Wednesday 28 August 2013

[Book Review] Chetan Bhagat's Two States

I recently read Chetan Bhagat's novel Two States (2009).
The book was highly recommended by a friend and since I had moderately liked Five Point Someone and One night at the Call Centre, I was rather curious to read it.
The novel is autobiographical by the writer's own admission and is inspired by his marriage to Anusha Suryanarayanan. The name of the 'hero' Krish is reminiscent of Hari from Five Point Someone. Krish is a Punjabi, who again studied at IIT.

Well the positives first.

It is a realistic, first hand account of student life and of the campus recruitment process in India. The book aims to outline the complications arising from love marriage in India with the added complications of an Interstate union. Bhagat begins with an intense focus on the two people in love and then slowly pans the camera as it were, to introduce the family members on either side, one by one.

It is commendable that the writer has devoted only a few pages to the boy-meets-girl-falls-in-love part and devotes the rest of the narration to familial conflicts that arise. Bhagat accentuates an important nuance of marriages in India - marriages here are not just between two individuals, but between two entire families.

If I were to accord percentages to the handling of different interactions within the story - it would go something like this -
Girl and boy- 50%
Girl's family description -25%
Boy's family description- 15%
Boy's experiences in Chennai - 10%

I believe, like most others that, for a novel to be credible it must have characters that are realistic. CB seems to have devoted all of his attention to the two main characters in the book. Other than them, it is disappointing to find stereotyped characters floating all over the book, who had no substance to themselves.

The second glaring disappointment in the book is the lack of adequate research about the language and practices of the Tambrahm community. He ought to have paid closer attention to the transliteration of Tamizh words that dot the book. There are quite a few misspellings too of very commonly used words. 

Yet, despite the literati lament, writers like him will rise and flourish as they cater to an emerging and ever growing audience that values light reading over literary merit.

Thursday 22 August 2013

[Blog] Visa Vista

Have any of you taken leave right in the middle of school just for travel? Well I have done so not just once but many times...

The good old days...

You see, my father did not believe in advance booking of tickets the in summer vacation– he was all for travel in off season- his logic was –that everything was easier this way - less queues, less people everywhere and most of all the weather would be good –so, I would take off, right in the middle of the academic year, citing the death of an already dead grandparent - my poor grandparents- how often have they died for me!

Travel after marriage became infrequent as my husband unlike my father believed in full attendance for my son. So we went back to travelling like normal people in peak summer and soon gave it up for all the obvious reasons.

Then came Facebook...

Firstly it lets you tell everyone where you are and drops a pin on all the places you have visited on a map – I am not usually jealous but, the evil demon enters my heart especially when a friend boasts of a 100 pins on her map.

Secondly my friends post an insane number of photographs of their travel to exotic locations. There are photographs of people in mid air- so I told myself I can’t manage the mid air pose but I certainly can get one against an amazing backdrop... So I took to travelling. I don’t know why but despite experiencing the travails with visa & immigration I still happily pack my bags in readiness for travel.

Recently I visited a new country. The airport was small with a compact waiting area with many shops close at hand. Best of all there was high-speed free internet- I hurriedly accessed Facebook. replied to emails and called my son for free on Skype. I spoke to him for a while – would have spoken longer but he had a pressing engagement -- he wanted to finish the film he was watching.

I quickly calculated the money I had saved in making free phone calls and thought I had earned for self and husband 2 large mugs of Costa coffee. We drank the coffee taking in the ambiance, when my husband suddenly realized that we still needed to complete immigration.

We reached a large hall where there were several queues – we were directed to the first, which was seemingly small. I saw a sign to the left – which read visa in 3 easy steps-

Step one - complete the form;
Step two - eye scan;
Step three - pay the fee.

"Wow!" I thought, "it can't get easier than this..."

In a few minutes I noticed that the serpentine queues to my right were actually vanishing in a jiffy while mine was moving very slowly. I wanted to be the clever Indian and join the fast vanishing queue but my husband whispered in annoyance –that’s for local residents. Finally we reached the counter and I greeted the officer with all the charm I could muster but he was unmoved and all he was interested in, was my husband’s designation. It was only after he verified this did he hand us the form. We filled the form very carefully as the slightest mistake would lead us back to the end of the queue.

We then went for the eye scan- where I had to sit in a low seat and dilate my eyes and stare at a camera that was a little away. Now I have had eye scans before with my gentle and considerate ophthalmologist. Therefore, I was quite taken aback to see a uniformed policeman conducting the test. The official was in animated conversation with his friend in the next seat and was barking instructions at me now and then – he would say right and then left and then right and left – this went on for some time –and I made good use of my training in classical Indian dance (Bharathanatyam) – but it didn’t help much as the official was dissatisfied with the outcome and made me dance some more.

Anyway as I left the room I was distracted by the picture of a monster in the official’s computer and wondered why he would keep such a picture -- but all too soon it dawned on me that it was actually a picture of me taking the eye scan.

I was heart broken and I dejectedly re joined the queue. After what seemed like an eternity I reached the officer who fed our particulars into a computer (I fumbled for my purse to take out the fee for step three) but he nonchalantly waved us to wait.

Finally, six hours after landing, we walked out of the airport.

A great realization has now dawned on me -- for travel one needs energy, patience and a dogged determination and as I am low in all of these attributes I have devised a new plan...

I have identified a photographer at the local studio who has agreed to photoshop my pictures against any background I desire.

Now I am on the look out for someone who will fake the location pins on my face book page.
Can anyone help me?

Monday 19 August 2013

[Translation] Bharathiyaar's dramatic monologue: Kani kandavan tholurikka kaathirupeno?

Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathi was a journalist, poet, nationalist and a social reformer. He has written thousands of verses on extremely diverse themes-- ranging from Indian Nationalism, the Mahabharat, the glory of the Tamil language, odes to prominent Indian freedom fighters, to love songs, children's songs and songs of nature.

His poems display a patriotic fervour and his love poetry Kannan padalgal with the theme of Krishna are well loved and popularised by films and by carnatic musicians. But Bharathy also wrote equally moving erotic love poetry. When I translated the following piece I was reminded of John Donne's Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed”

Off with that girdle, like heaven’s zone glistering,

But a far fairer world encompassing.

Unpin that spangled breastplate, which you wear

That th’eyes of busy fools may be stopped there:

Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime

Tells me from you that now it is bed time.

-- From “Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed”:
In this dramatic monologue Bharathy displays a similar, rakish eagerness to tear away the veil from his mistress' face. He starts off by condemning the practice of veiling the face and we are made aware of his auditor's presence when Bharathy directly addresses her in the middle of the poem.

Dilli thurukargal seitha vazhakkam -- Pengal
Thiraiyittu mugamalar maraithu vaithal;
Valliyidaiyinaiyum Ongimunnirkkum -- indha
Maarbaiyum mooduvathu sathirankandaai
Valliyidaiyinaiyum maarbirandaiyum -- thuni
Maraitha naalazhagu maraidhadillai;
Solli therivadillai, manmadhakalai --mughach
Jothi maraithumoru kaadhalingundo?

Aariya munnerigal menmaiyengindrai? -- pandai
Aariya pengalukku thiraigal undo?
Oriru muraikandu pazhagiyapin --verum
Opukku kaatuvathin naanamennadi?
Yaarirunth thennaiyingu thadhuthiduvaar?-- valu
Vaaga mugathiraiyai agatrivittal?
Kariya millaiyadi veenpasapile -- kani
Kandavan tholurikka kathirupeno?


The Delhi Turks popularised the practice- of veiling
Women, hiding their efflorescent face;
How pointless the custom, that covers,
A slender waist and the raised upward thrust
Of these breasts
No cloth could successfully hide the beauty
Of your narrow waist and the two breasts
The art of wooing can never be taught – can
Love blossom with the lustrous face hidden thus?

You’re all praise for old Aryan norms; Did ancient
Aryan women cover themselves so?
Have we not met a couple of times now- why
Then this sudden show of coyness for customs' sake?
Who do you think is here to prevent me - from
Flinging open that veil?
Off with this needless banter lass --having sighted
The fruit, would I pause ere I peel off the skin?

[Translation] ஆண்டாளின் நாச்சியார் திருமொழி - கற்பூரம் நாறுமோ

    What form does bhakti take? In deep veneration it evokes intense spirituality. Can one express romantic love towards the divine? Great s...