Sunday, March 29, 2009

Two people who mean a lot to me

And, those two people are my maternal grandparents(picture above). This March, I have not been reading books only although my previous two posts suggest so. I have also been visiting my dear grandparents regularly.
My grandmother is, without doubt, a very good cook and the dish which she is preparing in this picture is, specially, for me.:-)

My grandfather before lunch

My grandmother has a lovely garden and in this picture, you can see her caring for her pumpkin plant. For her, every job , no matter how big or small, has to be perfect with a capital P.

The picture above shows a pumpkin on my grandmother's pumpkin plant. She is very proud of her pumpkins now-a-days!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The tiger, The duality, The waves, The murder

This March, I am determined to finish reading seven books, having nothing else, or almost nothing else to do!

So, after reading 'The Kite Runner', I began with 'The White Tiger', written by Aravind Adiga and winner of last year's Man Booker Prize. Its about how Balram Halwai, a rickshaw-puller's son from a remote village of India, climbs the ladder of success. But,this success is not the kind of one which we watch in most movies or what we dream of. This success is entirely propelled by corruption, both of the Indian political system as well as of Balram himself. In fact, its the miserable political situation around Balram that makes him corrupted. Balram narrates his story in a letter to a Chinese Premier , who is supposed to be visiting India shortly. He tells the Premier that whatever information about India's democracy will be given to him by the Indian Prime Minister by means of a booklet during his visit, is not true. The ways in which certain magazines tell us how to become an entrepreneur in seven days, are actually not going to bring success.Balram knows India's "democracy" and he also knows how to become an entrepreneur in seven days, but through totally different means. So, over a period of seven nights, Balram tells the Premier how he became an entrepreneur in Bangalore. With every passing night, we slowly proceed from Balram's backward village life to his life as a driver in the village to his life as a driver in the capital city of Delhi and finally as an entrepreneur in the technological hub of Bangalore. The idea of the author to present him as a driver is very good because that's how Balram easily gets to know all the places where his employer goes and the kind of people he meets. He observes the city and its people very well and gets to know more from the other old drivers.

The way the author presents the story is , I think , his greatest achievement .A lot can be written about Inida's corruption and the futility of democracy if the people are illiterate.Among such writings, only those can be hailed as good which have something new in them. In the case of 'The White Tiger', that novelty lies in its presentation. But, its has its follies and of them is that the suspense of the story is lost at a much earlier stage because of Balram's confession of what he did eight months later. As he confessed his crime so early during those seven nights, the drama leading up to his crime didn't seem so interesting and the things depicting his inner conflict became bland. But, this crime is the most important incident of the novel and because of a fault in its narration, I did doubt whether the novel was worthy of the Booker Prize or not.

The other stories which I finished reading during the past week are 'The Strange case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde' and 'The Merry Men' by R.L.Stevenson. The first one is, of course, brilliant and the second one is not bad either. Everyone knows all about the first one. The second one deals with the adventures of a man on a dangerous islet while trying to find a treasure which had been present inside a ship that had been wrecked by the sea waves near the islet. These destructive sea waves are themselves 'the Merry Men' and they can rise to a height of fifty metres. Though the story is mostly dominated by long descriptions of the islet,the waves and the situation around each time the man goes to find the treasure, its pretty engaging.

Besides these, I also read 'Murder on the Orient Express' by Agatha Christie . Now, this is only the first time that I read one of Christie's works and I am afraid I didn't like it much. The story was very good and everything was in order but the ending was so poor. It lacked that final magical touch of a Sherlock Holmes story where all the clues and all the facts fit so wonderfully into one another. Somehow, Hercule Poirot didn't impress me as much as Sherlock Holmes.But, I am sure that Christie's other works are better than this , otherwise she would not have been such a popular author. So, I intend to read more of her books in future.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Kite Runner

'The Kite Runner', written by Khaled Hosseini, is a novel based on Afghanistan, describing the plight of the Afghans over a quarter of a century. The readers see that plight through the eyes of Amir, the narrator. Amir is the son of a rich and very respected man of Kabul in the 1970s. But, as Amir grows up, he doesn't live up to the expectations of his father. It becomes clear that he has not inherited any of his father's talents and interests but is completely like his mother, who had died while giving birth to him. On the other hand, there is Hassan, their servant's boy who had not got the joy of seeing his mother either. Hassan's father had served Amir's family for forty years. Hassan was mainly Amir's playmate and did Amir's chores. Although Amir and Hassan were the best of friends, Amir noticed that Hassan was more courageous than him, too loyal to describe in words and was somehow loved by his father greatly, probably even more than his father loved him. So, Amir was desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament in the winter of 1975 to prove a point to his father, to prove that he was worthy of being his father's son.

A kite runner , by the way, is someone who tries to run and gather the kites that fall from the sky after being snapped. Running along with many other boys and beating them all in the chase for the fallen kites and finally holding the kite triumphantly, also happens to be a very important part of the tournament. The one who gets the last kite to have fallen at the end of the kite-fighting, is considered to be almost equal to the one who wins the kite-fighting tournament. Now, Amir won the tournament and as the last kite fell, Hassan ran through the streets of Kabul to fetch it for Amir so that would get the double honour of both winning as well as possessing the last fallen kite. But, what happened to Hassan on that day is the event around which the entire novel revolves. He was sexually assaulted by three other boys. Although Amir went looking for Hassan and finally found him completely cornered by those three boys and on the verge of facing some painful, humiliating moments, Amir did not protest. He just runs away like a coward, being too scared of the other boys. But, when Hassan came home that night, the kite was still with him and he handed it over to Amir...

After that, Amir and his father were forced to flee to America when the Russians invaded Afghanistan. We see how Amir completes his studies there, gets married and gradually manages to bury his guilt about Hassan in the peaceful life that he leads there. But, what he does not get there is redemption. And,so, when Rahim Khan, their old and very close family friend calls him up to say that he is dying in Peshawar, Amir goes to Peshawar to see him. It is then that a whole lot of secrets about Hassan and his life after the Russian invasion are revealed to Amir and it is then that Amir decides to search for Sohrab, Hassan's now orphan kid. I will not give away the end of the story here, in case some of you have not read it. But, the story is so purely beautiful. I don't remember having liked a story so much after reading the Harry Potter books. And, now, this one is right up there with Harry Potter, being my most favourite book. It describes the relationship between two people, one belonging to the Pashtun tribe of the Afghans and the other to the Hazara tribe, one the cowardly master and the other , the ever-loyal servant and friend. As the story nears its end though, one does not find Amir a coward anymore. The Amir-Hassan persona seems to mingle in the end , with the words, " For you a thousand times over", being spoken by Amir just as they had been uttered by Hassan on that winter day when he had run that kite for Amir and the ending could not have been more perfect in this heart-wrenching tale.

Speaking of heart-wrenching, the novel also has another aspect. The readers learn about Amir, Hassan and Sohrab through the years when Afghanistan passes from one ruling hand to another. When Amir describes his and his father's journey to Pakistan in a fuel tank while fleeing from Afghanistan, the suffocation, the sufferings of the people crowded in the tank, the pitch blackness, I just felt that I could not read any more of that. Amir's American life, is , of course, way better and at one point, I didn't feel as though I was reading the same book. It was as though I had suddenly shifted to some other book. Yes, it becomes a bit boring also with the narrations about Amir's falling in love, every detail about his marriage, details of his wife's past life, about their not having children and about deciding not to adopt any children. But, when Amir again enters Pakistan and then, Afghanistan, I feel that the author was probably trying to keep the readers relaxed so that they would be able to overcome the shock of reading about Russian-invaded Afghanistan and fully absorb the bigger shock of reading about Taliban ruled Afghanistan. How can someone be so brutal and inflict such suffering on fellow humans and on those little children? Their terror becomes clear when the author says that although there are lots of children in Afghanistan, there is no childhood. Fathers are a rare commodity there. There are many more such heart-wrenching sentences in the book , describing a nation completely devastated, with the worst sufferers being the children. So, I feel that we are all very lucky. We get three good meals every day, have sufficient clothing and a concrete roof above our heads. Besides these, we have plenty of other things and yet, we waste everything. We have experienced all the joys of childhood while millions of Afghan children haven't and yet, we complain about the most minor things. After reading the novel, this situation seems very unfair and justice doesn't seem to be even-handed at all...