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Gently Falls the Bakula – Sudha Murty

Gently Falls
Thanks to Priya Iyer for the suggestion.

It was a wonderful read, so much so that I bought the book on Friday evening and finished reading it by Sunday afternoon. I was not too taken in by the earlier Sudha Murty book I read – Wise and Otherwise. But this one was very poignant. I could relate to it at several places. For the storyline, I won’t venture to put up a spoiler. There is a good synopsis without a spoiler here.

The characters of Shrimati and Prof Collins appealed to me immensely. The passion they exhibit for what they love is so touching. The stoicism of Shrimati is something that moved me. Shrikant’s character too, in a certain sense, symbolized what many go through at times – have mistaken notions of real purposes in life.

The narration is very engaging. To me, the book,  sheerly for its storyline and the connect I could make with it, would be there amidst my few all-time favourites. I don’t intend to venture into writing pages on it. The book has to be experienced.

Sathej

The Bridges of Madison County – Robert James Waller

Thanks are due first to Priya Iyer who suggested this book to me. Quite a great deal outside my usual reading. Finished reading this more than 3 months back. Writing a review only now. Good that I took some notes and also had a soft copy in my GMail Sent folder, so it was helpful. Otherwise, no way I could do justice to the book in this review.

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The book touched me a lot as a whole. The narrator’s passion is evident. I propose to dwell on my notes here and hence would largely give my impressions of various parts of the book, rather than embark on a story-telling venture. Its been made into a film as well. I actually started writing a short summary but then realized that the  narration by me turned out to be a complete trivialization of the character of the story. I’ll rather refer people to here if they want to get the story.

I now proceed to give glimpses of those lines and parts of the book that so appealed to me.

Dogs, local library, travel – these are the first three words in my notes. Yes, those were the passions of Robert, who was largely a loner. Apart from photography, of course. ‘Light was what he photographed’ – a nice way of putting it. And then, there is this beautiful thread running throughout the book – elucidating the essence of art. I could so relate to it.

‘Analysis destroys wholes. Some things, some magic things are meant to stay whole. If you look at their pieces, they go away.’ – How beautifully said! I perceived an irony – me taking notes and even analyzing the book and writing a review destroys the ‘wholeness’ of the book.

Another beautiful remark on art and commercialization and about markets killing artistic passion. Am so passionate about art and hence could see the unmistakable truth in this.

Francesca at one point says that high school boys think ‘poetry is the product of unsteady masculinity’ and that its untrue. How nicely put into words. This has struck me personally too at various stages in life as to why poetry is viewed in that way. I personally do not subscribe to that view. But the way its been put into words is really nice.

The way Robert ends a letter to Francesca with a PS talking about a new engine he installed in Harry – his truck, was so realistic. I could relate with it. How often do I write on such trivial things to close friends..sharing, thats what its about.

‘In a universe of ambiguity, this kind of certainty comes only once, and never again, no matter how many lifetimes you live.’ – Need I say anything about this line! ?Powerful!

Francesca writes in her letter she leaves behind to her children – ‘Robert believed the world had become too rational, stopped trusting in magic as much as it should’. And then Richard saying to Francesca, before his death, about not being able to give her, her dreams and being sorry for that. And that was the most touching moment in their married life.

‘Dead end branch of evolution, the last cowboy, a vague sense of tragedy about him’ – these are really touching descriptions of Robert. It stirred up emotions in me, and still do.

Some parts of the book have pronounced  metaphysical allusions such as Euclidean parallelness in constancy and so on.

And the ending parts of the book where the writer meets a Jazz musician completely swept me off my feet. I can’t say more. It has to be experienced. When he talks about how a musician plays a tune he’s played a thousand times before, and suddenly a whole set of new ideas come out, without ever going through the conscious mind, and so on, those were so poignant. Period.

Shall stop here.

This was one book that affected me deeply. The theme of the book was fine. But the way Waller has done an exposition with it, is so touching. Sensitivity in the writing and ability to put words to certain feelings in life, made this book a very poignant read for me.

Sathej

Hyperbole – its use, appeal, necessity(?) and effectiveness

A hyperbole is primarily a usage that dwells on exaggeration. A poetic exaggeration, so to say. The very first line that comes to mind, every time I think of a hyperbole (or infact every time I think of a literary device) is – Ten thousand saw I at a glance..from the ever green poem Daffodils of Wordsworth. On a side note, the way he puts it later in the poem –

‘For oft, when on my couch I lie,

In vacant or in pensive mood’

is so haunting. Maybe, I shall write about the poem later sometime! Such detours might prove to be a common feature in these posts, I apologise!🙂

So, coming back to a hyperbole, the word has a seemingly etymological origin in the Greek language from a word that means ‘to throw over or beyond.’ It is supposedly a cognate (cognates are words that have similar etymological origins) of the mathematical ‘hyperbola’ (presumably because the arms of the hyperbola often appear to overshoot!?:)).

The occurrence of hyperboles is remarkably numerous in works of literature, be it poetry, drama or prosody. Am not resorting to any explanation, but merely giving a few illustrations of hyperboles from well known poems..

Alack, it was I who leaped at the sun
To give it my loving friends to keep!

                                      – from The Patriot, Robert Browning

Rose a nurse of ninety years,
Set his child upon her knee–
Like summer tempest came her tears–
‘Sweet my child, I live for thee.’     
                               

    – from ‘Home they brought her warrior dead’ – Tennyson

स्वर्ग के सम्राट को जाकर खबर कर दे-
रोज ही आकाश चढ़ते जा रहे हैं वे,

                            – from Chand Aur Kavi by Ramdhari Sinh Dinakar

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
 
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.
              
                                           – from Jerusalem by William Blake
Shakespearan dramas abound in hyperboles.
His legs bestrid the ocean: his reared arm
Crested the world.                                                 
 – from Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra praising the dead Antony.
Several illustrations may be provided. Infact, hyperboles are abundant in literature of almost all languages.

Ever since childhood, we are exposed to them, courtesy stories narrated to us. They teem with hyperboles. Perhaps, they are incorporated and woven into the stories so as to enable a child, that evidently has limited capabilities of perception with regard to sense of proportion, to get a better feel of the story. For instance, as an adult with an appreciable degree of maturity, we would comprehend if someone said ‘Macbeth was immensely brave’, but a child perhaps no reference to quantify bravery. And so some qualification like ‘he was so brave as to be able to defeat an entire army on his own’ would convey the message. And this is clearly a hyper-hyperbole, if one may call it so🙂

With regard to the use of hyperbole, it helps lend a powerful effect to the flow of the poem/prose and makes a striking impression on the reader. However, in my opinion, the effect is beautiful only if there is a gradual building-up thats carefully done and then having it culminate in a subtle hyperbole. Am reminded of a comment by a reputed Hindusthani Music Vidwan that I happened to read in a music forum a few days back – The Vidwan, as is usual in the Hindusthani tradition, built up a Ragam phrase by phrase and finally erected a beautiful edifice and as the crowning glory, just started playing a particularly beautiful phrase and there was resounding applause in the hall. The Vidwan remarked with a tinge of sadness ‘I built up the Ragam for the whole hour painstakingly, just for this moment of crowning glory, and none of you people heard it in the midst of all the applause!’

For instance,

Fools! For I also had my hour; 
One far fierce hour and sweet: 
There was a shout about my ears, 
And palms before my feet.
  

                             – from The Donkey by Chesterton

Here, Chesterton sedulously builds up the repulsive image of a donkey which we are all anyway, used to (incidentally the poem is a narration from the perspective of a donkey, an autobiography, so to speak!) and then suddenly in the final stanza has the donkey address the humans as fools! This may not be a strict hyperbole as such (:-)), but the effect is definitely one! By the way, the reference above – ‘I also had my hour’ is to the incident of the donkey carrying Baby Jesus. I still recall having read this poem in school in my tenth class or so, and being impressed with the power behind this stanza!

On the flip side, when too many hyperboles are encountered, one after the other, it appears to suffocate me. To me, it paints a picture lacking too much in reality (though art is meant to depict reality and beyond) and creates a challenging situation for me, and I end up dismissing it, as I find it hard to believe. In my opinion, such excessive hyperboles tend to result in an ‘effect’ rather than an ‘appeal’ and those are very different. Art is more powerful when it appeals to me, rather than strike me in the face. In addition, it seems like too-powerful a treatment being meted out to a delicate art – writing.

An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
                

  – from To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Here, Marvell praises his protagonist a bit excessively. Infact, the entire poem is filled with such hyperboles and it doesn’t quite convey the message in an appealing manner to me.

Too many hyperboles may also not enhance reader interest in the sense that they may create an unjustified expectation of the character/situation that is being elucidated by the hyperbole and may eventually result in a let-down if that expectation is not fully met (and it is not likely that the expectation would be met in full measure, as the excessive hyperboles had overshot reality by a great deal) and may actually result in an anti-climax or a let-down eventually for the reader.

I don’t intend to make the post too long. So, I shall stop here.

 I understand that one can go on about these topics. But these posts are of course, not meant to be exhuastive, by any sense of the word. Just a place to put down my impressions. Hope it was atleast mildly informative. Hope to be regular with the posts..

Sathej

 

Some beginning….

Thought of something yesterday. To revive this long-since-updated book blog of mine.

I have this vague proposition. I shall write once in 2-3 days on some arbitrary topic related to literature. Topics may range from as generic as Influence of writer’s life on a literary work to something as specific as analyzing some given poem/essay threadbare. Of course, this is no substitute to standard texts on critical analysis or on literary appreciation, but just a place for me to write what I feel on some topic. An added selfish motive exists – I have this hope that I would persist it with reasonably well and in the process, devote atleast half an hour a day to thinking and reading about the topic and it would help!🙂 Any analytical post , say analyzing some work, would be limited to looking at short works – say a poem/essay/a particular aspect in a book/a literary device/a specific writer, his/her life and works et al.

References would of course be made exhaustively using the internet/other sources and hence no originality is claimed. All subjective opinions that would be mine would be pointed out to be so.

Me having done a few courses on Short Stories and Poetry in English Literature, Introduction to Western Classics and so on, would of course help, I believe.

I understand that being regular and devoting time to thinking about this would prove to be challenging in the midst of overwhelmingly several things staring me in the face in the days ahead, but then half an hour a day, I hope to spend for this, and post atleast once in 2-3 days.

Lets see how this goes..

All updates would be made here henceforth with regard to this series. For a beginning, I hope to write in the next two days about Hyperboles in Poetry, their necessity(?) and effects.

Sathej

Ladies Coupe – Anita Nair

Completed this book in a little more than a week.

The book, to me, looked to be dwelling on an extremely promising theme. However, it oscillated on more than a few occasions. The beginning was good, he middle parts, though a bit circumlocutory were still good, but the ending parts did not appeal too much to me.

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Akhila is a 45 year old woman who is a spinster after having spent the prime of her youth in caring for her family – two younger brothers, a younger sister and her mother, after they lost their father. She has her own anxieties, desires, worries, hopes and aspirations in life. The book is essentially on a train journey she undertakes to Kanyakumari with the hopes of making decisions to freshen up her life. She meets five women on her way in her Ladies coupe (a feature that used to exist in Indian trains before 1997, according to Anita Nair  in her post script). She gets to listen to the story of their lives from each one. The distinct triumphs and travails that each woman has undergone. Though at times, some facets border on Bollywoodish ideas, the stories made interesting reading. However, the concluding parts were a bit contrived unnecessarily and to me, it seemed like the theme could have been treated better.

Anyway, a good light read..Gave me some new insights.

Am wondering what to take up next..have a few choices – Heart of Darkness – a short psychological novel of about 110 pages by Joseph Conrad, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee or a book from a different genre – a scientfic book like The Birth and Death of the Sun by George Gamow or My Autobiography by Jawaharlal Nehru. Am slightly inclined to tr out new genre – I have been told by quite a few people including a few Professors (have gone through a few Literature courses at college:)) that one should look to expand one’s reading horizon by getting exposed to varied kinds of books – on history, biographies, culture, science and so on, in addition to reading fiction/non-fiction. So might decide to do that as of now. I also have to take up Atlas Shrugged side by side – hoping to read it slowly over a period of several months. Ayn Rand looks a daunting task indeed🙂

Sathej

PS : Writing and posting this from college in between classes🙂

The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint Exupery

 A small book – just 64 pages. But one that will never get out of my mind for just one thing. It reflects precisely what I feel at so many moments. Exupery is just a brilliant thinker.

the-little-prince

The book initially comes across to a reader as one meant for children – what with the figures et al. But well, its essentially for the child in each one of us. What a writer he is! When books do such things – stir up something in you, what you’ve always been feeling, and the author dwells on those and you know there is that connect, it is always something special. 

Right from the way he starts off with boa constrictor drawings, I had the feeling that this book is one that I long wanted to read. Something that would put down my innermost thoughts, something that I’ve always looked forwrad to in a book. The dilemma the little prince exhibits in his relationship flower is something that always happens with friends. The symbolism of baobabs to represent people who are essentially parasitic is well thought out.

The way Exupery portrays different humanly characters is highly praiseworthy. A power craving king, a conceited man to whom everyone is an admirer, tippler who is trapped in a circular experience of melancholy forever, a business man who understands nothing but figures and who has no ‘use’ for the things that he owns. All along I had a feeling of deja vu as I read the book. Half way through the book, I use the word ‘queer’ to explain the book to a friend by email and there it is – the same word ‘queer’ appearing in the book in the very next page! That was indeed queer! the meticulous lamp-lighter who thinks of something other than himself and the naive geographer who compartmentalizes work.

At times, rather powerfully, Exupery devotes an entire chapter to the ignorant flower in the desert and to the echo – to symbolise people sans imagination.

The Prince’s recollection of his interaction with the fox is very philosophical. Speaks on ‘taming’ – the time it takes for the blossoming of a relationship (One cannot buy friendship at a shop – a statement that means a lot to me for certain reasons), the pain one feels when a true friend leaves and so on. Lines like ‘Words are the source of misunderstanding’ have to be dwelt upon in fair detail – sometimes it may be said for lesser mortals like us – words or the lack of them may be sources of misunderstanding. However, words are a far more potential hazard than the absence of them.

And then a line which would essentially capture the essence of the book – It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essentially invisible to the eye.

The vitality of things lies in their invisibility – invisible to eye, but visible to the heart. The way the Prince enunciates this thought by dwelling on the solitary flower in a garden of flowers is touching. All it takes to make one happy is a small flower, a small drink of water.

A beautiful exchange of lines between the railway switchman and the prince at the sight of hundreds of people travelling to and fro in trains.

“They are pursuing nothing at all,”said the swicthman. “They are asleep in there, or if they are not asleep they are yawning. Only the children are flattening their noses against the window panes.”

 

“Only the children know what they are looking for,” said the little prince. “They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; and if anybody takes it away from them, they cry…”

 

“They are lucky.” the switchman said.

The book has a tinge of well defined melancholy right from the beginning where the prince describes his place as a secret place – the land of tears to the end where the writer takes leave of the prince.

Overall, a book that I treasured reading. I read only an online version of it. I’ll definitely pick it up sometime at the bookshop. A book that kindles your memories, one that makes you feel that there is someone in this wide and vast world who thinks the way you do.

Sathej

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

Firstly, am yet to add the other ‘book-review’ posts in my other blog. Shall do so soon.

This is the first time I am reading Hosseini. I haven’t read The Kite Runner.  Very thankful to Priya Iyer for suggesting it to me.  And I must say there is only word to describe A Thousand Splendid Suns – heart wrenching. It evokes an unmistakable wave of sympathy and emotion with its highly touching narration. The twists and turns that go into sustaining the reader’s interest in such a 400+ page novel are of course very much there. But it is by no means a merely well written story with a realism-tinged plot supplemented with fictitious elements here and there. Beyond all these predictable features, there is a well defined streak of nicety in character portrayal that goes to etch the principal characters of Mariam and Laila distinctly in readers’ minds.

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The story essentially revolves around two women – Mariam and Laila. The hardships and struggles they undergo in an Afghan society and how intriguingly their lives become entwined. The blossoming of a unique bond between the two women that culminates in immense sacrifices is sketched wonderfully. The characters have been developed brilliantly and Mariam leaves a powerful image in the minds of readers for a long time. Infact, the character sketching is so skillfully done that every single character – be it the appealing Mullah Faizullah or the young Aziza (at times one is touched to great extents by her), is integral to the story and leaves a lasting impression.

Some lines from the book that touched me and are close to me….

‘….assault her with insincere kindness.’

When Mariam says to Mullah Faizullah ‘You don’t need excuses (to visit me). Not you’, I could connect so well with it.

– The last words between father and daughter….

‘I thought about you all the time. I used to pray that you’d live to be a hundred years old. I didn’t know. I didn’t know that you were ashamed of me….Don’t come. I won’t see you. Don’t you come. I don’t want to hear from you. Ever. Ever.’

– Mariam’s thoughts at her husband’s place….

She could lie in her cot and tell the time of day by the angle of sunlight pouring through the window. She knew how far her door would open before its hinges creaked….Now all those familiar things were gone….she was here, in a strange city….

She remembered Nana saying that each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman, somewhere in the world.   

I can go on and on like this. Such moving lines are aplenty in the novel.

One feature that slightly disconcerted me was the constant shift in settings in the narration especially in the latter stages of the book. This facet did not seem unavoidable to me.

However, a book that has to be definitely read for its beautiful, simple and soul stirring narration.

Sathej