Friday, July 07, 2017

The ministry of utmost happiness - Arundhati Roy

Not really my cup of tea.

Began somewhat promisingly, and she surely has a way with words, but by the time political cataloguing began a 100 pages into the book, it became tiring.

The story of the hijras, of Anjum, of identity, ( and the problems with it)  was interesting to begin with. But everything subsequently looked like a catalogue from a left wing journal. The rise of the lalla, Kashmir, Maoists, caste, religion, the endless horrors of torture , oppression... I am sorry but  inspite of trying to live under a rock, I am very well aware of all of this. This is less a thought provoking or interesting story, and more a call to arms, a pamphlet, a shining of the light on the terrors of establishment. There is some beautiful prose in between, but unfortunately that is not enough. The ending I found specially terrible. Even making allowances for a lack of plot, character development. Even giving her the leeway  that this is more lament, litany and history, than novel. Even then, its almost like a cop out.

I am not sure who the targetted reader is, who would enjoy this.. but obviously looking at the ratings and reviews, there are quite a few who do. I am guessing that a fair number of them might be people not familiar with indian current affairs of the last 20 years. Perhaps if I read a similar novel set in Tibet with shallow plot and characters but some pretty writing, I would have been more charitable, since I would not find the cataloguing tiring.


Saturday, July 01, 2017

Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari

Really liked it.

In a way its a history book, tracing the history of homo-sapiens right from the times of and closing all the way in 2014. But its history viewed more from a lens of living conditions, what, and why. There is mercifully much less of the 'when', at least not in meaningless dates. After all, looking across millenia, what is a few days, or even decades, here or there?

It begins with a time which has always fascinated me, the 50 thousand years ago to 1 thousand years ago. As a kid, in the truncated and geographically limited history we studied, the focus was always on how awesome our indus valley civilisation was, and oh ok, we also traded back then with a few others, here read a bit about egypt, mesopotamia, china. Perhaps I can be forgiven for thinking that everything beyond these was just jungle and monkeys. yet, there were a lot of niggling doubts, like how and when did places like america and australia get populated? But they stayed buried as niggling doubts. Then, when I read A history of the world in 100 objects, I was thrilled to find that there was indeed a lot happening all over the world in that period. This book covers a good bit of it, and is more provocative in its tone, putting forward interesting facts, and then building theories to explain them. Then hopping to the other side of the fence and demolishing some of those theories.

I found the initial parts the most engaging, the latter parts had considerably fewer facts or opinions/theories that were new to me.

Good read overall ! 

A death in the gunj - Konkona Sen Sharma

Quite loved it.

A family gets together in the quiet sleepy mccluskiegunj, for a week in the late 70s. Old friends visit. Jokes are cracked. Old alliances rekindled. Soon you can see that one of them, Shutu, doesn't quite fit in. To make matters worse, he is the youngest, the most quiet, and right then perhaps the most vulnerable. Family reunions can sometimes be celebrations in cruelty. Shutu , and his alienation are perhaps at the center of the film, but it languidly and economically takes in a lot more. I loved all the 7-8 of the actors, their performances probably make the key contribution in holding the tension in a slow moving but richly observed film.

It isn't a thriller, or whodunit. I thought the opening scene left no doubt about what happens a week later. Its not the 'who' or the 'what' .. but the why. And thats a hard one to answer. One of the most moving scenes for me was when one of the characters was being urged to empathize, and he suddenly lashes out as to why 'Shutu' needed to pull himself together. Giving out the common wisdom on what is an acceptable level of hardship to break down under, (or not) and what is the expected age to 'grow up'. It reminded me of another conversation I once had with a friend, as she rebuffed my urges to empathize with another struggling soul, and basically again listed out 'this xyz is what constitutes hardship. Our mutual friend is nowhere near this. ergo she needs to pull it together'. Most of the time, we are not on Shutu's side, he has broken too many societal norms, failed too many exams, missed too many phone calls, not participated adequately in communal revelry.

Probably won't be everyones cup of tea, but I would recommend it highly.

ps - as an aside, this movie already had an 'A' certificate, whats with the beeping out of words? so irritating.