Sunday, July 30, 2006

Footaa Chiraag

this is an audio post - click to play

Jo gaya footaa tha chiraag
Mere haath-on se choota tha
ik diya, lau se bichura
mitti mein mili roshni ka
tukda tha, paun mein chubha
sapna joe mera mehka tha
ik aah se deheka tha
haathon se uthaaya usko
bade yatn se karke iktra
daroron ki kadr karke
jo gaya foota tha chiraag
pichchlay din, fir naye
yatan ke tel say ujala tha.

Jo gaya footaa tha chiraag
deheka tha, toe ban kar
lapaton ka kalash kehta tha-
agni se tum mit-tay ho
yun kaise hota hai banaatay
mujhko, phir bhi nirbhar ho
andhiyaaray se darrtay ho, aur
chintaa mein rahtay bikharay ho
apnay aham mein kaanch sa hai
bhoola tha ki mitti ka hai
jo gaya footaa tha chiraag
lau say lipataa, jaanta hai
kshanbhangur wah bhi kitna hai.

July 27, 2006

kshanbhangur: one that can be destroyed in a moment

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A pretty Starbucks regular: glad Not to know her

She is so pretty that everytime I see her
she is with a different, happy looking face.

I am just happy to see her so often.
Since I don't know her, I don't know those happy faces.

Those happy faces are false images.
Ask their humid eyes if you want to know.
Though facts can change, depending upon the day.

In this story there are only two constants.
But we don't know each other and everytime
I see her, I think, she is so pretty that

everytime I see her, she is with a different face.
I am pleased that I don't know her.

I have no happy face masks and she wouldn't
seem so pretty if I saw her with someone I knew.

7:15 pm,
July 03, 2006

Sunday, July 09, 2006

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Masterpiece epic about Love, War, Peace, Life, Everything

Tolstoy's War and Peace rightfully ranks amongs the best novels ever written in any language. The master novelist uses Napolean's Wars with Russia as the context against which he narrates the story of four families. The four families, along with several timeless characters, live through the times of War and Peace to provide us with a representation of every aspect of Russian life, Russian thought and imagery of both cities and villages.

Tolstoy's great talent was in providing insights using his extremely good sense of seemingly trivial. The details, be it of the functioning of clock or steam engine, or of the idealogy and rites of Masons, or the charge of cavalry in war or the thoughts of a man on his death bed, the details, the insight, the lucidity of expression of such varied themes in one book requires Tolstoy's genius.

There are innumerable unforgettable characters in this mammoth novel. Each one brings out different characteristics of human pysche, each one is made into a being of flesh and blood, strengths and weaknesses. Prince Andrey Bolkonsky, the dashing gentleman who shuns his boring high society to fight in war to achieve glory, is as compelling as a soldier as he is a wounded person, wounded both in love and in war. His death scene, touted as one of the greatest scenes in Russian Literature, is perhaps unmatched in its ability to engage a reader and his tears. The other equally important character is Pierre Bezukhov, who is a close friend of the Prince. Pierre is always so unsure, so uncertain, dabbling with different ideas and ideals, falling, failing, has a wife who nearly ruins him, and yet Pierre by the end of the novel comes of age, redeems himself, and in the climax attains Natasha in marriage. Natasha is the heroine of the novel. She is a bright spark, the resplandent laughter, full of energy and life, beautiful and engrossing female character. Whenever she breaks into the story, the tale becomes a remarkable love story. Music and smile pour in, dances start to occur.

Be it Natasha's family members or those of Prince Bolkonsky's or any of their acquaintances, the characterization is such that one can visulaize each one separately. If there is villaincy in Doholov, Natasha's brother Rostov has his inexperience leading him into a near ruin. If Marya, Bolkonsky's sister is god fearing charming but simple looking girl, Ellen is seductress, souless counterpart who possesses a father and a brother equally despicable. The whole array of characters are present in this novel, which of human characteristics be different species of animals, makes Tolstoy's War and Peace a Noah's Ark.

The novel is at the same time a swashbuckling romance, family saga, philosophical query, a historical fiction, a war memoir and more. It is a timeless classic that through its pages develops a whole crop of humanity, representative of our passions and traits, and chronicle of our deeds and choices and what guides them. The novel has one of the best last quarter I have ever read, where the climax arouses so strong feelings at every page, that I was laughing joyfully on one page and crying inconsolably on next page. (This is before the epilogue).

I have often stressed that classics deserve respect, slow and patient reading, and War and Peace is no different. There are sections where I was forced to move like a stream of water going downhill, and other places where reading each page was an effort. Yet once the plot is set up, once you have finished reading over one third the novel, once the Russian names and their universe is created in your head, the novel becomes friendlier. It fills your head with images, emotions, ideas and you are carried to Tolstoy's world. For anyone seriously interested in reading great literature, Tolstoy is a must. Inarguably, War and Peace is one of the brightest prose pieces ever written and I heartily recommend it to one and all. Again I have figured that Constance Garnett must have been a great translator, and like other great Russian Novels I read translated by her, this one also calls for my gratitude to her. But above all, all credit to Tolstoy for creating this epic saga. Must read it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

O cofee, if you were a woman

O coffee, if you were a woman
bitter and lonesome, dark and handsome,
Would you too scald my lips
mess my head, fill me with acidity
and be different in flavor each day
and be sweet only when I was buying you?

O coffee, if you were a woman
turbid and irksome, adamant and troublesome,
Would you too torture my tongue
sap me to your satisfaction, to dehydration
and be hard to get, or get rid off
and be nice only when I was serving you?

July 03, 2006
7: 45 pm

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Two Lives by Vikram Seth

A memoir spanning the whole of twentieth century

Vikram Seth's Two Lives is a biography, a memoir, a novel and a collection of letters rolled into one. The landscape it covers includes India, Germany, England and America, and the timespan includes most of the twentieth century. An Indian Hindu, Shanti comes to Berlin, Germany in the beginning of 1930s to study Dentistry, forms friendships with both Christians and Jews and Henny (who is of same age, and his landlady's daughter) becomes his particular friend. After finishing his studies, Shanti returns to England, where his degrees are not recognized, and he takes exams again. He enlists and fights in second world war. Loses his right arm, and yet battles on with his left hand to become an able dentist again.

Henny must part from her family and make her escape to London. Throughout 1940s she bears the news of one killing after the other, as under Hitler, Germans seek out the Jews and exterminate them. Henny corresponds with Shanti who is fighting in the War, and corresponds with friends left in Germany. The stash of letters that Vikram Seth uses and copies in this memoir is a telling tale of what millions of Jews suffered through in the 1940s and thereafter. Henny meanwhile works her daytime job, and in beginning of 1950s marries her lifetime friend and companion Shanti.

Henny and Shanti are two lives in focus here. The lives are inspirational, while their times full of war, misery, deaths, separations, and treachery. Through their life stories one comes face to face some of the greatest horrors from previous century. The World War II and action against Jews feature as the backdrop in which the valor of the protagonists and the depth and sincerity of friendships they had with people is tested. Historical perspective provided by Vikram is well researched. The story puts you face to face with not only the pre-1950 horrors, but also raises some important questions about present day world, say Israel-Palenstine conflict and US-Middle East divide.

In some places, the book is almost auto-biographical. In the beginning of the story, a teenager, great-nephew Vikram Seth arrives at the house of Shanti and Henny. He sets up his personal association with the two lives in his characteristic witty, simple but effective writing. Vikram Seth is one of my favorite living poets and writers. Having read all his novels, and nearly all his poems, I loved the beginning for it describes the writers own struggles and coming of age as well as how and when his various works were written. While the main story is of Shanti and Henny, Vikram's own story is an interesting third element that makes this memoir worth picking.

Yet maybe because the theme is so complex, maybe becuase it is a memoir, maybe becuase it speaks of such turbulent times and for Heeny's life progresses through her own correspondences, Vikram Seth's Two Lives is not as easy and straightforward reading as his previous novels. The story of Henny during 1940s has too many characters, and these come in and go rather quickly. Perhaps the idea there was to emphasize the events, rather than personalities (quite unlike in Suitable boy), and the letters, the narrative weaves a heart-wrenching description of Berlin through racial hatred, through bombing, and through division after the war.

Vikram Seth strives to provide a lifelike potrait of both Henny and Shanti. Hence, he strives to outline aspects from their daily routine that he witnesses himself, his other family members perceive by themselves and what he gathers from his conversations with Shanti and from letters of Henny. He is telling the tale of real people, related to him. Only an author of his calibre can create such a rich, likable, must read memoir using these tid-bits of information and working with and against his own personal relationships. Vikram doesn't make Shanti or Henny into just heroic survivors of various tragedies and catastropies. Neither does he magnify their life sagas or characteristics. He provides snapshots of their successes and failings, of their quirks and habits, of the complexity of relationship and marriage, and of their painful approach to death.

Two Lives is overall a great memoir that one ought to read to feel inspired by the protagonists, to become aware of horrors that our grandfathers faced, to understand our present world and to appreciate how well a writer like Vikram Seth can weave a saga from such varied elements. People like me who have read other books by Vikram Seth might be surprised by presence of some obscure parts in the book, but the story itself requires a degree of uncertainity, of vagueness, of incompleteness. If it were fiction, one could have reproached Seth for spending too much time on deaths of protagonists and on their life after 1960s. Especially some of the family disputes could have been pruned. Here in the biography, he needs to pull all elements of their life together, and like he must, he describes events in 1930s and 1940s in greatest detail.

The narration of events in Germany from 1930s and 1940s, the copies of Henny's correspondence during that time and Shanti's personal reminisces about the second world war and dentistry with left hand are transformed into a must read biography by one of the greatest living writers of our times. Go, read it.