Book review: Fahrenheit 451.

Ray BradburyTitle: Fahrenheit 451
Author: Ray Bradbury
Publisher: Panther Books
ISBN: 0-586-04356-X
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 158
Rating: 5/5

Recently, I went to Himachal for a 10-day vacation. Most of the vacation was, not surprisingly, about books and poetry and café hopping. Mcleod Ganj is the perfect place to just sit and read after you’ve chosen from the various teas and coffees available to you. Almost every café there is a book-café, after realising which, a book-café-starved-soul from the city – like me – feels at home and immediately gets down to the business of getting comfortable. And once that is done, there is no turning back.

Whenever I went to a book café, I wanted to take along at least one book from their collection but in return, I had to give something. And since I wasn’t ready to part with the few books I had, I settled on reading the books I liked from the café there itself or noting down their titles. On my last day, however, I was losing it. I desperately wanted to take a book from Common Ground café and I spoke to the owner twice but she refused to part with her copy of Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryōkan. Obviously. No give, no take. Fair enough.

So, I went back to my home for 10 days: Yellow Guest House. Lhamo, the owner, had by now become great friends with us. During our stay there, he would bear with our indecisiveness about the number of days we’d be staying, our late hours, and our demands for water bottles and cigarettes late at night. So, it was Lhamo who, once again, gave in to our demand of a book or two from his tiny shelf.

I picked up this petite, beat-up copy of Fahrenheit 451 and Revati picked up a French book. I was, obviously, immediately jealous – since both of us were looking for a French book for days. But then I looked at Lhamo stamping my book with the guest house address and I stopped thinking about who’s getting the better deal.

I left the same evening and the moment I settled in the bus, I started reading. No, I didn’t finish it on the bus journey. I struck up a conversation with the girl sitting next to me in true McLeod spirit. Soon, the lights were switched off and I decided to put the adamant child in me – who wanted to turn the bus back – to sleep.

It’s easy to guess that it took me a while to get over the fact that I’m back from the mountains to a city that resembled a gutter from the plane. In the week that followed, reading Fahrenheit 451 was somehow my foremost link to all the places and people I had left behind. It is strange since the book is about a possible future where firemen set fire to houses instead of putting them out. And not just any house, but one with books and with any kind of a free-flow of knowledge in it.

I realised that our relationship to the grasping of knowledge has changed a lot as time has passed. Bradbury was writing about the Age of Information – in which we’re right now living – in 1954. And his prediction rings frighteningly true. In the futuristic world he creates in Fahrenheit 451, people don’t have families but ‘parlour families’. Parlour families are wall-sized TV screens on all four walls of the parlour with virtual family members in them. A virtual family who tells you how special you are, how important, and keeps you occupied and updated with gossip and news. On train, bus, and subway rides, a recurring jingle keeps the mind’s attention on the surface, not allowing it to go deep inside. Billboards are 200-feet long and wide. People no longer think, read or have conversations.

They’re slowly being emptied of their essence, their minds are nothing but sieves. And this army of empty individuals is hell-bent on keeping the emptiness intact so that the monster of feeling doesn’t disrupt the order of things. They will do everything to stay distracted, to not pay attention, to not know.

In Captain Beatty’s words:

We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind.”

The story is about Guy Montag, a fireman, who is suddenly jerked awake to the reality of his world due to a series of incidents. These incidents make him realise that he isn’t happy despite all the fun parks and the culture of titillation that the city provides. No longer could the jingles and colourful visuals that form the empty clanking of his surroundings drown the war within himself.

But there is another, larger, war that is taking place outside the many Montags of different realities and worlds. What will the war bring? What do wars always bring?

However, Montag soon learns from his wiser, yet equally terrified guide, Faber, that saving the physical books in itself is not enough. Aren’t wars being waged even now when men and governments have free access to books and all knowledge? What needs to be saved and understood and taken into ourselves is what the books really say. Aren’t we all just hoarding sources of knowledge without really taking any knowledge in? In approaching the future, we’re approaching another Dark Age, I am convinced. But Bradbury convinces the reader that after every age of darkness, there is an age of light. And that even if they burn all the books, they can’t burn the books that have become a part of us. As long as we strive to remember.

‘Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as you’d drop dead in the next ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that, shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass!’”

And for this reason, Fahrenheit 451 has been a reassuring read.

Back in the city, I met Revati and we were in the company of books once more. And yet again, I ended up picking up a book in which books were being burnt. What cosmic sign is this? Until the next review!

Book review: The Perfect Groom

Title: The Perfect Groomthe-perfect-groom-NEW
Author: Sumeetha Manikandan
Publisher: Indireads Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-927826-14-0
Genre: Chick Lit
Pages: 122
Rating: 2/5

I am reviewing The Perfect Groom as part of the Indireads Reviewer Program. I feel this initiative is great as it encourages dialogue between writers and readers.

The Perfect Groom is the story of Nithya, a young Indian girl who comes from a poor family, and how she finds her perfect groom. In the first chapter itself, the reader learns that Nithya is stuck in a bad marriage, just like her mother was. Also, Nithya’s marriage is arranged by her cunning uncle, just like her mother’s was arranged by her cunning step-mother. For me, there is excess drama in this situation.

Nithya is any other girl who, despite her poor background,has somehow managed to finish her studies in the field she wanted to. Only, even after she gets married, she finds herself stuck in another situation and chooses to stay stuck in it for her mother and her sister’s sake. But there is nothing else you know about Nithya the person. She’s the heroine, that’s it. Her mother’s character is stereotypical, too: a poor and helpless woman who has a drunkard for a husband and two daughters. The younger daughter is better off since the mother and the elder daughter have protected and provided for her.The family is, therefore, constantly kept in a state where they are at the mercy of others and need rescuing.

Most characters in the book are flat: they’re either black or white, good or evil. There are no grey shades or depth to them. Even Nithya, the protagonist, gets out of her situation, not because she does something but because the difficult situation gets resolved by itself.

Around 30 pages into the book and the reader, unfortunately, starts getting a hint of what the twist is going to be about. Still, one continues to read till the end to find out whether what they’re thinking is right. The book is mostly well written and free of superfluous language, except for a few clumsy lines like:

He turned around and took my hands in his. A jolt of pleasure went right to my breasts. I looked up and met his eyes. They were alight with remorse and a passion that touched the deep core of my soul.”

The only good thing, I think, about the story is Sumeetha’s treatment of Nithya’s relationship with the hero.

I would recommend this book to someone who is looking for a quick, easy read.

Visit the Indireads website here.

Poem of the week: Week Thirty.

Here’s the second poem of August from Mustansir Dalvi’s poetry book Brouhahas of Cocks. I find this one very relatable!

hardback awakening
– Mustansir Dalvi

The air is thick, and has revived
my books, anticipating the first spell
of a Bombay monsoon.

Ambient moisture has slaked pages
that shuffle and twist, arise
to a wakefulness, unleaving.

Feeling the discomfort of nearness, they push
like Harbour Line commuters in rush hour,
to complain I have neglected them too long.

At night, I am shaken by a poltergeist
Thud! snapping me out of a dream state.
I pull on my glasses, feel my way to the bookshelves.

The hardbacks wait for me, annoyed.
They fall on their sides, open wide
and like Gabriel, call upon me: ‘Read!’
they cry, ‘Read!’

***

Book review: One Hundred Years of Solitude

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Title: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Author: Gabriel García Márquez
Translator: Gregory Rabassa
Publisher: Penguin Group
ISBN: 978-0-140-157512
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 422
Rating: 5/5

One Hundred Years of Solitude: the giant, the Classic, hyped, according to some. Well, as many people, as many opinions. I am sharing here my experience of reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, at last. It was difficult to read the book with the things I’d heard about it playing in my head: about how great it is, about it being Márquez’s masterpiece, and most importantly, about it being a literary masterpiece. So, at one point, tired of this distress in my head, I decided to shun all the hearsay and plunge into it head first. And I did.

I was struck by the peculiarity of the place, and the people and their behaviour. And I guess that was because the Colombians are different from the sort of people I know. My point is, Gabriel García Márquez’s description of the people is honest, straightforward. And don’t we all love a writer without an air of pretense about him? I do.

I was also struck by the freshness of Macondo. The novel is set in the fictional town of Macondo, which is founded by José Arcadio Buendía. The initial days after the founding of Macondo are like a dream. It is an ‘orderly, hardworking, and happy village’, and the reader will find himself hoping that nothing would happen to this romantic setting, where people are, most importantly, among other things, happy.

But of course, things happen, like they happened to Colombia. Slowly, Macondo gets exposed to the outside world: the gypsies, the progress (with the coming of the railway track), the war, and finally, the company. The dreaded company. With each such progression, I felt for Macondo and its people. A little research and I could relate Macondo and its people to Colombia and the Colombians; and though I learned at University that all colonialisms are not the same, I found myself associating the slow, ultimate decadence of Macondo’s people to India and her people as well.

All the historical events that happen in the novel: from Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s Civil War to the Treaty of Neerlandia, from the coming of the Banana Company to the massacre of the labourers, are depicted with much recklessness of feeling, and have an impact on the reader. And what helps Marquéz to convey his contempt and his helplessness is Magic Realism. The fantastical elements Marquéz uses are devices to show in his characters the effects of war, and of governments and of people in black coats. This is how truth gets a chance in fiction; the real effects and consequences of history on the psyche of a people get a chance. No amount of historical records, especially those found in school textbooks, can convey what Marquéz manages to convey through One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is why it is a classic and a masterpiece.

This passage is about the massacre that took place in Ciénaga, Colombia. (the number of casualties of this massacre has never been confirmed):

“‘One more minute and we’ll open fire.”

“‘You bastards!” he shouted. “Take the extra minute and stick it up your ass!”

After his shout something happened that did not bring on fright but a kind of hallucination. The captain gave the order to fire and fourteen machine guns answered at once. But it all seemed like a farce. It was as if the machine guns had been loaded with caps, because their panting rattle could be heard and their incandescent spitting could be seen, but not the slightest reaction was perceived, not a cry, not even a sigh among the compact crowd that seemed petrified by an instantaneous invulnerability. Suddenly, on one side of the station, a cry of death tore open the enchantment. “Aaaagh, Mother.” A seismic voice, a volcanic breath, the roar of cataclysm broke out in the center of the crowd with a great potential of expansion. José Arcadio Segundo barely had time to pick up the child while the mother with the other one was swallowed up by the crowd that swirled about in panic.”

Is it just me or does the passage resonate the Jallianwala Bagh massacre?

Moving on, many of the aspects One Hundred Years of Solitude reminded me of Midnight’s Children. Like Marquéz, Rushdie, too, deals with a history that has been concealed, twisted, and manipulated. It is ironic that these fantastical books are our best authentic source to experiencing historical reality.

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