I am starting off. Yes, it IS time. I will not dwell on why it has taken this long. That self-psychoanalysis is reserved for another day – one where I am feeling more introspective and self-destructive. Rather, let me tell you what got me started now. I needed to kill the miming bird. The voiceless words that form in my head, all the time, while I stand, sit, read and breathe, needed some physical manifestation. I have been miming my mocks for many moons. So here are my bits for you to byte on.
My first post is mostly a book review. How very secondary schoolgirl of me – straightening the starched collar. ‘ASURA: Tale Of The Vanquished’ by Anand Neelakantan is a work of fiction nestled in the now blossoming genre of Alternate (Hindu) Mythology. It features Ravana, and equally prominently, Bhadra – an unknown fellow Asura tribesman, as protagonists in the retelling of Ramayana as Asurayana. How would the great story hold up as seen from the eyes of the ‘villain’? A very interesting premise indeed. An idea that could easily rattle the staunch Hindutvas and entice the renegade Brahmins. I picked it up with big, curious eyes (the cover art is rather attractive), paid the 499 rupees and read it a year later (reasons for which are irrelevant for the present purpose).
Here’s my summation: Oh! The horror! The horror of it all! The story starts off well enough, but a few chapters in I realised that the author, a) cannot write and b) CANNOT WRITE. I resigned to the plot as it is, after all, the creative license that is due to every fiction writer. But the poor characterisation, reiteration of the same laments and arguments over and over (and over) again, the substandard English (not helped by the poor editing – typos, grammatical errors galore), blatant anachronisms, indiscriminate use of the ‘inner voice’ made me cringe, guffaw and, at times, shut the book and watch ‘Family Guy’; just to saturate the stupidity I was inflicting on myself. The masochist in me demanded it. She also seemed to have made a deal with the perfectionist in me and so I had to finish the book. At this very moment, I see Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ mocking me from the bookshelf (Yes, yes, yes, I know. I will get back to you…at…some…point…). Ahem, so anyway, it’s done. Ripped it off like a Band-Aid. I am not bleeding anymore but the wound is yet to heal. And scar it will.
I do not want to summarise the reinvented story here. I hate spoilers, even if it is of works that I don’t approve of. You can pick up a copy if you have some money and have (literally) nothing better to do. Also, if you are the kind that goes by ‘official’ reviews and bestseller lists then maybe you will find yourself buying it. The book has a 3.6/5 on Goodreads.com and apparently was #1 CNN-IBN and Crossword Bestseller in 2012. Hand to face! But you have been warned.
However, if you are in the mood for reading interesting alternate interpretation of Hindu mythology then there is nothing that can surpass the genius of Shashi Tharoor’s ‘The Great Indian Novel’. The Indian Independence Movement and early post-independent Indian history satirically superimposed on the great Hindu epic, The Mahabharata. The book is discerning and funny in equal measure. I collect quotes from books I read (insert broad nerdy grin here), so here is my collection from ‘The Great Indian Novel’,
…India is not an underdeveloped country but a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.
It was essential to accept punishment willingly in order to demonstrate the strength of one’s own convictions.
You can’t know, with your ration-cards and black markets and the cynical materialism of your generation, what it was like in those days, what it felt like to discover a cause, to belong to a crusade, to BELIEVE.
As Bengalis say when you give them a cod, ‘we still have other fish to fry.
He balanced an hour of meditation with an hour of martial arts. ‘Of course I believe in non-violence,’ he would explain. ‘But I want to be prepared just in case non-violence doesn’t believe in me.’
Indulge an old man’s rage and write this down: the British killed the Indian artisan, they created the Indian ‘landless labourer’, they exported our full employment and they invented our poverty.
Great discoveries, Ganapathi, are often the result of making the wrong mistke at the right time. Ask Columbus.
All we are left with is drama without the sacrifice – and isn’t that a metaphor for Indian politics today?
Indians learned to talk about politics like Englishmen about the weather, expressing concern without expecting to do anything about it.
On the partition of India and Pakistan,
It is flight that makes men vulnerable, it is flight that makes them violent; it is the loss of that precious contact with one’s world and one’s earth, that pulling up of roots and friendships and memories that created the dangerous instability of identity which makes men prey to others, and to their worst fears and hatreds.”
Interpreting The Bhagavad Gita,
We are all in a state of continual disturbance, all stumbling and tripping and running an floating along from crisis to crisis. And in the process, we are all making something of ourselves, building a life, a character, a tradition that emerges from and sustains us in each continuing crisis. This is our dharma.
On Indian diplomacy,
It is like the love-making of an Indian elephant: it is conducted at a very high level, accompanied by much bellowing, and the results are not known for three years.
And, finally, my favourite,
Law, of course, rivals cricket as the major national sport of our urban elite. Both litigation and cricket are slow, complex and costly; both involve far more people than need to be active at any given point in the process; both call for skill, strength and guile in varying combinations at different times; both benefit from more breaks in the action than spectators consider necessary; both occur at the expense of, and often disrupt, more productive economic activity; and both frequently meander to conclusions, punctuated by appeals, that satisfy none of the participants.
Thank you Ganesan uncle for the brilliant recommendation, so many years ago now.
I feel that I have washed away some of the bitter aftertaste of ‘ASURA’ with that nostalgic recap. Thank you, once again, Shashi Tharoor. I have Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘The Lowland’ waiting for me now. Life is ever so full of promise when there’s a new book ready for discovery. Until next time dear Void…