Sunday, February 17, 2013

"The Book thief" by Markus Zusak - review of a fascinating work of fiction 

The years between 1930-45 have been the subject of a lot many stories and interpretations. Numerous writers have presented their view of those horrendous years with stunning clarity and insight. Almost every form of art has borrowed heavily from the leitmotifs of those cataclysmic years molding our understanding of the evil that men committed in the name of race and religion. But no book in my opinion has had the temerity to look at those melancholy times through the innocent eyes of a young adult. Markus Zusak does just that. The period of Nazi occupation is brilliantly captured in translucent prose through Liesel - a young girl, who lives as a foster child in the home of a German family. Internally torn by a strange sense of estrangement : outwardly , the world around her transforming itself into a mire of insecurity and deep fear ; witnessing the physical and moral consequences of non conformance to Nazi doctrines; finding deep love and sympathy from unknown quarters; struggling with pangs of unrequited bubbling physical passion and the agony of severance from people close to her - told in lyrical, haunting and profound language through the voice of Death - the protagonist of this novel . It is Death himself, who follows the life of Liesel through the turbulent times through the words penned by young Liesel, who loves to steal books and read and also write; finding solace in the written word for herself as well for others. Every word that she reads helps her comprehend a little more of the world, and the times she is living in. Markus's mellifluous control of the medium of fiction helps him effortless paint his canvas with alternating hues of Darkness and light. And his characterization is humane, gentle with mild streaks of evil laced in between.

This book is primarily meant for Young adults, but the subject touches the lives of all of us. Markus's writing reminds me of another book( belonging to a different theme) that was given to me many years ago, by my very literate friend and colleague Sandeep Godhkindi. The book was called " The curious incident of a dog in the night-time", by Mark Haddon . The same graceful felicity of words, the deft strokes of remarkably evocative expressions, supported by a compelling story line defines "The book thief" as well. In fact, when Sandeep gave me that book, I was reluctant to read it at first; but then It couldn't put it down once I had started it. "The book thief" will also leave us with the same taste that will linger on, long after the last word has been read .

A remarkable effort .Only a writer of Zusak's talent could make this story plausibly work, and coud get away with such a proliferation of adjectives and adverbs, to write in a manner that revitalizes the language ,and use words to paint emotion and a vivid visual landscape in a way that is breathtaking. This is a book about the power of words and language, and it is fitting that is written in this form.

We look forward to more of his work.........

God bless ..........

English Vinglish - Return of the queen

Sept 1988 - Ramgopal Verma, the maverick director captured Sridevi in his Telegu celluloid fantasy named "Kshana Kshanam". She was by then the intoxicating queen of every masculine psyche. Her very presence aroused impulses that acted as a catharsis for those juvenile beginnings of adolescent pangs ; whose reverberating strains still linger in time as a quintessential idea of feminine grace and charm to many of us of that generation.

Ram gopal verma had captured Sridevi as no one had ever done before (with possibly the exception of Yash chopra in Chandni). She effused sensuality in every frame. Her long journey as an actor reached a climax in this movie where she blended her penetrating acting with a voluptuousness that lifted one into a rarefied air of pure enchantment. She was a sorceress whose bewitching laughter and gaiety would linger long after the her celluloid presence would fade into twilight zone of our consciousness. To me this film represented the apotheosis of Sridevi as an actor. Ram Gopal adored her and his adoration was visible in every nuance , every slant of light that caressed her, every word that pored from her mesmerizing lips.

Oct -2012 - "English Vinglish". Sridevi returns to the screen after nearly a couple of decades. It was a nostalgic moment. This is not a movie to be watched for its story or its direction or its music. It simply is a Sridevi film. She walks through the movie with that effortless and limpid grace of a consummate artist. Every frame adorns her like a jewel that has waited for so long for its rightful heroine. No more is the glamour or the demure haunting looks. There is a matured facade of contentment on her face as she carries the role of an Indian mother grappling with herself in a modern milieu. To me she bought some sharp memories of those frantic days when I used to wait with bated breath for the release of a Sridevi movie and to have the first glimpse of her - before anybody else could :).

Today, I watched "English Vinglish" rather dispassionately, knowing that this queen is returning to her throne with a confident stride; content with the feeling that her acting abilities were merely in hibernation and as now risen from its well deserved slumber.

Welcome back Sri.....

A tribute to me beloved Father for having instilled an insatiable love of the written word

A tribute to my Father : My love for BOOKS

It has been nearly a year since my father passed away and today concludes the official mourning period according to the Hindu calender and rites. He may physically be absent , but his "fatherhood" is forever indelibly etched in my mind. Over the months, I have come to realize how much of me has been defined by what my father was : in each little intention and act. His subtle lingering presence beside me has been my source of solace, rejuvenation and optimism in times that have gone by; and will continue to be so: listening to his gentle, non intrusive inner voice every step of my way . I cannot hope,pray or wish for a superior benediction than that.

My love for books was nurtured by him. Not that my father was a voracious reader or a man of literary taste. He liked his pulp fiction and devoured them whenever time permitted. James hardley chase, Joanne Collins and the likes of Lawrence sanders were his staple reading diet . However the way he happened to introduce me to the world of books is rather curious and quite inexplicable. I remember the day pretty distinctly in the early eighties (I was around ten years of age). My parents and me had gone to a local book fair in the southern city of Madurai to buy some comic books for myself. The collection of books wasn't really what one would call "young literature". The titles and names of the books seemed meaningless to me. I was mentally cursing my father for bringing me here , when we passed by an alley where the publications of The Ramakrishna Math were on display. Almost casually my father picked up " The life of Vivekananda and the Universal gospel" by the renowned french savant and Author Romain Rolland, and handed it over to me with an off hand comment that it should be a good book to read and additionally improve my English. Little did I know that this innocuous looking book of two hundred odd pages (a translation from French) would give me a glimpse of that primordial power and feeling that only words can evoke; and catalyze in me a unquenchable thirst for books.

For those of us who have had the opportunity to read this free handed translation by Dr. Malcolm smith, would undoubtedly agree with me that the mesmerizing language, unbridled passion and the tumultuous flow of thoughts flowing from his pen would lead one imperceptibly to higher realms of sensitivity; like Handel's symphony- to a crescendo that would break upon us like a tidal wave , drenching us with with untold joy and surrealism. In any case, This was most definitely not a book for a ten year old boy coming to grips with Amar chitra kathas at that age. I vividly remember attempting to read the first few pages of this book innumerable times, trying to understand the flow of the narrative: Each time I would put the book down with a sense of desolation. I could feel the pulsating emotion in the writing, but couldn't decipher its meaning . Each time I read a few paragraphs, I would feel a weird thrill pass through me of a unknown joy pregnant in those written words, but wouldn't be able to pin down the source of that happiness. Pushed to the limits, I tried memorizing sentences and regurgitating them to relive to those high octave moments. It didn't work. The fact of the matter is that I could never finish reading the book : but , It triggered in me a mysterious love for words and a secret yearning to be able to write with that intensity. My father would have hardly realized or even less suspected that his simple act of introducing Vivekananda to a lazy kid like me, would have resulted in so much internal yearning.

The year 2008 - I read the book again (a decrepit , rusty copy languishing in my book rack).In the twenty intervening years , I had grown and been exposed to all kinds of ideas and its multifarious expressions. The book by Romain Rolland now revealed itself in its naked pristine beauty. Its words and phrases were no more conundrums to me, they unfolded themselves like the fragrant petals of rose to my discerning eyes and intellect.

I closed the book with a great sense of gratitude to life for elevating me to a pedestal from where I could the survey the world through the tentacles of words. Thanks to you papa - who thought it fit to give to his son a book way beyond his years so that he may one day relish the beauty of words in whatever form it comes. I may not have blossomed to the level of being a master of the language; but your push has helped to taste the font of knowledge and the innate beauty of the written word...

God bless..................
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PG Wodehouse - The alchemist of the written word

PG Wodehouse - an alchemist of the written word

My panacea for melancholy has ,and will always be, a few pages of a Wodehouse novel. I have always wondered what makes his books so enchanting and uplifting each time I read it. The answer is simple. Its the sheer playfulness of his writing and a limpid grace and lightness to his stories that injects it with its uniquely effervescent brilliance.

None can read a Wodehouse novel with a grim face. The utterly farcical plots, blatantly preposterous characterizations, outrageously comical dialogues and a careless irreverence to blinkering social etiquette - transports us to a world that is always refreshingly fresh and invigorating. One could almost visualize a smirky smile creep on to Wodehouse's face: as he would have typed those ninety odd novels during his lifetime - with a pipe in his mouth and a wink in his eye.

It is a tribute to the man and his work that even after forty years , his books continue to enthrall young readers. His books are still read only for the sheer joy of the written word ;and that all there is to it. Wodehouse doesn't attempt to educate or enlighten, but merely takes the reader on a journey of words with a few deft strokes of his pen with no goals or intent in sight. Its a journey that never ends; because it never began.

The Sally's, the Bertie Wooster's, The Jeeves, The Psmith's - and all the rest of them imperceptibly grow on us. With each book, the characters becoming more and more alive within us. Even their worst sorrows and trepidation's, seem joyful and laughable to us, after some time. Perhaps, Somewhere, in the deep recesses of our minds , we wish that life was carefree, fluid and as well meaning as Wodehouse portrays them to be.

A year ago, I bought the complete works of PG Wodehouse for my Kindle reader at ninety nine cents. Almost all his collected works are in it. God knows, how many times I would have visited his works; or revisited them. Each time, it has left me rejuvenated and healed me. To me a Wodehouse novel is a companion who regularly reminds me that life is not as serious or gloomy as we take it to be. His words penetrate into me like a ray of morning light that pierces through a brooding mist ; to enliven my soul .

I agree with Erma Bombeck (an erstwhile American humorist and suburban housewife) when she says " There is a thin line between that separates laughter from pain,comedy and tragedy, pain from hurt". I am sure Wodehouse would have nodded in approval..........................

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The shoes of the Fisherman

"The shoes of the Fisherman" - A tract on the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI.
Never in the annals of hoary papal history, has a Pope voluntarily resigned from the highest office that Christianity has to offer : The Papacy of the Roman Catholic church; founded by St Peter; ordained by Jesus himself - this formidable institution has been the bed rock of over a billion people for hundreds of years; their conscience keeper, their moral compass ; their unswerving guide in turbulent times, and above all a colossal power, that resonates with the voice of God almighty in every single act of their lives.

The Pope is considered by the Roman Catholics as the apostolic successor of St Peter (A fisherman, by profession), divinely appointed to preserve and nurture the pure strain of Christian doctrine that emanated from the life of Jesus. Peter in Greek means "Petra" or "rock" signifying the stability of the Church amidst the vicissitudes of centuries that have passed by. The election of the Pope is by itself an intriguing process, initiated by Pope Gregory X during the second council of Lyons in 1274 : it has gone through numerous modifications across the ages and current procedures were established by Pope John Paul II in 1970.

There have been many Popes who have resigned under coercion; but only two Popes in recorded history have voluntarily resigned their supremely consecrated office. Pope Celestine V in AD 1294 and Pope Gregory XII in AD 1415; and both did so for different reasons diametrically opposite to each other.

Celestine was Benedictine monk on whom the mantle of papacy was thrust. He was too much of a mystic to run an religious institution as powerful, complicated and political as the church. Within five months and eight days, he gave up the vestments of the Papal office and retired to a life of Solitude and prayer. He was the first Pope to formalize the resignation process and so was he the first to follow his own official decree by resigning. True to the spirit of the church, he was canonized later; but no other Pope has since been decorated with the name of "Celestine" . Such is the fate of a Mystic.

Pope Gregory VII , on the other hand was elected on the express condition by a conclave of Fifteen cardinals that he should voluntarily resign the moment the Anti pope Benedict the XIII (the rival papal claimant in the east) renounces his seemingly dubious claim to Papacy. It was an orchestrated political move to end the schism between the Western and Easter churches and Gregory completely understood the implications of his office even he before he took up his holy sacraments. Gregory's politically expedient move is a far cry from the mystical yearnings of Celestine.

What then prompted Pope Benedict XVI to step down? He was a theologically conservative pope who wanted the world to return to Christian values. Elected at the age of seventy eight, he may have found it a trifle difficult to instill puritan moral values in a generation that has grown up with copious ideas of Liberalism. The ossification of secular ideologies around the globe would have given him very little room to sermonize on stultified christian ethics. God has become a matter of debate and intellectualism, and more can any religion keep feeding inane, archaic myths as valid ratiocination's to a mentally agile generation.

Pope Benedict VI seems to have realized his inadequacy for this onerous role many years earlier, when he proclaimed the year 2010 as the "Celestine year", marking the 800th anniversary of Pope Celestine's birth (ironical isn't it). His entry in the book of Roman martyrology (first published in 1583) on May 19th 2010 makes interesting reading. He wrote ....

"At Castrum Fumorense near Alatri in Lazio, the birth of Saint Peter Celestine, who, when leading the life of a hermit in Abruzzo, being famous for his sanctity and miracles, was elected Roman Pontiff as an octogenarian, assumed the name Celestine V, but abandoned his office that same year and preferred to return to solitude."

Probably, Pope Benedict was too pious, well meaning and god Fearing to continue in the shoes of the fisherman........ Only he would know.

God bless................................................................
Lincoln - the Movie - A Must Watch

Two hundred and seventy two words and less then three minutes was what it took Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United states of America, to delivery the Gettysburg address - acclaimed as one of the greatest speeches In American history; and undoubtedly the most eloquent expression of Freedom ever proclaimed in the name of democracy. Few leaders of men have had the opportunity to change the course of history; and fewer still had the courage and the strength of rightful conviction to steer Mankind into new pathways of thought and action. Abe Lincoln belonged to this elite group of Statesman philosophers. The American civil car between 1861-65 is one of the momentous periods in Human history, where the future of a free world was at stake, and a modern era was emerging out of its chrysalis after centuries of medieval incubation. The outcome of this war would determine the future of Democracy as Political model; and the creation of a just and equitable society, where every man can chose to live a life of dignity and grace without regard to Color or race. It needed a person with tremendous integrity; deep sense of Justice and fairness; indomitable will - to pull a generation out of that quagmire of oppression. Lincoln was such a man. It was almost as if the age gave birth to the right kind of Human being in him : A compassionate man, imbued with deep sympathy ,buttressed by an astute political mind ,able to articulate the most profound thoughts in a language clothed in simplicity and directness, a delightful sense of humor - and above all a deep intuitive conviction of the equality of the Human race, made him the almost unconsciously the vehicle of the voice of Freedom in the modern age. The thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United states of America passed in December 1865, marked the beginning of a new age where there would no more slavery; and the name of Lincoln will keep resonating down the ages as the harbinger of freedom in the true sense of the word.

There needed to be a movie that can capture those momentous times, and none better than Steven Spielberg to immortalize it. In two and half hours of mesmerizing drama, Spielberg lifts us a to height of sublimated appreciation of the finer nuances of Film making. A tight screenplay,measured dialogues ;the incandescent brilliance of Daniel Day-Lewis as President Lincoln, the mercurial performance of Sally Field as Mary Todd- Lincoln's forlorn wife, The mellowed landscaping of a blood ridden war,The breathtaking angles of the President's countenance, the meandering dialogues and dry wit of the President, the breathtaking metamorphoses of Lincoln overcoming odds , the political intrigues that weave through relationships , the strains of personal loss and physical agony - all of this and more is captured by the maverick genius of Spielberg. One is imperceptibly drawn into the story in small doses, living and breathing the air of those pivotal times. One visibly ages with Lincoln, torn apart by personal tragedy, as he relentlessly pursues his idea of freedom and, equality.The final shot, where His placid body lies in bed in a fetal position with Blood oozing from his temple will be indelibly etched in our minds , and so will Spielberg be remembered for having conceived and realized these magnificent moments of History on screen for us - a legacy that belongs to the entire Human race. Watch this film without fail. It may help us value our freedom better.............