Sunday, March 29, 2015

Kazuo Ishiguro - The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the DayThe Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Published by Faber and Faber
Bought @ Kindle Store,

Sometimes you pick the best of a novelist on the first go, and it spoils you for the rest of his works. I read Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" first. It was such a beautiful book, that I loved it despite its depressing theme. I read "When we were orphans" next and I could not bring myself to like it much.

"The Remains of the Day" reads like the diary of a butler, Stevens, who has served at a great house, Darlington Hall, for many years. His former employer figured prominently in the political events leading up to the second world war. Lord Darlington died and the estate was purchased by an American Mr. Farraday.

A letter by a former female colleague of Stevens, Miss Kenton, sets Stevens off on a road trip through the countryside. His ostensible purpose is to see if Miss Kenton would like back her job as a Housekeeper of Darlington Hall. During the course of the journey, as we get deeper into the head of Stevens, we discover that the true purpose of the visit could be some hidden emotion in the heart of a seemingly cold and professional butler.

The story unfolds gradually, in a series of related incidents that move forward and backward in time. It is beautifully written, as are all the books of Kazuo Ishiguro, at least the ones that I have read.

The emotions that Stevens experiences are so understated that they are in the danger of being passed over by a reader in a hurry. As the book is in the first person, and Stevens is a taciturn man, the emotions cannot be conveyed in a direct manner. I felt that the book would be best made into a movie, where the expressions of the actors could speak louder than words.

It was made into an acclaimed movie, by the accounts of it. I have not seen the movie, though I am very eager to do so. I can only imagine how good Sir Anthony Hopkins can be in the role of the stiff-necked Butler who refuses to give in to his emotions.

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Karthika Nair - Satyavati

SatyavatiSatyavati by Karthika Naïr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Published by Harper Collins
Bought @ Kindle Store,

I read an extract of Karthika Nair's epic poem (to be published) 'Until the Lions'. It was such a powerful poem, that I set about finding out more about the author and her works.

The title of the (forthcoming) book is taken from this famous saying "Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter." by Chinua Achebe. Most of our epics wax eloquent about bravery and gallantry of God-like warriors. The voice of minor characters is often drowned out.

Karthika Nair attempts to re-tell the tale in the voice of other characters, in this instance, Satyavati. A high born maiden raised by a low born father, Satyavati was destined for great things. She had only her beauty to buy herself a better life, and she learned fast how to use it.

This short excerpt, sold on kindle, is an excellent example of Nair's talent. I cannot wait for the book to be out.

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I H Laking - What went wrong with Mrs. Milliard's Mech

What Went Wrong With Mrs Milliard's Mech?What Went Wrong With Mrs Milliard's Mech? by I.H. Laking
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Inspector Amrose Aramis is a detective who likes to be very precise while solving crimes. His partner, Detective Percy, seems like a bumbling fellow, but is a very able person who knows just when to rise to the occasion.

This book is quite slim. I have it on my kindle, so it is hard for me tell how many pages it contains, precisely. But I got through it very fast. It was like a longish short story, or a short novella. It was actually refreshing to be able for finish a book fast and not get drowned in too many details.

The writing is not too fine, but thankfully, it is simple.

The good inspector is called upon by Mrs. Milliard who has a singular problem. Her Mech (a kind of a robot) has stopped producing the tasty pies it was programmed for. She is losing her business fast and is in deep trouble as she may have to sell her diner at a great loss.

After a series of investigation, Ambrose solves the crime. In a juvenile sort of a way, the book was okay. It was not anything great, but nothing too horrendous either.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Syed Agha Hasan Amanat Lakhnavi - Inder Sabha

Inder SabhaInder Sabha by Syed Agha Hasan 'Amanat"
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Koi pyar ki dekhe jadugari, Gulfam ko mil gayi Sabz Pari", I was listening to this song for the umpteenth time a year or two ago when I found myself wondering about Gulfam and Sabz Pari. I had never heard about this romantic couple ever, were they some kind of legendary lovers? Like Laila and Majnu, Shirin and Farhad, Heer and Ranjha? On an impulse I googled them, thinking I would be led to some story about star crossed lovers. I was instead directed to a play called Indra Sabha often performed in the court of Wajid Ali Shah. I got a bit jumbled up at this point. I got the impression that the play was written by the erstwhile Nawab of Oudh. With this faulty information, it was no surprise that my attempts to look up any more information about this play failed.

Two months ago, on Twitter, I read a tweet about a play by Amanat Lakhnavi called Inder Sabha that set my antenna abuzz. This was just what I had been chasing, and I lost no time in asking the tweeter if the book was available anywhere. I got a reply that it was possible as it had been performed on stage in German language. This time round, armed with the name of the author and the modified spelling of his work, I was able to locate the book easily. To my joy, it was available in Hindi script for a mere Rs.90/- at A quick order followed, and in a few days time, the book was in my hands.

This is how information spreads. A popular work of art (literature, poetry or painting) remains in the mind of another artist and gets a mention in his work. This is how esoteric works of poets like Rumi, Bulle Shah, Waris Shah, Amir Khusro and Amanat Lakhnavi have been handed down the generations. Sahir Ludhianvi and Gulzar have famously borrowed poetry from Ghalib and Khusro. The use of the names of Gulfam and Sabz Pari by Shakeel Badayuni in 1960 led me to this gem of a book in 2015. I hope my poor attempt at describing Inder Sabha will lead discerning readers to this book.

It is a slim book of 74 pages, 13 of which are reserved for the introduction, index and such. The drama itself is spread out in 60 pages. The story is about the grand court of Raja Inder in Heaven where lovely fairies dance and sing. No mortal is allowed to enjoy the beauties of this festival.

There are four celestial Apsaras who perform at the gathering - Sabha - of Raja Inder. They are Pukhraj Pari, Neelam Pari, Lal Pari and Sabz Pari. Each Pari is introduced to the assembly by a verse. She is attired according to her name, and is, of course, very beautiful. She sings a ghazal, a holi a chhand, a thumri and several songs. We presume she dances as well.

Sabz Pari is the last of the Apsaras to come on the stage, and the prettiest. She happens to see a mortal prince called Gulfam. She is smitten instantly by his beauty and has him abducted to her palace. Gulfam is initially confused by the goings on, but when he learns she is a Pari, begs her to be allowed to watch the festivities. A member of the court complains to Raja Inder about the mortal intruder, and Sabz Pari's hand in it. For her transgression, Sabz Pari is banished and Gulfam is thrown in jail. Can Sabz Pari save Gulfam? Will she be accepted back and allowed to consort with a mortal? How can she put her case forward to the king when she cannot appear before him?

As for the content of the musical, between them, the four Paris sing 31 ghazals, 9 thumris, 4 holis, 2 chaubolas, 5 chhands and 15 songs. It is a musical opus, no less. The poetry is not always top class but it is always charming. The language is Hindi-Urdu, hence it is not difficult for a person with a little knowledge of Urdu to understand most of it. Some of the Urdu words are translated at the end of the page for our ready reference. At some point of time, in my opinion, the author got a little carried away by the task at hand and failed to provide meanings to the difficult Urdu words. These can be checked online easily, thanks to the plethora of Urdu dictionaries on the Internet.

Amanat Lakhnavi was a contemporary of Wajid Ali Shah. He started writing poetry at the age of nine years. When he was young, an illness took away his ability to speak. He regained his speech much later during a visit to Iraq, but he was plagued with a stutter. His speech impediment turned him into a recluse. A friend of his, Haji Mirza Abid Ali 'Ibadat', was "आशिके कलामे अमानत" (lover of Amanat's poetry). He advised Amanat to get out of his depression by composing a musical which would be a source of joy to the viewers. This set Amanat on to creating Inder Sabha. It was performed first in 1853 in the court of Wajid Ali Shah. Thenceforth, it was performed annually in his court. Later, it was performed for common people as well and became so popular that several theater groups performed it in various places. After his untimely death, his son compiled his works into a book called 'Amanat'.

I am led to believe that the grand movie Indrasabha (1932) - which holds the record for highest number of songs ever (69) - was also based on this book. The print of the movie is perhaps destroyed. It is not available either on dvd or youtube. A sad loss.

This book has been edited by Dr. Krishan Dev Jhari. He has also written a very entertaining and an informative foreword to it. We have to thank him for bringing a treasure like this to our notice. Drama was a vocal tradition in the days of yore. We are very fortunate that it has survived the vagaries of time and appeared in print. Dr. Jhari has edited several books in Hindi, but there is no further information available about him.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Rupa Gulab - Simi's Mum's Diary : The Daughter of all battles

Simi's Mum's Diary: The Daughter of all battlesSimi's Mum's Diary: The Daughter of all battles by Rupa Gulab
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Parenting is not always fun. There are times when you want to wring the neck of your offspring. Luckily such impulses play out more in the heads of irate parents, else we would be known as a nation of child-killers as well.

Children are supposed to be at their intractable worse when they are in their teens. Simi is 20 when the book opens but it's obvious she is still very difficult. She is a snarly, selfish brat who loves to put down her Mum at every opportunity she gets.

Simi is in the final year of college and sweet on an insufferable twerp. Simi's Mum and Dad try to adjust with the boyfriend, but find it very hard to put up with his airs and culinary demands. They are relived when the pair breaks up, but soon are rocked by another crisis when Simi is found chanting Buddhist mantras.

The book is a mild satire on the current political situation in our country and in the publishing industry. Volunteer work done by cap wearing enthusiasts, and a publisher desperate to publish a badly written book about a young man's angst in hopes of landing the next best seller, are situations that sound very familiar to us.

The book is primarily about how Simi finds her feet after landing in one mess after the other, or so her parents think.

The book keeps its tone light and is very funny. It could have fallen into the trap of being episodic, but avoids that as it is knit together well. There are very few main characters (which is a good thing) and they are well fleshed. The anxious mother aka Simi's Mum, Rohit aka Simi's Dad, Philo their cook, The Gigglies - Simi's besties are all charming characters.

I do wish Simi had been a bit less snarly. She does settle down in the end, but during the book - oh! I wanted to shake her at times.

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