Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Farewell UDC Kumari :(

It was the summer of 2001. We were studying(that is debatable ;) ) for our final semester exams at college. The college was almost empty. There was no mess to have food, but we boys were always in the Men's Hostel, playing volleyball and cricket, preparing for the exams, doing the long walks to Pallimoola and Viyyur, watching movies and drinking nostalgia. It was at that time Ishtam shooting happened there. I still remember me, Vellingiri,Sijin, Sujo, Reji, TP and few others walking into a room in the then ECE dept. Kalpana sat there as Inspector Saramma. And we chatted with her. Probably seeing only boys in the college she asked if ours was a mixed college. We said yes and I remember Velli adding - "It is study leave and vacation time, that is why there are no girls". Kalpana said - "Ho! What a sad thing for you. (ഹൊ! എന്തൊരു സങ്കടം!!)" And we all laughed. The humour she made of a comment from Velli was so spontaneous. Later we said bye and went. To this day whenever I see Kalpana on TV or movies I remember that day 15 years back. We have all grown old, and yesterday Kalpana - the UDC, the Sakunthala, the Mohini, the Mary - left the world. She might be an actress with amazing talent doing all sorts of roles, but I like her humour roles. Because to make another person laugh is not easy, and I have experienced it from her.

May her soul rest in eternal peace. #Kalpana

Image Credits: Abhilash Narayanan

Sunday, March 02, 2014

When Things Fall Apart

I first heard about Chinua Achebe in Mathrubhumi Illustrated Weekly's My Book column. It is a column in the Malayalam Weekly, published by the Mathrubhumi group, about one's favorite book and it is one of the sources that has introduced me to some great books. That time somebody has written about Things Fall Apart. I didn't read much about the story in the article, but I read about the author and his area of writing. And I told myself, native Africa is something that I haven't read yet. True, I have read J M Coetzee before, but the 2 books of him I have read, never told anything about the native African and his struggle. Chinua Achebe did that. And since then his name was in my mind.

I got my first Chinua Achebe book back in 2012 Bangalore Book Festival, and it was Things Fall Apart. But the reading had to wait. In the maze of unread books I have (currently numbered at 141) I forgot about that book, even though Achebe's death in March 2013 reminded me about it. Finally it was this last month I got onto it..

Things Fall Apart was first published in 1958, and tells the story of the great warrior Okonkwo of the Igbo tribe who lives in the village of Umofia. He is a successful man who believes that manliness lies in the tribal traditions of having more wives, more land, and more titles. And he has achieved them all by himself. His father, Unoka, was lazy and didn't think anything about tomorrow. He was a debtor and owned money to lot of people in the village. Okonkwo has seen his father and had decided not to be like him. With his hard work, he has acquired 3 wives, 2 barns and a few titles. But things starts to go wrong when he takes up the guardianship of Ikemefuna, a boy who was taken by the Okonkwo's village as a peace settlement offer with the neighbouring village. Initially Okonkwo doesn't like him much, but later he realizes that the boy is hardworking and truthful. Ikemefuna also considers Okonkwo as his father and had forgotten about his home. Then disaster strikes in the form of the decision from village elders that the boy should be killed. An old person in the village warns Okonkwo that he should not be doing anything with respect to the the murder of the child as he is father-like figure to the child. But Okonkwo joins the group of men who takes Ikemefuna to the jungle to kill him and at the unfortunate decisive moment , he himself strikes the killing blow, even though the boy is crying to him for protection. After that incident he is guilt ridden. And later during the funeral of a village elder, when his gun accidentally fires and kills a fellow tribesman, he is forced to go into exile for seven years. By the time he is back, he sees his village being partially controlled by the church and white people. He is deeply disturbed that this village men are doing nothing about it. To add insult to the injury, his own son joins the church and follows the new religion. The rest of the story tells us about how he takes on the white men and how it affects him.

The novel's beauty lies in the fact that Achebe has taken a situation, which may be unknown to the readers, and yet he has made an universal impact with it. The village ceremonies, culture, rituals, myths and customs are all existing within the African community that Achebe also is part of. Yet it is so appealing to everyone. Change the character names and some of the rituals, Things Fall Apart could be a novel set in pre-independence India.

Biyi Bandele writes in the novel's introduction that Chinua Achebe's great uncle who brought up his father was a person who had taken 'highest-but-one-title' in the clan, and was considered to be an important figure in his tribe. He gave space for the missionaries to operate, but later he sent them packing. Achebe's father on the other hand joined the missionaries and received education from them. Achebe grew up in a house where they sang hymns and read Bible every night, but he was also interested in his great uncle's compound and would often take part in pagan festivals of rice and stew. Achebe lived at the crossroads of culture, and it is from this he has setup this beautiful novel, which is largely the story about his own tribe.

Things Fall Apart is a novel, that can tear you apart, if you put yourselves in Okonkwo's shoes. It tells you the story of a proud but powerless man who is forced to clash with his own society and foreigners. At the same time it also depicts the clash of two opposite cultures. That makes this novel truly a great one. I am sure about adorning my library with more Achebe novels. You should too.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Delhi Book Club - Indian Keepers of the Literary Light

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According to the survey titled Readers round the world conducted by World Culture Score Index in 2011, India tops the world with 10 hours and 42 minutes of reading per week per person, followed by Thailand (09:42), China (08:00), Russia (07:06), USA (05:42) and the least being Korea (03:06). Now when we live in a country which tops the world in time spent on reading, necessity calls for the rise of Literary Guardians who can ensure that people’s reading-time is spent worthily. Those who can take up the responsibility of steering readers to wonderful works and admirable authors have to step in and help people celebrate the spirit of literature. This is exactly how Delhi Book Club chips in.  

Delhi Book Club, started on 15th January, 2012 is now heading for its second anniversary. ‘A theme based episodic book club’ is what they aptly call themselves. Every month they choose a theme/author for that month’s meet. Now I am bound to mention about the quality of their choices, but the quality’s so sublime that I’ve parked an entire paragraph for it coming later. Though they insist members on reading content related to a particular theme, they value freedom and let them read anything that interests them which is related in any way to that theme.

Aakanksha Kulkarni, a major force behind Delhi Book Club says “When I started, I was afraid of the diversity the group would attract and how it would be so difficult to tame the discussion or get it to one plane to suit and interest everyone. Hence, I decided to make the book club a theme based book club. It was done for 2 reasons: 1. So that under a particular theme, one reads a book according to one’s own level of reading and 2. Members can take back many more flavors to explore with every meet they attend.”  

They meet often in public parks, restaurants, cafes and convention centers, and when I gaze at their pictures I get a feeling that those locations are somehow miraculously set for singing lovely lullabies of literature. By Aakanksha’s description, a Delhi Book Club meeting essentially has a moderator, usually a person who is the most passionate and most well-read on that particular topic or author. H/She moderates the discussion by starting off the discussion vector and holding its steering throughout. Each member speaks about the book he reads and there are no rules or formats on how to articulate as the club believes that a good creative discussion sprouts not from suffocative prescriptions but from ventilative freedom. Each person gets to speak their part and the discussion furthers reaching out to more topics related to the theme: related movies, relevant experiences, etc.; and hence the meet ends up becoming a nutritious and thirst-quenching river of knowledge for the members to drink from.

What distinguishes Delhi Book Club from its peers is the superior quality of their choices of themes and authors. Take for a start the Rushdie Meet; how could I miss that! Victor Hugo, the man (why not call him God?) who wrote Les Miserables.  Somerset Maugham, have you read The Razor’s Edge?  Russian Literature, Oh boy! Leo Tolstoy. Nobel Prize Winners, forget not that Bertrand Russell won Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950. Oscar Wilde! Don’t we want to go all the way to Paris, shake his grave with all our strength and wake him from death only to beg him to start writing again? Edgar Allen Poe, my Favorite. Dear reader, now having read this name, stand up in respect, throw him a salute and say ‘I shall never forget your poems. Nevermore!’

Look at their choices. Brilliant! See their pictures. Splendid! Lie not, be frank.  Don’t you crave to be there with them in Delhi discussing your favorite author? And when you can’t attend the meet, don’t you feel like letting out tears which twinkle in the light of your love for literature?

Retrospect on what Delhi Book Club does. How simple it does seem, yet how noble it indeed is. If I were an atheist, I would say ‘God doesn’t exist, so he can’t do anything for Literature, but I am glad that you people really exist and are doing something for it’. If I were a theist, I would say ‘God bless you folks for all that you are doing for Literature and may His kingdom reserve a place for you after you die.’ But since I am agnostic, I say ‘God be there or not, you guys are doing a great job and none can deny that.

Want to join them? This is where you can find them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/delhibookclub/

-written by Lakshmikanth Koundinya

Friday, August 02, 2013

read at will !!

I have often heard this from a lot of people, that they don't read books that much anymore like they used to do in their younger days, or bachelor/spinster days. I have gone through that stage after my year of solitary reading , where my reading speed reduced after my marriage. After marriage things were not the same as my bachelor days. I couldn't just come back home and pick up the book to read anymore. There would be something or the other waiting for me after I reach from office. It could be a dine out, a help with the domestic work, or a visit to family friend or just the i-am-waiting-here-for-you-and-you-are-reading look from your spouse. So this post is about how I got around it, and improved my reading speed even if that is not as good as my bachelor years, but better than my initial few months of marriage.

All my books stacked up during our house shift last year
Here are some of things I thought will help others:
  • In office:
    • Carry one or two books in your office bag. You can read them while you are on the bus/metro to office. You can also read them while you have lunch at your desk.
    • If you work in a start-up, and there are only few people who have the office keys,  and the office is not yet opened by the time you reach, then you can read till the colleague with the key comes and opens it. You can also read it when there is a power outage and the UPS is drained, or when you do not have any other work in office :)
  • If you are taking your car/bike for a water service, chances are that you will have to wait for more than an hour for your turn. Take a book every time you go for a water service. Read it when you are waiting in the car/bike and while they are washing, read it standing outside on the road. People may look at you as if you are a nut case, but do you really care?
  • If you don't have the habit of reading while going to toilet, then inculcate that habit. Take a book with you and read, but please mind that too much sitting in the toilet is also not good ;)
  • If you are going to a barber shop to cut your hair on a Sunday, you might end up waiting for atleast 15 minutes until you are called. Read a book during that time. Ignore the old film magazines lying there. When you are called to the chair, keep your book in a safe place, make sure you don't lose the sight of it.
  • Carry them on your long train journeys. It might increase your baggage weight and your spouse might dislike it. But offer to carry that bag yourselves.
    • Reach station early on the pretext of getting delayed in the traffic, if you start late. Find a nice cozy place and just read till the train arrives. Don't forget to listen to the announcements once in a while or else you may miss your train.
    • Once you board the train and have settled in your seat/berth get on with the reading. Don't bother about what others think, just read until they say they want to sleep. If you are traveling with your spouse or friends, then chances are that it may not happen.
    • If some passenger wants to exchange their seats, in the first or last cabins of a sleeper class Indian Railways train, with you, please don't hesitate. There will be always light there in the entries of a train bogies and that light may be enough to read a book, depending on your eye power. If your berth is somewhere in the middle, but the book is interesting go to the entrances/lavatory area of the trains and read from there. If you are lucky you may get a seat, but do carry your ticket along with you. It helps when police or TTE comes.
  • Take books to all public sector offices you have to visit. Your job there might take a long time, and chances are there that you get lot of free time. Like you have gone to SBI for withdrawing some money (assuming your ATM card is not working) and your token number is 50 more than the current one, it might easily take half an hour for you to be called by the cashier. In that time read :)
  • If you are a person who travels to office by car, and it takes an hour to reach your office, chances are that you will be spending 15 minutes of that time on traffic signals. Don't waste that time. Read a paragraph in junctions like Silk Board or Vallara junction in Bangalore
  • Stack your bed-side table with variety of books, and make sure you read at least one or two pages from them every night before you go to sleep.
    • The variety of books can be a novel, a short story, a screenplay, a non-fiction, a biography, a movie/sport related book. This helps in context switching. You might be able to finish a story or a few scenes from a screenplay in 15 minutes. Mostly your partner will take more than that time to settle his/her work and get to sleep.
  • Keep a count of the books you have in your personal library. This is just for motivation, so that you feel you are doing a good job. If you are techie, think that is equivalent to your StackOverflow points. If you are a Facebook or Twitter addict, think that it is equivalent to the number of likes for your post or the number tweets you make.
    • The count can be made for 'read' books and 'un-read' books. Whenever you read a book reduce the count of 'un-read' books and increase the count of 'read' books. If you are more interested you can separate the count in different genres(10 novels, 5 stories) and time periods (monthly, quarterly). A bit of analytics is good.
    • Reading variety of books helps in improving your reading count. For e.g. If you start a novel, story and a screenplay on the same day, at different times, your 'read' books count increases by 3 in one single day.
  • Watch the TV only if you really want to. Don't waste your time sitting there just surfing channels. Instead you can finish a short story in that time.
  • Spend time on the internet or computer only if you need to. Divert that time for reading.
The most important aspect here is that you need to have books around and with you. You need to have that urge to finish a book, even if you are on with it for 2 months. This means that there are books on your bed-side table, in your office bag, in your travel bag, on your teapoy, in your car and even in your bathroom. If it is not conducive to stock books (like in bathrooms and car/bike), then its better you carry them with you. In short always keep it in your vicinity so that it is easily accessible. Always use a bookmark because you never know when your reading will be interrupted.

Happy Reading !!

PS: This post is mostly based on my experience after marriage. In this period I have also become the father of a baby boy, and I am not sure if these ideas I shared with you will work in future. :)
PPS: In future if I find new ideas for improving your reading while raising kids, I will be coming up with another post for that.
PPPS: Follow these suggestions at your own discretion. I am not responsible for the wrath from your spouse :)