hose),

and when my shivering co-passengers
had finished feverishly taking pictures
and started screaming holy mothers and sisters, 

I took off from the starboard end, 
and became the first man-lion to 
cross the polluted Indian channel, 

surviving to make the news channels,
my scientific name listed as a brand new mammal, 
my mating call recognized as a gushing gargle, 

On a mythical Mumbai weekend, 
of no serene start or dubious end, 
with imaginary beauties, invisible friends,

I devoured deep-kissing lovers for lunch 
at Bandstand's low-tide on a hunch,
to the delicious sound of munch! munch!

even as Shah Rukh Khan watched disgusted 
from his big big bungalow by the sea, 
and as the city sharpshooters came after me,    

and later when they brought me down, 
from Nariman Point building, like KING KONG,
I tuned a dusty guitar and sang a melancholy song,

on the death of adventure, love and reality, 
dangers of delusions, lethargy and self-pity,
repression, horniness and too much TV,

down in a shower of bullets when I went, 
sky like the coming of rain, godspeed, godsend, 
in a mythical city, where nothing is really meant, 

On a mythical Mumbai weekend, 
of no serene start or dubious end, 
with imaginary beauties, invisible friends...


Mingling fantasy, boredom (epic ennui), love for the movies and alleged diary entries, On a Mythical Mumbai Weekend, is also my call out to meeting childhood, college, journalism and travel friends, visiting Elephanta Caves, browsing books at Flora Fountain, walking down Marine Drive, discovering Prithvi Theatre and many other South Mumbai memories.  

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Fiction Reads: Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

In the summer of 1947, a gruesome, violent bloodbath ensues from the India-Pakistan partition, killing millions in its wake. At the border village of Mano Majra, things go on as usual. The residents time their daily routine of chores, meals, work, prayers and sleep to the sound of trains arriving-departing at the railway station. This fragile peace is soon smashed to bits. The local moneylender's murder ruffles up the denizens first. Then, a train arrives at Mano Majra, ominously quiet, bearing ghostly tidings.

First published in 1956, Train to Pakistan is up there among Singh's best novels, notably Delhi (1990). Instead of the latter's epic sweep, Singh goes for the jugular here. He fleshes out life-mirroring characters, rough, raw and hapless to the circumstances. From the giant-like Sikh rogue Juggat Singh, the well-intending, yet conniving, district magistrate Hukum Chand, the city-dwelling Communist Iqbal, the Sikh priest Meet Singh to Nooran, the vulnerable Muslim girl, Singh is in his element here.

Symbolisms & Insights
Trains running haywire and disrupting tranquil lives makes for strong symbolism here, as does the reading out of Guru Nanak's teachings, a downplayed, pivotal moment in the story.

As the Sutlej river swells with the monsoon's advent, dead bloated bodies come floating by. A madness slowly, surely grips the village. It only takes a young mob-rouser to light the flame and the stage is set for mayhem and murder. Singh masterfully dissects the times, emotions and short-sightedness of the general public. No individual, independent thoughts prevail here. In a snatch, a crowd transforms into a killing mob.

Nightmarish, brutal descriptions follow. Singh unsettling analogy to Nehru's Tryst with destiny speech is haunting. The abrupt climax winds up a powerful gritty tale. Unsentimental, effectively dry and humane, this is a surprisingly redeeming partition novel. A definitive classic, a necessary cautionary tale of our times. Sadly, still contemporary and immediate in the 70th year of India's independence.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)    

A partition photograph by Margaret Bourke-White for LIFE magazine.
(Courtesy: time.com)