Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year 2007

Before I do the Out came a wish and then another, some links to stay in line with the justjots tradition of always pointing elsewhere and staying away from original content:

I spent a couple of hours of compiling my picks of the best posts on the Chennai Metblog in 2006.

My last book of the year is Alberto Manguel's A Year in Reading. Perfect to chug along with, stopping frequently at one's own wayside stations of book memories.

Do you like Alan Parsons? Well...you should like him. Try The Platinum and Gold Collection, my most played album of the year.
When days are numbers, watch the stars. We can only see so far. Someday, you'll know where you are.

Warmest wishes to all of you for a wonderful New Year 2007. A year in which I intend to be a rambling, opinionated, bothersome pest. Keep Coming back, precious!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Stuff to read

There's always one great excuse for being lazy to write - there are too many interesting things to read. Random pickings from this week...

Saying Yes to Mess (via) - either Get Organized in January or simply say yes to mess.

A lot of Regency stuff to read at the Jane Austen's World (via).

Ruth Rendell's take on aging is very interesting reading (via).

The Modern Word, an extremely absorbing and addictive spot.

The Town By The Sea, Amitav Ghosh's essay on the Tsunami of 2004 (via) - sometimes empathy, sympathy are insufficient responses to the magnitude of tragedy. Stunned acquiescence is all one can manage.

Digging around for new servings of the same classics can lead to comparing merits of each site. Among other needless, pointless exercises, this too survives and hogs a lot of time. ReadPrint has good offerings but you need to read them online. DailyLit will email bite-sized portions of the classics at regular frequency (I have 68 emails of War & Peace sitting unread. sigh). ManyBooks offers versions for the mobile gadgets (PDA, iPod and what have you) and feeds off Project Gutenberg. ClassicShorts for the short stories, OneSentence for those with ADD. Then there's Suggestica for stuff on various subjects, they sell them. Then there's all the other sites one hasn't gotten around to mentioning. Now, what was that about vanishing time?

Everyone's been talking about the Pamuk Nobel lecture in the past couple of weeks. Please, please, please read it if you haven't yet.

James Wood's The Celestial Teapot (requires registration, free) is another brilliant read. Well worth sinking into your bean bag for (via).

For many hours of laughter and much appreciation from cousins, the Effingpot is unbeatable.

...and lazy became lazier.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Through the Looking Glass...

What got me started on this vain exercise was a conversation with my dad. A couple of days ago we were discussing something serious and just at the point when I was dangling on the line for his answer, he peppered his reply with, as you say, Madame Defarge. My dad has this habit of calling me Madame Defarge at the unlikeliest of times and therefore, surprising and irritating me. Naturally, I fumed in response, adding to his delight. After that conversation, still clueless as to why he chose the Defarge woman, I resorted to selecting fictional characters that I would be able to nod my head at with a that's me cry.

The vain feel-good exercise that it is, it deserves a Venetia like choice for starters. There is a certain maturity yet guilelessness about Heyer's Venetia that one wouldn't mind being alluded to her at all. While on Heyer, the Grand Sophy Stanton-Lacy would also suit so well, with her assertive, assured self. Maybe then, if one stepped out of the Heyer world, one would see how much of a Sammy Mountjoy one is, always looking for the point when one let it all fall. Or perhaps, one would recall the moments when a Scout Finch like self speaks first and then learns. Hard it would be to admit that Aunt Norris shows herself up at times, causing both mirth and loathing in oneself.

Weird, odd, perfectly understandable it is to see that one's choices span across awfully different, unconnected characters. But then, is anything unconnected? As Pamuk points out touchingly in his Nobel Lecture,
A writer talks of things that everyone knows but does not know they know. To explore this knowledge, and to watch it grow, is a pleasurable thing; the reader is visiting a world at once familiar and miraculous. When a writer shuts himself up in a room for years on end to hone his craft – to create a world – if he uses his secret wounds as his starting point, he is, whether he knows it or not, putting a great faith in humanity. My confidence comes from the belief that all human beings resemble each other, that others carry wounds like mine – that they will therefore understand. All true literature rises from this childish, hopeful certainty that all people resemble each other. When a writer shuts himself up in a room for years on end, with this gesture he suggests a single humanity, a world without a centre.
everything resembles everything else.

Finally, I return to a teenage reference that I always remember with fondness: When best friend N, after a reading of Doctors in school, said, You know, you are like Barney Livingston. In a thermostat kind of way. And that is still what I enjoy being the most, a thermostat in a human kind of way. And I suppose I will still be Madame Defarge, in a dad's teaser kind of way. And a little of everyone else, in the life kind of way.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Shelley, a sweet tooth and the boycott of sugar (via)
[Shelley] loved dried plums, figs, apples and oranges. He doted on gingerbread and cakes. If you turned out the pockets of his black denim jacket (a jacket his wife Mary, a proper sort, was forever trying to get him to change) you would find, alongside Aeschylus and Sophocles and miscellaneous pencils and a penknife and a damp handkerchief, a good store of pudding-raisins. He could make a supper of these raisins, just by themselves, eating them one by one from a particular flowered china plate. Honey, of course, he loved especially, slathered on bread and butter or crunched in the comb until the sticky goo ran down his chin. So sweet was his tooth that he would tiptoe up to pine trees and lick their resin, hoping it would taste as treacly as it looked.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Simple Wishes

To be banished to such a room
To be punished with solitude
To be rationed to a note & pen
To be starved with water
To be cursed to call this bliss
That is all, that is all I ask.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Weekend Odds

Sorry I am a day late Jane, but you do know that I love you. Happy Birthday!

Some striking images of India.

The Bible is not only the best-selling book ever but it is also the best-selling book of the year, every year.

Listen to Kafka's Metamorphosis at Librivox.

Don't miss the A Year in Reading series at The Millions, where several interesting readers share thoughts on their favourite books. This is so much better than talking about Best Books of 2006.

An exploration worth engaging in. Oh wow! Sigh!

Richard Powers says that coding (he was a programmer before becoming a novelist) gave him many ways of thinking about form and structure as a fiction writer.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hitchhiker - Vinod George Joseph

Hitchhiker*, the debut novel of Vinod George Joseph, begins at the heart of a Global Evangelical Church school in Aaroor, Tamil Nadu where Peterraj, former untouchable, converted Christian works as a watchman and Ebenezer, Peterraj's son, is about to commence his twelfth standard. The GE Church runs several schools in the state, which in addition to providing curricular education also tries to grow its numbers through conversion.

Ebenezer is a good student, though a lukewarm Christian (for instance, he hates the fact that the GE Church prohibits his mother and sister from wearing jewellery), and his aim is to become an engineer, earn loads of money and save his family from poverty. He seems poised to achieve such a goal when his mother and sister are stabbed to death in a caste fight. This incident ends up changing the way Ebenezer's life turns out. Instead of getting an engineering degree, he has to be content with a software diploma, which does not carry the same weight even for a bright boy like him. He falls for Gayathri, an upper caste girl, in a love affair that is doomed to fail. In a desperate effort, he re-converts to Hinduism, only to realize that religion, as much as caste, is a tool to further hidden agenda.

While Ebenezer's story forms the main thread (he is the hitchhiker), the author weaves in many many other characters and their stories into the fabric of this book. The vignettes from these minor characters' lives tie in with the theme of caste and reservation. The timeline stretches from the early nineties to early two thousand and three and various political/caste riots of that period are also placed in context in the narrative.

If I had to pick one particular image that demonstrates the ghastliness of discrimination, it would have to be the sentence that describes Bhadrakaali's (Ebenezer's grandmother) paraphernalia for making matchboxes:
It was said that the match factory owners mixed rat poison in the flour given to matchbox makers like Bhadrakaali to prevent them from eating it.
The first few chapters of the book are descriptive and therefore slow but the pace catches on as events unfold. Hitchhiker would have benefited a great deal from better proofreading, there are quite a few instances of typos and spellchecker-resistant words (eg: 'there' for 'their').

Hitchhiker is a leisurely walk through India with a benevolent Social Sciences teacher who, in telling you Ebenezer's story, also shows you that everything in life comes at a price.

*Thanks to Vinod for sending me a copy of Hitchhiker

The 100 poems thing

In a long conversation with grandpa yesterday, I mentioned that I was planning to memorize 100 poems in the next year and that I was in the process of selecting poems, verses. I was going to add that I intended to learn a few Thamizh ones as well. However, the moment I had said poems, grandpa jumped up with his much expected suggestion of Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. He then offered a few more, of which Goethe's Faust is something I might consider (a fragment of course).

My list has 15 selections at the moment. The idea is to choose those that appeal to me rather than to memorize all the popular ones. I am also keen on acquainting myself with the twentieth century poets. I might also cheat by adding a few that I memorized earlier but am a little shaky at remembering now.

One surprising bonus of this project is that my husband is mighty impressed with my efforts at selection and appears convinced that I am onto a very interesting thing. Given that compliments are scarce in my household, I must admit to behaving like a rosy-cheeked kid ever since I noticed the husband's approval. So that's that. If you happen to have poetry recommendations in both English and Thamizh, I'd appreciate you letting me know. Thanks.
That three of Rahman's songs are on the Oscars list is old news by now. What pleased me is that Rahman chose Khalbali, Lukka Chuppi and Chanchan.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A pal of mine takes off on Mylapore Mamis, wondering if they can ever rest in peace
Majority of the Mami world seems to suffer from this epidemic and marriage seems to the only ambrosia for everyone born in this earth. Be it a psychological problem or be it a personality problem they believe that marriage is an elixir. To enjoy and be with oneself for life means a curse beyond emancipation.

Well I have never bothered to ask them how well their marriage sucks and the history and frequency of their physical and verbal abuse in their relationship. Having not much education, emotionally and financially dependent on their men, these Mami’s have learned to enjoy their lifetime in prison.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Elif - optional race
Fiel - dated comfort
File - organized mess
Lief - precious gift
Life - as is
What do I want from life?
What do I want life?
What do I life?
What do life?
What life?
Life.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers wins Guardian FBA

Yiyun Li's A Thousand Years of Good Prayers wins yet another prize - The Guardian First Book Award this time.

More:
Yiyun Li website

The Guardian First Book Award Special Report including an extract of the winning book and a list of the shortlisted books.

As always, though I haven't got around to reading the book yet, I have been following Yiyun Li in the media through the year. The book is right now on top in the TB (R) pile. I first heard of her at TEV and since Mark's recommendations work very well with me, I've been tagging Li ever since.

Update: A Guardian interview with Yiyun li.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Awakening

LibriVox now has the audiobook version of Kate Chopin's The Awakening.

A very good resource to explore The Awakening.

The Kate Chopin website.

EText of The Awakening and Selected Short Stories at Project Gutenberg.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Weekend reading...

I am delighted to note that The 10 Best Books of 2006 according to the New York Times includes The Emperor's Children and Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Now, if only, I could get my hands on these books...

The Winter Issue of the Quarterly Conversation is out. I particularly liked Matthew Cheney's essay What is Appropriate (it also reminded me that I am still going to read Reading Lolita in Tehran - been wanting to, for a long time)

In the latest theme out on New Writing 14 - Abroad - Hermione Lee writes about her Manhattan Days. I liked her taxi driver conversations!

The Story of French - the New York Times review:
Arguments are as much a part of French as the acute accent and the nasal “n.” Since the 17th century, it has been treated by French speakers less as a language than as a work of art, something worthy of constant analysis and curatorial devotion.

“Debates about grammar rules and acceptable vocabulary are part of the intellectual landscape and a regular topic of small talk among francophones of all classes and origins — a bit like movies in Anglo-American culture,” the authors write.
I've always wondered why French is offered as a second language option in a country like India (yeah I hear the ex-French colony bit). My French teacher (who also happened to be my class 11 teacher) once made me compere an entire stage show in French. I understood about half of what I spoke (her script) and I bet not a soul in the audience had a clue what was happening on stage!

Today is Karthigai Deepam, the festival of lights. And I am taking quick lessons

That's all folks!

Friday, December 01, 2006

What a wonderful idea - learning 100 poems in a year. Nick Seddon at the Guardian book blog lists his choices and asks readers for recommendations. Just the other day, I was thinking that learning by rote had its benefits - kids don't forget much. And I remember most of the poems we were made to learn "by heart" in school (sonnet 116 was particularly fascinating to me, don't know why).

I am going to use this idea and make my own list to memorize. Let me see what I come up with.