Prufrock's Page

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Happy Now?

As other blogs have mentioned, Tarun Tejpal doesn't think highly of Indian book reviewers. Perhaps he'll be more satisfied with this profile in The Independent, which describes his book as being "like the man himself: gritty, unrestrained yet bound by a personal code of honour."

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the books editor of The Seattle Times writes that Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide is "a deeply layered, stirring story." Despite a minor cavil about forced plot twists, she concludes that the book is "sophisticated in its observations, poetic in its natural descriptions and astute in its analysis." Her compatriot at The Washington Post Book World agrees: "Ghosh is a storyteller, not a dramatist, and this is a novel of compelling stories, both beautiful and harrowing." (Although some of the dialogue is "laughably corny".)

The Satirical Mr Chatterjee

Just as one was wondering what had become of Upamanyu Chatterjee, one came across a PTI report (reproduced here) that carried an account of his forthcoming, fouth novel, entitled Weight Loss.

The book features a protagonist named Bhola, who
"falls in love in various stages of his life with various characters, that include his physical education teacher, a male, his class teacher, a female, with a strong interest in an eunuch, a vegetable vendor, one can thus say with the entire world."

Another satire, clearly. One trusts this will be a return to form after The Mammaries of the Welfare State (a.k.a. Agastya Redux) which was, one thought, a case of the author biting off more than he could chew. Brevity, after all, is the soul of satire: Voltaire's Candide was less than 200 pages long, and Swift's A Modest Proposal and A Tale of a Tub about half that.

One will, nevertheless, acquire and read Weight Loss whenever one spots it. Such is the continuing impact of reading English, August during one's impressionable years.

Friday, May 13, 2005

There's Hope For Us Yet

The BBC says that according to a survey conducted by Lulu, a website for writers and independent publishers, the average age of writers who topped the hardback fiction section of the New York Times Bestseller List from 1955 to 2004 was 50.5 years.

Now, if only one could start Chapter One...

A Fragrant Post

Yale philosopher Harry Frankfurt writes: "Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about....The lack of any significant connection between a person's opinions and his apprehension of reality will be even more severe, needless to say, for someone who believes it his responsibility, as a conscientious moral agent, to evaluate events and conditions in all parts of the world."

Ah, that would explain this recent pronouncement against so-called "Hindu literature" by the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Midnight's Children: A Joke

Yes, this is another Rushdie sighting. At the final event of the Distinguished Speakers Series at the University of Buffalo last week, the author read excerpts from his work and gave "intimate glimpses" into his life.

Among other things, he described the genesis of Midnight's Children: "...[It] was born out of a joke his parents told—a joke he hated because it was told so often. The joke played on the coincidence of his birth in Bombay and Indian independence. "I was born in June 1947; exactly eight weeks later the British ran away." Rushdie later recalled the joke and employed it for literary purposes, deciding "there didn't have to be an eight-week gap." This autobiographical beginning led to the simultaneous birth of the main character, Sinai, and the birth of an independent India in a novel that won England's Booker McConnell Prize for fiction. "Childhood, one's personal life, is an incredibly rich, fertile soil to grow plants," Rushdie said. "But beginnings are not endings. Characteristically, in writing a work of art, you make a journey from something you know to something you create."

We're Awaiting A Papal Bull

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India has expressed displeasure at The Hindustan Times' usage of the phrase "Let There Be Light" for its new advertising campaign.

The men of the cloth have also given a thumbs-down to Mr Bachchan's appearance in a white cassock for a detergent commercial.

Authentic Or Exotic?

Payal Kapadia has a decidedly mixed review of Rupa Bajwa's The Sari Shop in The Japan Times, during the course of which she levels the accusation that Indian writers continue to "package their country like an ethnic curiosity for the easy consumption of an international reader."

Now this is, of course, a charge that has been made many times over -- take, for example, the spat between JNU's Meenakshi Mukherjee and author Vikram Chandra over "the cult of authenticity". More recently, Amit Chaudhuri explored the issue in The Telegraph: Part 1 and Part 2.

One's own rather simplistic opinion is that the moment any author -- Indian or otherwise -- starts to depend on local colour and custom to attract readers, the quality of his or her prose dips irreversibly. And though there will always be a market for trash, such writers never get taken seriously, in the short or long run. Chandra again: "Be pure in location, be pure in tradition, be pure in audience, be pure in intent." Intent: that's the key word.

Obviously, the issue has many ramifications and spirals; far too many, in fact, for this hapless blogger to sort out in this post. It should be stated, though, that one doesn't hold the opinion that Bajwa belongs on any list of "inauthentic" authors. However, the always-insightful Nilanjana S. Roy begs to differ in this Business Standard column.

He's Forgotten The Traffic Jams

"I miss the people of Mumbai — their maximum life-force and the stubborn ways in which they hold on to their crazy dreams. I miss Borkar's vadapav and Thursday nights at Olive and the psychedelic streetscape of the inner city."

That's Suketu Mehta riffing on the city he's written so evocatively about, as well as calling the decision to ban dance bars "stupid".

(For an account of a trip to the dance bar that Mehta calles "Sapphire", click here.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Affected by The Tide

Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide was published in the United States last week. Sandip Roy stops just short of raving about it: "For a writer to describe, but not name, is an act of remarkable discipline. Whether he is writing about the teak forests of Burma or the deserts of Egypt, as a storyteller, Amitav Ghosh is masterful. But when he is in his own Bengali milieu, as with his previous novel, The Shadow Lines, he is just effortless....The Hungry Tide may not have the grand historical sweep of Ghosh's The Glass Palace or the imaginative splicing of history and science in his The Calcutta Chromosome, but in some ways it's a more straightforward novel of fish and tigers, of a perfect storm and murky backwaters."

Elsewhere, however, others are hot and bothered with The Glass Palace because of its treatment of colonialism: "...we weren't defending colonialism, just talking about his writing skills, but all hell broke loose. The Indian and Pakistani members were terribly upset."

N.B. One can't help adding that the same article quotes "a harsh little ditty" written by by Noel Coward in the 1930s for the wife of the then governor of Singapore, who campaigned to make bars and clubs close by midnight:

Oh, Lady Clementi, you've read a lot of G.A. Henty.
You've not read Bertrand Russell and you've not read Dr. Freud
Which perhaps is the reason you look so unenjoyed.
You're anti-sex in every form, or so I've heard it said,
You're just the sort who would prefer a cup of tea instead.
You must have been a riot in the matrimonial bed.
Whoops - Lady Clementi.

Perhaps fortunately for Mr Coward, the lady's reactions to the above are unrecorded.

Start The Press

What one finds heartening, even amusing, is the hue and cry and heat and dust generated by the impending launch of new newspapers in Mumbai.

After all, we're constantly being told that we're a generation moving away from paper. We watch TV. We surf the Net. We check mobile devices. Newspapers? Too clumsy, too analog.

(Speaking for oneself, virtually the first thing one does after awakening in the morning is to lurch groggily in the direction of the front door to pick up one's daily fix of processed wood pulp.)

The 57th World Newspaper Congress -- held in Istanbul in 2004 -- informs one that Indian newspaper sales increased by almost 10 per cent in 2003, and by over 23 per cent over the last five years. (Globally, circulation is marginally down, but revenues are up.)

As an aside, the same congress offers the fascinating nugget that though literacy in Afghanistan is only 20 percent, an estimated 265 newspapers were published in that country in 2002, with over 150 distributed in Kabul alone.

Perhaps it's simply because you can swat flies with them.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Shekhar's Capers

Shekhar Kapoor's antics are hard to fathom.

After the disappointing The Four Feathers in 2002, he announced Long Walk To Freedom, the Mandela biopic with the estimable Morgan Freeman.

Subsequently, he proclaimed that he would make a film on water wars in a Mumbai of the future, entitled Paani. (Has the man seen Waterworld?)

Then, he declared that he would direct a film on the Buddha, a co-production with Deepak Chopra. This was followed by the announcement of a production called Solace, to star Bruce Willis.

Finally, one also reads that he's at work on a sequel to Elizabeth, to be called The Golden Age.

One wishes the man would just make up his mind before calling his PR agent.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Long May You Waddle

One's posts have been somewhat terse of late, owing to a family emergency. One trusts that normal service will be resumed soon.

However, one squeezed out the time to commemorate the 70th birthday of a "dignified but flippant" symbol, an imprint that's probably made more of us into avid readers than anything else.

Check out the history. And try your hand at the quiz. (One got 9/10, and was thereby rendered ineligible for the main draw. Drat.)