Friday, 31 October 2014

Book Excerpts: Round and About by Busybee

Few know him as Behram Contractor (1930 - 2001). For the reading world, he was and always will be - Busybee. A casual observer of public life and its spontaneous commentator, Busybee wrote for the Bombay editions of The Times of India, The Free Press Journal and finally The Afternoon, his own newspaper.

Round and about was the famous column series that Busybee wrote. Many call it a newspaper editorial; Busybee did express his opinion in the column, but always for the laughs. There was a simplicity in the humour and a motley group of additional characters (dog, children, wife) added to the appeal. As adorable were the accompanying sketches by cartoonist Mario Miranda (1926 - 2011).

You may read more about Busybee in this striking obituary (click link & scroll down to read) by the mercurial Khushwant Singh (1915 - 2014).

The following extract is from a 1972 edition of Round and about (a collection of previously published articles). The Indian cricket team had recently registered historic test series wins in England and West Indies. Here is Busybee on the cricketers:

One of the problems that the big employers of our Test cricketers are facing is what to do with them when they are not playing cricket.
And it is not the fault of the cricketers. They have been playing so long and so well that they have forgotten how to work. Some of them have even forgotten who they are working for. 
For instance, I am told that the day after the team arrived, Wadekar went to the Bank of India instead of the State Bank. Asked what he was doing there, he said,"I know I am employed by a bank, but I have forgotten which bank."
Solkar's case is even more to the point. It seems that all last week he has been either standing like a rock or falling all over the Mafatlal offices, depending on whether he is under the impression that he is giving stand to Bedi at Lords or fielding at the Kennington Oval. 
And a director of the ACC was telling me: "You may be surprised to hear this, but Sardesai has forgotten how to make cement."            
I am getting similar reports from all over the country. Some of the cricketers are still walking on red carpets, others opening gifts that have received from all sorts of manufacturers. And it seems most of them stay away from work every time it rains.       

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Monday, 6 October 2014

Book Excerpts: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway's foray into adventure began even before he was twenty. Post a cub reporter stint at the Kansas City Star, Hemingway volunteered for a ambulance driver job at the Italian front during World War I. A Farewell to Arms (1929) is based on these early intense experiences with violence and death. The book established his reputation as a writer of captivating fiction in the public eye, adding on to the praise that Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (1926) got him. Hemingway remained obsessed with various forms of violence until his death, from boxing, bullfighting, war, deep sea fishing to big game hunting. 

Many writers have imitated the matter-of-fact detailed style of writing, but they all lack the first-hand flame of experience that Hemingway conveyed. Here are the first lines from the novel that still hits you with its straight forward description of war and human nature: 

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Friday, 21 February 2014

The Lord of the Rings Eagle Theory: FLY, YOU FOOLS!

With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard's knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. 'Fly, you fools!' he cried, and was gone.    
- The Lord of the Rings / The Fellowship of the Ring / The Bridge of Khazad-Dum

This is the theory, the ultimate, alternative The Lord of the Rings theory. It makes much of an alleged plot loophole. Consider it closely, dear bookworms. I won't vouch for it, nor discard it, but present the case to you.  

The Lord of the Rings eagle theory has been around in various forms on the Internet for some time now. There seems to be no one person who can be solely credited to it. There are various scrapes of it, posed by different readers. But one common thread is evident - they are all LOTR fanatics. There can be no other explanation to indulge so deeply in a fiction fantasy, to see it as an important part of one's lives. Probably, at most times, the book may be garnering more attention than the reader's own life. The theory also tells of the influence such a towering tale has on its readers.  

Fly, You Fools!  
The whole crux of it lies in the opening extract of this blog post. Three words uttered by Gandalf, his last words as he believes them to be - Fly, you fools! As the theory, credited to one VulcanDeathGrip goes, it all began in the opening pages of The Fellowship of the Ring. Gandalf rides to Isengard to meet Saruman, having entrusted Frodo the ring. Unfortunately for the grey wizard, Saruman has turned to Sauron's side and imprisons the unrelenting grey wizard. It is then that Gandalf takes aid of his friends, the eagles to escape. This is where the theory wedges in: 

It is when the eagles bear him away from Saruman's clutches, that Gandalf seriously considers the always evident possibility - that he will have to take the onus of destroying the ring. Running out of time, perceiving the impossibility of Frodo's mission, Gandalf seriously considers the use of eagles. What better than Frodo to ride with the eagles and drop the ring, airborne, into the volcano of Mount Doom? Yes, it is risky business, but there is an advantage to it. Sauron has not yet contended with the use of eagles. 

The eagles are elusive, aloof creatures, friends of no one but Gandalf. So before turning up at Rivendell, Gandalf meets the eagles at their lair (as marked in The Hobbit - Up north in the Misty Mountains) and discusses the ring dropping plan with them and the eagles consent to it. Also, a pact of utmost secrecy is made between them, that NO ONE ELSE will know of the plan until the time of its execution.

Top Secret  
Gandalf now arrives at Rivendell and agrees to the forming of the fellowship. He finds it most appropriate to keep the fellowship clueless of his plans and somehow lead them, slipping past Sauron's ubiquitous spies to the eagle's lair. Finally there, Frodo and the company (as distractions, while Frodo drops the ring) would be carried out to Mordor in a swift surprise ambush. Gandalf now considers the best route to the eagle's lair. This is his most intimidating hurdle. Just how inconspicuously can he get the fellowship through to his winged friends and then arrange a swift secret flight to Mordor? 

Gandalf thinks of the High Pass, the fastest route to the eagles, but he knows that Saruman would be keeping watch on this route. Infested as it was with orcs and goblins, it was the also the most dangerous route to take. Gandalf may have dared the route with Frodo and Sam for company as it had been originally planned. But loaded with additional company, it was too much of a risk to be seen. The Redhorn Pass or the Northern Pass was Gandalf's best bet and this is where he leads the company. But Saruman impedes their steady progress early with storms. Reluctant to take the Gap of Rohan, a route that will take them too far from the eagle's lair and too close to Isengard, there is but no choice left but to go through the mines of Moria, despite its many perils.  

Out of time and options 
Thus cornered out of options and running out of time, Gandalf hopes to get the fellowship through Moria and then through the High Pass to the eagles. He almost gets through, only to be taken by the Balrog. It is as he is desperately clinging to the cliff, Gandalf utters his well-chosen final words. He encodes his message cleverly, such that the nearby goblins and orcs do not figure its import. "Fly, you fools!" he says, and falls, hoping that any one of his companions figure out what he has implied. But nobody understands and the fellowship is soon broken. 

Rebirth, amnesia  
Gandalf returns in The Two Towers as Gandalf the White. He has seen death and revival; he no longer remembers things, not even his name! So it is no wonder that he has forgotten the plan with the eagles. Only when the ring is destroyed, and Frodo and Sam are in need of aid that Gandalf recalls the eagle plan. By that time, there is no need. 

Other factors  
  • The eagles could have been easily lured by the ring, so they are not solely entrusted to drop it. 
  • Gandalf has seen Bilbo's extraordinary will in forsaking the ring, hence he trusts that Frodo will follow suit. 
  • Gandalf himself couldn't destroy the ring, for he feared, rightly so, that the ring will wield a power far too great to imagine in his hands. 
Tolkien thought of umpteen things for The Lord of the Rings, so it is obvious he must have thought of the eagles. As a counter to the theory, the eagles never cared for anyone but Gandalf who had discarded the airborne ring dropping idea long ago, considering that it was too obvious to guess for Sauron. In such desperate times, it was too much of a risk.    

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

A gif image from the  Peter Jackson movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Book Excerpts: Meet Mr. Mulliner by PG Wodehouse

If you are yet to read a Wodehouse, there is no particular book to get started on, it could be any of the several he wrote. For a PG Wodehouse book is meant for the laughs, laced with an apt treasure house of vocabulary, impeccable English, historical references, ice thin plot and a stage full of eccentric British and (sometimes) American characters. As Wodehouse himself said, "I believe there are two ways of writing novels. One is mine, making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going right deep down into life and not caring a damn."

It's been a decade since I read these sugar-baked eternal sunshine stories of honeyed romances, dim-witted young men, their intelligent butlers, pigs, awe-struck pig owners, misplaced tonic bottles and crossword puzzle solvers. I seem to have lost patience for the novels - stretched and repeated as their obscure plots go (despite the sparkling never-failing humour), but a well-written Wodehouse short story is another thing altogether.

Here is an extract of a tale from my favourite Wodehouse short story trilogy, one that features a certain Mr. Mulliner, Anglers' Rest bar-parlour regular, and a teller of seemingly tall 'truthful' tales about other denizens of the Mulliner family. Mulliner's bar narratives have been collected in three books - Meet Mr Mulliner (1927), Mr Mulliner Speaking (1929) and Mulliner Nights (1933).

The following lines are from The Romance of a Bulb-Squeezer (Meet Mr. Mulliner):      

Statistics show that the two classes of the community which least often marry are milkmen and fashionable photographers - milkmen because they see women too early in the morning, and fashionable photographers because their days are spent in an atmosphere of feminine loveliness so monotonous that they become surfeited and morose.   

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Murder Mysteries: Curtain: Poirot's Last Case by Agatha Christie

The clues undoubtedly lead us to the fact that Curtain: Poirot's Last Case is a humdinger of a mystery novel. It is certainly among Christie's best.

More than 20 odd years post their first appearance at Styles (The Mysterious Affair at Styles) -  Poirot and Hastings reunite in literary convenience at Styles - which is now a faded hotel.The now middle-aged Hastings (also the Watson-like story narrator) is disheartened to see his old friend in a wheelchair. But his mood changes when the detective soon makes his purpose clear - He is here to hunt down a killer. One who has killed so frequently and expertly, that no doubt has been raised against the person, ever. 

Frustrating as it is for Hastings, Poirot won't reveal the murderer's identity. Instead, Poirot wants his friend to be his 'eyes and ears'. So Hastings meets up with other denizens of Styles, including the aged owners, a nervous bird watcher,lady with a shady past, a rich lonely man and finally Hastings' younger daughter, her employer, his invalid wife and a nurse. Among this mix of visitors, Hastings wonders who will kill and why. Time is fast running out, as Poirot points out, a killer who has killed many will kill again.           

There is a continuous anticipation running through the book. This is no routine mystery where the crime is done and the suspects are questioned. Like many great crime novels, various shades, characters, atmospheres inhabit these pages. 

Yet what is a murder mystery without a satisfactory tying of the threads? Christie simply blows us way in that department.There couldn't be a more devastating full stop to what is a senile detective's last case. 

An exceptional treat for all mystery novel readers - Poirot fans or not. I may yet stumble to say - Those who have known Poirot and his peculiar ways may end up enjoying this one a bit more.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)