Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review: Beau Geste

My Family and Other Animals (Corfu Trilogy, #1) by Gerald Durrell
Early Education a la Gerald Durrel
I had a rather unfettered childhood thanks to my psychiatrist father. School I found most repulsive and so I hardly attended. The empty field, near our small bungalow, in Bangalore, provided all the education I desired and a gentle elder sibling nudged books my way, when I began to read.
The Secret Seven (The Secret Seven, #1) by Enid Blyton
But, while Enid Blyton corrupted my naive years with her adventure stories, I was more strongly drawn to dictionaries.

The transition to H. Martin, P.C. Wren’s High School English Grammar and Composition was, thus, fairly natural.

High School English Grammar and Composition by H. MartinOur edition was elegantly hard bound and it was a pleasure to dip into the sample essays and passages by great writers. Scrolling through a PDF version now, I find nothing of the sort. Perhaps our antique edition had gems that later improvements lack.

Nevertheless, it was but natural for me to get all excited when I found a novel by P.C.Wren in a local library. 

The more so since we’d but recently seen the film.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Review: Yogasanas and Sadhana by Dr. Satya Pal Grover

Yogasanas and Sadhana
Train journeys in India can be quite long, given the country's dimensions. Combine that with a chronic tendency for delay and you find yourself in need of various forms of timepass

An Indian railway platform provides a variety of timepass options: food and beverage carts and hawkers, little shops selling miscellaneous items (inflatable pillows, playing cards, board games, toys, etc.) and one or several book stalls.

In fact, there was a recent article on the man who launched these. 

Early this year, we had to spend a lot of time at the Pune railway station, as our train was quite delayed. I spotted a book stall and struggled to select a reasonably priced book which might be interesting and worth my while.
I settled on Yogasanas and Sadhana and I find that I do not regret my choice at all. As a matter of fact, I tend to dip into it ever now and again for some brilliant tips on routines for a good life.

There are a lot of good and not so good books on Yoga out there. However, a great many are mainly good as coffee table décor while books by the likes of B.K.S. Iyengar may not be everyone's cup of tea. They're a bit too hard to follow for people like me and would better suit one with a more advanced interest in the subject.

Far too many Yoga books are by people of European origin. And these are mostly too costly, too glossy and, worse, just too much of nothing, half the time.

Yogasanas and Sadhana turns out to be quite handy with lots of useful tips on health, meditation and other things. An index would have been nice as, for lack of such a thing, I've dog eared the book all over.

Each chapter closes with a short piece in Sanskrit and its translation.

Flipping through, as I sit here, I discovered that the first chapter, which I'd skipped, assuming it was just a basic write-up on anatomy and physiology, also contains information on chakras and their relationships with the body as well as telling us which asana is good for a particular organ or system. Page 12, which precedes the chapter, has a table listing ailments and the corresponding asanas.

Chapter 2 discusses 6 types of yogic purification practices and their advantages. Some cautions are also provided. Though I've heard of the benefits of some of these from many of my acquaintances, I'm still a bit hesitant to try them out, as they sound quite extreme. I might try the Trataka Kriya one of these days.

But, then, I had a rather sheltered upbringing, sheltered from the mainstream Hindu Indian ways. In that sense, I find Indians take to yoga far more naturally than seems to be the case elsewhere, where many a caution has to be laid on thick and, despite which, the practice of yoga is known to cause this or that injury or something of the sort. Thus, this book might just be specifically for an Indian readership. And that, perversely, makes it exactly what the outsider should look carefully into in order to boast a more complete knowledge of the subject.

In the third chapter, Ashtang Yoga is explained. I wonder if Madonna did any of this! These eight pages cover a whole philosophy of life.

Chapter five explains the rules and techniques of the yogasanas. I have dog eared the page about Dhvani, a kind of Om meditation.

The Yogasanas themselves are dealt with in Chapter 6. While the illustrations are not only very basic but also not so attractive, the instructions are extensive and thorough.

I've dog-eared page 104 which provides an exercise made up of three kinds of laughter and the benefits. I've already started practising this one, often. Find below that section from the book:

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince

When I was a little girl, my father gave me the book. For some reason I did not read it. Or read it half-heartedly. It was only later, when I met my husband and raised my son that I discovered the power and beauty of this little book.

I won't tell you the story in too much detail for most of you must surely have already read it. A pilot is forced to land in the middle of the desert and meets what seems to be a little boy.

The little boy is, at first, a little annoying but his tales soon engross the pilot and us.

The little person is from an asteroid and was forced to leave his home where he could watch several sunsets in one day because a rose he cared for was tormenting him. One might take that as a way of expressing the pains of love. Or why not just enjoy it as a charming little nothing.

There are many other things of far greater worth in this book and some of those, for me, are the characters the Little Prince meets as he travels through space.

In Chapter 4, the pilot, who has a great many things to say about grown-ups (more accurately "The big people"), has the following to say

On making his discovery, the astronomer had presented it to the International Astronomical Congress, in a great demonstration. But he was in Turkish costume, and so nobody would believe what he said.

Grown-ups are like that . . .
Fortunately, however, for the reputation of Asteroid B-612, a Turkish dictator made a law that his subjects, under pain of death, should change to European costume. So in 1920 the astronomer gave his demonstration all over again, dressed with impressive style and elegance. And this time everybody accepted his report.

If I have told you these details about the asteroid, and made a note of its number for you, it is on account of the grown-ups and their ways. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you,
"What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?"
 Instead, they demand: 

"How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?" 

Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.
If you were to say to the grown-ups:
"I saw a beautiful house made of rosy brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof,"
 they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all. You would have to say to them: 
"I saw a house that cost $20,000." 
Then they would exclaim: 
"Oh, what a pretty house that is!"
Well, I have to confess that a great many people are, sadly, exactly like that and that is, perhaps, why I find people who do not seem to want to read this book.

A lady told me her children did not want to read this book. Perhaps our children have also become grown-ups. A tragedy, indeed!

The character in Chapter 10 is my favourite. He is a King.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Unbearable Lightness of Ernest & Celestine

     What kid wouldn’t enjoy an animated film? Yet, somewhere along the way, I lost touch with them. I was kind of hesitant when I watched Ernest and Celestine. 

     Would I get bored? Have these things lost their magic for me?

     I don’t remember when I saw my first cartoon film. Mary Poppins had some animation going on and I adored that movie. 

     My actual memories of cartoon and animated films begin in my mid twenties when I saw The Jungle Book with my husband when we were dating.

    The real pleasure began as my son entered the cartoon years and we both waded through huge amounts of Tom and Jerry and Daffy Duck and the romantic skunk among to name but a few out of innumerable other Disney offerings.

    In my mid-fifties now, my tastes in cinema seem to have undergone a sea change. In many ways I'm joyfully treading down the garden path to a second childhood.

    And then, along the way, I began to access the Alliance Francaise resources in a couple of the cities where we moved to, when my husband changed jobs. French animation is a whole new story!

     It is also with the French that I came to realise that the graphic novel for the adult exists.

     Nothing in the world of English comics and cartoon films prepared me for what the French offered! It was at once shocking, irreverent and exquisite. An explosion of the mind and senses.

     Ernest & Celestine will be an excellent way to enter the enchanted realm of French animated cinema. 

The Tale In a world where mice live underground, albeit in a world as charming as that of the hobbits, where a mouse’s greatest ambition must always be to scale the heights of a profession as dentist, where bears live above the ground and despise mice, fate throws together a certain defiant little mouse and a lazy and disreputable bear.

    While I was still trapped in Hollywood animation, we used to ooh and aah at the skill and realism of the animations -how almost real they have become! While it is true that art almost perfectly imitating life can often inspire awe, artistic representation fulfils many functions and the art of faithfully imitating the so-called real can rob it of its diverse and rich mechanisms and goals. 

    Ernest & Celestine is not simply all about the story. Your mouth will fall open, your eyes will pop out of your head at the sheer zen experience of the craft. 
There is one outstanding sequence with music and brush strokes - playful and exquisitely enchanting. 

Animating Ernest & Celestine from The Creators Project on Vimeo.

Based on the lovely children's books by Gabrielle Vincent, with a screenplay by noted novelist Daniel Pennac ("Cabot-Caboche"), this lively and larcenous tale is softened by its watercolor pastiche and minimalist animation. A magically understated mash-up, "Ernest & Celestine" has a comforting storybook effect and proves a refreshing departure in an age of high-tech, hyperkinetic animation set to soaring pop ballads, as entertaining as they can be. 
All over the world, throughout the ages, human beings have tussled with the Us and Them. What culture is without a story of love doomed because the lovers belonged to warring clans or something of the sort? 
"Ernest and Celestine" is the coziest movie you'll likely see all year. Every frame is suffused with a fireplace kind of warmth that, for me at least, cast an immediate spell that didn't let up. ... it's the overall integrity of the movie, directed by Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Rattar, adapting Belgian children's books by Gabrielle Vincent, that's key to its charm for children of all ages 
     Do beg for, buy or borrow the DVD to find out and to enjoy a most exquisite piece of animated cinema. 
   The story will hold you spellbound as it moves above and below ground, weaving its gentle wizardry over your blasé heart.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Speak, Friend, And Enter

I’ve just finished typing out Chapter XVII of my father’s novel, The Being and the Becoming. Here, the protagonist asks a swami why he meets with certain experiences. The sage answers
Like the creatures that trouble you and have come to you; like sweetness, bitterness. Things come to you: You recognise them; know them. Seems to me, they come to become known by you. Shall we say that all things happen, biggest thing that happens seems to be ‘knowing’.
There is more in that chapter, in the next one, indeed, in the whole book about all this. Having provided you with the link, I shall say no more and leave you to discover for yourself.

Talking Tolkien It must have been somewhere in the mid-sixties that my father returned from somewhere, perhaps the US, with a set of books in a box: Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I hadn’t learned to read yet but, everyday, he would tell us the story. As I sat in his lap and listened, I was enthralled by the characters. Later, when I’d learned to read, re-reading the Hobbit and the Trilogy became an yearly ritual. When I married, I introduced my partner to this world and, of course, when our son was born, we read aloud from it, and many other books, to the little boy, right from his infancy. By the time he could read, he also became a pilgrim, reading the books many times over. Alas, by the time the film was released, we lost our addiction. Perhaps it was the film that did it.

The Short of the Long of It Briefly, Tolkien created an imaginary world, peopled by various entities. The protagonists are called Hobbits, short human like beings with fur under their feet, who live in cute houses under the ground.

One of these goes on an adventure with some dwarves (nothing remotely like the ones Snow White hob nobbed with!) during which he finds a ring which makes him invisible. This is, basically, the story of The Hobbit.
This book is followed by The Trilogy: The Lord of the Rings, which has three parts.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf the Grey, a wizard (again, nothing like your Disney characters!) forces Bilbo, the Hobbit who found the ring, to give it to his nephew, Frodo. The first part of this book focusses on Frodo’s journey to an elven retreat. Note that Tolkien’s elves have less than little in common with your childhood storybook ones.

It is in the second part of the book that things heat up.  Chased by Ring Wraiths and wolves, the travelers have to reach the mines of Moria. Long ago, a dwarf who had traveled with Bilbo left his land to locate and re-work these mines. This underground world has a secret door and our heroes have to find the password to open it.
While I hope that you will read and relish all these books, my post is about something my father once told me.

Often, in life, we encounter situations which simply refuse to be overcome. We are, as it were, shut out of the solution. In tune with what Surya writes in chapter XVII of The Being and The Becoming, Tolkien’s password to open the door to the mines is, very simply: 
Speak, friend, and enter

All they had to do was to utter the word “Friend”!

He also used to tell me a story where Krishna and some of his friends or cousins had to keep watch all night, by turns, in a dark forest, known to be infested with a demon. Each of them, except Krishna, had their turn and encountered the demon who beat them all black and blue as they accosted it with rough abuses and threats.

When it was Krishna’s turn, he spoke to the demon courteously and invited it to sit down at the fire. As he spoke the demon shrank and disappeared.

As with many things in life, the approach is, sometimes, the opposite of that which seems the most likely path to a solution.

Another story is from The Garden of Live Flowers, in Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll. The more Alice tries to walk towards the house, the farther she gets! It is only when she walks in the opposite direction that she reaches it finally.

When a problem besets us, we want to best it. We wrestle with it. Perhaps, if we could find a way to look at this thing, which is tormenting us, in a friendly light, we might find a way out. Or a way to use that very situation to our advantage.
I really have no idea - so, I’m off to lie down for 15 minutes (by my timer) and be friendly with some of my inner demons: Alright, let’s be friends. I’m not going to push you away. Let me listen to you. Let me hear you out.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Kochi, August 2015

Hot. The weather is hot. Today's hotter than yesterday or the day before. Yesterday it rained. Suddenly. At about 4 maybe?
I asked a giggly gaggle of schoolgirls how long it would rain. More giggles. One said maybe 15 minutes? And another said don't know. So I asked her an hour? Two days? One year? Giggles. Some nervous this time.

It rained again while we relished toddy in the little Kallu joint at Ponekkara. Drumming on the red tiles as we spoke of this and that and fascinated the gentle drunks. One tittered at our talk, a faded man, clean shaven, Christian or Namboodiri. "Confusion," he offered delicately, a benevolent umpire to our converse. The sweet scrawny regular was almost done and we bowed our byes as he stood up a tad unsteadily but with utmost dignity and went off, umbrella handle tucked into the collar of his shirt.

It's hot. I wore a black silk  kurta to honour the occasion and so it was hotter. I got a headache for my pains but the bevies of young belles in their utmost finery had not even broken into the smallest of sweats. They danced gracefully and with decorum around a lamp after strewing fragrant flowers. And then other girls in more finery sang. My head now ached in earnest. Onam celebrations at a local institute. 

I managed to disappear, found a timely and honest auto and got dropped off at an eatery where we'd had our first dinner here-fish curry and tapioca and I forget what I had that time. Now I ordered toast and butter and tea-my headache comfort food. The tea was small, sweet and surprisingly adequate to the occasion-two huge slices of toast with a bounty of butter. The butter and a small dab of jam were served separately on a small tray. Rs. 30.
That done I bought some headache pills, thrilled to find they were neither Saridon nor Aspirin.
They took some time to do the trick but then, I only took one and I'm still fairly free of pain at 3 in the afternoon and I'd had that at slightly past 12. Kerala, land of pharma!
Did the Mall Rat act at Lulu and Oberon.
Scary window displays.
And the boat ride.
 That was the best part of the trip, although it'd have been much more fun with company.
Well, that's a grumpy intro to the trip and, hopefully, I'll soon entertain you with more about Kochi but in a more cheerful light! 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Apps!... I did it again!

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To a small set of people in my life, I'm one of those who, to put it politely, go where angels fear to tread. 

In short, there's those who wait, with bated breath, to say of me: "Oops!...She did it again!"

I'm going to tell you about some 3 apps that I've used but I have explored more and intend to continue this exciting trend. First, however, I'm going to let off some steam!

Today, I'm glad to say that I'm 55 and I've done it again! I've struggled with something new to me and reached some level in ease of use.
Smartphones can make the difference between life and death as one ages these days and it's apps that account for most of these benefits.

I note rather too much undue caution in people above a certain age and it's sad. Besides losing out on a lot of the joys of life, this attitude helps them shut down from the mainstream of life faster than the usual physical ageing process.

When I was young, being conservative was a huge virtue. The smug abounded who drooled with anticipation for a brave one to stumble and fall face first in some truly icky shit. One justification for those times could be that technology was no child's play in its infancy. Few could afford gadgets and getting them repaired/replaced was a major pain, not to mention how hard it was to acquire them in the first place.

In contrast, with the advent of computers and, more specifically, the Internet, it’s the fearless and frisky who survive better. Again, observe how the old vertical hierarchy of old to young has been turned on its head. Nowadays, if you're not willing to learn from the young, you've as good as nailed your own coffin down.

Aptitude with apps is a major plus point today. The first thing my son expected his parents to do when we got our smartphones was get apps. We were both a little embarrassed to admit that we had little idea how those would work or how they would benefit us. 

Shortly after, the main focus of discussions on a couple of groups in which I participate was apps. But Google searches didn't help me understand what an app was nor how it could be useful to me. In the meanwhile, our son loaded a few apps on both our phones, on the one hand and, on the other, circumstances forced us to realise the importance of apps.

We were about to travel and, somehow, it was late evening when we sat down to book a taxi ride to the airport for early morning the next day. Damn! All the fancy taxi sites like Uber and Ola and even Taxiforsure, which we’d recently used, were only accessible via apps. Though we managed to contact a local cab service and get the job done, it was an eye opener.

As the journey progressed we found ourselves relying increasingly on apps for finding out where we were, platform numbers, and whether our train booking had progressed to confirmed. But all that travel related information apart, apps sustained us in our time away from home in a much more significant fashion when I found myself with too much time on hand in the hotel room and too many hearty meals to cope with.

A brief foray into Google Play Store fetched me 3 apps for my needs.

The first was Yoga is both a workout in itself and a good stretching routine on its own or to precede another workout. The interface was fairly user friendly. It was fairly good while it lasted but, today, after some 4-5 days of use, it is inaccessible.

Advertising itself as “Daily Yoga - Fitness On-the-Go, Daily Yoga Software Technology Co. Ltd Health & Fitness”, it claims 
Daily yoga is the best yoga app on Android which guards your health everyday with your own yoga studio on the go!Daily Yoga is the world's most popular yoga coaching app suitable for all levels, beginners, intermediate and advanced, providing 50+ HD yoga exercises and the largest database of 400+ yoga poses, HD VIDEOS, live voice guide, soothing music, social community, and more.

I used Easy Joint Movement which is a plugin of 'Daily Yoga'. 

In other words, each time you select a free yoga workout from Daily Yoga, you have to download and install something else! Time consuming, for one thing!

Besides this one, I also downloaded and installed Office Yoga to De-Stress, Seated Yoga Routine, and Yoga Sequence for Beginners as part of using

They were all fairly good but certainly not quite safe for total beginners or the unwary. In any case, I don’t know how it would function for anyone who tried it now.

The second app I used was for meditation. And this was out of sheer curiosity as I’ve been meditating for years using a set of techniques I acquired from my father. However, a new technique is always a shot in the arm.

Simple Meditation, Creative.Software.Studio Health & Fitness, does fairly fulfil its claim  
Simple Meditation App teaches the voice guided meditations. Also it provide smoothing sounds, which calms your mind and helps to relax.

The European accented voice is a tad annoying. The music is adequate but not terribly appropriate. Some ragas would have done nicely.

However, the interface is quite user friendly and I’ve finished the 8 sessions. 

They are short and do help one relax quickly.

Though I’ve yet to investigate the sounds, I’d freely recommend it to anyone who needs quick destressing or a short intro to meditation.

The third app is the one I like best.  Abs workout, Caynax Health & Fitness, contains a
workout schedule to perform in 42 days - no shortcuts - known as Aerobic Weider Six (Aerobic Six of Weider).Daily ab workout contains 6 exercises to perform everyday to get perfect 6pack. Forget about push ups, sit ups, pull ups, squats etc. No need to go to gym. You can do this 6 pack abs workout at home.

It gives you a nice burn but you should be wise and skip a rep if it really hurts. However, I do not think that it would really harm you.

I’ve only got to Day 4 and there’s loads more to go.

It’s very easy to use as there’s an audio track to guide you through and an animation which shows you what to do. The rest times are nicely adequate to balance the demanding workout.

If you’re sincere about wanting nice abs, download it now!

As for me, I'm spending the rest of the day investigating apps of all kinds.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Jesse Beauty, Unisex Salon and Spa, Aundh, Pune

Groupon is where I head when  I want to pamper my dear ones and myself. It's usually got the kind of deals I can deal with: a massage for as little as Rs. 499 and, sometimes, or at some locations, for even less! Besides a massage, there are deals for all kinds of other things and there's Groupon for most cities, even around the world. And that is how I booked us for a massage at Jesse Beauty, Unisex Salon and Spa, Aundh.
These days, with most of us sitting at a desk all day, mostly hunched up, our bodies end up feeling stressed. The muscles are tense. Lack of fresh air and no time for a workout makes for dull skin and  a miserable mood. 
In the olden days, in India, there was, at least, an oil bath, once or twice a week. In some places, like Kerala, I recall seeing people give themselves a nice oil rub before a wash. Nowadays we have no time for all that and we'd rather not have to clean up a tiled bathroom after that. 
It's, therefore, a small luxury and an almost must to go have a massage now and then. And that's what I booked for us. 
The parlour was easy to find as it's next to Medipoint Hospital and above Saarthi Veg Restaurant.   This makes it convenient to find and, after a relaxing massage or other beauty treatment, why not treat yourself to some yummy vegetarian food?
Jesse Beauty is quite spacious compared to a few other salons I've been to so far. The white backgrounds and the decor, in general, were quite appealing.
The lady who runs Jesse is an absolute sweet heart. She gave my son a chocolate as it was his birthday!

There's a nice lounge to relax in while you wait for your turn. It's got a big TV set, lots of cool magazines and very comfortable and elegant seating.
And you can have a coffee too!
The staff conducted the massages most professionally and it was really good. I've been to a few places in Pune for these massage deals and this one I rate highest so far. 
They offer a couples massage which makes it such a luxurious experience. The massage room was spacious and pleasant. My partner got so relaxed he began to snore! 
 To the left of the picture you can see the shower room-it was most modern and luxurious and such bliss to have a nice hot shower after the massage. 
All in all, I have to say a big thank you to Jesse for having given us a superb and luxurious experience!

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Pierre Boulle's Planet of the Apes

Somewhere in the Seventies, I saw a film called the Planet of the Apes which I thoroughly enjoyed. The ending was spectacular and memorable.

While a recent remake caused some excitement, it seems to have failed to leave a mark.
I had no desire to ruin the original experience and did not watch the new versions. However, I recently came across the novel in French by Pierre Boulle.

For those who have no knowledge of either the film or the book, this is a Science Fiction novel about a situation where apes rule humans. The author deftly captures the emotions we would undergo at such humiliation. The ending is a twist in the tale!

A must read for the Sci-Fi buff as it is a historical landmark as are Huxley's Brave New World or the even earlier works by Jules Verne or H. G. Wells.

Get The Planet of the Apes Now!

Monday, June 22, 2015

One for the Movie Buff!

Popcorn Essayists : What Movies Do To Writers by Jai Arjun Singh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another fine book from Tranquebar, this collection, edited by Jai Arjun Singh, has thirteen specially commissioned pieces on films of various genres, from diverse places and dealing with this or that aspect of films.

The first story, Jellyfish by Manjula Padmanabhan, sort of rambles on comfortably, basically sharing her experiences, meeting film buffs and having to watch the sort of arty farty films which grace some auditoria in Delhi, for example. She's used a format which makes it come alive, using dates, conversation and interspersing a "cut to" here and a "dissolve" there.

Manil Suri's My Life as a Cabaret Dancer is one of my favourites not only because of the entertaining content but also beacuse he writes well - I look forwards to reading his novels. He's an amazing man - a mathematician and novelist.

The second article I enjoyed immensely is Musharraf Ali Farooqi's The Foot-Worshipper's Guide to Watching Maula Jatt, written with much tongue in cheek. He analyses what sounds like a B Grade film with a very serious tone-almost like Stephen Leacock.

Terminal Case by Sidin Vadukut was also amusing-a look at an Indian family in Dubai in the VHS tape days, the author's first film in a hall, seeing a Malayalam film in Kerala with extended family, and various other escapades related to the viewing of films.

With classy cover, The Popcorn Essayists can work as a coffee table book. Given the diversity of voices, it's not only movie buffs who'd love to have a copy-another fine book for an anytime present to anyone-so long as they love to read!

View all my reviews

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Night life in small town India - a potpourri by Subhi Jiwani


I judged this Tranquebar edition by its cover. I love it. Ahlawat Ghunjan’s art work brings to light the shades and spaces of night. The subdued glimpses of a water body and of stars suggest twilight in a small town. I presume that it is also his art which forms a prelude to each article.

Each article wraps up with a some neatly presented information about the town-regular or seasonal events like theater, cinema halls, book stores, malls...which also makes this book a handy buy if you're visiting one of those small towns.

While some of the narratives in Subhi Jiwani's anthology on Life After Sundown in Small-Town India make for slow reading, are rather academic in tone, others wax lyrical. A fine blend of information and gossip characterises most of the pieces.

Reading this shortly after Urban Shots: Bright Lights made perfect sense. Fiction about the metros followed by real life accounts of night life in small towns.

Night, in a small town in India, is closed to women. Dogs, booze, pot and power cuts are some of the other elements common to these towns.

My favourites in this collection are The World Came to Town and Dharini Bhaskar's A Country of Words. The focus of the first is the screening of international films in a small town in Kerala. Not only did I get a glimpse of the stories of two Kurosawa films, but was also enchanted by the author’s insight into some of the aspects of life in Kerala-how women fare and how arty farty the Left can get.

Bhasker’s piece is poetic - from descriptions of leaving Delhi on a bus to MacLeod Ganj (“Delhi appears in jump cuts, as fragments, a potholed road, a smokehued building, and always the startandstop of angry rushhour traffic”.), through the eventful journey (“Before me rests a finely woven sheet of mist”.), to the town (“It’s 9 pm, and it is stirring with tales of the night”.). I look forwards to reading more of her writings.

I looked forwards to ‘Monsieur, Keen on Rajnikanth?’, as I lived in Pondicherry long ago. It was a nice read, with a subtle melange of gossip and information.
In Bihari Nights, Amitava Kumar captures the essence of the enterprise straightaway: “The inhabitants of Bettiah are satisfied, especially during summer,if the power supply revives for a few hours every three days.”

We glimpse the reality of Bihar of which we have only heard rumours: the abductions, thefts...The atmosphere of fear, the division of Hindu and Muslim-these things are echoed in some other voices in the anthology. As are films. A film is or was a big event in small towns. And some of these authors also speak of the X-rated films in the noon shows.

However, Amitava devotes a lot of pages to Naipaul. I fully sympathise and empathise with Naipaul bashing but that’s my pet bias. Mr. Kumar juxtaposes what Naipaul saw (and smelled) with the virtues of people he meets in real time, and people he’s told about, particularly touching in an anecdote about the degree of interpersonal trust in  small towns. And he has skillfully balanced this with all his tales of dacoity.

Food is present in most of the writings and Amitava doesn’t linger on it, unlike Akshay Pathak in Escaping Home and Returning. The latter will have any Indian, if not anyone else, drooling with his descriptions of things to eat in Bikaner.

Theater plays a part in some of the stories. Amitava attends a play by Girish Karnad staged in Bihar, a play about caste and caste has a major role in these diverse narratives too-as both the Hindu-Muslim divide and the caste lines are cast in iron in small towns.

But, lest we assume that this anthology is a morose look at evil hilly billies, note that there is frequent reference to change. Mr. Kumar speaks of women cops in Bihar - and that too at night.

I was eager to read Tabish Khair as I’ve added him on FaceBook but must admit that his In The Bigness of Small Towns is a little pedantic. Very enlightening, of course, and I love how he’s woven Kolatkar’s Jejuri into the narration. It’s a most valuable essay. He talks of the literary geography of India and traces the transition of the setting of writings from R. K. Narayan’s times through the Shashi Deshpande era down to Rushdie’s rushing us into the urban milieu.

For some no small reason, Tibetans figure in several of the works. These exiles were homed in many remote locations in India and, though their angst is well represented, we see that many can call India home (according to the Indian Citizenship act, Tibetans born in India between 26 January, 1950 and 1 July, 1987 automatically qualify for citizenship). Mr. Khair mentions them in terms of the “excitement” in the “other” that characterises the small town in contrast to the urban situation where the “other” rubs shoulders with us all the time.

Taran N Khan’s Little Women, Fewer Men is a demure and simpering memoir of life as a girl in Aligarh. It smacks of a school essay but is, nevertheless, charming in its own way.

Following directly after, Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih’s Seeking the Spirit of Night, is also a bit school boyish. However, it’s innocence is alluring as is its informativeness. Shillong, though a popular tourist spot, is one of those parts of India that we Indians don’t know much about.  Mr. Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih also tells us about theater in Shillong and  about booze and pot and how women cannot favour night  outside as do the boys and men.

Ms Bhaskar’s A Country of Words and Akshay Pathak’s Escaping Home, and
are, perhaps, the most entertaining of the lot. Very readable. Pathak has dogs, booze (‘child beer’), pot, and the situation of Muslims all covered. His is a delicious piece, not only because of the famous cuisine of Bikaner, but because he writes so well.

Crossing Lines by Zahir Janmohamed is a rich and resonating article. And painful to read. If the other Muslim authors in this collection have chosen to be bland about the truth of life as a Muslim in India, and very understandable that would be, he’s stripped all sham. I salute him. Oh, and there’s plenty of booze in his byeline. He’s crossed a lot of lines.

I’m sorry to say that, apart from Ms. Bhaskar, the other two women writers disappoint. Sumana Roy’s Raat Ki Rani ought to be thrilling as she spends a lot of time with women who smuggle goods across the border on their bodies. It ought at least to make one cringe. It does neither. It almost does nothing. There’s something rather middle class and whiny in her tone.

So, from the fine introduction by Subhi Jiwani to the bios of the writers on the concluding pages, Day's End Stories: Life After Sundown in Small-Town India is a must buy.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

The Rabbi's Cat, a Graphic Novel by Joann Sfar

Some months back, I saw the animated film of Joann Sfar's graphic story. So, it was a thrill to get my hands on the BD.

This is a story, I can safely tell you, where a very cynical, rather cruel, and very canny cat acquires the gift of speech. This cat happens to belong to a Rabbi. And, with the advent of speech, it proceeds to argue over various aspects of the religion, mostly with its master, but also with his master and so on. The ideas, while set in the framework of Judaism, are applicable to all religions.

Be it the art, where the nature of people, of the cat, is deftly brought out in a raw style or the sophisticated theological debates, the book is well worth reading if you are a fan of the graphic novel or love a touch of dark humour.

The drawings are very evocative and provocative. How you like them will depend on your tastes. One reviewer praises the artwork

as rich and lovely as the story, full of squiggly lines, tapestried walls, cobbled alleyways, opulent costumes and palpably warm lighting 

while, to another, it is 
mangy and unkempt as the cat, with contorted figures and scribbly lines everywhere. 

  On the last page of the BD, we read that this album is homage to all the painters of Algeria in the XXth century.

You can get a clearer picture about the author and the story from this review.

I would hesitate to add more lest I let the cat out of the bag but, if you are into graphic novels, then you should buy The Rabbi's Cat.

A glimpse of the master's art: