Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Friday, November 09, 2012

active ageing; is the best yet to be?

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be,”

Robert Browning’s immortal words now ring truer than ever. The time is ripe to celebrate the golden years. People are living longer and healthier, thanks to improved healthcare and nutrition. Scientific advances are banishing dreaded diseases and prolonging life expectancy. Research on the human genome, for example, is poised to take us beyond merely fighting diseases, and perhaps enable our thathas and ajjis to race like Usain Bolt.

Seniors are growing into a force to reckon with. In almost every country, the proportion of people above 60 years is growing faster than any other age group, as a result of both longer life expectancy and declining birth rates. India has an estimated 100 million elderly persons, which is the second largest in the world. The population of senior citizens in India is projected to reach 179 million by 2031. By 2050, the world’s population aged 60 and over is expected to more than triple from 600 million to 2 billion. The world is growing older, and hopefully wiser. Within the next five years, the number of adults aged 65 and over will outnumber children under the age of five.

Our very own Big B’s recent 70th birthday celebrations has highlighted the glamour, success, aspirations and joys of folks who seem to be growing more vibrant with passing years. Yet Baghban, a 2003 film starring Amitabh Bachchan, also portrayed the pitfalls sadly faced by many Indian seniors. They do their best to provide for their children. But, once the parents are no longer able to support themselves, their children often consider them as a liability. Abandonment and abuse of elders is on the rise, not just in remote western cultures, but right in our own neighbourhoods. As life spans are increasing, the menace of age-related debilities like Alzheimer’s add to the woes of elders.
Let’s consider the privileges and problems of ageing, and see how the balance sheet tallies. Read my  full article published in Sunday Herald

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

random reads in a lighter vein

Buy Birds, Beasts and Bandits: 14 Days with Veerappan Birds, Beasts and Bandits: 14 days with Veerappan
Authors; Krupakar and Senani    Tranlator: S. R. Ramakrishna    Penguin Rs250/-

Truth can not only be stranger than fiction, real-life escapades can be filled with excitement, insights and even some chuckles. It was just another day at work for wildlife photographers Krupakar and Senani, who were clicking away at the creatures of Bandipur National Park. Veerappan, the dreaded poacher and sandalwood bandit mistook them for important government officials and kidnapped them. The photographers were herded by the bandits to a life on the run through the forest. They got a chance to closely observe the rich variety of wildlife in the forest. Close contact with the wild and dangerous bandits was just as enlightening. The terrible Veerappan, reputed to have murdered several hundred people, shows glimpses of his intelligent human side. He and his gang exemplify all the complexities of human nature. The narration is lively and laced with humorous touches. Overall a refreshing and informative read.

Buy The Shadow Throne: BookThe Shadow Throne    By Aroon Raman   Pan   Rs.250/-
An exciting thriller with loads of twists and turns that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. What began as a murder enquiry soon morphs into a deadly game of hide-and-seek within the shadowy world of Pakistan’s ISI and India’s RAW; and Chandra, his friend history professor Meenakshi Pirzada and Hassan find themselves in a race against time to avert a sub-continental nuclear holocaust. As the action moves to its hair-raising climax among the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan, Chandra must face up to the fact that Inspector Hassan is not all that he seems…A riveting thriller set right in our  own backyard and starring people we might know in passing.

Buy Coup D'Etat: BookCoup D'Etat   Author: Ben Coes   Pan   Rs.350/-
When a brutal attack in Kashmir causes the breakdown of fragile peace between India and Pakistan, a rapidly escalating shooting war spins out of control. As the conflict reaches a deadly point of no return, it becomes clear that India is only days from resorting to the kind of attack that would put world peace at peril. With the world on the brink of disaster, the US collaborates to send its very best people to help avert an international crisis.
Not a memorable thriller. Credibility can stretch a bit too thin at times. A light pageturner for a rainy weekend or to while away the time at airport lounges.

Buy The Onus Of Karma The Onus of Karma  Author: Rudra Krishna   Penguin  Rs. 250/-
Swashbuckling adventure meets mythological fable in eighteenth-century Madras. The collection of kingdoms that will soon be India, is in turmoil. The eAst India Company controls much of the north and has ambitions to take over the entire subcontinent. In the south, Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan furiously resist the advances of the British.

In these desperate times, Ramaswami Aiyar, scion of the family which has for generations been the temple priests of an obscure little village near Kanchipuram, decides that the pious life is not for him and joins the police force. He soon discovers that the temple—and the family— he rejected protect the srichakra, the divine wheel given to man by Lord Shiva himself. The srichakra, symbol of Dharma on earth, is an instrument of tremendous power, with potential for great good or great evil, and both the British and Haider Ali want it. And even as Ramaswami finds himself cast as protector of the chakra, he understands the role of destiny in his life and the inevitability of fate.

There's been a clutch of books in this genre of late, which have garnered immense popularity. This story is tightly-written and an entertaining, worthwhile read. Also, it's set in historical South India, and this probably makes it different from the other mythology based fantasies.

Buy The Masala Murder: Book  The Masala Murder  Author: Madhumita Bhattacharyya   Pan  Rs.250/-

A brand new and lively, well-written read.There's mystery, and emotion, and romance with a "Prince Charming on a rather greasy charger'", and the fast paced action happens in a very Indian milieu. The cover seems at first glance to be another instalment of the Inspector Singh investigates series. There could have been more originality and distinctiveness there.

Reema Ray, private investigator and food writer didn’t set out to become Calcutta’s expert in infidelity cases, but that is where her detective agency has taken her. When the deceit gets too much, she finds a welcome distraction and a means to pay the bills by becoming a food critic for a magazine.
Her worlds collide when a gourmet provisions supplier she had once profiled ends up dead under suspicious circumstances. Her food-obscured nose can still sniff out a murder, and she decides to launch her own investigation. Then her ex-boyfriend shows up at her doorstep when he finds himself being treated as prime suspect in the kidnapping of his own wife! Suddenly, Reema is handling not one but two cases. With no access to official evidence, she relies on the meddling group of do-gooders she has dubbed the Calcutta Crime-Fighter’s Club. If all this wasn’t trouble enough, the alluring Shayak Gupta turns up around every corner, and while she can’t seem to resist him, she doesn’t believe a word he says either.
This first Reema Ray mystery follows a comical ride through Calcutta as Reema comes to terms with her feelings about the men in her life while whipping up delicious meals and being beset by criminals and the police alike!


Thursday, November 01, 2012

Black Ice and Mahmud Rahman

Memories Across Borders
This novel by one of Bangladesh’s leading writers exemplifies the little-publicised-but-striking writing being produced on the other side of our nation’s borders.
Mahmudul Haque (1941 – 2008), was a critically acclaimed author of 10 novels and numerous short stories. His life illustrates the close cultural ties binding India and Bangladesh. Haque spent his childhood in Barasat outside Kolkata, and his later years in Dhaka. He considered Black Ice (Kalo Baraf in Bengali), to be his favourite work.

First published in 1977, in Bengali, Black Ice draws upon Mahmudul Haque’s personal experience of the Partition to deeply probe the invisible scars bequeathed to the inheritors of the political divide. The book is filled with protagonist Abdul Khaleq’s childhood pain and distress of leaving his country. The author’s family immigrated to East Bengal (formerly East Pakistan and now Bangladesh) when he was a child. There are some clear parallels between the fictional story and the author’s personal experiences of the Partition. “My childhood was strife-ridden, filled with the anguish of the Partition, filled with the pain of being forced out of one’s homeland.” Nevertheless, Black Ice is a work of fiction. “That’s not based on my life,” the author says. “I am not there in it.”

My detailed review of this book is published in Books and More

 The story behind this English translation is interesting in itself. Mahmud Rahman is a talented writer and author of Killing the Water. My review of the book here. Rahman shares his personal anecdotes about the author, and how this translation came about:
"The papers in Dhaka bring out weekly literature pages and late in November 2006 I read an interview with an author who was unknown to me. This interview drew me in.
 In my first attempt I tried out the familiar bookshops in Dhaka’s New Market. No one had his books. Most salesmen were not familiar with Mahmudul Haque. I lucked out a couple of weeks later, at Dhaka’s second annual book fair, a smaller one than the large February one. They had most of his books and I bought a bunch of them.

The very next day I began to read Mahmudul Haque’s novel Nirapod Tondra. I liked what I was reading and went out to the bookshops at Aziz Market to get more of Mahmudul Haque’s books. By now I had all but one of his novels and his collection of stories Protidin Ekti Rumal. I read this and translated a story from it. Soon after, a second novel Matir Jahaj. And then Kalo Borof. I observed in my journal, “I think it’s a powerful little novel, definitely worth translating.” I decided I would chose that one unless another book turned out to be more appealing. In the meantime I had begun to translate the title story of Protidin Ekti Rumal.

I also began to find a way to make contact with the author.
Right around this time I read the final two of Mahmudul Haque’s novels Oshoriri and Jibon Amar Bon. I was impressed by the lack of romanticism about 1971 in Jibon Amar Bon. In Oshoriri, I admired how much he had packed into this novel of 73 pages. I realized the he was indeed a master of the short novel. After I finished reading all the novels, I settled on Kalo Borof as the novel that seemed the ideal one for me to translate. I would have preferred Jibon Amar Bon, but I was at that point hesitant to try a novel written in much more complex language.

Finally on August 7, 2007 I dialed Mahmudul Haque’s number.
I said, “Amar nam Mahmud Rahman. Ami lekha likhi kori ar apnar golpo onubad korte shuru korechhi. Chhera Taar Daily Star-e chhapa hoyechhilo January mashe. Ekhon ami Protidin Ekti Rumal onubad korchhi. Ekta uponnash o onubad korar icchya ache. Apnar shathe dekha kora shombhob?”
He was quiet and had not interrupted me with any reaction while I had jabbered on. In a plain voice, he said, “Ashen.”
I went the next afternoon and easily found the building. IHe had me sit and then excused himself for a moment. I sat in a living room crowded with furniture, chairs, coffee and side tables, and bookshelves where the books seemed to have lain undisturbed for a while. On the other wall I could see a photo of him with a young boy. There was also a small writing desk in the living room but it was piled high with books and magazines, all old and dust covered.
He returned after putting on a tunic. And we sat down and he wouldn’t let me leave for five hours. We talked about his schooldays, the places he had lived, the history of Dhaka, his writing, his not writing, his fascination with the rural landscape of Bikrampur, his family history, his mother, his interest in gemstones, his disillusionment with Bangalis, and numerous other threads of interest. I realized he was a thoroughly engrossing storyteller.

After the initial meeting, he invited me to return and we would soon settle into a routine where I would show up about every two weeks.
That’s sad to me, that Mahmudul Haque the author, his wife Kajol who encouraged me to translate him, his brother Nazmul Haque who helped me solve an important puzzle and looked forward to the translation coming out, they all died before being able to see the final book. But I’m glad I’ve been able to share it with the children who live in Toronto and Los Angeles."