It has been an eventful three months. I met some incredible people this year and they have made a dent in my universe- Kambili, the protagonist of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche's "Purple Hibiscus", Okoye, the head of Dora Milaje, the all women security force of Wakanda in the Black panther universe, Indu, a young widow from “Amma Vandhal” who wears her heart on her sleeve and Anne Frank who, with her fiery spirit and audacious mind, continues to draw sympathy, laughter and tears from all realms and makes everyone fall irrevocably in love with her awkward charm . I finally got back to reading and it feels so good like being able to breathe normally after holding it for what seemed like ages. The first few months of 2018 have been kind indeed.
It is not everyday you find a movie that checks all the right boxes and milks the moolah. I'm not the quintessential Marvel-holier-than-DC fan or the other way around. Superhero movies are fun to watch and they are probably the only reason why I like watching them off late. But something or the other always offended me. Be it racial stereotypes or the dumb blonde, I'm easily offended. Well, "Black panther" caught me off guard. The women, Okoye, Naika and Shuri held their own in a movie that pitted men of legacy against each other. Nobody tells the women to back off just because she isn't a man and the women aren't given any concession just because they are women. The movie also throws in a “what if” perspective - what if an African nation was the most powerful nation in the world, even if is an imaginary one? History has been absolutely “whitewashed” and we hardly know anything of Africa before the colonisation. Though this fictional movie didn’t exactly enlighten my knowledge of African history, it definitely did spike my curiosity. I haven't acted upon it yet but coincidentally I was reading a book by a Nigerian author at around the same time I happened to watch the movie.
Firangipani, so Fragrant
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche's “Purple Hibiscus” is just the kind of book you would want to read if you crave for some good chamomile tea, find a corner chair and switch to airplane mode. It felt different to discover how a teenager from a culture completely alien to us go about her daily chores; catch a glimpse of her way of life, the food she eats and her likes and dislikes in course of an intricately crafted story, in this case, the story of fifteen year old Kambili who finds true happiness and freedom in a household not her own. She begins to question the role of her conservative father in her own rich yet curfewed home. What her aunt's home lacks in riches is more than made up for by an animated atmosphere where people speak their mind and find solace in one another. The volatile politics of Nigeria involving military coups, political threats, bribery is also included in the backdrop of the story. A truly remarkable book with a beautifully woven storyline and a compelling narrative!
Life as we know it
I have always wanted to read Anjali Joseph's “Saraswati Park”. I found a second hand copy at Blossoms in a good condition and lunged at it. It is a good book describing the lives of a middle class couple who share their home with a young relative in a quaint neighborhood in suburban Mumbai. The plot is paced slowly so that you might truly savour the writer’s vivid depictions of the everyday mundane. Reading it is an insightful, intimate experience but at times you wonder whether you've outstayed your welcome.
JeMo to the rescue!
Over the course of years, having read the likes of Ponniyin Selvan, Sivagamiyin Sabatham, Parthiban Kanavu (all by Kalki), a few works of Jeyakanthan, Jeyamohan’s Aram, Perumal Murugan’s Maadhorubaagan, two or three books of Vairamuthu and that of few other writers, I realised I’d hit a wall. I didn't know what to read in Tamil. I knew the names of the literary heavyweights and that was about it. I felt guilty for reading only a handful of books in my mother tongue. I know it’s a common affliction among readers of my generation who have been raised to study and think in English. I must admit my penmanship in Tamil is not that great and a tad embarrassed too, thinking of it. Hey, I'm young and hopefully have some decades ahead of me. I can make up for the lost time and effort by reading and analysing books. But what books? A friend (to whom I'll be eternally grateful to) lent me a book that stopped me in my tracks and altered my course of life. The book was written by someone I was critical of a couple of blog posts back, yes, it was Jeyamohan. And the book was நவீனத் தமிழிலக்கிய அறிமுகம் “Naveena Tamil Ilakiya Arimugam” (Introduction to Modern Tamil Literature). If you are interested in Tamil literature and as clueless as I was, Buy.Or.Borrow.The.Book.Now!
Jeyamohan has written the first part of book as an introduction to literary criticism and theory, giving us a general outline of the types of literature and literary movements. He also introduces us to the use of Imagery and Symbols in literature. He dwells on the need for coexistence of both commercial and realist literature without taking sides or denouncing one for the other. Be it political, science based or emotionally driven novels that sway masses, they all have a right and a reason to exist. It is not fair for a piece of literature to be criticized based on whether it is politically correct or not. Literature is not meant to be curtailed by such ordinary bias.
The second half of the book is the answer to all our prayers. He outlays the history of Modern Tamil literature by introducing us to writers and their contributions in order of the generation the writer belongs to. He draws our attention to the writers’ techniques, their strengths and weaknesses if any and lists their notable works. You don't have to painstakingly jot down all the books he has mentioned as you read though. The last section of the book has all his recommendations put together. The list is exhaustive and I’m dumbstruck as to how the author managed to read so many books. Inspirational!
Amma comes calling
“Amma Vandhal” (Mother has come) by T. Janakiraman is a true classic that leaves you pondering over it for a long time after you are done reading. The titular Amma has a mysterious countenance about her that once revealed, leaves her son flummoxed and enraged. He wages a battle with himself and is repulsed by his father’s indifference to his mother’s transgressions.Thank God I didn't read the foreword written by Sukumaran until after I finished reading the rest of the book. He has given the entire story away in his piece. Maybe he felt that the novel’s use of motifs, conversations and depiction of characters outshone the plot of “Amma Vandhal” and merely knowing the story alone will not make do for any lit lover. If that were the case, I agree. A mother is a figure we normally associate the words “virtuous”, “chaste” and “pure” with. When that image is sullied, how does the world treat her? With pure disdain of course. Amma seeks redemption by way of her pious son and fails miserably as he too cannot bear the thought of his mother crossing the sacred lakshman-rekha of absolute chastity. The book vaguely reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s play ‘Lady Windermere’s fan” wherein Lord Windermere resorts to drastic measures to protect his wife from knowing the truth about her disreputable mother. The two books deal with the common theme ‘shame’ - while the former work confronts the truth, the latter gets away by shunning it. Also, read my friend's brilliant analysis of the classic here.
I also read a book of poems for leisure (again credits to my benefactor). The last time I read some poetry was when I took up the meticulous task of reading Keats, Shelley and Milton for my MA exams. Pleasure morphs into pain when it’s all work and no play! The book that lifted my spirits and set them free is the late poet Gnanakoothan’s என் உளம் நிற்றி நீ “En Ullam Nitri Nee” (You reside in my heart). His repertoire is free verse and his verses are just what they claim to be - free and uninhibited. One of his poems affected me and I feel inclined to share its translation here.
We speak our Tamil
You speak yours
In our Tamil,
‘Mummy’ has a place, ‘Daddy’ has a place
Whom Mummy denotes, whom Daddy denotes
Our children know it well
In Different languages, side by side
As we continue to dwell
Our language finds a place, others too
‘Nayinaa’s there, ‘Waaba’s there
‘Father’s there, ‘Mother’s there
In our Tamil,
‘Rice’, ‘Chappati’, ‘Poori’, ‘Sabzi’ are all there
In our Tamil ‘Chudidhar’s there, ‘Jibbaa’s there
Our Tamil defines our life
You speak your Tamil
By speaking your brand of Tamil
What gain have you made?
Ruled by you for years
You lost the very land you inhabited together.
Like sheep that strike each other
You lost the ocean whose tides strike the shore
The children who go to school
The mothers who take them there
The elderly who lay in their beds
The hyperactive youngsters have all been lost by you
When did it ever exist
One Tamil for everyone?
You speak your Tamil
We speak ours
I believe that the poet addresses the issue of identity through these lines. Gnanakoothan’s mother tongue was Kannada and I wonder whether there was ever an instance where he was criticized for not being a Tamilian by birth. Being a migrant now in Bengaluru with the question of my identity looming large, I feel humbled by this poem.
When did it ever exist
One Tamil for everyone?
No language is semantically pure without borrowed words or phrases. Nobody should be ostracized based on one’s language. A Leader of a political party in Tamil Nadu in the name of Dravidianism, is reluctant to let anyone take up leadership posts, unless they are from what he considers to be a pure Tamil background. Even if you have lived in Tamil Nadu all your life, speak fluent Tamil and are friends with everyone in the neighbourhood but speak another language at home, you are considered an outsider by him and deemed unfit to be a leader of Tamils. I’m Tamil through and through and this doesn’t make any sense to me. The “outsiders” are as Tamil as the rest of us. I must admit, in the past, I was critical of migrants who I thought didn’t put in enough effort to blend in with the locals. Now in Bengaluru, I’m a changed leaf as I realise how very difficult it is to learn a new language and how hard it is to blend in. I dream of the day I read the legendary Kuvempu’s works in his own words. But my efforts to learn Kannada are dampened by auto drivers who stop the vehicle only when I say “Anna inga niruthunga” and not “Anna illi nillisi”. Is my Kannada really that bad?
A Friend, A confidante
The last book I read this month is the Diary of a young girl by Anne Frank, I bought it on an impulse as it was on sale for Rs.11 on Kindle. The book wasn’t part of my school syllabus or my growing up years unlike my peers. I felt I’d missed out on Anne. Well, better late than never.
Anne was a fiery, vivacious teenager who didn’t think twice in pointing out right from wrong. She saw through the flimsy minds of adults, flinched at their constant tantrums, shared secret notes with her sister and fell headlong in love with a boy she didn’t like much at first. Scenes from the life of a typical teenager except that in Anne Frank’s case, all of this happened in hiding. Anne was part of the group that comprised of two Jewish families and an acquaintance, who spent nearly two years in hiding from the Nazis. Anne is a fantastic writer with a way with words. We laugh, cry, sigh, empathize with her and at times find her too hot headed. It’s not her fault for we are the trespassers, reading personal notes that she intended to edit and publish post war. Fate had other plans and she was not the one who edited it in the end. The holocaust was a horrible and ghastly event. Anne’s diary is the most affecting holocaust related work I’ve ever come across for Anne appeared to confide in me, as I read entry after entry, like how a close friend would. I'm a true admirer of Anne and her audacity.
Give the following movies a try if you want to know more about the holocaust or World War II- Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, Inglorious Bastards, Fury, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Book Thief.
Tangerine trees and Marmalade Skies
Kitty – the name Anne gave her diary. My diary had a name too, the one I wrote in 2008. I was around the same age as Anne Frank was when she started writing her diary. I named it LSD and all my entries would start with “Dear LSD…” No I didn’t name it after the drug. I had a habit of changing the expansion of LSD every month. So one month LSD stood for Lovely Spring Daisy. The next month it was Love Struck Doe and then changed to Light Saber Dust, Little Silly Dove, Lucky Son of Don and so on. I was fourteen alright!
I did name my diary as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” eventually because I happened to read about the song somewhere. I would be lying if I told you I have been listening to the Beatles right from my childhood. I was more of an “ABBA” fan. I did have ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Rain’ in my playlist but they didn’t count much.
After doing an experimental run in with Bob Dylan and ultimately loving him, I thought I’d try the same with Beatles. On loop for a week, some 50 odd songs of the Beatles running forever, I finally settled for my favourites. “Norwegian Wood”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Love Me do”,“Yellow Submarine”, “Something”, “PS I Love You”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “All you Need is Love” “Hey Jude” and of course, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. The opening lines of LSD are sheer magic!
Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes
The song composed by Lennon-McCartney is both eccentric and addictive. No wonder people thought the song was an ode to the drug (It wasn't. Lennon apparently lifted the title from his son's preschool drawing)
The hint of tambura in LSD, the sitar in 'Norwegian Wood' and the strings in 'While My Guitar gently weeps' sound sublime. Listening to them over the week was akin to taking a quick vacation. The Beatles are pop icons and every quizzer’s favourite. I knew more about their personal lives than their music until now- a fact that I wasn't exactly proud of. Thank God the jinx is broken.
Do see this video on the Beatles cover art by the Nerd Writer. I loved his take on it!
I know this blog post is a little crowded but I told you I was on a sugar rush. In my case, the Ides of March didn't foretell any bad event. I feel ecstatic and full of hope. Glory to God.
My sugar trail is not going to end anytime soon as I've just found out that Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood" is influenced by the Beatles' track of the same name. I think of reading it next.
What more can I say? Books are love.