Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Great Indian Novel

I actually ordered this book following the Twitter controversy of its author Shashi Tharoor and it made me realize that there is indeed a positive side to negative publicity. :)
The Great Indian Novel is an ingenious attempt at narrating the recent Mahabharta of the Indian Freedom Struggle. Tharoor has assigned all the key characters of the Indian independence movement a Mahabharata equivalent. Dictated by Ved Vyas to Ganpathi, this novel is both satirical and equally moving. The characters are named and described so well that within lines of introducing a new character you immediately get the real people behind the character. Tharoor's Vyas seems a like a pipe-smoking-toddy-drinking old English chap but that does not stick between your teeth like an annoying bit of corn. In fact, this modern Vyas gives the whole narrative a crisp humorous style.
In the beginning I was a little cross at this humorous opening, especially when he tried to describe Mahatma Gandhi. However, as the book progresses Tharoor unfolds a deep respect for the leader in a sincere and moving description. His respect is refreshing in ways that are completely different and human to the usual rhetoric dedicated to Gandhi in Indian politics. He presents Mahatma and his work as an experiment and very carefully defines the scope of Gandhian methods. He talks extensively about the psychological effect that the Gandhian methods had on the masses, essentially making them work. This insight keeps you glued to the book although it is sprinkled here and there with long poetic interludes, something I thought did not match up to the prose.
What is remarkable is the ease with which each of Tharoor's characters fits with it's counterpart in the epic Mahabharta. Tharoor has not just classified the characters according to the epic but he has been able to translate for his readers what each of these represent psychologically.
Another aspect that comes forward in this book mostly because it is a modern take on the epic is the role of women. Tharoor's Kunti and Madri make you wonder if any of the later victories would have been possible at all without the liberties given to these women. Women in India have always enjoyed a place of power which is still evident. However the Indian woman very rarely comes out in the open about the powers she holds and it requires a careful study of every great battle to know which unsung woman hero really controlled it with her bejeweled petite hand. Sometimes, in India this passive control takes an ugly form too and makes me wonder if manipulation should be renamed as "womanipulation" for India. :)
The one woman that later came out in the open with her good and bad powers has been popularly hated all over India still for her actions. It makes you wonder if the reaction would be different had she been a man!

I think this book is a must read for anyone following Indian politics. It gives you an idea of how Indian politics has evolved and decayed from the Gandhian"politics of the conscience" to the modern day "politics of blackmail". I don't know how effective Shashi Tharoor will be as a politician but for this book, he gets full marks. It also gives an explanation for his constant tweets. For someone who is full of so many ideas, not expressing them for a long time must be hard! :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This world is cruel and funny!

Has anyone of you ever had those times that make you wonder how cruel yet how funny this world is? I had one of those today. I was supposed to be at a marking day. It is one of those university tutor sessions where all tutors are put in one room with all the assignments related to the units they teach. I was tutoring a course in Sustainability this semester and we were dealing with transport, housing and waste management solutions for a small lake town called Tonle Sap in Cambodia. So we were basically marking what "first year" students (the super enlightened ones) think should be done with this small town that lives off fishing.
Needless to say they came up with some amazing solutions. Like for example, building catamarans that cost $ 1 million each ( 5 of them mind you), spending about $5000 a month (each) on maintaining them, and charging all the commuters of Tonle Sap $2 everyday to use them. Then comes the clincher. They proposed that since the average Cambodian earns less than $2 a day, according to Cambodian standards, they should pay the drivers of these ships $75 a month!!
It stuck in my head because before I went for this marking job, I was reading 'The Great Indian Novel' on the train and I was bemused by Tharoor's description of how the British redefined "taxes" in various forms in India and how easily Indians accepted it then until someone else pointed it out to them!!

We were reading pages after pages of description of the abject poverty in the region and every two hours the table at the end of the room was loaded with refreshments. So I had to actually mark work that required me to understand if my students understood the concept of subsistence living while I was munching on grapes, making myself cups of fragrant Earl Grey and enjoying them with scones! To make things even more ironical I was being paid for all the time I spent there.
It is really amusing how different kinds of people in the West (well in Australia, I should be geographically correct and call them people of the Western East) think of the East. Some of them give me a happy shock by knowing more about Ashtanga Yoga than I do ( to be honest I don't even really know what kind of Yoga I have been brought up on). Sometimes they make these emphatic statements that Hindus still burn their widows in India and change the subject before I can take full control of my fury!!
The Western woman is emancipated. It is a really cunning word. She is free to choose! She is free to do whatever she wants with her life. In the end though, they all want someone to go down on his knees and propose to them! In the end they all want to have children. They all seem to have the same motherly and feminine feelings that their not-so-free sisters in the East seem to have but unlike their sisters in the East, they cannot guarantee that their feelings would be fulfilled. Because they are all tied down by freedom that they have chosen with such dignity! Too much choice ties you down in strange ways! I feel the same when I see twenty year old kids with backpacks full of different sources of entertainment looking blank and bored.
Sitting there in that cool air conditioned room today, I felt guilty in a strange way and on my way back, getting back to the Civil Disobedience that Mahatma Gandhi launched so many years ago, I also felt strangely grateful to be reminded that there are still people in this world that live on under $2 a day!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Downloading Friends. :)

Raj's post inspired the post but this has been on my mind for a while.
Sometimes, when I am absolutely convinced I am living a loser's life, I cheer myself up using each of my places on the Internet. On a day, where all my reactions have failed and my supervisor has very candidly told me that my latest draft could be aptly described only in one word-horrible, I sit in a corner and read my own blogs.
It is a place to rejuvenate but sometimes I also become a bit schizophrenic and wonder who is the real me?
Fifty years ago, if someone said that fifty years from now people would be able to send their minds all over the earth without physically going anywhere it would have been sci-fi material. Today I have so many friends that I have never met and it does not matter one bit if I do not meet them ever! In the last few years, I have made friends at an alarming rate for the kind of person I am. There has been a steady increase in the people I actually meet and then make friends with but there has also been a rise in the number of people I have not met and I am good friends with. Fortunately for me, this is not through any of the popular social networking sites. It is through reading blogs and interacting with people who read my blogs. It has been an absolutely thrilling experience.
I am not really going to try and be humble by saying that I don't write to get noticed. I started writing as an experiment but when I realized that people like it, I was inspired to do it more often. I had been writing in the closet for a long time before I started writing publicly but I must accept that public opinion added a lot of depth, care and maturity to my writing. After the initial excitement of people liking what I write died down, I started following some blogs as well. I have met some of the most interesting people solely through their blogs. Gayatri is one of them. Now, she is almost like any of the best friends I grew up with but initially her writing inspired a lot of awe. The way her words do ballet in Marathi is truly inspiring. She has also been doing the proof reading for my Marathi blog for which I am very grateful to her. Alienknight (Dattatraya Gokhale) is another person who inspired me with poetry in the early days of my poetry blog. His art of expressing profound feeling in just a couple of lines has always made me challenge my own expression. Raj has made me laugh out loud with his Marathi blog. His style of writing always amazes me. I have grown extremely fond of his silly satire. His humor has a Puneri flavor to it and reading his posts sometimes makes you feel like you are having a goof-around time with a cutting chai on some Puneri Katta.
Mandar Gadre has been one such friend that I have not met as yet. His poetry and his photoblog are a collection of sincere and well crafted thoughts and images. Charu's photoblog has also inspired me. He is also one of those people I have met only once but know too well now. Shrirang Khandekar's photoblog is also one of the places that I respect on the Internet. I came to know of this because he was a regular in the comment box of my Marathi blog. One day I decided to track his page. I must say it was a humbling experience to realize a place like that exists!
Prasad has been one of the recent additions to this list too. His words are human and his writing never fails to move. Be it in anger or in innocence. His writings about Robindranath Tagore have revived the Banglamania in me during the last few months.
I have made friends with a lot of my followers too and I have reconnected with a few family members because they started reading my blog! My father has been my most consistent follower and this feeling always fills me up with a lot of happiness and pride. These days, my mom takes out time specially to follow my Marathi blog. So there has been a bit of family reunion in the space too.
People with families, living in their home countries might not realize how much of a solace this part of our identities gives us. Over these past two years I have known so many new people who have stepped out of their countries, their own comfort zones to try and make a place in the field of science. Most of my blog-friends are PhD students spread all over the world. Some of them are intrepid travelers. All of us are trying to come to terms with our own identities without following any prescribed ways to belong. Oddly enough, unknowingly we all want to belong somewhere. In my case, finding fellow writers and empathizing with their experiences is a way of finding my own closure. :)
Like the Bhagwad Geeta says in a somewhat weary tone, we have entered the age of hybrids. People traveling all over the world and expressing themselves from everywhere in their own language is one of the advantages of this cultural hybridization. In any case, I would really like to thank God for technology. Even though it is all man-made and designed, if you take a look at how humanity has evolved over the ages, it always makes me want to believe that it is a Divine intervention!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

PurpleMoon Turns Three!

I am awfully superstitious but somehow without any premeditation, I started writing on the third of October. Something which I would have done if I was thinking about it. :)
I think anything that adds up to three is lucky for me. So, today on the 3rd of October, as my blog turns three, it has got to be a very special day. :)
Although poor PurpleMoon has been somewhat sidelined due to my Marathi blog, it is still a place of a lot of attachment for me.
So Happy Birthday PM! May you have a long life.Less opinion and more funny stories. And may your creator never lose her mind!