Monday, 23 October 2017

Book Excerpt: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Tom Sawyer is no stranger to most bookworms, the epitome of mischief and loafing as he is, Sawyer's enduring evergreen appeal that has lasted over a century can be attributed to his indomitable spirit. In the following lines from the first few pages of the book, Mark Twain kind of sums up the essential Tom Sawyer character for us:

He was not the Model Boy of the village. He knew the model boy very well though — and loathed him.

Within two minutes, or even less, he had forgotten all his troubles. Not because his troubles were one whit less heavy and bitter to him than a man’s are to a man, but because a new and powerful interest bore them down and drove them out of his mind for the time — just as men’s misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Fiction Reads: A Tiger for Malgudi by RK Narayan

RK Narayan (1906 - 2001)

Most of RK Narayan's novels and short stories are set in the fictional, sleepy town of Malgudi, somewhere in south India. A Tiger for Malgudi is no exception. Even as an aging zoo tiger narrates its life history, the story's climatic moments inevitably occur in the small town. Instead of its usual full-fledged role, Malgudi makes a guest appearance here. But more of that later, sample an excerpt from the first chapter: 

You are not likely to understand that I am different from the tiger next door, that I possess a soul within this forbidding exterior. I can think, analyse, judge, remember and do everything that you do, perhaps with greater subtlety and sense. I lack only the faculty of speech. 

But if you could read my thoughts, you would be welcome to come in and listen to the story of my life. At least, you could slip your arm through the bars and touch me and I will hold out my forepaw to greet you, after retracting my claws, of course.      

A common thread runs through most of Narayan's works, the flow persists here. The storytelling is simple, the characters well-defined, there are no complexities in the plot. Time is an invisible character in all Malgudi tales, it is as if time lingers on a park bench, or stands still as a statue while passing Malgudi. 

Many times I have found this lingering pace a bother in Narayan's novels. This despite the fact that none of Narayan's novels extend beyond 300 pages. But A Tiger for Malgudi is one Narayan novel I love returning to. The 176-page length works for the book. It has the charm of a fable, old world wisdom, incidental humour and at its best moments, a leisurely, enjoyable aroma of a much-repeated (and thus polished) grandmother's tale.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Art Corner: The Runner, Athens

Yet again, I write about unforgettable Greece. I had never heard of The Runner until I saw it in Athens for the first time. A unique body of sculpture, it is made from shards of glass and it appears green in colour. It is a colossal piece of work situated at the Vassilissis Sofias Avenue in front of the Hilton. The Runner or the Dromeas is 30 feet tall and when one looks at it, it feels like as if it were running against the wind. It was created in 1988 by Costas Varotsos, one of the renowned Greek sculptors. He is known for creating large works of sculpture for natural or designed settings.

Undoubtedly, The Runner will hold you in awe of it if you see it for the first time. If you sight it past more than once, it will still enthral you against a harmonious setting of trimmed lawns and greenery and architecture. Simply marvellous and I can’t wait to see it again.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Poetry Reads: Jejuri by Arun Kolatkar

Arun Kolatkar (1932-2004) was reclusive (didn't own a telephone: ever), bilingual poet with rare gifts.  A clear demarcation of style and substance is evident in his Marathi and English works.

Apart from wit, satire, and humour, Kolatkar's English poetry has its unique punchlines, dream-scraping, and exaggerated comic imagery. A Sir J.J School of Art pass out who went on to be a professional graphic designer - the copyrighting sprinkle certainly shows in the English poems. Keen observation is another noticeable endowment.    

Barely Published 
The degree of reluctance in publishing his work was such that for years, Jejuri was the only English poetry collection available. Two English poetry collections Kala Ghoda Poems and Sarpasatra were released on July 14, 2004, at an event in Mumbai. Terminally ill with stomach cancer, Arun Kolatkar was in the audience as poets read from the two books.

Posthumously, came the beautifully compiled The Boatride and other Poems, edited by his close friend and fellow poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. The latter's introduction duly documents Kolatkar's last days, under the title - Death of a Poet. Kolatkar passed away on September 25, 2004 in Pune.

Thus was Kolatkar - of leonine hair, razor-blade eyes, and drooping moustache. We now delve into Jejuri, first published in 1974.

Destinations, Inspirations
Jejuri is an hour's drive from Pune. Much has changed since the poet visited this small-town nearly four decades ago. This was no pilgrimage that Kolatkar undertook, that much is clear. A leisurely trip with no particular purpose seems more like it.  The first of the 31 poems swings in the surrealism of a bus ride. Another walks into the world of an eager priest. An excerpt:

The bus goes round in a circle. 
Stops inside the bus station and stands 
purring softly in front of the priest. 

A catgrin on its face
and a live, ready to eat pilgrim   
held between its teeth.                                           

We also get a striking description of a temple's ruined state and an unlikely epitaph in another. The extract follows:

No more a place of worship this place
is nothing less than the house of god.    

Kolatkar misses little - be it the haphazard zigzag journey of a conduit pipe, a medieval door or temple legends:

these five hills 
are the five demons 
that khandoba killed 

says the priest's son 
a young boy 
who comes along as your guide 
as the schools have vacations 

do you really believe that story
you ask him 

he doesn't reply 
but merely looks uncomfortable
shrugs and looks away               

The collection flows chronologically. For instance, the priest's son chances his eyes upon a:

there's a butterfly 

The Butterfly is the poem that follows. (Click the following link to read The Butterfly in its entirety.)

Some of the most profound lines in the book can be found in the poem, A Scratch. Another excerpt:

what is god 
and what is stone 
the dividing line 
if it exists 
is very thin 
at jejuri    
and every other stone 
is god or his cousin

Kolatkar finishes it with a signature:

scratch a rock 
and a legend springs

Apart from this dry comment on idol worship, Kolatkar cites his indifference to rituals in a quiet smoky rebellion in another. Here's Makarand - the whole poem :

Take my shirt off 
and go in there to do pooja? 
No thanks. 

Not me. 
But you go right ahead
if that's what you want to do. 

Give me the matchbox
before you go
will you? 

I will be out on the courtyard
where no one will mind 
if I smoke. 

A timeless frozen aura of words, spacing, and arrangement, Jejuri is a poetry travelogue worth lingering in. I would go on and call it a classic, not a popular, accepted work yet, but the sheen is unmistakable. As for you poetry lovers, the Wolf suggests you experience it for yourself, devoid of any fixed notion.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Arun Kolatkar

Monday, 16 October 2017

Poetry Reads: When I Dance by James Berry

The second-hand book market in Pune has its share of hidden treasures. All one needs to do is linger in such surroundings, engage in some scouring, back-bending, explore untouched stacks and dusty corners, and who knows what you may come across?

It was on one such lingering expedition that I happened to grab a copy of the (now puzzlingly out of print) James Berry poetry collection - When I Dance

Swinging in Caribbean rhythms of endearing broken, accented English and emanating in addictive visions of Britain's city interiors, the poems are a celebration of the exuberance, vitality, energy, bruises, dates, bicycle rides, love, toothless grannies and the impossible, innocent fantasies that childhood conjures.

In its congregation of illustrations, meter, rhyme and celebration these are poems that cheerfully exude everything that youth is in its follies and grandeur. Extracts will tell you more, here are scraps from the title poem: 

When I dance it isn't merely
That music absorbs my shyness 
My laughter settles in my eyes, 
My swings of arms convert my frills 
As timing tunes my feet with floor 
As if I never just looked on 

It is that when I dance 
O music expands my hearing 
And it wants no mathematics, 
It wants no thinking, no speaking, 
It only wants all my feeling
In with animation of place. 

Bear-hug cosiness is apparent in poems such as Seeing Granny. The extract follows: 

Toothless, she kisses
with fleshy lips 
rounded, like mouth
of a bottle, all wet. 

She bruises your face
almost, with two
loving tree-root hands.

Sample this perspective of a father, the criticism is not biting, it is more like a family reaction to overheard adult dialogue. The extract is from the poem Girls Can We Educate We Dads?

Listn the male chauvinist in mi dad ---
a girl walkin night street mus be bad. 
He dohn sey, the world's a free place
for a girl to keep her unmolested space.
Instead he sey --- a girl is a girl. 

Finally I conclude with a paragraph that tells of a bubble-making childhood of soap lather dreams from What We Said Sitting Making Fantasies:

I want a talking dog wearing a cap
who can put on gloves 
and go to my mum when I'm playing 
and she wants a job done. 

A winner of the 1989 Signal Poetry Award, When I Dance is a 59-poem gem that is begging for a reissue. Are the people at Puffin Books listening?   

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Friday, 13 October 2017

Fiction Reads: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I’ve just completed reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and I loved it. It is a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It is a rich assimilation of the local colloquial English in Missouri in the 1830s and a sharp take on slavery and the ethos of a former society where slavery and racial segregation were prevalent. This book is also about wit, fun and adventure coupled with sensitivity. It is set in the fictitious town of St. Petersburg in Missouri where Huckleberry Finn, an adolescent boy finds a sum of money along with his friend Tom Sawyer. Finn is also the narrator of this story. With a drunken and mostly absent father who is highly irresponsible and under the care of Widow Douglas and her sister Widow Watson, who are trying to civilize him, he wants to shirk to shirk it all to live a life of adventure. Ironically, his wish is granted when his father, who abhors the idea of Huck Finn receiving an education, takes him away to the woods to live in his cabin. However one fine day, he manages to escape while his father is away. He fakes his own murder (Twain’s description of it is marvellously real and descriptive) and there begins his journey of adventure. He meets Jim, Widow Watson’s slave who is on the run as he could’ve been sold for an amount of $800.

Jim is headed to Cairo in Illinois and then to Ohio, a free state. On the way, Jim and Huck encounter several adventures and different characters. To cut a long and interesting adventurous story short, this novel questions the various types of conflicts arising from race and human dignity. Huck’s mind is in conflict while he aids and befriends Jim while Jim reciprocates and takes care of him. The former begins to understand the latter’s tribulations. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a must-read because social and racial segregation is prevalent until today. Slavery was abolished ages ago; however, racial violence, sub-human treatment, prejudice and stereotypes continue to exist. Twain had remarked about his work saying, “A book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat.”

(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Poetry Reads: The Song of Wandering Aengus by WB Yeats

Yeats was inspired by Irish mythology. Aengus was the god of everlasting youth in Irish mythology who lived in a palace called Brug na Boinne. He was in love with a girl called Caer whom he saw in a dream and after a while of looking for her, he found her. She used to live year-after-year either as a swan or as a girl. The year she turned into a swan, Aengus turned into a swan too to be with her. The following year, they resumed the form of human beings. In the first stanza of this poem, the imagery is magical and romantic. The narrator goes out to the ‘hazel wood because a fire was in my head’. There is this longing to meet the girl he loves. In this poem, Yeats turns Caer into a trout instead of a swan.

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

While in mythology, Aengus finds Caer to be with her for good, the following stanza reveals the elusiveness of the love the narrator feels. It paints his yearning to be united with his beloved although it is just a dream.

Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air’.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

In the following stanza, Aengus has grown old unlike the character from mythology. He is still looking for his elusive love. He longs to be in Brug na Boinne where there is always a feast; the palace of youth, feasting and cheer. Love remains unrequited although there is a tone of fantastical optimism to find who and what he has craved and loved.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.


(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Monday, 9 October 2017

Murder Mysteries: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The first time I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, to be more precise, reached a pivotal point in this murder mystery novel, I couldn't, and this is no exaggeration, believe my eyes. Down with fever that pre-teen December in Ahmedabad, and very much limited to the bed, I was now pretty sure that the fever had gone to my head. How on the earth could it all be true? Then Hercule Poirot took over and disbelief turned to awe.

Anyway, Roger Ackroyd is a resident of King's Abbott village in England, a widower and knows a bit too much. Ackroyd knows who had been blackmailing the recently deceased Mrs. Ferrars, a widow he was to marry. Pretty soon, Ackroyd is found murdered and the suspects are many. Hercule Poirot is at the village incidentally. Quietly, with his customary neatness he unravels the crime in its ingenuity and simplicity. A seemingly simple crime is elevated by its narration, and when the truth comes spurting out, crime fiction is turned upside down. A must read for murder mystery lovers.  
As the legend goes, Agatha Christie wrote her first novel on the catharsis of her sister's statement that she couldn't write a damn good murder mystery. Christie responded with her first The Mysterious Affairs at Styles, finally published in 1920.

Christie averaged a novel a year from then on, and then came the year 1926. Harper Collins loves to print it repeatedly in its foreword for every Christie novel and here are the exact words, among others - ...Agatha Christie wrote her masterpiece. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was the first of her books to be published by Collins and marked the beginning of an author-publisher relationship which lasted for 50 years and well over 70 books. In other words, you might safely say in modern terminology, that Collins had their Bloomsbury-Harry Potter moment that year.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)