Book Excerpt: Letters to a Young Poet

The eternal Rilke. I never get tired of reading Letters to a Young Poet; I might end up typing the whole book down here!

Here’s an excerpt that has bettered the way I deal with things:

But everything which one day will perhaps be possible for many, the solitary individual can prepare for and build now with his hands which are more unerring. For this reason, love your solitude and bear the pain it causes you with melody wrought with lament. For the people who are close to you, you tell m, are far away, and that shows that you are beginning to create a wider space around you. And if what is close is far, then the space around you is wide indeed and already among the stars; take pleasure in your growth, in which no once can accompany you, and be kind-hearted towards those you leave behind, and be assured and gentle with them and do not plague them with your doubts or frighten them with your confidence or your joyfulness, which they cannot understand. Look for some kind of simple and loyal way of being together with them which does not necessarily alter however much you change; love in them a form of life different from your own and show understanding for the older ones who fear precisely the solitude in which you trust. Avoid providing material for the drama which always spans between parents and their children; it saps much of the children’s strength and consumes that parental love which works and warms even when it does not comprehend. Ask no advice of them and reckon with no understanding; but believe in a love which is stored up for you like and inheritance; and trust that in this love there is a strength and a benediction out of whose sphere you do not need to issue even if your journey is a long one.

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Book Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Title: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Philip Gabriel
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 9780099532538
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 180
Rating: 3/5

When I picked up Murakami’s What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, I was excited about reading it. I had waited long to get my hands on it, and having heard numerous friends going gaga over it, I had high hopes from it, too. And the book didn’t disappoint me. Well, not entirely.

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running is a very personal and detailed account of Murakami’s running and writing life, about how the activities of running and writing complemented each other for him to continue leading a meaningful, healthy existence. It was Running- an attempt at keeping himself fit physically so as to push his mental limits- that helped Murakami the writer to come out in the open and survive.
The language used in translation is simple, the tone honest.
While reading one can feel the clear distinction of roles there seems to be in Murakami’s head- that of a writer and a reader. The reader-writer relationship is established from the very start of the book, more so because he is writing as himself, as Haruki Murakami the writer. An emphasis on his identity as a writer is necessary here since this is what the book is about: Murakami growing, identifying, and establishing himself as a professional writer.
For the most part, Murakami describes, with meticulous precision, his running routine. This precision, though, is sometimes too detailed and slows up the narrative, making it drab at times. In this routine he describes his training before the races he mentions, the challenges he faces during the race, the mistakes he makes, the external threats that come up, and what he takes away from each race. And that’s when the classic Murakamian insights bob their heads above the water. Insights that make you go, “Yeah! This is what life’s about!” And reading them gives one this amazing feeling of being inside a writer’s head:

The end of the race is just a temporary marker without much significance. It’s the same with our lives. Just because there’s an end doesn’t mean existence has meaning. An end point is simply set up as a temporary marker, or perhaps as an indirect metaphor for the fleeting nature of existence.”

The wondrous quality of Murakami’s fiction is the result of the struggle he has gone through, the process of which is What I Talk about When I Talk about Running. This struggle has made him see the simplicity there is in living, made him simplify the complex, which is why he is reachable to millions of readers worldwide. Though clichéd, Murakami is the flesh and blood example of the maxim “Simple living, high thinking.”
The book is a treat for Murakami’s fans, and an even bigger treat for fans who love to run, and not walk; since he never walked, either.

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Moments

Probably we meet people with whom we can completely be ourselves only once in a while, as we go on living our lives. There is no way in which one can always have that kind of an understanding with someone: where each sees the other completely as they are. Such revelations can happen only in moments.

Moments which come like a breath of fresh air: like the air of a December evening-cool and comforting-which you breathe whole, and pure, and easy. In such moments, we live, I mean really live, truly and completely; breathing freely and deeply. Where we can almost see the twinkle in the night sky, the shimmer in the night air, showering upon us, celebrating life!

Companionship cannot hold this deep yet delicate meaning there is in life, for companionship soon falls into routine and becomes mundane. We can find life only in these little instances, which occur once in a while, and let them go; settle for the little respites, which can, if you make them, last forever.

Temples

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Here’s something you don’t find out every day- from the book Speaking of Siva. And the bonus is, it is also beautiful:

Indian temples are traditionally built in the image of the human body. The ritual for building a temple begins with digging in the earth, and planting a pot of seed. The temple is said to rise from the implanted seed, like a human. The different parts of a temple are named after body parts. The two sides are called the hands or wings, the hasta; a pillar is called a foot, pada. The top of the temple is the head, the sikhara. The shrine, the innermost and the darkest sanctum of the temple, is a garbhagrhra, the womb-house. The temple thus carries out in brick and stone the primodial blueprint of the human body.

 This is such a beautiful concept. It means, literally, that god resides in us. That he is within us. And it could also mean, that the temple is a woman. And that god is her baby. And I don’t mean it in a feminist way or something. It’s just that, the process of creation, of giving birth to your faith yourself, or merely nurturing it, is an extremely earthy and beautiful a form of worship. The sad part is, this understanding, or sensibility is lost somewhere; but the fact that it somehow finds us, like it found me, is the happy one.

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Movie Review: Holy Lola

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Movie reviews? Not really my thing. I don’t think I qualify to be a reviewer. But it’s 2012, you can be anything you want to be, and this is my blog. So, here it is.
Holy Lola is a French movie about a childless couple going to Cambodia to adopt a child – any child that comes their way. Except, of course, the ones with HIV or Hepatitis-B. Through the film, they face various obstacles like meeting the wrong people (human traffickers), going through bouts of disappointment when the child they are promised is not given them, corruption of the Cambodian government officials, and the various difficulties any tourist undergoes in a strange land. My question is, why go all the way to Cambodia to adopt children? Doesn’t France have orphanages? Surely, there are orphans in need of help there as well? Children don’t die only in the “East” and the “Far East”. And oh, of course, in Africa.

So, when this couple, Pierre and Geraldine, come to Cambodia, they find many couples like themselves: Sterile, and in desperate need of a child so that life makes sense to them again. And there is an unofficial war-like situation between the French couples in desperate need of a child, and the American couples in desperate need of a child. The French keep on complaining that the Americans get the children easily, and that the American embassy is more efficient. So, apparently, the American government is more sensitive to the feelings of their childless couples. They help more when it comes to snatching away babies from their mothers, from their culture, from their land.
And of course, the Cambodian government does not comply very easily. And why would they, considering the fact that their children are being taken away to false hopes of “a better life”? But the characters are shown to be victims of this “red tape”. They are the ones who “expose” the corrupt officials, “stage a protest” in front of the adoption office when they are not given signatures on their paperwork. I personally think, trying to get money out of the “firangs” is completely justified. It is a way to get even with them. Tit for tat. We do it too here; only in a much smarter way. Retail therapy. Ha Ha. Wanna discover India? Sure.
The Cambodia that is portrayed to the viewer is corrupt, with tons of “knocked up” young girls, and ergo with tons of abandoned, hungry babies in need of the Europeans’ aid. There is also a scene where a beggar woman with three kids begs and the Cambodian doctor tells Pierre and Geraldine never to give them any money. And also tells the beggar woman to give away her child in an orphanage because she “doesn’t stand a chance” if she lives with her.
This is the Cambodia we see, this is the Cambodia the young, “educated” Cambodians will see, and will believe that Cambodia is like that. The scene with the beggar woman made me realise that Holy Lola is a sort-of a Cambodian Slumdog Millionaire. Slumdog Millionaire is an example of how the “West” sees India, how it presents to us an India, we, living here in India don’t seem to know!
In the end, all the couples get their kids and fly away to France to live Happily Ever After. Clichéd, isn’t it?

Watching French movies, I increasingly feel that they work under, and within, a very tight discourse: the discourse of “Social Aid” for “underprivileged Third-World countries”. I don’t know if there is a term for it yet. I guess “Business”, or “another-way-of-manipulation-in-order-to-make-money” seems like it. And I don’t see them breaking out of this discourse any time soon.

Assignment: The Calcutta Chromosome as a Post-Colonial Novel

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Title: The Calcutta Chromosome
Author: Amitav Ghosh
Publisher: Penguin Group
SBN: 9780143066552
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 262
Rating: 2/5

Hmmm, I have to write an assignment on The Calcutta Chromosome as a post-colonial novel.. and i just can’t write! The book isn’t that great, really.. Ghosh has written better novels after this one.. But it still shows the post-colonial thinker’s or writer’s crisis. No, the overall post-colonial crisis. See! this is the reason why i can’t write it down..i don’t have clarity! Actually, it’s the same thing, isn’t it? Just the post-colonial crisis! hmm, so, i’ll try to make points here.. :
1. Post-Colonial theorists question the stereotypical notions about the ‘native’ and the colonizer:

Native                                                         Colonizer

– Religion.                                                  – Science.

– Superstition.                                            – Rationality.

– Supernatural.                                                    –

And Amitav Ghosh is no exception.
2. He includes an Egyptian, Antar. A character with a post-colonial heritage, just like the Indians in the book: Murugan, Sonali, Urmila, Mrs. Aratounian, Romen Haldar. By doing this, he suggests that all Colonialisms are same i.e., all experiences of Colonialism in all parts of the world are the same. (But they’re not). Why? Because, the Indian experience of colonialism is different from the Latin American experience of colonialism. How? In India, the British took away wealth and exploited the ‘natives’ economically. There was cultural exploitation as well but the British didn’t assimilate with the Indians and instead maintained a distance and a level of difference from the native. While in Latin America, there was mass killing of the population and almost all of the population was wiped out and the land was taken by the Europeans. The former culture of ‘Latin America’ has hardly survived.
3. The creation of the Indian Epistemological System (IES). Ghosh creates an Indian system of knowledge through Mangala Devi, Laakhan and their cult but..
a) This Indian Epistemological System is merely the opposite of what possibly the Western Epistemological Sytem (WES) is i.e., if the WES is logical, reasonable, scientific, linear; Ghosh’s IES is illogical, unreasonable, unscientific and non-linear.

Q: Why does the IES have to be something that is merely opposite of the WES and only then be Indian?
b) Ghosh spends more time on the WES than on the IES: The story of Ronald Ross’s discovery of the malaria vaccine is explained in fine detail. Mangala Devi and Laakhan’s practices have got nothing to do with the actual Indian practices: Mangala Devi’s system of transportation or immortality is transmuting her blood into another body that she chooses. This shows that Ghosh doesn’t really know what the actual ‘India’ or the ‘East’ is and ergo he fails to give them any value.

Mangala Devi’s practices are portrayed from an outsider’s point of view. We can see Mangala Devi and her followers doing something that looks like a havan and it doesn’t mean anything. I can almost see Ghosh the English-educated Indian observing these rituals from a distance and writing about them. So, although he wants to give these practices and their outcome some value, he fails to do so because of the way in which he portrays them. Also, all that Mangala Devi and Laakhan are given is Immortality. That is hardly giving any value to their cult.
A sort-of conclusion:

The novel, therefore shows the Post-Colonial Crises:

i) Merely answering back to the West.

ii) Not knowing what the actual ‘India’ or ‘East’ is.
And this happens because English-educated Indian writers do not have the language in which they would be able to talk positively about India and Indian practices. So it all comes down to discourse.
Hmmm.. this helped. 🙂

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