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!


Poem of the week: Week Forty Five.

For December 2014, I had read Hemant Divate’s चौतिशीपर्यंतच्या कविता, a book of poems in Marathi. The year’s gone but the poems remain to be shared. Here’s the first one:

– हेमंत दिवटे

विस्मरत जातोय
उरत नाही कुठलाही रंग रूप भाषा स्पर्श आणि अर्थ
उरत नाही
ईश्वर आई बाप नातीगोती
मला उरत नाही
जात पात धर्म देश भाषा लिपी
श्वास मन शरीर आणि आत्मा
मी पोहोचतोय
जन्म आणि मृत्यूच्या पल्याड
माहीत नाही मी
जन्मतोय की मरतोय
की पोहोचतोय कुठल्याशा
अनाकलनीय समाधीत



Poem of the week: Week Forty Four.

And here’s the last poem from Hoshang Merchant’s poetry book Love’s Permission.

‘Sunday’ Afternoon
– Hoshang Merchant

Actually, it is Tuesday
But I’ve taken off from work
He, from school

We listen to Ifti Nasim’s ghazals
Read gay poetry from Boston
Discuss Ashok Row’s magazine piece

We have installed ourselves
in a world made by ourselves
with a little help from our friends.

I think of Hockney’s paintings
of his sleeping lovers
They sleep, he paints

My lover sleeps, I write
I shop for bread and cheese
My lover dreams

I cannot enter his dreams
Living together for him began
with a dream of friendship

In his dream a boy became a man
There is no man or woman only love

The poem is complete
The challenge of this once empty page met.


Poem of the week: Week Forty Three.

Here’s the second last poem from Hoshang Merchant’s poetry book Love’s Permission.

Reading Rumi
– Hoshang Merchant

This morning has come whoring
Where are incense and prayer?
The sun is in bed
Outside it is raining
Rumi’s plaint reaches our ears
It frees rivers of ink and tears
Something must sit at centre for this to be
The Master absconds
The pupil sits searching
The sky for an eye
He waters the earth                                 Verses wet
By giving up each one’s brought up bone dry and shining
Each letter a burning jewel
Each jewel a burning wound
Received on the way to Mecca
Dealt by the Beloved’s own son
This morning the darlings are turning
at Konya as they do each mourning
They celebrate the son of the Sun
They call to the Lover to come
So the Beloved can become the bridegroom
Each day is death
Each day is marriage
in this world but not of it
Why then do I
turn to you in bed with wet eye?


Poem of the week: Week Forty Two.

Here’s the second poem from Hoshang Merchant’s poetry collection Love’s Permission.

Evening Song: 17 October 1995.
– Hoshang Merchant

This long evening
When old monuments hide in mist
belongs to me

It longs for all its history
The history of other long evenings
It longs for me

It tells me I’m nothing
That men will come and go
There will always be evenings

Then out steps a shade from the mist
It is not rain; it is memory
Calling to me

It says come back to your history
You were not nothing
You were sent to sing the night

And all the rain of Nohant
Descends on my heard with Chopin
What could he do but sing?

We sing always to shades
To mists and memory and evenings
There are no men everlasting

Only Love, evanescent
That passes hurting us into heart
Making everlasting nights of evenings.



Poem of the week: Week Forty One.

The poet for the month of November is Hoshang Merchant.
And poems  are from his fifth poetry collection Love’s Permission.

Song of the Courtesan
– Hoshang Merchant

I keep house
like a courtesan

I sit writing poems
in bed

I listen to old songs
of the courtesans

Boys who visit
Find here a strange peace

Even if my mood be
bad or sad

Life would go on
without us

But there would be no pleasure
we live as if there was no death

Though daily we die
in bed

Teaching the boys this
I cease to being the old courtesan that
I long to be
and become purely her song.


Poem of the week: Week Forty.

The last post of the month of October is a slightly longish poem from Amrita Pritam’s poetry collection प्रतिनिधि कविताएँ.  
And as promised, the theme is Cities.

एक शहर
– अमृता प्रीतम

वह फ़सल जो सितारो ने बोयी थी
किसने इसे चोर गोदाम में डाल लिया
बादल की बोरी को झाड़कर देखा,
रात की मण्डी में गर्द उड़ रही है

चाँद एक भूखे बछड़े की तरह
सूखे थनों को चिचोड़ रहा है
धरती-मा अपने थान पर बँधी
आकाश की चिरनी को चाट रही है…

अस्पताल के दरवाज़े पर
हक़, सच, ईमान और क़द्र
जाने कितने ही लफ्ज़ बीमार पड़े हैं,
एक भीड़-सी इकटठी हो गयी है

जाने कोई नुस्ख़ा लिखेगा
जाने वह नुस्ख़ा लग जायेगा
लेकिन अभी तो ऐसा लगता है
इनके दिन पूरे हो गये हैं…

इस शहर में एक घर है
घर की जहाँ बेघर रेहते हैं
जिस दिन कोई मज़दूरी नहीं मिलती
उस दिन वे पशेमान होते हैं

बुढ़ापे की पहली रात
उनके कानों में धीरे से कह गयी
कि इस शहर में उनकी
भरी जवानी चोरी हो गयी…

कल रात बला कि सर्दी थी,
आज सुबह सेवा-समिति को
एक लाश सड़क पर पड़ी मिली है,
नाम व पता कुछ भी मालूम नहीं

शमशान में आग जल रही ह
इस लाश पर रोने वाला कोई नहीं
या तो कोई भिखारी मरा होगा
या शायद कोई फ़लसफ़ा मर गया है…

किसी मर्द के आग़ोश में –
कोई लड़की चीख़ उठी
जैसे उसके बदन से कुछ टूट गिरा हो

थाने में एक क़हकहा बुलन्द हुआ
कहवाघर में एक हॅसी बिखर गयी

सड़कों पर कुछ हॉकर फिर रहे हैं
एक-एक पैसे में ख़बर बेच रहे हैं,
बचा-खुचा जिस्म फिर से नोच रहे हैं

गुलमोहर के पेड़ो तले,
लोग एक-दूसरे से मिलते हैं
ज़ोर से हॅसते हैं, गाते हैं,
एक-दूसरे से अपनी-अपनी –
मौत कि ख़बर छुपाना चाहते हैं,
संगमरमर क़ब्र का तावीज़ है,
हाथों पर उठाये-उठाये फिरते हैं,
और अपनी लाश कि हिफ़ाज़त कर रहे हैं…

मशीनें खड़-खड़ कर रही हैं,
शहर जैसे एक छापाखाना है
इस शहर में एक-एक इन्सान
एक-एक अक्षर कि तरह अकेला है

हर पैग़म्बर एक कॉमपॉज़िटर
अक्षर जोड़-जोड़कर देखता है
अक्षरों में अक्षर बुनता है,
कभी कोई फ़िक़रा नहीं बन पाता…

दिल्ली इस शहर का नाम है
कोई भी नाम हो सकता है
(नाम मे क्या रखा है)
भविष्य का सपना रोज रात को
वर्तमान कि मैली चादर
आधी उपर ओढ़ता है,
आधी नीचे बिछाता है,
कितनी देर कुछ सोचता है, जागता है,
फिर नींद की गोली खा लेता है


Poem of the week: Week Thirty Nine.

It is very difficult to choose just four poems from Amrita Pritam’s प्रतिनिधि कविताएँ. The lines, the images are so many and so removed from clichés that one can’t help but feel amazed at Amrita’s immense talent and hard work.
The last two poems of October are about a theme that fascinates me no end: cities.

– अमृता प्रीतम 

मेरा शहर –
एक लम्बी बहस की तरह है…
सड़कें – बेतुकी दलीलों-सी
और गलियां इस तरह –
जैसे एक बात को
कोई इधर घसीटे कोई उधर

एक मकान
एक मुट्ठी-सा भिंचा हुआदीवरें –
और नालियाँ
ज्यों मुंह से झाग बहती है…

यह बहस जाने
सूरज से शुरू हुई थी
जो उसे देखकर
यह और गरमाती
और हर द्वार के मुंह से
फिर साइकिलों
और स्कूटेरों के पहिये
गालियों की तरह निकलते
और घण्टिया हॉर्न
एक-दूसरे पर झपटते…

जो भी बच्चा
इस शहर में जनमता
पूछता कि किस बात पर
यह बहस हो राही है
फिर उसका प्रश्न भी
एक बहस बनता
बहस में निकलता
बहस में मिलता…

शंख घण्टो के श्वास सुखे
रात आती, सिर पटकती
और चली जाती
पर नींद में भी
बहस खत्म न होती
मेरा शहर
एक लम्बी बहस की तरह है…


Poem of the week: Week Thirty Six.

The last poem from and in Gabriel Preil’s poetry collection Autumn Music

A Summing Up
– Gabriel Preil

I spoke with a tangle-haired forester from Saskatchewan —
and in his words I detected a chorus of trees singing
under the stretched parchment dotted with stars;
I accompanied an artist ablaze with color,
probing mountain and river at sunset —
and on my private horizon burst forth a fire
primeval and untamed, plunging finally into
dormant marble, abundant with sadness;
I saw a monk from Siam, thin and ascetic as a reed,
perched on the spring of oblivion —
like him I was punished by scorpions of memory
and in the pale waters I purified myself;
and when I chanced upon the Greek cook, sober and round,
I learned from his mouth a lesson
of the spoon that stirs without pause
a broth of passion and boredom of the world.


Poem of the week: Week Twenty Nine.

And I’m bang on time posting the first poem of August! This month’s poet is Mustansir Dalvi and poems are from his first collection of poems Brouhahas of Cocks.

Friday mosque in New Bombay
– Mustansir Dalvi

Knees of derelict faithful stained
by the morning’s papers. Pink,
the Economic Times pages
are prayer mats: global stock indices
all face due West.

Half a practice specialized
for those who abjure usury,
the Chartered Accountant
thrusts duties on a greenhorn
doing articleship, rushes out
with a bottle of mineral water
for ablutions.

Neither taps nor electricity. No
Building Completion Certificate –
an old mosque in a new town,
its incomplete frame still exudes
semantic meaning.

The writer of apps for Android
with a heart-shaped goatee,
rad with the pack he runs with,
outsourced like himself
has the approval of an Imam

well versed in the semiotics
of the wary glance,
the throwaway remark, ha ha,
who knows excessive deference
that borders on dread.

The Imam puts his day job first.
But once a week, to everyone’s
dissatisfaction, dismisses his M. Lit. Class
with some sense of urgency,
not to be late for orisons.

At dusk, he raises the call for good work,
punched out on an SMS, and waits
for his diasporic jamaat to come together.

The New Bombay sun does not set, it fades.
The Imam (a Ph.D on Dylan Thomas) prays
against the dying of the light.