Prufrock's Page

Friday, July 21, 2006

Kolkata, New York

In the New Statesman, Amit Chaudhuri writes of the gentrification of New York and, in passing, compares it to his current home, Kolkata: "It wasn't just the decay, casually exhibited, the distracted streams of passers-by, the anarchy at traffic lights; it was the way both cities bore the marks of being born of, and mutilated by, modernity. The allure and aesthetic of the ugly: the modern mind's recuperation, in both Europe and India, of Hinduism's odd dialectic with the unattractive and the terrifying, in which these are seen as attributes of divinity rather than the satanic." Hmm. A rather long-winded way of asserting that, in 1979, both cities were in dire need of a makeover.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Amitav Ghosh's 'Fiction'

A Times of India report states that the Central Board of Secondary Education "has revised the existing Elective English syllabus and decided that from 2007, two novels by [Amitav] Ghosh be included, one of which will be taught as compulsory text in the fiction category."

The article continues: "It has been decided that Ghosh's Dancing in Cambodia, At Large in Burma will be taught as a compulsory novel. Till now, only Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea was the board's recommended compulsory novel."

When one last checked, the book in question was clearly non-fiction -- part travelogue, part historical essay. And this is going to be taught as "fiction"?

The article quotes "an official from Delhi": "Times have changed and the entire world is talking about Indian origin authors writing in English. The NCERT had recommended that we should introduce our students to Indian-English writing and that we could start with Ghosh, who is today the most sought after author in his category."

Fine, but for heaven's sake, get the category right.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Reading Prose, Writing Reviews

Francine Prose, "a seasoned teacher of literature, a longtime journalist and book reviewer, and the author of fourteen works of fiction" has a new book in the works, the full title of which is, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them. (Sounds fascinating: one is a sucker for works like these, the last one being Jane Smiley's Thirteen Ways Of Looking At The Novel.) In The Atlantic, Prose speaks of why she wrote it, on the merits of MFA programmes, and on a young writer-friend's assessment of the book: β€œIt’s like Harold Bloom, but written by and for human beings.”

Meanwhile, over at The New Republic, Ruth Franklin starts her review of David Mitchell's Black Swan Green with a long section devoted to the art of book reviewing. In particular, she dwells on what she calls "nice reviewing", as opposed to a hatchet job: " do you convince anyone that you have found 'a novel of real merit' when the simplest phrases ('I liked it') are boring and the elaborate ones ('superbly matchless') have lost their meaning?"

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Blog Block Haiku

An old blog
DoT jumps in

- after Basho

Peace, harmony, understanding
and my blog page
cannot be found.

Leaves, hair, hopes
and the number of site visitors:
All must fall.

Rainwater finds a way
to pass through walls
So do packets of data.

No blogs to surf
No links to check.
The real world beckons.


Mumbai may not yet be another Shanghai, but certain sections of officialdom seem determined to make India into another China -- at least as far as Internet access is concerned. As is well known by now, access to Blogspot, Geocities and Typepad blogs was blocked yesterday; apparently, it's all part of the war against terror. For more information, and ways and means to access blogs, you couldn't do better than check Amit's post. In addition, Peter points one to a Google group and a wiki on the issue. Meanwhile one uses a combination of and Bloglines to read posts. Ironic that one is saying this here, really, because those whom this information can help aren't able to read it, and those who can access this blog from elsewhere don't need it. Joseph Heller, where are you now that we need you?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Linkin' Park

* Can't make it to Frankfurt? Take comfort in the World eBook Fair, to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Project Gutenberg.

* Indian Writing links to a DNA article on how "women use their wiles to get ahead", in which the writer says that Prahlad Kakkar, after making a comment, "chortles with a sneer". One has been trying to perform the same fascinating feat all morning. Without success, alas.

* In the wake of James Frey, Benjamin Kunkel -- author of Indecision and editor of n+1 -- remembers Thoreau's Walden, and offers advice to would-be memoirists: "By all means, talk about who abused you, and what you abused β€” that doesn't embarrass anyone. Or describe the glory that was lost. But keep in mind that were you to discover how it might be possible, in this country, to live a life at once just, proud and happy, admitting it would only embarrass everyone."

* "[A] married heroine who has ruined her life by falling passionately in love with a man who is not her husband." That's the plot at the heart of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter -- something that The Concord Monitor's Hillary Nelson uses to talk about the brain chemistry of the hopelessly infatuated. Damn bourgeois illusions, as Dale Peck would have said. (Perhaps chortling with a sneer.)

* One would think one had learnt to stay away from black holes and other impenetrable areas,'s Calcutta chronicler Geoffrey Moorhouse's review of Jann Daley's The Black Hole, in which he agrees with Hilary Spurling: "This whole period of Indian and British history has been written about so often, with three books on the Black Hole alone since 1965, that yet another one can only be justified if the author has an original interpretation and a distinctive tone of voice."

* One found Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover too polemical to be successful as a novel, but Doris Lessing revisits it and, though acknowledging the "urgent preaching" and other "absurdities", asserts that it's "one of the most powerful anti-war novels ever written."

* "It was when Vikram Chandra...found himself sitting across the table from a hitman high on drugs that he knew he had pushed research for his latest book just a little too far." Ooh, don't you just love those author-as-hero-profiles? Nevertheless, worth reading. (Link courtesy the hard-working and always-interesting Literary Saloon.)

* One shall know no peace until one lays one's hands on What It Used To Be Like, a memoir on life with Raymond Carver by Maryann Burk Carver, his first wife. Jonathan Yardley calls it "strange but strangely engaging....At times, there's a perky, gee-whiz tone to her prose that is ill-suited to what is a cautionary tale if not a downright sad one....Yet her book is redeemed by a number of qualities: her bruised but unflagging love and admiration for Carver, her loyalty to him and their two children, and her refusal to succumb to the temptation to play the role of woman scorned.... An instructive reminder that writers are rarely as nice, or as decent or as likeable as the characters whom they bring to life. "