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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Kite Runner- Book Review

A captivating brilliant novel from Khaled Hosseni. The advantage of its being in first person made full justice to the emotional extract. The story is about two friends, Amir and Hasan (though Amir couldn’t accept till the end that he was a friend to Hasan) in Afghanistan. Amir and his baba leave Afghan due to Russian invasion in Afghan and flee to America. After several years (after Amir’s baba’s death due to cancer and after Amir’s marriage with Soraya)Amir goes to Afghan and bring late Hasan’s son to America as an act of repentance for a cowardy betrayal he had done to his friend in his childhood days.

Usually, many novels bring out innocence when the subject is about an infant and end up forcing the author’s thoughts through the child. There are definitely some rare pieces where the child is brought out in its original form, a very difficult task, say Lucy the pisher in “The Burning Summer” by Claire Raine. Even in those rare pieces child is depicted as an embodiment of innocence. It is true that under the milky skin, hiding beneath the innocence a child can be cruel to the core; however since innocence is the basic character, the cruelty sometimes lead to compunction like Amir in Kite Runner.

Amir’s baba rocks throughout the novel. Though the author thought of surprising us by telling Hasan as illegitimate son of his baba, he had left enough hints right from the beginning and I was not really surprised.

I saw a lot of me in Amir, his tastes, his thought process, may be because he had flaws and so am I and I believe so are everyone. Reading through this I felt little uneasy as my wrong deeds of the past pricked me. But I adore Rahim khan’s statement to Amir that only purity in character can give you guilt feeling. As you said, there’s always a way to be good again. Thank you Rahim for that. .

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Relay Race- short story

Our town might have had one of the best engineers to design the gates of ‘Queen Victoria Park’. Since my childhood days, thousands of kids have swung on the iron gates and it still stands majestically holding my grandson between its slender vertical bars. The huge boughs of the Peepal tree near the gate fanned in the scent of fried cashew nuts sold outside by few black skinned, gray haired ugly-looking women. As a reflex to Peepal tree’s call, my hand scanned my shirt pocket. Scanning my shirt pocket is an easy job; it hardly holds an old fountain pen, a small pocket diary scribbled throughout with random information, a small bit of ‘to be bought’ items list written legibly in my wife Gayathri’s handwriting, few coins and few rupee notes totalling a value less than one hundred. My hand pressed my pocket, like Dr.Seetharam does with his chill stethoscope during winter fever. With the five rupee coin excavated from my pocket, I walked briskly towards the gate. The thin summer air was thick with the scent of cashew. In exchange of that five rupee coin, I got a small pack of cashew nuts and a murmur from the wry ugly face “now a days you wont get a cup of water for five rupees and people want cashew nuts..”. Ignoring the comment, I gently opened the shabby pack revealing bright yellow coloured cashew nuts. I took one cashew; it looked like a penguin with a broad hip and a narrow neck; its curved neck was charred due to excess heat from the clay ovens in the thatched roof huts of those ugly women. Appreciating the beautiful symmetry of cashew, I felt the fine dimples spread over its golden yellow surface. I happily allowed my appetite empty the packet. I slowly unwrapped the paper cover that till few minutes back held those daffodil cashew nuts. One side of the wrapper was decorated by a black and white photograph of some actress, whose name I don’t remember. The other side had a quote of Albert Einstein about Mahatma Gandhi. I carefully tore along the black lines embroidering the quote and slid it into my shirt pocket; who knows, someone might have thought that I’m actually storing the photograph of that actress; but I don’t really care what others think about me.
When I got up to deposit the remaining wrapper safely inside municipality’s never-cleared dust bin, I saw Vichu (Viswanathan) coming towards me from the park library. Soon we were sitting in the concrete bench under the neem tree, the one which we have been sharing for hundreds of evenings since our retirement. “Ha Nana (Narayanan) where is your grandson Ramu?” When Vichu asked, I realized that I had forgotten Ramu for quite a while. Startled, I turned back and was relieved to see the iron gates still holding him between its vertical bars. Pressing his palms on the concrete bench, Vichu bent back to relax his posture and enjoy the neem breeze. Breaking the silence, he farted, controlled explosions in the park air. May god bless all the holy hands that planted the trees around us which instantly purified the air contaminated by Vichu’s emissive presence. The Peepal tree’s breeze this time cleared the odour and relieved me the effort of wrinkling my nose tip. Vichu spared an unembarrassed casual smile, stroked his belly and said “today’s culture….”
I was surprised. In general, eye brows broaden in response to pleasant surprises and vice versa. This time, my eye brows contracted when Vichu attempted to reason out today’s culture for his invisible gas bubbles. Relieving my surprise, Vichu continued, “Today’s culture has ruined our lives. Those days, we had healthy food; spinach and vegetables that grow above the earth’s surface enriched with positive energy. The diet was balanced then. But, today’s culture have shifted towards pizzas and coke, hardly my daughter-in law cooks vegetables. Mention not the technological demons. The food, already poisoned with artificial chemicals is cooked with microwave. And what remains is only gas trouble and stomach ulcer.”
Being a part of retired men association, such bane for technology is not new. I think the hatred for technology stems out from the ignorance of not understanding the same.
“Vichu… I agree with you that our eating habits have westernized. But, weren’t we different from our previous generation? May be we didn’t had pizzas, but we adopted chappathis which were not a part of any of our parent’s dinner menu. The increased work pressure has decreased the available time and energy and hence increases the sales of packed foods. And about your curse on microwave oven, Vichu, don’t you remember how upset your father was when you bought the gas stove. He feared that the inflammable gas stove may one day shatter the whole house into pieces. We were different from our previous generation and so are this generation from us.” Gayathri’s words echoed in my ears. Once when I was upset with my son, Gayathri told me, “You were not like what your father expected and your son is not like you expect him to be.” Gayathri might have mentioned it casually. Truth, even if casually mentioned is indispensable.
Vichu was silent for a moment; may be his emotions were pricked by my mentioning about his father’s displeasure on gas stove or perhaps he was in agreement with my argument.
“But Nana…”, Vichu continued “Its not just about food. I’m talking about overall degeneration of this generation. It’s disgusting to see people being stingy in their costume and still be unabashed of it. Disco clubs and night-out parties have become a part of family life. Movies and internet spread venom and people are trapped into it.”
“Vichu, I think there is some problem in our viewing the next generation. We are unable to accept changes and at the same time we fail to realize that we ourselves had introduced some changes in this society. Talking about costume, our previous generation wore only traditional dhoti. Did you continue that? In fact, you were the first one to wear bell-bottoms in our college. I still remember your blushing when kamala told that you looked like Rajesh Khanna when you wore that coffee-brown colour bell-bottoms and tiny executive check, long collared full sleeve shirt. It’s a matter of fact that our social system is changing, may be the rate of change of social life is faster in this generation than ours.”
Vichu interrupted before I finish, “Nana, you mean to say that everything is allright?”
Evening sun had already started fading. Ellipsoid bulbs of sodium vapour lamp came to life giving birth to continuous flood of yellow light attempting to compete with the setting sun over the local area of concrete bench. Vichu’s discontent on my supporting this generation was visible in his facial changes, now illuminated by the monochromatic light flowing through the translucent (once transparent) glass panes of the sodium vapour lamp.
“Vichu, I’m just trying to say that every element in this society is changing. Few years back, we were the source of change and we didn’t realize then that we were changing. Now, when this generation is changing, we become mere observers. According to our parents, we were not right and according to our grandparents, our parents were not right. If you extend the time scale into both past and future, you would always observe that the older generation is reluctant to the changes of the present generation. And whether such changes are good or bad, we can’t comment. Because what we witness as changes are just symptoms, symptoms of something bigger and sacred. Yes, all these changes are just symptoms of another slow invisible change of our society’s value system. Among the infinite changes in technology, social life, dress, eating habits etc, some may positively influence and contribute for the betterment value system and some may not..”
Ramu came running to hug me, with soiled shoes and sweat laden T-shirt. When Ramu hugs me I forget everything, even my line of thought; but this time I didn’t and continued, “Vichu... Life is like a relay race, each individual run only for a certain distance and handover the baton to the next. Similarly, each generation run a certain distance holding the baton of ‘change’ and hand it over to the next generation. So, lets not worry about this relay race, but shall try to channelize the these changes to the overall objective of a better value system for future.” Vichu this time appeared to be relaxed and extended a smile. We walked towards the iron gates built by an unknown ‘best engineer’.
We crossed a couple of young men in their thirties, who might have come to the park with their kids and probably were returning then. In that silent atmosphere, amidst the soothing music of Peepal tree, those voices were clearly audible. In a hoarse voice one of them spoke, “these kids... God, they are no way like our generation. How nice we were as kids? I am really scared about the future of this new generation.”
Vichu pressed my hands, a gentle sign of approval…

Friday, April 18, 2008

That Stupid thing!!!!!- A short story

My name is … ah ! who cares about my name in the Chennai city holding more than 7.5 million individuals, including the yesterday born grandson of my friend, Srinivasan. Even the one day old cute kid whose feeble cry from his teeth free empty mouth making his rosy cheeks red, will not care to talk to me one day. From the one day old kid to people who have only one day left to live in this funny world, nobody wants to know about me. The 7.5 million individuals in this Chennai city, some percentage of whom I witness daily, some other percentage I witness rarely and the majority I never witness, to me appears like 7.5 million individual societies. All because of that stupid thing.

The basic principle of human society is to interact and cherish relationship. Every individual influences the society. The society is run by the response of each individual to the responses of other individuals. Everything was fine till few years back, until the stupid thing made its presence in the peaceful Chennai. From dawn to dusk, even while sleeping, people need only one thing, that stupid thing, that hand-held stupid mobile phone. Nowadays, I’m not seeing people around; I just see 7.5 million mobile phones roaming around holding human beings with it. Earlier, 8 out of 10 people I encounter used to greet me, but now; sometimes even I wonder whether I exist or not.

That day I really thought the guy has gone insane; what else you think about someone who talks and laughs by himself without anyone around in the middle of the road. Another day, when I went to milk booth, the person filling the decade old broken chair inside the cash counter asked, “ya tell me” and I replied “two packets”. He started shouting, “I don’t care who you are and let me see how you get it”. I was stunned and twisted my complexly entangled brain cells to think what the problem in buying two packets of milk is. Thank god! Only then I realized that he was talking-to someone through his mobile phone. Everybody everywhere is busy talking to someone nowhere in mobile phones. The whole world looks like a lunatic asylum where every individual confines to himself, an aberration in the society. But, since the whole society is behaving like infinite individual societies, only I look like an aberration for them. The black colour, grey colour and many other coloured plastic boxes with rubber buttons and a small screen have eaten away all my friends and relatives from me.

It’s long since I’ve talked even to my daughter. Normally when she comes home, she complains about the weather and also grieves that she had to walk a long distance. Compressing her big eyes, her cute little face wrinkles when she complains. I love to see that expression and often tease her for that. She’s indeed beautiful and like her mom, she’s a chatter box. During dinner, we sit together and we listen to her while she narrates incident by incident since that morning. Whether it is a quarrel with her classmate or an appreciation from her teacher, her food won’t digest until she completes the whole days stuff. The practice continued for years even after her joining the job, but until recently. Nowadays, she enters answering a call, later get hooked up in another call and responds to some other call even while dinner. No more narration from her and no more wrinkles over her face. All because of that stupid mobile phone. I feel like puking over it.

The worst part occurs during my daily travel to office. I use electric train for commuting to office. It’s a half an hour journey and I used to enjoy it very much. We, the co-passengers had formed our own local groups. The first one of the group will reserve seats for people boarding in subsequent stations. Our group mostly comprised of old men, Mr.Sankaran whose pot belly hits the passenger in opposite seat, the bald headed Balakrishnan who have never missed the sandal scratch on his forehead, a proud symbol which he used to portray that he is a keralite and Mr.Shyam,smart and handsome, an odd man in our group used to discuss about varied topics. Though we had never been to each others houses, we knew all of our relatives, functions at our homes and everything personal about us. Similarly, there were other groups; those who play cards and makes lot of noise, who sing film songs using compartment walls as drums, who stands on foot board to look around girls entering each station and so on. Basically, people of similar interests got together and enjoy. But, now, everything has changed. People are idle. Though they travel together throughout the year, they don’t even know each other’s names. They are always busy talking to someone or other in their stupid mobile phones.

Another group of people sit idle like Egyptian mummies. Yes, they are listening to FM radio in mobile phones. They sway gently by the cradle vibration of the train and I think they liked it as the swaying is sometimes coherent with the rhythm of the music that stupid mobile phone vomits. Once, I sat in between these swaying people, suddenly when one started talking to some stranger. He didn’t care about his neighbours and was revealing all his personal details. From his monotonous conversation (believe me, its killing to listen only one half of conversation), I understood that he is a diamond merchant and is going to Europe next week. Had my dad not inculcated some good value system, I could have used the free info to own few diamonds. If I go on listening to such numerous one sided conversations, I’m sure I will go mad one day. Already, my wife complains that my behaviour is awkward.

But one relief is that this train trauma will last only this Thursday. Tired of this old man who still uses his secretary to check email, my company thought that they should get rid of me at the earliest opportunity possible. Though I would have loved to work for some more years to avoid being with my wife for the whole day, the very thought of everyday train journey made me love my wife.

The most awaited Thursday also came at last. Since nursery school, I’ve been a part of many farewells. Every farewell is associated with mixed emotions, a grief of losing the past and excitement of entering the future, like a cup of water after eating gooseberry, a sourness mixed with sweetness. Relishing the past memories and expecting the future moments, I was experiencing the last official 30 minutes train journey. The train stopped in between at local stations and the railway platforms exchanged passengers and all the passengers with stupid mobile phones. A lady clad in a bright yellow saree reflecting the morning mood was standing near the entrance, perhaps for getting down in the next station. The breeze, which remains still at railway station, gushes with heavy force when the train moves blowing the lady’s yellow saree exposing her waist. Sweat dropped from her first waist tire to the second, slowly, very slowly like the collaboration of left over water droplets on an automobile windscreen after rain. But this sweat is an irritating feeling, especially in places like Chennai, the sea water provides enough liquor for the sun that the atmosphere is always fully drunk unable to suck even one drop of sweat from us leaving all the salt laden sweat to trip over clothes making us embarrassed with white salt patches. Everyday, I face the same problem. My loving wife always have something or the other to tell me in the last two minutes before I leave and I have to run from the railway gate to platform within 30 seconds at least to push myself into the last compartment in font of the white uniformed black skinned guard. When I force myself to equilibrium holding the passenger rails, I gasp severely accompanied by wild oscillation of my drooping belly like the bellows of a harmonium. My heart beats rapidly pumping through all possible blood vessels and spit sweat on my forehead and neck. The sweat collects and flows down through the side and reaches my earlobes. I feel tickled, try to wipe it off and I drop my bag in the attempt. The pot belly compels me to get my trousers stitched with the only known tailor Manickam as there is no standard size that fits my disfigured physique. While gasping, my belly pushes my trousers and the white lining peeps out. I can’t see it as y belly prevents, but can realize it by the teasing half-lipped smile from some teenage girls opposite to me.

Being the last day, I started early and escaped the embarrassment of white lining from the teenagers. But, today the teenagers were replaced by the lady inside yellow saree. She was deeply involved in her mobile phone that she was not even aware or didn’t care to be aware of her waist getting exposed. But some college guys who were swaying to the music inside the stupid mobile phone were fully aware of the lady’s exposed waist. I felt sick, but soon forgot about it as I entered my office.

Evening, my office staff hosted a farewell for my retirement day. All of us assembled in the conference hall and for the first time, I took the leading chair in the dais. Most of the people gathered 5 minutes before the scheduled time. Perhaps, the aroma of cutlet behind the dais might have attracted them. We heard some unheard music when one of the guys excused himself with his mobile saying, “hello, ya Ravi speaking”. Soon, one more lady followed the same way. By now, Ravi had come and Gopal received a call. I’m sure it is his fiancée. Despite his dark skin, he blushed; but I had been to his engagement and I personally feel that she’s just an ordinary looking female and doesn’t deserve so much blushing. Within 5 minutes, everyone around me was talking to someone who is not there then and I stood aloof experiencing the unfathomable truth of my loneliness. Under some strange permutation all the potential friends of the gathering were silent for five minutes and hence could finish my farewell.

First our G.M spoke and was followed by many others, my bosses, peers and subordinates. As a custom, they all spoke nice about me. I felt proud despite my complete knowledge that all these are alive only for few more minutes and will vanish like Cinderella’s chariot the moment I get out of the dais.

Before that moment, my G.M garlanded me and gave me a nicely packed gift box wrapped in satin ribbon. I was so delighted, especially at the packing and satin ribbon. With so much of excitation, I slowly opened the box. There was a small greeting card signed by all saying “you will be with us always”. I slowly took the greeting card and found a … god !... the stupid mobile phone.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Escape from Exile

Escape from Exile- by Robert Levy

4th march 08

On a dry Sunday afternoon, amma drove me out to flouring mill. As I sat next to the poorly maintained flour mill shouting at its top gear, I noticed an old book store beside. Scanning the whole rack for half an hour I found nothing. On my way out when I was trying to pull some book, one stack of books fell down and when I tried to rearrange those, I got hold of a nice old book, “Escape from Exile” by Robert Levy.

The image in the front page was so captivating with a wonderful sketch of a boy clad in fresh bottle green uniforms hiding behind a rock along with an impalpable animal watching a red uniformed soldier on horse back. I was sure that it is a fantasy adventurous novel, may be prescribed for children.

I didn’t want to leave the book which cost Rs.15/-. You won’t believe me, the 180+ pages novel I finished in a single working day. A very interesting adventure of a little boy Daniel, who suddenly is lost from this world and reaches another world called Lithia, which is still like the medieval age. There is a conflict going on in Lithia for ruling the kingdom. Like most stories one of them is a good natured and other is the villain. Daniel, got a unique ability of talking to animals and he befriended a horse, a poisonous snake and samkit, a strange animal. The story is that Daniel helps the good natured one to regain the land. But he was originally with the villain and the story is mainly about his escape to reach the hero (heroine. The good natured Lauren is a lady). Finally Daniel after his work returns to world and only while returning he understood that he was taken to that world for a purpose of saving samkits from extinction.

A good one to read, I recommend to all those who love reading tinkle, chandamama, gokulam etc. J

A train to Pakistan

Train to Pakistan

A wonderful story capable of squeezing every drop of blood in any heart. Its unbelievable that it’s a novel. Kushwant singh is indeed a great story teller. Till reading this novel, I didn’t have great opinion about Kushwant singh. In fact, I had associated him as a talented obscene writer. But I was really moved after reading the novel. The sufferings of post-independent India and the communal ferocity and clashes; its difficult to find a fiction to describe it so realistically. And the story is about a village where muslims and hindus were at peace, undisturbed by the clashes outside. A murder at the village followed by a train full of dead Sikhs disturbed the peaceful pages of the novel. I just loved the climax where a rogue (who incidentally can be called a hero) gives his life for his lady love.