Monday, March 28, 2016

Review: Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart
What an enchanting book! Each chapter is a series of tales so woven as to form a whole. This was my first Chinua Achebe and much came together for me in the reading of it. A sense of what was African writing at a point of time, reinforced by the memory of Les Nouveaux Contes d'Amadou Koumba, similar in some ways though less tightly woven and less driven by the superbly controlled angst of Achebe. Birago Diop, I found more playful and, of course, the advent of the White Pest was not present in that collection.

LesNouveaux Contes d'Amadou Koumba by Birago Diop
Achebe's writing brings to life an entire geography, horticulture and local flora and fauna, including human beings. The cultivation of yams, for example, consumes a good fraction of the book, without, however, giving you an itch to escape the descriptions. The seasons come and go, imprinting themselves on you, with the merry and poetic ease of expression.

Set in Africa, at a time when the European was beginning his depredations, this book covers the journey of one man, a metaphor of the times. The contrast between the protagonist and his father plays through the book, an ironic look at the usual tilt where one generation looks down on the other that preceded it. Family, families, throng the pages. Men, women, children and the elderly dance through in a procession of unforgettable sketches.

The dramatic ending is beautifully muted, making the small tragedy powerful - such is the marvel of humour.

I now ache to discover more African authors of that time, to uncover new voices for this is an enterprise in which we must all engage if we are to ever undo the sinister voodoo of one world view that is ruling and ruining us all.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 07, 2016

Review: New Urdu Writings : From India & Pakistan

New Urdu Writings : From India & Pakistan New Urdu Writings : From India & Pakistan 
by Rakhshanda Jalil

What is Urdu?
“Centuries ago, Urdu was born in the streets and markets of Delhi and became a language of middle-class North Indians. But, in the post-Partition India, it was replaced by Hindi and English. Ironically, it was adopted by Pakistan where the majority of people don’t speak Urdu. In India, though, it survived in Hindi film songs and in poetry symposia.”
Abdullah Khan has put it quite charmingly and, indeed, a core quality of Urdu seems to be an exquisite politeness, a poetic quality and, until fairly recently, the lyricism of Bollywood songs. It was the language of the Muslims, an exotic and frilly tongue that one rarely heard spoken in real time, for the Muslims of India were mostly confined to their own areas.

Various explanations are given for this, mostly to the tune of “they have their own ways”. However, the bitter truth is that most Hindu landlords won’t rent out to them. And what’s so odd about that? We humans seem to do stuff like this to each other all over the world.

When I returned from a five year stay in Malaysia, the Bollywood music scene had undergone a sea change. Songs were now in many of the local dialects of Hindi. On the streets, your query in English got replied to in Hindi. When you dial customer care, you hear a chaste new form of Hindi, crisp and businesslike, suitable for global use, neatly replicating commonly used politeness formulae of worldwide call centre English.

On the other hand, Muslims were now more visible, which is really heart warming.

So I hungrily grabbed the book, looking forwards to a new outlook on life, love and other things in this set of Urdu stories.

Another reason why I chose to pick it up is that it’s published by the Tranquebar Press which, along with Blaft, brings out translations of many regional writings from India and the neighbourhood. These publishers are doing a splendid job of undoing the alienation which had set in amongst us others, the peoples whose birthright of co-mingling had been brutally stolen away by colonialism.

Well, here’s my take, for what it’s worth. 

It’s a morose medley - but then most regional language short story collections tend to be a tad gloomy.

The translation is faithful in the sense that it’s not snob-perfect. But then the “good” translation into English often kills seamlessness.

These fifteen stories (from India and Pakistan) is 
an eclectic mix of veteran writers and young voices” 
says Abdullah Khan. I’ll leave you to find out more about the stories from his review, the link to which is above.

Tragedy laden content aside, I’d recommend the book for its insight into the camaraderie that exists in real time between peoples projected, by global media, as hostile to each other. A common angst at the terrible destruction the White world, especially, in the present, the US, is disbursing, unbridled, around the world, is expressed by both Indian and Pakistani voices.

Perhaps it is this which makes it less apt to be published by one of the big “global” publishers. And the time for that to be a cause of mourning is past - we are a nation of nearly 1.3 billion and can provide more than enough readers to make up for the loss of not making a mark in the White world.

The Indian voice, with its own colour, is, not surprisingly, palatable as far away as China. Witness the popularity of our Chetan Bhagat, whose book is, it is said, being made into a film in China!

And, now, to elaborate about my two opinions. I have no idea what short story collections were like before the European brigands plundered our peoples of all sense of self worth. Yet our heroic myths are never weepy! There is love and death, lust and betrayal, guile and guilelessness but never the bleak notes which harp on the nerves in most regional short stories. I’m pretty sure this dank despair crept into our writings as a result of the dastardly deeds of the White petty traders who steered their ships away from their plague ridden shores to line their dismal cities.

As for the translations, I shall not nitpick as, to me, they spoke with a more authentic voice than would have been the case had the job been handed over to a person trained in “perfect” English.