Mind

Book Review- Salvation Of A Saint by Keigo Hogashino

Salvation of a saintThe plot of the second novel by Hogashino revolves around the investigation of a ‘murder by poisoning’ case of Yoshitaka, a reasonably rich Japanese man. Married to the pretty woman that Ayane is, Yoshitaka is in an extramarital relationship with Hiromi, his wife’s pupil assistant at the patchwork training school run by her. The novel opens to the reader with a feel of the  apparent discord and unease that has crept in the fabric of Yoshitaka and Ayane’s married life. The Ikai family comes to the couple’s house for a party following which the wife leaves for her parents’ place in Sapporo for a break. After she leaves, Hiromi meets Yoshitaka and the following day he is found dead on the floor in his house. Kusinaga, the detective from Tokyo takes on from here and investigates the case with his assistants Utsumi and Kishitani. It is established that the man has been killed by poison in his coffee. The wife and the paramour both emerge as the suspects. Interestingly it so happens during the course of the investigation that Kusanagi, the detective gets enamoured by the beautiful wife and his observations are subsequently guided by this feeling he develops for the woman who is a suspect in the case. The remaining plot is further foray into the investigation during which arise some necessary and emotional and at times not so necessary and not so emotional situations before the murder mystery is cracked.

In my opinion, the strength of a novel or of a film lies in the ability of the writer or the director to conceal to the extent possible the design of the work from the reader and the viewer. What adds to the mediocrity of a work is its manifest attempt at explaining situations and justifing the occurence of events or continually relating one event with the other so that reading the novel becomes a major exercise in nothing else but connecting the dots. In the process, the reader loses the essence of the larger aesthetic that the author has in mind. I found Salvation of a Saint to be precisely such a case. The author says almost everything through his characters. This approach frames the characters very well as we get to know who they are and their personalities stay with us. At the same time this approach makes reading the novel a mechanical exercise if one may call it that. A lot of ink is spent on the ‘thinking aloud’ characters. Consequently the author fails in painting the canvas where his characters stand as wonderfully drawn sketches. Undoubtedly the novel has a good plot and makes for an interesting reading. There is much that goes missing in the detailing of things not so necessary, of dialogues not so pertinent.

Lastly, Salvation of a Saint is a translated piece and hence a comment on its language might end up being unfair. Yet it may be pointed out that it makes for an ordinary reading of what could have been a brilliant thriller. Despite these shortcomings, Salvation of a Saint does moderately succeed in keeping the reader glued till the end. It is in my opinion a sincere attempt at targeting a readership that has predetermined ideas of what a ‘murder mystery novel’ should be and hence fails to break new ground.

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Book Review: Business Sutra- A Very Indian Approach to Management by Devdutt Pattanaik

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Devdutt Pattanaik is currently the Chief Belief Officer at the Future Group. His website introduces him as an author, speaker, illustrator and a mythologist which to me sounds like the coming together of an extremely interesting set of professional skills. His latest book is a most welcome contribution to the exposition of issues that ail the modern discipline of Management. Business Sutra involves a very serious and  painstaking effort on the author’s part to bring to light the differences in the approaches to  business and its management across cultures and belief systems. Pattanaik considers the mythology of a people to be the central axis around which their beliefs, behaviour and consequently their ways of doing business revolve. The primary argument he seems to put forth is that in order to make sense of the metaphysical as well as the practical worlds of a people, one needs to be careful of the mythological background  that nurtures these worlds. In order for the discipline of Management to be truly what is aspires to be, such approach is indeed beneficial. By a ‘Very Indian Approach to Management’, Pattanaik aims to trace ‘Western ideas’ to ‘Indian vocabulary’ so as to present an altogether different context to situate the relevance and the applicability of those ideas.

The book has three main sections. The first of these deals with connecting belief to business. In this part the author quite convincingly tries to lay to rest the many debates that the very title of the book is likely to engender. The second section is titled “From Goal To Gaze” where he brings together the Western, Chinese and the Indian historico-philosophical systems of thought to conclude that:

“Indian thought yearns not for an efficient way like Western thought, or a more orderly way like Chinese thought, but an accomodative and inclusive way”.

While discussing the mythology that informs the Indian way of life,  the author does not restrict himself to the Hindu scriptures but gives due attention to Buddhist and Jain sources where classical scriptural sources from Sikhism and Islam (most importantly Sufism) are left out. The Indian way to do business is not to chase wealth but to let it come to you thanks to the Indian’s unique relationship with Lakshmi- the Goddess of wealth. The Indian mind according to him is not obsessed with making sense of prevailing chaos and ordering ones’ life to achieve harmony with nature. Instead the Indian mind is comfortable with this chaos and does not consider one point of view to be the only point of view or the truth.

The third and the largest section of the book details the Business Sutra where the author discusses the topic along five sub chapters i.e. Kama’s vision statement, Drishti- observing objective reality, Divya Drishti- observing subjective reality, Darshan- observing the subject and finally Yama’s balance sheet.

The book relies on a substantial review of literature ranging from Sociology of India,  Anthropology, History and other Social Sciences. Management in his view is a western science is and is deeply rooted in Greek and Biblical sources. Pattanaik seems well aware of developments and debates in sociology and social theory and introduces the ideas and tenets of Positivism, Weberian modernism, Structuralism, Orientalism and Post colonial thought in very subtle and lucid ways. On that account the book is to be rated very highly as it touches upon crucial debates on the ways and the categories through which Indian society has been hitherto understood both by the Orientalists and Indians themselves. The book is written very simply and the numerous lovely sketches produced throughout the text aid in summarizing the key points presented.

Pattanaik’s discussion of mythological characters remains largely restricted to Sanskrit-North Indian- Brahmanic-Scriptural sources. There is little evidence in the book to suggest his understanding and appreciation for the oral narratives, for the folklore and mythologies from other parts of the country. Epics like the Silappatikaram, Thirukkural and characters like Kannagi and other local, classical or vernacular traditions remain untouched. This lacunae however should be taken more as a limitation than a drawback of this impressive contribution. Readers interested in Indian mythology and the historical development of the discipline of management in the west as well as in its fate in the Indian subcontinent will find the book very interesting.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers.Participate now to get free books!

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Book Review: The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi

I really am short of words at expressing the sense of bewilderment that grips me while trying to finish reading this book. It is a tale (?) cum lecture (?) cum thriller (??) that tries too hard to present a lot of ‘research’ in the garb of a serial killer suspense novel. The presentation of this research (mainly carried out on the sites mentioned in the Mahabharata) is quite loud, preachy and pretentious. In the name of  supplying the reader with enough details- historical and otherwise, places such as Kalibangan, Dwarka, Somnath, Mount Kailash and Vrindavan have been historically profiled. In my opinion, these profiles should remain the sole reasons behind the novel’s significance, if any at all. The Krishna Key fails to engage the reader with its exceedingly boring plot inundated with a host of characters, events and ideas and a childish technique which is predictable to say the least.

In a way, the narrator of the tale happens to be Vishnu’s incarnation Krishna himself. It is his voice through which we have an entry to the 108 chapters of the novel. Instead of a breathtaking who-dun-it tale that TKK could have been, what we have in its place is a plot gone stunningly bizarre. None of the characters are allowed to develop enough to let the  reader remember him or her by the time their reference in the text is over. The tedious second half of the book is all the more sluggish.

The language of the book is unimpressive. Throughout its text, The Krishna Key seems to be a constant attempt by the author at nothing more than translating Hindi and Sanskrit lines and dialogues into English. At times the verbal exchanges begin to sound artificial and unrealistic. To illustrate:

Mataji nodded appreciatively. ‘Good. Now let us examine the salient features of a Shiv lingam, shall we? It’s made of two parts. The first is a cylindrical structure made of polished stone. The second is the surrounding coils or grooves ending in a spout. in Shiv temples, a pot of water hangs over the cylindrical structure, allowing for water to continuously drip on it at regular intervals. This water then empties itself out through the spout,’ she explained, pointing to each of the constituent elements as she described them.” (p.40).

The book does not succeed in presenting a coherent narrative of whatever it is that it tries to present. Hindu mythology in general and the Mahabharata in particular form the background. A number of characters are killed in the story by the time the reader realises that they actually have been. Regarding the flow of the narrative, there is little sense one can make of it, thanks to its movement back and forth in time and place.

In brief, The Krishna Key turns out to be quite disappointing. Both as a thriller as well as a fictional reconstruction of the ‘mythological’ past, this one surely does not stand up to the mark.

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Book Review: Love Peace & Happiness: What More Can You Want? by Rituraj Verma

 

In the pages of this slick and colorful book lie wonderfully captured the lives of an impressive range of characters. The people in these stories, their life worlds and above all their strikingly individual attempts at finding a way out of crucial existential dilemmas they face is the reason the nine stories in this anthology deserve to be read, appreciated and pondered about.

Firstly, each of Verma’s stories are about a sufficient detailing of the predicament in which the protagonists are situated. Secondly, each story uses the technique of conversation and dialogue quite powerfully. As a result, we meet quite a good number of people from varied socio-economic backgrounds, read about who they are, get to know of what they think and ‘hear’ a lot of their justifications for the decisions and choices that they have made in their lives. Each story is ultimately about a tension that we aim to resolve so very often in our lives that  it begins to  seem unresolvable and hence banal. Verma takes us back to those ‘love marriage versus arranged marriage’ and ‘learning to say No versus learning to compromise and sacrifice’ debates.

These stories do not make a villain out of any of these actors and refrain from offering easy solutions to the deeply philosophical issues they raise. Interestingly, the book offers the readers an innovative option to rewrite the endings of these stories on the author’s website in the event of their dissatisfaction with any of the endings. The episodic nature of some of these stories and the detailed biographical element in others arouse equal amount of interest and one would have to appreciate the comfort and ease with which the author addresses an impressive range of emotional entanglements. Be it the plight of a failed love affair, anxieties and insecurities of a marital discord or the complexities of living in a joint family, Verma addresses them all with a studied  sensitivity.

Two stories that I specially enjoyed reading would be The Practitioner of Austerity and The Soul Mate Theorist.  The former reminded me of Ritwik Ghatak‘s classic Meghe Dhake Tara. Through a glimpse into the tribulations of its protagonist Aparna’s life, the story says a thousand things about the meanings of being a daughter, a woman and a civil servant from the scheduled caste whose life is ultimately nothing but a sacrifice that hardly anyone takes a note of. In what appeared to me to be a modern-day adaptation of the Rajesh Khanna starrer Amar Prem, The Soul Mate Theorist takes us to a bar where two college friends discuss women, love and sex. From the bar we are taken to the apartment of a sex worker where we meet her son. This story is a wonderful take on the static and constraining institutions that marriage and family can actually turn out to be.

The book is written with a specific audience in mind and does falter on its ‘appeal’ quotient. In a few places, the descriptions seem  trite and unnecessary. The reference to the internet pages where background research on the settings of these stories was undertaken could have been avoided. Overall, this is an interesting book- one that ideally can be read on one of those days when the mind is prone to some  retrospection and is willing to pause and take stock of all the puzzles that life has had to offer!

 

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Showcasing My Friends-4

(For the fourth post in this series, for which I have interviewed people I am close to, I emailed Vishwanath Ji a set of questions. His responses have been reproduced here. I hope that you would like the idea and enjoy the conversation. The series is to be continued with other friends as and when possible. Sincere thanks to all readers who commented on and appreciated the earlier posts).

My friend with us for today’s post is someone very special. Mr. Vishwanath Gopalakrishna is one of those very nice people whom interestingly, I have known for a very few months. Being acquainted with him is for me a clear evidence of the rich meaningfulness that online interactions can be a source of. I have read a number of his extremely pleasant writings on a whole range of issues- short, amazing memoirs, reflections on the changing social institutions such as marriage and still interestingly his lovely, insightful comments and suggestions on a number of blogs and other online fora which he regularly reads and contributes to. A Civil Engineer by profession, I see in him a flair for continuously exploring and attempting to make sense of the ever-changing world. Vishwanath Ji’s articulations on some of the issues I just mentioned are instances of brevity meeting wisdom and wit. For the short duration that I have known him, he has already become a source of warmth and inspiration. In this extremely enjoyable interview he talks about various aspects of life and its changing course. I hope my association with him becomes an everlasting one and that this exchange of ideas and information continues unabated.

Vishwanath Ji currently lives in Bangalore where his engagements with technology, life and society continue to flourish.

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Personal Concerns – Thank you Vishwanath Ji for agreeing to respond. To start with, I would like to ask you something about your days as an Engineering student at Roorkee. What was it like in those days to be a student of Engineering?

Vishwanath JiRoorkee (1972 to 1974) evokes pleasant memories. I had just obtained a BE(Hons) degree in Civil Engineering from BITS (Pilani) in 1972. But the best institute for Civil engineering and all its branches was Roorkee University at that time. I badly wanted the Roorkee “Chaap” on my degree.

Roorkee was the oldest Engineering college and it was the post-independence successor to the legendary Thomson College of Civil Engineering set up by the British more than 150 years ago. Most of the well-known Civil engineers of the country had studied at Roorkee and I remember that most of the text books on Civil Engineering were written by Professors from Roorkee.

The Civil engineering department of University of Roorkee  was the biggest in the country with over 70 teaching staff, nearly all of them PhD’s in Engineering and offering the widest options to civil engineering graduates to specialize. Getting into the Structures section was the toughest of all and they selected only 10 from the hundreds of students from all over the country who applied. I got through and have never regretted my decision to postpone entering the job market by two  years in order to specialize and get a Masters degree in Structural engineering from the University of Roorkee. It is now called IIT Roorkee.

Roorkee had a special attraction for Civil engineers. The place housed not just the University of Roorkee with its internationally famed Civil Engineering Department but also several prestigious Civil engineering institutions like the Central Building Research Institute, The Structural Engineering Research Center, The School of Research and Training in Earthquake Engineering, the Water Resources Development and Training Centre and the Irrigation Research Institute. All these were located in adjacent campuses. Not for nothing was Roorkee called the Mecca for Civil Engineers.

The one regret I have was that the PG scholarship offered by the UGC was just Rs 250/- those days and it had remained at that figure for several years before I enrolled there.  Several batches of students had been agitating and representing to the Govt of India for enhancing the scholarship to prevent hardship to the students. We were the last batch who were given this paltry sum. The next batch, after I passed out got Rs 400/- per month.

PC – You belong to the very first set of citizens of the country who turned netizens. How has the online world changed in these years?

Vishwanath JiOh! It is unrecognisable! We have all heard of the Industrial revolution which changed the lives of millions of people initially in Europe and later all over the world. That revolution is nothing compared to the second Computer/Software/Internet/Communication revolution that I am fortunate to be part of. I still don’t know whether today we are still at the beginning of the revolution and have yet to see most of it or if we are somewhere in the middle or if we have come close to exhausting the possibilities.  For the generation or two that preceded mine, electricity, the automobile,  printing press, aeroplanes  and radio represented the wonders of modern technology. I grew up without being amazed or impressed by any of it.During my childhood long distance telephony,  supersonic aircraft, black and white movies (35 mm), and the gramophone and tape recorder, typewriters, telegrams and later telexes and modern nuclear weapons and missiles, and the amazing advances in health care, vaccination, birth control, antibiotics and the elimination of small pox and polio etc  and modern methods of  methods of surgery like the first heart transplant represented advanced technology.

In my youth technology was represented by feats like space travel, orbiting and landing on the moon, and military advances and modern weapons like missiles and hydrogen bombs, and neutron bombs.

During my early adulthood (age 20 to 30)  TV, VCRs, PCs, even the humble calculator, Photocopying machine, colour photography, 70 mm movies etc were all unknown and they all made an entry one by one and I watched these developments unfolding and experienced the thrills. I later actually experienced the computer revolution starting in India in the late sixties. I learned Fortran programming on the IBM main frame computers in the late sixties at BITS Pilani, moved over to using minicomputers and later graduated to the personal computers in the Nineties. I was part of the internet revolution right from 1998 onwards and have enjoyed and benefited from the amazing progress we have achieved and are still achieving in this area. I never dreamed 15 years ago that mobile telephony will be a reality and become so cheap and widespread. I think more than anything the cell phone is the device of the century and has done the maximum to influence our life in a positive way. I envisage the gradual amalgamation of entertainment, information, communication and computation into one device in the years to come.

PC – To what extent do you think that technological advancement should be taken to be an indicator of human progress and development as these terms are commonly used and understood?

Vishwanath JiI would say the extent could be 50 percent. When I say this I mean technological advancement is not the only reliable and complete indicator of progress. India with practically no technology (as we understand it today) was considered a country where enormous progress and development had been achieved by the heroes like Ashoka, Chandragupta, and later by the emperors who ruled from Delhi. Prior to this we have accounts from the Mahabharata and Ramayana too about the progress made by human beings.

Today, we need technology but it must be balanced with concern for the environment. I would rate those countries as the best to live in where it is not technological advancement but political stability, security, health and general quality of life of the average citizen that is the criterion. I would not rate USA at the top in spite of all its miraculous advancements in space and war technology but would choose countries like Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Netherlands etc.

PC – In case you believe that to be the case, how are south and north India different from each other?

Vishwanath JiThe idea of India as a nation is slowly still sinking in. The North-South Divide is still to be completely bridged. The successful  interchange of food habits  and clothing fashions are not enough. We need to go further. Idli / Dosa and Vada are relished in the North, the North Indian cuisine is a treat for South Indian families. The Salwar Kameez of the north has swept South India and the younger generation in the south prefer it to the petticoat and half saree that our generation wore. I was happy that Kolaveri Di and earlier Hema Malini, Sridevi, Rekha and today Vidya Balan were warmly welcomed and enjoyed in North India and
Hindi Movies and North Indian film stars are welcome in the South.
I love it when the whole country roots for our cricket team. I remember the song from Tezaab – Ek Do Teen taught millions of South Indians in just a minute, how to count in Hindi from 1 to 13 at least, something the Central Hindi Directorate of the Govt of India had failed for decades. We still have some fissures which we have loosely papered over and these need to be cemented. The sixties presented a real danger when on the issue of Hindi, the state of Tamil Nadu was showing tendencies to secede. The North East still feels alienated.  Kashmir is only physically part of the nation. The hearts of the people there are not with us entirely. Naxalism and Terrorism are new dangers threatening us. I think it may take another fifty years before India as a nation becomes a well established idea.

We can live with and perhaps celebrate some differences also. It is fact that the South is in general less aggressive. May be the wars in the North have influenced people’s behavior. The south has not suffered as much from wars as the North  (particularly  Punjab) have. I also believe crime in the South is less than crime in the North both in severity and number of incidences.

I don’t believe some myths that the south  (and Bengal) is more “intellectual” and that hospitality in the north is warmer. I am willing to believe that  the average North Indian is physically taller, and stronger and some shades fairer  in complexion than the average South Indian. I believe literacy levels are better in the Southern states than in the north.
I have lived both in North, West and South India and feel perfectly at home in all these regions and enjoy the advantages and tolerate the disadvantages of each.

PC – How many languages do you know? Which one is the most special?

Vishwanath JiIn decreasing degrees of proficiency, the languages are English, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Gujarati and Malayalam and French.

By birth I belong to a community that has its origins in  Paalakkad District of Kerala near the Tamil Nadu border and as a child I was exposed to a strange lingo that my parents used. It was a mix of Tamil and Malayalam. The sentence structure of the language was grammatically closer to Tamil but Malayalam words were generously used and the spoken accent was totally Malayalee and my parents wrote in the Paalakkad Tamil dialect using the Malayalam script. This was my first exposure to any language, learnt sitting in my mother’s lap.

Later, having been brought up in a Gujarati speaking neighbourhood in Mumbai, I was exposed during my childhood to Bombaiya Hindi,  and Gujarati. The school I went to was an English Medium School run by Catholic Missionaries and I developed a taste for English and it was my favorite subject in school. I did extraordinarily well in English in school and was the favorite of my teachers. I read voraciously in English.

I learned Hindi as a compulsory subject in school but I polished up my Hindi during the five years I spent at Pilani and later two more years at Roorkee and developed a taste for the language courtesy Bollywood film songs. Starting much later, I worked hard at reading and writing Hindi and read voraciously in Hindi to catch up. Starting with pulp fiction of Gulshan Nanda I graduated to more high brow reading of authors like Premchand. My Hindi speaking skills improved due to close interaction with Rajasthani friends at Pilani and later UPite friends in Roorkee.  I can now talk almost like a native Hindi speaker and you won’t be able to detect a south Indian accent in my Hindi. The only dead giveaway is my occasional gender error. This ka and ki of Hindi still sometimes flummoxes me.  But the language I communicate best is English and this is the result of not merely an English medium education in School but the fact that my profession used no language other than English for nearly 37 years.

In addition I can speak colloquial Tamil and a smattering of Gujarati and Malayalam and Kannada and I manage to  communicate with the servants, taxi or auto drivers, and street hawkers in these languages. I can also read and write slowly and haltingly in these languages. I can read hoardings and sign boards in these scripts but would be unwilling to exert myself to read a book or periodical in these languages.

I learned French for four years in School and got good marks in the matriculation exam in 1966 (90 percent) but due to lack of opportunities to use it later, have totally forgotten it. I can now only sprinkle a few popular French words and phrases in my written English and can read simple French.

I admit I have  artificially inflated my list of languages here. To be really honest, the languages I can rightfully claim to know are English and Hindi. English and  Hindi are both special to me. I value English as my ticket to the world beyond India and my proficiency in this language has helped me advance in my profession and also build up an international network.   I value Hindi as it has enabled me to reach out to the largest number of my fellow citizens in this country. I love to read technical literature only in English but I don’t fancy reading about our myths , scriptures, culture and tradition in English and always prefer Hindi. I love reading poems in Hindi and listen only to Hindi Songs, never English. I respect the west for some technically great movies they have produced but I can’t relate to the story in English movies. I ALWAYS prefer watching a good Hindi Movie or Teleserial  to an English Movie or TV serial if I  have the choice.

PC – Do you believe in what is commonly referred to as generation gap? If yes, can or should that be bridged?

Vishwanath JiYes, of course, there is a generation gap and there has always been one and perhaps there will always be. The youth of today will be the elderly tomorrow. The issues may differ from age to age but the gap will always exist.  It is not a bad thing. It is natural. I am quite comfortable with it and I tolerate it and do try to bridge it without sacrificing what I cannot give up and without imposing my views or prejudices on another generation.  I don’t feel comfortable with some of the beliefs, tendencies and practices of the younger generation but I live and let live.

In particular, I do not approve of youngsters tattooing their skins. While I am comfortable with both love marriages and properly arranged marriages I am not comfortable with living together relationships particularly when children are born to such couples. I am not comfortable with sex outside marriage.  I don’t like both men and women smoking and drinking and consuming drugs and I shun night clubs and night life in general. I believe night is the time for sleeping.  I have adjusted to the  fact that the joint family is dying and do not mourn it, though I recall with nostalgia some great moments in my life when we lived as a joint family. I could cite more examples.

PC – Who are your favorite authors and artists ?

Vishwanath JiI am unable to give an honest answer. I can’t single out any one. I can only narrow down the list.I have been heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s thinking and also by Jawaharlal Nehru, but in the last ten years, I have begun questioning some of their policies and beliefs. I have loved reading several authors but cannot pick out any one as my favourite. I have absolutely no knowledge of painting and art. I love classical Music and light semi classical music but have no favourites. I don’t fancy western music, pop music, or rock music. In the field of arts and culture, I am a pakka  Desi and nothing in the western world attracts me. I believe our classical dances and our Yoga are better than anything they have to offer. My choice if I am asked to pick the most  beautiful woman in the world would be a Sari clad  woman from India, never a western lady in their dresses however tall and fair they may be. But I readily admit their overwhelming superiority in sports.

PC – I wanted to know about your favorite films/ books.

Vishwanath JiAgain, I can’t pick just one. I loved the movie Mackenna’s Gold released in the late sixties or early seventies for sheer technical brilliance during those less technologically advanced times. There are too many Hindi/Tamil/Malayalam films that I can list as my favourites and it is impossible for me to decide which was best. My favourite books include the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

PC – Please share with us a song of your choice. I would like to know what makes it stand apart?

Vishwanath JiI admit my failure here also. I can’t name any one. There are just too many and depending on my mood, each one lingers in and torments my mind at various times. An example (just an example) is the Magudi tune played by the late Carnatic Violinist Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan. It was mind-blowing. There are others too that captured my imagination and made my hair stand on end when I listened. I have been enthralled by Bismillah Khan‘s Shehnai, and the Saxophone played by Kadri Gopalnath. I love flautists T R Mahalingam, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ronu Mazumdar, My favourite singer is Lata Mangeshkar for light music and I have too many favourites in Carnatic Vocal music. It would be sacrilegious to compare them. They are all simply great. In Light instrumental Music I have been impressed by flutist Praveen Godkhindi.

PC – Towards the end I want to know about your views on tradition and culture? Will these notions soon be a thing of the past?

Vishwanath Ji – Tradition and culture will never be a thing of the past. Yesterday’ customs and practices are today’s traditions. Today’s customs and practices will become tomorrow’s traditions. What will change is the actual customs and practices that qualify as tradition.

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(All comments and suggestions about the format and the presentation of the interview would be deeply appreciated. Friends who wish to be included in this series, please let me know. It would be lovely to have you here on my blog. Cheers!)

Mind

Satanic Verses

English: Salman Rushdie at the Vanity Fair par...
Image via Wikipedia

The Jaipur Literature Festival goes on unabated. Neither necessary or unnecessary hullabaloo over the visit of Salman Rushdie the renowned writer and winner of many of awards and honours bestowed to the best in the literary world, to the festival has catapulted the festival to the status of a hot news item for the last few days. A controversy that is now more than a couple of decades old has refused to die out and become a thing of the past. As per my analysis of the developments,  there have emerged the following broad sides with respect to the issue.

Firstly there are the ones who have vehemently opposed the said visit on the grounds that Satanic Verses is blasphemous to the core and a tricky assault on their religious beliefs. Men and women possessive of varying levels of piety and religiosity are party to this camp that has seemingly displayed little  regard for the author’s freedom of artistic expression. The other section of the public consisting of men and women of varying literary calibres (most of whom don’t seem to be reliable proponents of the humanitarianism that they preach and whose accessibility they demand) has equally vehemently defended Rushdie’s right to visit and be a part of the festival. The hollow clamour arising from this camp has centred around some notion of right to artistic expression that according to them should be absolute and un-curtailed. Thirdly there are those not so interested members of the (civil) society who have been ambivalent about the issue. I see myself belonging to this camp. Lastly there are those who haven’t even heard or don’t want to hear about the controversy. Out of these four camps the first two seem to have taken the entire onus of either opposing or defending Rushdie, on their shoulders as a matter which they consider to be nothing less than some ‘holy responsibility’. They have so far acted as the spokespersons of certain constituencies they think exist  to second and vouch for all their views. The entire universe of readers and writers, pious and the secular are being appropriated as devoted constituencies by these camps. Hardly any attempt at the deconstruction of what people belonging to the last two camps have in mind about this issue seems to have been undertaken. The silence of certain people has been somehow automatically understood by the leaders of the first two camps.

A voice that I wish to raise in this post is that ambivalence, confusion or even ignorance with regard to such an issue is a matter worthy of equal consideration and analysis. The fact that a large section of the populace does not even know or care to know what the fuss is all about, is not to be dismissed as irrelevant or of no concern. This segment comprises of the very same citizenry that votes, that decides things as far as the future of the ideals of secular democracy and life in the world remains at stake. People who are literate, erudite and equally responsible in their thoughts and actions form a part of these sections in the same way as the ones whose slogans no more excite me. The attitudes of these segments can well be written off as ignorance and political insensitivity only to yield a grossly overestimated sense of power resulting from their constituencies that the ‘representatives have increasingly come to rely on.

The idiom ‘make hay while the sun shines’ has been taken up quite seriously by those opposing or defending Rushdie. While one  faction has the upcoming elections in various legislative assemblies in mind, for the other pashmina clad section, this controversy is its chance of rising to the occasion, speaking up and showing their secular, liberal genius to the world. They well know that such moments do not recur so often. In these largely successful manoeuvres, social media has helped them tremendously. What the ambivalent and the ignorant receives from these representatives is disdain, pity and a condescending eye that actually the looked down upon has hardly cared to notice. This self celebratory aspect of the entire affair makes me very unsure of my belief in an intellectualism that ideally should help us in making sense of the complexities that characterise the contemporary world and should also gradually arrive at better argumentative positions.

I have no intention of offering a solution to this issue. I only want to focus on what as a section has until now been written off as politically immature and incapable of a kind of nauseating mode of articulation that certain sections of the wise and politically alert citizenry believe to have conquered in both letter and spirit. Such articulation is predominantly put on display in the public domain. (Remember the nods and the movements of the hands of the ‘experts’ on Television shows!). No one knows enough of the private aspects of the street smartness that today surrounds the sensibly lost and confused citizen (like never before). Who actually are these ‘guardians of the faith’? If they come out in the open as a response to such a post and declare themselves as one, I would like to ask them about their personalities and would like to decide those eligibilities based on which they have begun to execute a responsibility which was never granted to them whether on an personal or a communal level. At the root of this grossly mistaken self-burdening is the fantastic manner in which the discipline of politics has of late emerged as the wholesome cause and effect of every phenomenon, reality, event, saying and doing. Even dreams occur to us because we are political beings! What is not political or not worthy of being politicised (almost everything is political though!)  does not and should not exist. At the best the resting, loving, compromising soul is needs to be awakened from the slumber of stupidity and has to be reformed. Else the world is in danger. We shall soon be eaten up by monsters because everyone did not wake up while it was time to do so. Neither did they attest to the reign of the well read, wise avant-garde which was forever willing to raise them in their laps.

Politics (the term used in whatever sense one pleases) seems to have (in all those senses) dominated the intellectual landscape and clouded every alternate possibility after resorting to which any meaningful way out of contentious issues like Satanic Verses might be achieved. I find all political articulations which necessarily base themselves in the belief of coming up with a clear stand   on an issue utterly foolish. Such are the times that voicing an opinion like the one I am trying to do invites its own forms of ridicule and intellectual intimidation. My question to the people in the first two camps then is : “What have your political stands and the  mindless actions based on those stands done to help us in thinking of the issue in a better way?” “The problem that you have raised and sought a solution for- has it been solved?” I know the answers. Would it not be a better option then to seek alterations in the dominant mode that has trained us to continually think of our lives and those of the others in a one-sided way?

A break from politics I think would be one attempt at reconciliation. Most importantly it would offer us an opportunity to invent or discover newer vocabularies that can be depended on for future thought and action and such opportunity has to be immediately seized. Better late than never!

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Book Review: Hot Tea Across India

(It was extremely nice of the website http://www.blogadda.com to have selected me for reviewing Rishad Saam Mehta’s latest book titled “Hot Tea Across India”. I wish to express my thankfulness to the site for giving me this opportunity and for ensuring the timely delivery of the book.)

Hot Tea Across India is Rishad Saam Mehta’s new book about his adventurous expeditions to so many parts of India. The stories of the many trips amiably told give the reader a wonderful glimpse of the landscapes and the people he encounters on the way. It is also an insightful journey into the soul and mind of the new age, modern Indian. The average  audience has been of late coming more and more in contact with this personality (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, the Hindi film released last year was one such occasion). To break oneself off from the routine and the mundane and explore the world in one’s own way has been an idea that seems to have picked up fast and is so ‘in’. Marking a break from the established norms and conventions, the new age young man is willing to exoticise the ‘everyday’ more than ever.  Hunting for moments in life that can be necessarily metamorphosed into occasions for laughter, witty analysis and ultimately a written book/blog post/diary entry seems to be the newly found pastime.

The book opens with a striking comment about the ubiquity of tea stalls in India. Un-arguably the most popular hot beverage of the country- tea has been rightly selected by the author to serve as the binding thread of the lovely stories he sets out to tell. However there is nothing more about tea per se in the book other than  harping on the fact that tea is prepared variously in various parts of the country, that “a lot can happen over a cup of tea” and that a hot cup of tea can be really a source of rejuvenation and energy in the hour of fatigue. That’s almost all about tea that the book has to say. A reader who expects a fascinating and fresh account of the beverage or its stalls is likely to be disappointed. Kashinath Singh’s Hindi novel Kaashi Ka Assi is the novel I recommend in that case!

Mehta’s descriptions and his skilfully crafted narrative are a delight in as far as his language is concerned. Coming to the events and situations presented in the book, the reader would be  reminded of the 1970s era of Hindi cinema (specially while reading the stories from the mountains) when “scenes from the hills” became a rage . Remember Shammi Kapoor randomly deciding to go to Kashmir and singing a song in the hills and meeting the Punjabi Kashmiri tourists on the way- I think we have seen it all. Most stories that Mehta tells are so predictable. They are also short enough to make sure that none of the people we meet in the book stay with us after the book has been closed. If not rampant, stereotyping is something that the author has resorted to throughout the book.

Mehta does bring in moments which enthrall and captivate. These are few and shorter than the long, prosaic and clichéd sections (the one about his bullet motorcycle for instance was a lot of effort reading for me).

Hot Tea Across India is likely to interest someone who is new to India and wants to know about some of the easily observable incidents and people while travelling through its length and breadth. A deeper, lengthier and slightly heavier account of things, places and people could have definitely made this book better!

Cover of the Book: Image taken from http://www.helterskelter.in

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com.  Participate now to get free books!

 

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