Friday, September 30, 2005

The Khushboo Incident and Other Stories

A quick round-up of what bloggers are saying about the Khushboo issue.

Prasanna carefully evaluates why Khushboo put her foot in her mouth.

Ashenden says all the ruckus created is sickening.

Sambhar Mafia wonders why the media is jumping into the moral police bandwagon.

Sonia Faleiro says that Khushboo's humiliation in this issue may serve as a gag order for an entire people.

It is indeed time to reflect on Tamil Nadu's recent claim to mention at Indsight (I particularly enjoyed the exchange of opinion in the comments section)

A view of the Khushboo incident and other related issues from a Vantage point.

There are a couple of points to make here:
a) Chennai's conservative city brand tag has nothing to do with the ridiculous protests that have been targeting incidents which are strictly personal/private. It is solely an attempt by some political factions to gain mileage for something-that-we-shall-figure-out-soon.

b) Chennai's educated crowd usually prefers to raise its voice in the privacy of drawing rooms and maintain a neutral weakening silence in public which makes this city a fertile ground to stage a farce. The larger issue that is being brought to light in these recent unsavoury events is the fact that Chennai needs to find its public voice soon. Otherwise, freedom of speech might as well be a fairy tale.

Simply linking

Do you call people when you know they will not be around so that you can just leave them a voice message? Maybe audio messaging will appeal to you.

Learning what not to do with your time. Sure, it is yet another charted approach!

Library Thing is upgrading from one to fifteen libraries. More fun at online catalog(u)ing soon.

I tried Ayn Rand for fun on the Literature Map (via ReadySteadyBook blog). LM is a self-adapting system and seems like yet another interesting way to locate new writers.

Scott Peck died last Sunday and I found out just today (via BookSlut). He was 69 and death was due to pancreatic and liver-duct cancer.

Vote for the book you think should win the Booker 2005. For now, Barnes & Ishiguro are leading the tally.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

What is time? traces references to cyclic and linear concepts of time in the works of Nobel Prize Winning Authors

How many times is enough? asks Culture Vulture about reading favourite books again and again. My comfort books are Doctors, These Old Shades, The Grand Sophy, Pride and Prejudice, & selected short stories of Somerset Maugham (I love the Book Bag particularly, don't know why).

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

What Should I Read Next?

Help is just a click away (via TEV).

WSIRN asks you to list an author and title (something that you have read and liked) and it suggests a whole bunch of similar books based on readers' recommendation. Once you sign up, you can maintain your booklist of books already read so that they are not suggested again. There is even an easy link to Amazon for each book suggested.

TEV's Banville interview Part III is out

Part III was out really late yesterday. I managed to skim it only this morning.

TEV: Well, I know that when people come to me and ask me which of your books they should read and why they should read them, I tell them that about this thwarted quest for authenticity.

JB: If they asked you what book to start with, what would you say?
(TEV Note: Herein follows a brief shocked silence followed by much unseemly stammering in which we desperately try – and fail – to avoid the wrong answer.)
TEV: (fumbling) I'm usually useless in that I usually end up suggesting three or four
JB: (vaguely disappointed) Oh.
TEV: (continuing) … in that one of the things I'll do is point to the one that I read first, which is Eclipse. I came to it on the strength of a very positive review in the New York Review of Books, which you may recall. I also tend to recommend based on what I know about the reader, which can bring me to The Book of Evidence or The Untouchable … Oddly – and it's hard for me to say I have a favorite because it shifts –

Say Sorry and Be Done with it Lady

The sorry came. It had to indeed. After a delightful donkey parade and lots of dirty linen being washed with gusto, the sorry was inevitable. What better way to diffuse a situation than to tender a public apology. Who cares that saying sorry and feeling sorry are two different things.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Honest Opinions are taboo, Khushboo

I find it ridiculous - all this commotion about an actress expressing an individual opinion which has a definite ring of truth in it. The sad part was that women armed with broomsticks were seeking revenge for statements that Khushboo appears to have made with a strong positive spirit of modern womanhood.

And all she said appears to be
The actor told the Tamil edition of India Today that society should free itself from “outdated thinking that a woman has to be a virgin at the time of her marriage”.
“They should know to protect themselves from pregnancy and AIDS if they chose to have sex before marriage. Educated men these days do not expect their spouses to be virgins at the time of marriage” (Hindustan Times)
For heaven's sake, it was for the sex and the single woman survey. What was she expected to say? That such surveys are violation of Tamil Womanhood?

Pushed to the back foot, Kushboo has been quick to offer a clarification. She has said 'it was indeed unfortunate that a big issue has been made out of my interview. I find no wrong in whatever I had spoken about pre-marital sex. In the changing scenario, whatever I spoke holds true. Needless controversy has been with my interview'. (IndiaGlitz)

It is quite evident that the parties involved in the anti-Khushboo protest are using her statements as an opportunity for revenge. An apology for an apology apparently.

In a social environment where Tamil Womanhood is cheaply violated in a majority of the movies, where no double entendre spares a woman, it is indeed quite a sudden awakening to the true value of Tamil Womanhood - where were the broomsticks all this while O Tamil Mothers?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Chennai Stuff: An afternoon at Jhillmill

About a fortnight ago, I saw this huge fuschia hoarding near the Kotturpuram bridge screaming in white to pamper the woman in me. Shaking my head in fatigue at the nth filched version of the Hutch Hi suspense ads, I brushed off the pampering suspense as a new women's magazine - one of the many that look like coffee books; have pictures of pencil-thin models and health columns addressed at the overweight woman which, by the standards of such magazines, means more than 99% of the educated Indian female population; talk in detail about delicious recipes (and you expect us to be thin after THAT?); admonish your poor financial skills and rub it in harder with a picture of a suited-booted woman to embellish the article. Anyway, let's get back to where we left that fuschia thing, which a week after I first saw the hoarding, added some more colour to its striking background and announced the opening of Jhillmill - a fashion jewellery cum women's accessories store. It also encouraged you to add a sparkle to your life - thank you very much.

Given my non-delicate (btw, I mean "marked by daintiness or charm of color, lines, or proportions" when I use delicate here. I am hardly indelicate) darling background and a proverbial antipathy to huge dangling jewellery, I could not have possibly been the woman prowling the Jhillmill pathways this afternoon - but then, did I mention I am a curious sort of person? To maintain some balance, I dragged along my equally non-delicate friend along.

Jhillmill, located in busy Pondy Bazaar (opposite Maya Plaza) is a huge store with four floors of the pampering woman stuff. The ground floor has reasonably priced trinkets - items that you would normally find at Ranganathan Street (Chennai's most congested get-it-all street) - that are displayed well. The first floor has the pricey kundan wedding sets, one-gram gold formed bangles and silver dipped in gold sets. The second floor is really neat and has racks and racks of bangles - glass, metal, plastic, you name it. Bordering the bangles display are watches, footwear and bags. Nothing great about those but if one is the beaded accessory types, there are some items to pick up. The third floor has clothes - they seem more like an afterthought and are priced really high. There are courteous assistants on all floors and seem eager enough to carry your shopping basket and tempt you to buy stuff that you absolutely do not need.

Jhillmill is a Sri Kumaran Stores venture - I believe that there was a smaller version of this store, named the same or otherwise, on Usman Road earlier because the assistant who helped me kept mentioning the other store from where stocks needed to arrive. There were very few men around - one of them, a late 20ish guy, made such a convincing pretence of being interested in scrunchies that I was totally amused - and most women were in groups.

I don't know about the death of the novel but shops will die when women stop shopping.

For an insipid shopper, I spent more than an hour at Jhillmill and splurged too. Ah well, woman after all.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A really long Banville interview

The Elegant Variation (TEV) is running a really long four part interview with John Banville. Each part is posted on TEV every Monday. Part I (Sep 12) and Part II (Sep 19) are interesting reading.

And my favourite question from Part II:

TEV: And it's just a minor thing, but I do notice a recurrence of names in your books. The one that caught me in The Sea is Morden because that ties back to Athena.
JB: You see, I've got so old now that I'm probably forgetting that I used it before. (laughs) No, it wasn't conscious. I like the name Morden. There's something about it – it seems a perfect Banville name –

My previous posts on Banville here, here and here.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Craft of Writing

Ray Rhamey in Pursuing the art and craft of compelling storytelling says:
Let's say you are talented. You have:
an imagination that can dream up fascinating characters and stories to put them in.
the language ability to create sentences and imagery that flow and evoke.
ability to spin a tale, to string together events that compel interest.
So far so good. Now you've got to pull all that together and put it on the page. So you just write, right? Follow your instincts. You're an artist, after all.
I don't think so.

This article has a list of books that focus on the craft of storytelling.

My ideal bookstore

Booklust's Biblioqueria 11 asks What would you insist up having in your ideal bookstore?

What not! I would be re-creating my ideal home in my ideal bookstore.

Loads and loads of books - crisp new ones in their fancy covers; musty frayed books that smell like love; wide variety of subjects that cater to the curious; a bookswapping section where patrons can exchange their own book for another book of equal value; a books-for-love section where patrons can simply donate books.

Interesting Stuff - author showcases of lesser read but very talented writers; group reading sessions; book discussions; perennial supply of coffee/tea, sandwiches, muffins; Sunday coffee conversations with other patrons; old and spacious bungalow to house the books and plenty of greenery for some natural lounging; comfortable seating everywhere in the area; mild music playing in the background; wireless Internet Connectivity and access to online research databases & journals;

My ideal is actually far more than a bookstore. It is part library, part club, part store. A booklounge perhaps. Toss in some membership, generate some enthusiasm and visibility and I will be in business :)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A quiet workspace for writers, Paragraph looks like an inviting idea (via kottke). It reminded me of Po Bronson's The Grotto.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Oh Mr.Darcy

Spot on, Melanie:

What is it about the trouser interest in 'Pride and Prejudice' that so captivates women? Surely not just the literarily incorrect sight of our hero in a wet shirt (the small screen Colin Firth about to be outdripped by Matthew MacFadyen in the cinema).

If Pride And Prejudice has an extraordinary hold on the imagination of women - and every survey suggests it does - one reason for our obsession is the nature of its hero, Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Darcy has endless vulnerability in the novel - and his coldness is merely the cover of a shy, proud man. It's precisely the apparent aloofness of Darcy - think smouldering volcanoes under icecaps - that is crucial to his appeal.

Bennet's treatment of Darcy thus bears out the contention of books like The Rules about the relations between the sexes - treat 'em mean and keep 'em keen - because we are quite conscious that had she pursued him rather than mocked him he would not have found himself attracted to her. For a man in his position it is very necessary that he should be chastened by encountering a woman who is indifferent to his looks and status. As Bennet finally declares, "The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of odious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused and interested you because I was so unlike them." Spot on, Miss Elizabeth.

The beauty of Darcy is that he reassures women of their transformative powers. He is a reminder that the right woman may bring out the emotional depths in a reserved man and can humble the pride of a rich one.
Truly spot on, Ms.Melanie.

The Independent profile of Banville:
"I think, after the first 30 years, that I've begun to get the hang of it," he comments wryly. "Certain technical challenges become easier, although I do find that language always brings you back to its own difficulties. I think now I give a good impression of knowing about real life. I don't, of course. I sit in a room alone for four years writing, but then emerge with this thing. A book is like a waking dream, I suppose, but to be able to share that with other people is a great privilege."

"Banville has a talent for sensuous phrasing, and pungent observation of human frailty, but in other areas important for fiction - plot, character, pacing, suspense - The Sea is a crashing disappointment."
The Sunday Times

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Banville banter

John Banville's The Sea making it to the Booker shortlist was a yippee moment for me. I am currently on an explore Banville mode and am ridiculously attempting to read Athena and Kepler simultaneously. This attempt, requiring considerable employment of the power of concentration, is leaving me frustrated at my lack of instant comprehension of Mr.B's sentences. A page is never gotten past without having to flip open the trusty rotting dictionary. And I am trying to note down lines which captivate me - it seems to me that I have been writing out entire pages and hampering my understanding further with the note-taking. Need I say that I also close the book ever so often and ponder over his lines while gazing at the sky? I am never going to see the end of the books anytime soon. Nevertheless, now is the time to soak in the sensation of the Banville magic and I must admit that there are moments of pure delight and pure appreciation, totally unadulterated by pressure to praise him because he is in the limelight. Booker or not, this man has such a breathtaking style of writing.

He was cramped and cold, with a vile gum of sleep in his mouth (page 3, Kepler).

Doors standing ajar like that have always filled me with unease; they seem so knowing and somehow suggestive, like an eye about to wink or a mouth opening to laugh (page 11, Athena)

As this review of The Sea puts it
The single-character narration with almost no other character dialogue is an effective technique. The reader and the narrator -- Max, in this case -- are entirely as one, experiencing everything simultaneously. There's no way to jump ahead and no time to reflect on what's been. Banville forces the reader to stay with him, to whirl and twirl through Max's emotions as he pieces his story together. It's up the reader to keep the hell up.
Banville's phrasing demands attention. Every single sentence is just like those quoted above, rich and textured, like glitter they simultaneously twinkle and flash and explode with significance. These sentences can be complex, stuffed to paragraph-length with visual and emotional description.
Or they can be as simple and effective. "The past beats inside me like a second heart," Banville writes at the close of Max's initial reverie. In nine words, the author sums up just why Max is compelled to reflect, while evoking the novel's entire theme.

Guardian review of The Sea here.

Tim Conley, in his article on Banville writes

Inevitably, Banville’s narrators are articulate males who, for one reason or another, conscious or no, hesitate and prevaricate. For example, in The Book of Evidence, Freddie, who otherwise has a mind for details even of the most ghastly kind, refers to his encounter with someone known as “the American”: “I refer to him as the American because I did not know, or cannot remember, his name, but I am not sure that he was American at all.” That subtle shift in tense from “did not” to “cannot” and the added qualifications of “but” and “at all” are signature examples of Banville’s habit of bit-by-bit negation. A fact is offered and then cancelled, a story related and then dismissed as manufactured and irrelevant. As solid as the images in his elaborate pictures appear to become with study – so many tantalizing paintings populate the author’s works – Banville now and again strokes the frame and throws us back into uncertainty.

John Banville's works include:
Long Lankin (1970, comprised of nine short stories and a novella, revised in 1984); Nightspawn (1971); Birchwood (1973); the scientific tetralogy - Doctor Copernicus (1976), Kepler (1981), The Newton Letter (1982), Mefisto (1986); the grim trilogy - The Book of Evidence (1989), Ghosts (1993), and Athena (1995); Untouchable (1998); Eclipse (2000); Shroud (2003); The Sea (2005). This list has more works mentioned along with publication dates.

A quick summary of widespread opinion on Banville's works:
  • Focus on style rather than plot
  • Artistic imagination and bold confessions mark most of his books
  • Single person narration - usually male - exploring a major problem through complex thought processes
  • Reasoning tosses back and forth - professing and contradicting with subtle use of voice, tense and other stylistic tools
  • Fascination for naming protagonists with an 'M' name - Morden shows up in more than one book

I am going to root for Banville while waiting to see what October (Monday 10 October - Booker Winner will be announced at Guildhall) brings. Funnily, my gut feeling is pointing all its arrows at Zadie Smith. Que sera sera.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

What your cup of tea says about you.

I discovered some months ago, from an interview where Mahima Chaudry spoke about her ideal cup of tea, that to make the perfect cup of tea, you need to pour the milk in first. It is a fantastic tip, as I experimentally concluded soon after. The flavour is far better than when the milk is poured after the tea.
When fear leaves us paralysed, nothing will ever be the same again.
Since biblical times, disasters have been experienced as defining moments. From Noah's flood to last week's catastrophe in New Orleans, the phrase 'nothing will ever be the same again' has been repeated time and again.

Frank Furedi argues that we are not as powerless as we think.
Promiscuous use of terms such as 'plague', 'epidemic' or 'syndrome' inflate anxieties. The adoption of a high-tech, apocalyptic vocabulary helps turn acts of misfortune into a crisis of human existence. It fuels a mood of powerlessness where different fears compete with one another to capture the public imagination.
We need to remind ourselves that communities often possess remarkable capacities to rebuild their lives. The experience of history indicates that humanity can survive disasters. The good news is that life goes on.