Monday, February 18, 2013

The Stupendous Timetelling Superdog

A dog who can tell the time, a world where clocks suddenly stop working, the Black Hole of Time where Orange Marmaladies - the Original Timekeepers of the Universe - take a chip off the Master Clock of Rock to teach humans to notice them (this fails miserably: clocks stop working, but humans remain obsessed with time) - such delightful premises to have in a story. And The Stupendous Timetelling Superdog, in the hands of Himanjali Sankar, turns out to be a delightful story, delightfully told.

My awareness of young reader literature is minimal. My kid will turn five soon and first and second level Ladybirds are what I'm accustomed to. Therefore it was with eagerness that I agreed to read and review Young Reader books from Duckbill. As I saw it, a preparatory course in a journey I will soon have to take with my own child.

The star of The Stupendous Timetelling Superdog is a dog named Rousseau, and like his namesake from the eighteenth century, the world looks up to him. He is a regular dog who does regular doggie stuff except that when asked to tell the time, he can. He lives with two adorable girls Kaavya and Anya and their mom Mrs Ghosh. The father, Mr Ghosh, makes a cameo that clearly shows him as a stiff, over planning person. A clockwork man, who, fittingly, lives in a German town! It is not clear whether the Ghoshes are separated by circumstance or choice and it doesn't matter to the story. When the Orange Marmaladies, annoyed that the humans are blind to their friendliness, decide to stop time (being the original timekeepers and all), they do so in the hope that they will then become visible to humans and perhaps can become their friends as well. But time has other plans for the Marmaladies, the humans and especially Rousseau.

Interestingly, Jean Jacques Rousseau, after whom Rousseau the dog has been named, was the son of a watchmaker.

In her gentle mocking of media frenzy and fame, her tucking in of little treats for adults who may be reading this book, Himanjali has created a thoroughly enjoyable read. Heartily recommended for that seven+ year old in your life. Or for that matter, recommended for you as well.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

When the Snow Melts - Vinod Joseph

The first time Vinod mentioned When the Snow Melts I missed one crucial piece of detail, it is a spy novel. There is no likely explanation for how one could miss something that is so clearly stated. The next time I heard of it the book was out and he asked me if I wanted to read it. Of course. The black and red cover, the target marked, the back flap announcing, A spook!, His lady-love!, The al Qaeda! My first reaction was, Oh My God, a spy novel! Vinod’s first novel, The Hitchhiker, is a thoughtful meditation and at times an uneasy probing at the Indian Reservation system - the caste based affirmative action programme subject to much use and misuse. Therefore it was considerably surprising to note that his second published novel is a thriller.

Further peering indicated that India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, London all featured in the book. Central to the narrative is the Intelligence Assessment Group (IAG), an international conflation of intelligence agents from all over the world with the aim of tackling global terrorism. Ritwik Kumar, a very experienced Indian spy, part of the IAG, defects to the Pakistan intelligence wing ostensibly to save himself from his deeply entrenched financial and alcoholic messes which have landed him in an extremely tight corner in the IAG. But things are hardly what they seem and Pakistani intelligence suspects him of being a double agent. Multiple torture episodes and mind dramas ensue. Meanwhile Ritwik also falls in love with a Pakistani woman Nilofer, the wife of one of his torturers. With all the ingredients to thrill in place, Vinod juggles the pieces around and moves the action forward to an entertaining climax and finish.

Ritwik is very self deprecating in this first person narrative. Given that he is a spy he also conceals and confuses. At any point Ritwik manages to sound as if he is saying the most obvious thing and also, therefore, as if he is probably lying.

When the Snow Melts as a title is the timekeeper and the frequent reference to the status of the snow marks Ritwik’s operation defection. I found the love interest sections hilarious. It was as if Vinod was laughing to and at himself while he were writing those parts.

I liked the book and would recommend reading it in one sitting.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Marilynne Robinson

I am currently reading Gilead and have become interested in learning a little more about its author.  Surprisingly, quite a few articles about Marilynne Robinson have been coming my way in recent times and I think this Paris Review interview also floated by on pure chance. I have been reading it and rereading it since last night and it has completely blown me away. One word when I think of her, Respect.

Here is what she says about writing essays and it rings so true:

Most people know you as a novelist, but you spend a lot of your time writing nonfiction. What led you to start writing essays?
To change my own mind. I try to create a new vocabulary or terrain for myself, so that I open out—I always think of the Dutch claiming land from the sea—or open up something that would have been closed to me before. That’s the point and the pleasure of it. I continuously scrutinize my own thinking. I write something and think, How do I know that that’s true? If I wrote what I thought I knew from the outset, then I wouldn’t be learning anything new.
In this culture, essays are often written for the sake of writing the essay. Someone finds a quibble of potential interest and quibbles about it. This doesn’t mean the writer isn’t capable of doing something of greater interest, but we generate a lot of prose that’s not vital. The best essays come from the moment in which people really need to work something out. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Clippings from A Chance Meeting

Old ones, jotted from Rachel Cohen's A Chance Meeting a couple of years ago:

 * "...You must find your own quiet center of life, and write from that to the world that holds offices, and all society...In short, you must write to the human heart, the great consciousness that all humanity goes to make up. Otherwise what might be strength in a writer is only crudeness, and what might be insight is only observation; sentiment falls to sentimentality - you can write about life but never life itself...To work in silence and with all one's heart, that is the writer's lot; he is the only artist who must be a solitary, and yet needs the widest outlook upon the world."
--Sarah Orne Jewett in a letter written to Willa Cather

 * "If a walk across the Park, with a responsive friend, late on the golden afternoon of a warm week-day, and if a consequent desultory stroll, for speculation's sake, through certain northward and eastward streets and avenues, of an identity a little vague to me now, save as a blur of builded evidence as to proprietary incomes - if such an incident ministered, on the spot, to a boundless evocation, it then became history of a splendid order: though I perhaps must add that it became so for the two participants alone, and with an effect after all not easy to communicate."
--Henry James, The American Scene, 1907 (quoted in the prologue of A Chance Meeting)

Friday, March 02, 2012


"The moment one takes responsibility for oneself...And remember it is not all roses, there are thorns in it; it is not all sweet, there are many bitter moments in it. The sweet is always balanced by the bitter, they always come in the same proportion. The roses are balanced by the thorns, the day by the nights, the summers by the winters. Life keeps a balance between the polar opposites. So one who is ready to accept the responsibility of being oneself with all it's beauties, bitternesses, it's joys and agonies, can be free. Only such a person can be free..." -Osho on Freedom

Monday, February 27, 2012

Right Education

First of all, see very clearly one simple fact: that neither the government, nor your present teachers, nor your parents, care to educate you rightly; if they did, the world would be entirely different, and there would be no wars. So if you want to be rightly educated, you have to set about it yourself; and when you are grown up, you will then see to it that your own children are rightly educated. "But how can we rightly educate ourselves? We need someone to teach us." You have teachers to instruct you in mathematics, in literature, and so on; but education is something deeper and wider than the mere gathering of information. Education is the cultivation of the mind so that action is not self-centered; it is learning throughout life to break down the walls which the mind builds in order to be secure, and from which arises fear with all its complexities. To be rightly educated, you have to study hard and not be lazy. Be good at games, not to beat another, but to amuse yourself. Eat the right food, and keep physically fit. Let the mind be alert and capable of dealing with the problems of life, not as a Hindu, a Communist, or a Christian, but as a human being. To be rightly educated, you have to understand yourself; you have to keep on learning about yourself. When you stop learning, life becomes ugly and sorrowful. Without goodness and love, you are not rightly educated.
--J Krishnamurti, Commentaries on Living

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Year end notes

I just got back from a surprise birthday party for a cousin. It has been years since I went to an event with a surprise involved. And these days the birthday parties I go to are as an escort for my kid. So when said party was whispered to me I became quite excited and looked forward to it. Now that I am back from this successful surprise I am filled with a nice tinge of nostalgia for a year that had its share of seasons. Let me make a list out of it okay? Okay.

* Son in kindergarten

* Geoff Dyer's monthly column The Reading Life in The New York Times Book Review

* Great bubbly friend J relocates to Chennai

* Fun project: Tumblr blog to keep track of Geoff Dyer on the web

* Old pal from college goads me into working again (thanks!)

* Elizabeth Hardwick's Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature - a rich, perceptive collection of    essays. Inspiring. Reassuring.

* David Foster Wallace; Brief Interviews with Hideous Men - pure genius

* 1917 circa 12" Emerson Antique Oscillating Desk Fan - son loves fans; I love this fan

* Steve Jobs's death - why did it seem so personal (for so many) for a couple of days?

* December specials: Charles Nicholl, Andrew Motion (ed.) - Interrupted Lives: in literature, Andrew Motion - Ways of Life: On Places, Painters and Poets, David Lodge - The Practice of Writing: essays, lectures, reviews and a diary - to read three delightful books back to back. What a month!

* Chennai weather this Margazhi

It is hard to predict how we will remember each year eventually: some impressions will become markers and others will fade away. These are the little glimpses that assemble for me this day.

For 2012 my reading life is simple enough to state:

* Write more

* Read discriminately

For the cousin whose birthday it is today: I hope you enjoy In a Strange Room. Thanks for that comment about the RSS feed. It made me post.

For everyone reading this, A very happy new year!