The common themes in both of these very well made Alexander Payne films are old age, the superficiality of human (read familial) relations and the ugliness that we have, bereft of options, increasingly come to celebrate as the ordinariness of everyday life. Payne brilliantly succeeds in unraveling the layers that comprise this ordinariness. Having watched these films, I found myself reflecting over the cinematic consequences of such an attempt. I am not sure if Payne intended to turn it sad and sour in the end. Despite being ‘light’ films, they end up leaving a very unpleasant taste. The images that persist are of sagging chins and balding heads, of jammed knees and of smelly underarms and of poor dinner tables and bland soup. The protagonists in both the films- Jack Nicholson as Schmidt and Bruce Dern as Woody deliver excellent performances and in doing so make us look inward into the crevices of our familial and professional lives. No prizes for guessing that we see only make do arrangements all over. What disturbs the most is the dumbness and the stupidity with which one goes about rejecting one permutation of sociality over other equally painful combinations. Be it divorce, moving away from parents or choosing a new lover, one is always face to face with hope and despair in equal measures. Roaming about the city and the urban neighborhoods in Omaha and Nebraska with these old men- sick of their wives and dim wit children and with a loathing of the treatment the world has meted out to them post retirement, we get to see the meaninglessness of self-imposed obligations that shape the entirety of our lives. Both the films have a number of characters that do little to repose our faith in the ideals of personal and social responsibility and in virtuous conduct. What guides their behavior is instead selfishness and a go with the flow attitude that is hilarious and yet extremely irritating. Mulroney’s act as the mediocre sales rep specially left me wondering about the trajectories that lives of people like him follow. Not that those of people like me would be any better. Overall, these powerful films leave their mark. They mirror very truthfully what and who we are today and force us to suspend judgment and go back to celebrating once again how ordinary have we all become. Watch them in a series if you haven’t already. They are very ordinarily impressive. Congratulations to Mr. Alexander Payne!
The 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.
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.
For me Gasha turned out to be a curious sound. Pronounced as Gaa-Sh-Aa it is the name of the latest play produced by the Bangalore based theater group Indian Ensemble. As a nominated entry under several categories (including Best Play and Best Director) at the ongoing theater festival organised by the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, it was performed last evening at the Kamani Auditorium. The production tries to explore the convoluted frames of the conflictual socio-political zone i.e. Kashmir and makes an earnest attempt at laying bare the subjectivity and the everyday lives of people severely affected by the ongoing conflict in the region. The only two actors we see on stage are Adhir Bhatt (as Gasha) and Sandeep Shikhar (as Nazir). Gasha is the attempt by the scriptwriter Irawati Karnik to bring to light the various facets that come to constitute the fate of two childhood friends. Gasha and Nazir are neighbors from a locality in Srinagar who are separated because of Gasha’s family leaving Srinagar for Mumbai in the wake of ‘militancy’. The narrative goes back and forth in time. Gasha’s family revisits their hometown after a gap of twenty years for the ritual worship of the much revered deity Kheer Bhavani. At the Srinagar airport, Gasha chances upon a loader whom he identifies as Nazir. The encounter makes him think of events past and of the days gone by. For the audience it is a pleasant and yet a very serious detour across the landscape of such remembrance.
Needless to say that the script beautifully peels quite a few layers deep into a number of issues. The director Abhishek Majumdar succeeds in making Bhatt and Shekhar impeccably don the role of several characters- of children in a classroom, of Bukhari sir- their teacher, of Gula- the Muslim attendant at the Kheer Bhavani shrine, of the angry-old controlling Arjun Mama and the most endearing of them all- Dadi Jaan. An innovative stage design, intelligent handling of the lights, an apt sound arrangement and a minimalist use of stage props are other noticeable aspects of this production.
Apart from making for insightful angles from which to look at the Kashmir issue, the play leaves the audience with interesting material for further reflection. The characters for instance ask some very evocative questions in jest, as exclamations or dumb anguishes, satires or even as morose ramblings. Notice Gasha’s mother asking- “Bhala Koi Churaai Hui Kaaleen Pe Namaaz Kaise Padh Sakta Hai?” (How can anyone offer prayers on a stolen carpet?) or Arjun Mama asking Gasha “Daikin badi company kaise ho sakti hai jab maine uska naam hi nahin suna?” (How can Daikin be a big company when I have not even heard its name?” and further on “Tu Kashmir ka Mausam bechta hai?” (You are selling the weather of Kashmir) referring to Gasha’s job in a company that manufactures air conditioners. All the more funny is Arjun Mama scolding a seemingly uninterested Gasha to concentrate in prayers before the Goddess and to “feel the tiger”!
I see the play to be about the problems with our reliance on memory as a tool to reconstruct and make sense of all that happened years ago. It presents in vivid details the ways in which children make sense of their world. There is this just right dose of genuine comedy sprinkled all across the duration of the play. The ways in which violence gets appropriated by the imagination of a child is well documented through very subtle injunctions in the script and in facial expressions that aptly correspond to it. Where should a child play and where should he study, what has happened to schools in Kashmir post militancy and what are the possible future careers that the ‘unschooled’ children in Kashmir will have in the years to come, Gasha is a nuanced comment on all these social issues.
Yes, the briefcases as props seem too many in some scenes, they are dragged too often on the wooden floor, the repeated falls and the thuds of the actors at times insert a break in the flow. Despite these glitches, Gasha is a play that has a message, ranks high on entertainment quotient and oozes a meaning that might require repeated attempts in order to be gleaned. I sincerely hope that the team comes up with more such creative productions and do the little possible so as to bring sanity back to where it belongs. In troubled times, sanity often happens to be the resource that becomes scarce. Even when available, it gets under or over-represented in discourse. The impact of counter currents that an artistic work like Gasha is capable of creating remains to be estimated. I wish this team all the very best for its future productions.
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.
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!