Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Remembering Bhagat-Sukhdev-Rajguru, Ram Manohar Lohia, Kanu Sanyal and Tagore's Tota Kaahini

March 23, 2010 is the 79th death anniversary of Sukhdev Thapar, Shivaram Rajguru and Bhagat Singh and 100th birth anniversary of Ram Manohar Lohia. Today morning, Kanu Sanyal, a leading figure of the Naxalbari movement and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), was found dead in his house. Initial reports suggest that the 78-year-old communist hanged himself. I would not have known about Sanyal, or remembered the martyr trio and R M Lohia, but for Vinod Dua's 9.30 news slot on NDTV India.

Seems unnerving that these Indian intellectuals, who remained staunch in their varied beliefs till the end, should be united in their life and death by this trivial, albeit uncanny coincidence.

On March 23, 1931
Three youths died
shouting slogans till their last breath
to keep the revolution alive.
More than six decades of sleep later,
they perhaps still scream in their graves:
Wake up.

Sadly for someone like me, a person born in a free, lethargic nation disillusioned with politics and corruption, the driving force of legends like Bhagat Singh that propelled them to defy leadership with such unflinching confidence can only generate awe, surprise and disbelief.

I feel alarmed and disgusted with the way Maoist cadres and socialist parties are behaving in recent times. My brush with die-hard communists has been limited to invisible and continuous waves of masses of thousands of people rushing towards Esplanade on foot or on trucks that make their presence felt by choking the traffic of even the city's most far-flung corners and its every single arterial road. They speak the same tune, argue the same logic and could be just as loyal to their cause as thousands of young men and women may have been during the freedom struggle more than six decades ago.

Any movement seems just when it takes birth. Slowly, the movement becomes the organ itself, the mission gets sidelined and finally buried under layers of big, hollow talk. Perhaps Rabindranath Tagore had envisioned the way the Communist movement (or any other governing mechanism as such) would end up as long back and had tried to warn the masses with his harmless-looking short story called Tota Kaahini or The Parrot's Tale.

To me, this story has wise metaphors. The foolish parrot is the uneducated, ignored mass of faceless people. The expensive gold cage, sham education, revelry and rigmarole is the all-powerful state machinery that tactfully misleads the masses from their objective. The fault-finder is a person who still has the ability to see and speak the truth - and so is a nuisance.

The biggest sorrow is that with time, people with strong, honest ideals (and not blind transfer of faith into a glorious-looking mass-movement) are becoming a rarity. The country is producing generations of self-engrossed young men and women (including me) each more below-average than the previous.

A dear teacher once confided in a casual, sad remark — "Since the past few years, all the new batches seem worse than the previous ones." Another teacher had also pointed out the same degeneration. "My old students would make my palms sweat with their string of questions. You people just eat up my words without arguing," he had sighed. Have we become a race that is too lazy and/or meek to ask and argue?

I hope that at least for the time we remember people like Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, our sleeping conscience urges us to be as truthful and courageous as we can be in our daily affairs.

I end with an edited excerpt from Bhagat Singh's prison diary. Courtesy Wikipedia.

"The aim of life is ... not to realise truth, beauty and good only in contemplation, but also in the actual experience of daily life..."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Discovering Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I introduced myself to Gabriel Garcia Marquez during my visit to Crossword in December 2009. I got Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude to begin with.

Have read Love in... and must say that overall, I liked the book. More than the story, which I thought is marred by incidents of passion used as a stop-gap arrangement, I loved reading Garcia's description of places and people.

The chapters on the Paramaribo parrot and Fermina's varied pets are entertaining. That the parrot got excited seeing the pretty maids amused me no end. Dr. Juvenal Urbino's patient lessons to teach the bird Latin and French were also impressive, given my personal indulgence with all things animal. Marquez writes in a splendid style, extremely detailed and full of the darker sides of human character.

Talking about the storyline as such, I did not like Florentino Ariza's character, especially with the consequences of his last fling. It's a book you must read once, though not quite one that you can read again and again.*

I have really liked the novella Of Love and Other Demons. It makes for a quick reading with about 150 pages of power-packed writing. The preface, in which Marquez has explained how a reporting assignment in 1949 sowed the seed of this story, is extremely intriguing. Another fast read is a collection of stories titled Innocent Erendira and Other Stories, about 160 pages. I liked reading Innocent Erendira (the theme is presented as a short paragraph in One Hundred Years of Solitude) but somehow, Gabriel Garcia Marquez seems to end on a note of emotional cruelty each time.

The winner is Memories of My Melancholy Whores, one of the Nobel winner's most recent works. In one line, the story begins with a 90-year-old requisiting the services of a virgin. This adventure introduces him to something like love.

For the benefit of my readers, I quote some lines I found extremely poetic from this novel.

"Make no mistake: peaceful madmen are ahead of the future."

"Sex is the consolation you have when you can't have love."

...Morality, too, is a question of time, she would say with a malevolent smile...

"Whenever someone asks I always answer the truth: whores left me no time to be married."

*Edited to add: I am reading much more of Marquez now, and admit that my mind goes back to Love in the Time of Cholera. Definitely something I would read again. April 12, 2010.


So then, which are the new good books you have discovered?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Life rules, and how...

My blog is my salve. It's been some time now that it is keeping me company like a soulmate in those unearthly hours long after midnight and much before dawn .

There's this aversion to write analytically about current, disturbing issues. Similar to wanting to see a fun, masti movie instead of one with moral highgrounds once in a while.

For example, barely a few days after Shiv Sena blasted SRK for speaking up for a one-off comment in favour of Pakistani cricketers, my aaji pointed out that the party was mum when the Pakistani hockey team was playing India. Good blog-worthy point, I thought. Are controversies raised only when big finances (read SRK and cricket) are involved. Are controversies raked up only when big businesses can be held at ransom?

I could have read up and written, but I was not inclined to. I choose to focus on many other issues — extremely trivial but very personal...

Many more poems have filled up the little diary. My phone is busier than usual. My pets demand attention. I have discovered that I love gardening. We are coming closer, bonding better. It surprises me how life can take the turns you want. It surprises me even more how easy it is to let go and how difficult to hold on — or vice versa.

Some friends from the blogosphere have abandoned their blogs. It is an unfortunate loss to readers like me who take strength from their random, magical lives. Some new writers are coming to notice.

Life rules, and how? :)