Sunday, 27 October 2013

Non-Fiction Reads: Going Solo by Roald Dahl


A life is made up of a great number of small incidents and a small number of great ones. An autobiography must therefore, unless it is to become tedious, be extremely selective, discarding all the inconsequential incidents in one's life and concentrating upon those that have remained vivid in the memory.  
- Introduction, Going Solo by Roald Dahl 

Going Solo is the second part of Roald Dahl's memoirs.It is as vivid and engaging as Boy, Dahl's astonishingly well-written account of his childhood.Cumulatively, the two part memoir gives us the first 25 years of the writer's life in gripping episodic narration.

An 'extremely selective' approach also means that the book is scandal free and safe enough to be published under the Penguin children's book imprint Puffin. Yet war, death, nudity, empire builders, aflame fighter planes, sinking ships and charred bodies make it to the book. 

Each incident is aptly and chronologically placed in a new chapter.Again, Dahl's detailing and uncanny knack to take the reader along clinches the deal. The ink that flows in his spontaneous writing can't be pinned down to any style. A lively document of life recalled as it was lived; by the looks of it Dahl seems to have nailed it all in the first draft, except for corrections or deletions, probably. 

Going Solo starts off where Boy wrapped up.It is 1938 and the writer under a three-year contract with the Shell Oil Company is aboard a ship taking him from England to Africa.Apart from hilarious proceedings on the ship, Dahl starts with the joys of a long journey - Nowadays you can fly to Mombasa in a few hours and you stop nowhere and nothing is fabulous any more...  

Arrival at Dar es Salaam, tales of deadly snakes, lions and his African staff are a storyteller's pride, the blaze of World War II only adds more intensity to the proceedings. The wrath of Germany is everywhere and consequently Dahl asks leave from Shell in 1939 to join the RAF at Nairobi. Considering the severe caution that travellers exercise nowadays, it is exciting to read about the writer's solo marathon four wheeler rides across deserts and jungles.Not a word seems wasted - the book ends with Dahl's return to England in 1941, flying into his waiting mother's arms.

Few writers can claim to have faced death many times or to have had as many adventures as Roald Dahl.There is nothing like a first hand account and Going Solo has the long-lasting sheen of experience that provides credibility to the narrative.Interspersed with reproductions of photographs, documents and letters written during those uncertain three years, Going Solo is highly recommended.  

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Roald Dahl in his RAF outfit

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Poetry Reads: Daffodils by William Wordsworth


Most of us went through school without wondering why in the world we had poems like Daffodils revisiting the English language textbooks every two years. Well, at least I did...not...wonder. Nobody seemed to have heard of the flower or seen it in those sans Internet days. We were probably too bored to ask among other things - what did the flower look like? While teachers read the whole thing with the assurance of a kung fu master and horticulturist mingled in one sonorous voice, we can see now (as always when it is too late) that they were earning their paychecks. Reading the poem now, one can see why it is popular - there is universal appeal, an admiration for all beautiful things. The benefits of lingering in a moment are many, and Daffodils is a treasure house of one such moment.     

Back to the Future: William Wordsworth? 
Throwing the reins to fantasy, William Wordsworth would probably be too distracted to write solely about daffodils in a single poem in this progressive 21st century world. Things are just not that simple in the modern world nowadays, or so is life lived or made out to be. Wordsworth would (probably, probably) curse the looming, flashing cell phone towers, upcoming flyovers and the shopping mall for spoiling a previously unhindered horizon. Maybe, alas, he would just miss the daffodils, the first words of inspiration whisked away by a call from a bank eager to loan him money. Thus typing away furiously on his touchscreen keypad, he would have composed dark, murderous verse on malicious lightning - graphically describing its fatal impact on pesky phone callers. Daffodils would have been a juxtaposition of human accumulation, its image flashing on Wordsworth's 'inward eye', i.e, his mega pixel equipped cell phone camera. 

Reining in fantasy to its stable, we are glad Wordsworth lived in a world when nature were queen & king, and our species its admiring subjects. For those still wondering in school, no Indian poet has written as popularly about marigold, jasmine or the fiery mayflower...yet. If anyone out there knows of poems in any language of the world that tell endearingly about flowers, do share.  

Daffodils
By William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

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(Article by Snehith Kumbla)