That strangeness in our minds

19 May

Orhan Pamuk is  a Turkish writer. He has published thirteen books so far.

He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2006. He lives in Turkey.

orhan pamuk

This is the story of Mevlut, a street vendor and boza seller from Istanbul. He is agile and ardent, like the city he resides in.

This is also the story of Istanbul, a city that is subject to rapid changes due to capitalization. It is baffled yet unaffected, just like Mevlut and the thousand other migrants like him.

Orhan Pamuk’s new book ‘A strangeness in my mind’ is a tale of changing city and its changing people. It expresses the restlessness inside a fast-growing city and the unusual loneliness it’s people carry in their hearts. Pamuk tells the story of the people hopelessly falling in love with one another and with the world around them. While doing this, he doesn’t ignore to throw some light to search true love (if at all it exists.)

Our protagonist Mevlut is naive and gentle, hardworking and lovable. He falls in love with a beautiful girl Samiha whom he meets at his cousin’s wedding. Unaware of her real name, he writes long letters describing her ensorcelled eyes for three years, only to elope with her less attractive elder sister Rayiha.

Like his father, he grows old in the city with a dream of becoming rich. Apart from the various not-so-successful day jobs, he sells boza, a mildly alcoholic drink at night for the rest of his life. The gradually shrinking roster of regular customers doesn’t seem to bother him. He seriously believes his life is all about selling boza on the streets of Istanbul – I can only meditate when I’m walking.

As ‘elopement is a  tricky business,’ he gracefully embraces the serendipity, makes peace with Rayiha, later joined by his daughters Fatma and Fevziya. Much later, when his platonic love for Samiha comes true, he recalls that strangeness in his mind and his true love for Rayiha. Surprisingly, that strangeness becomes ours too.

Pamuk attractively portrays the different voices his characters carry inside them. Every character, however small it may be, narrates it’s own story and perspective without overlapping or interrupting the storyline. By doing so, Pamuk strikingly makes us realize that his characters are more trust-worthy than it’s narrator. Thanks to his unique way of story-telling, behind these different voices of peculiar characters, lies the success of the book. As Mevlut’s father Mustafa rightly puts it in his own context It’s the boza seller’s voice that sells his boza.

The bundle of letters Mevlut wrote in his military days do play an exceptional role in the story. If you give a good look, these letters tend to have their own perspective too. After all the years of happy and contented marriage with Rayiha, Mevlut starts to believe that he truly wrote those letters to her. Many twists and turns later, he only agrees to disagree with the same opinion after Samiha’s mysterious come-back into his life.

A significant shift is created in the story when Samiha deals with insensitivity with those thirty-year old letters. Along with Mevlut, the cruelty of ‘game of letters’ is heart-breaking to the readers as well. Samiha says– “You might love me less now, but back then, I was the one who loved you less.”

strangeness in my mind

The strong female characters the writer creates in this novel are remarkable. The women here are amiable, funny, unapologetic and real. Take Vediha for instance who mends all the fences between the family members or the sensitive Rayiha whose needlework depicts those ruthless eyes Mevlut described in his letters. It is disheartening to see Rayiha suffer in jealousy.

The quick-witted Samiha who demands to be wooed at all times cannot be forgotten. “I would have preferred to marry Mevlut because everyone was against it, not because everyone wanted it.” You look at Samiha, and you know how freedom looks like. (This is how she describes herself.)

Pamuk has written on the search for true love in his earlier novels. In this novel, he sees true love as a mirage. At the end, Mevlut admits his true love for Rayiha. If Mevlut had stayed a little longer with the readers, I’m sure he would not be fully sure of his earlier comment. He genuinely feels that love for Rayiha only because she is not with him anymore.

Along with Mevlut’s story, ‘A strangeness in my mind” is also a tale of a slowly transforming Istanbul. Just like any other economically developing city, the inequalities prevail in Istanbul where the poor remains poor unless something magical happens. It is flooded with rich and poor people who always find ways to tap into power lines without paying. The city is full of people who think differently in private and say different things in public.

By the end of the book, the old generation’s gecekondu (which means, placed overnight) homes are replaced by the new tall buildings. The city’s cultural shift is shown by enthralling sales of TVs, movies, cigars, raki, a bottled boza and packaged yogurt. A loosely tied head-scarf is also one among them.

Mevlut’s own fantasies about life and his attachment to the ever-changing streets of Istanbul are enthralling. It is a serious book, elegantly written by the master story-teller, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest writers of our times.

(Originally published in Kannada in Connect Kannada Website http://connectkannada.com/2016/01/09/597/)

Just hand him an Oscar, will you?

19 May

all oscar movies

Yes, movie lovers throughout the world had this unanimous exclamation when it came to their favorite star ‘Leo’. They hoped this time the Academy ‘dare’ not go wrong. When Leonardo DiCaprio emerged as a strong contender to this year’s Oscars in the Best Actor category for his performance in ‘The Revenant’, other nominees like Eddie Redmayne and Matt Damon went a step forward and put his name above theirs in front of the media. This was because they too knew playing a revenant was not an easy task.

‘The Revenant’ is a story of scars, the scars we all carry inside and out. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a frontiersman named Hugh Glass, who was on a fur-trading expedition with his hunting team in 18th century America. In a deadly hunting encounter with a bear, he is left with scars throughout his body. As supporting and carrying him grows impossible for his team members, he is abandoned and left behind in the snow to die.

But Hugh survives. He eats raw bison meat, gives himself a burn shock to prevent infection, gets inside a dead horse’s skin to keep himself warm, gets help when he is totally exhausted, but he survives. “As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe… keep breathing-“ he keeps his heart warm with his dead wife’s soothing words “When there is a storm, and you stand in front of a tree, if you look at it’s branches, you swear it will fail, but if you watch the trunk, you will see it’s stability.”

On his death-bed after the bear attack, Hugh has helplessly watched his son put to death by one of his teammates, John Fitzgerald. He survives for this lone reason to find John and to kill him. Hugh is a revenant himself. But when he finally gets hold of John after his incredible life battle, Hugh sees the glimpses of his own life in a brink. “Revenge is in God’s hands.. not mine-“ he realises.

DiCaprio carries Hugh with such a poise, you cannot stop commending him. It is not one of those movies you see Leonardo usually in. Unlike his role in ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ where he plays a ruthless stock-broker or in ‘Django Unchained’ where he is an evil landlord who finds pleasure in watching two black men fight to death, DiCaprio brings his soul to the forefront in his latest ‘The Revenant’. This sixth Oscar nomination, is undoubtedly Leo’s best performance so far.

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‘The Revenant’ has also brought home two other Oscars to Direction (Alejandro J. Inarritu) and to Cinematography. It is a second consecutive win for Inarritu after last year’s epic ‘Birdman’.

Brie Larson’s performance in ‘Room’ is worth an Oscar. She plays a young mother who is locked up in a shed for seven years by a sadist-rapist. Her journey of preparing her five-year old son to face the outer world is convincing, yet terrifying in this powerful film. Although Jacob Tremblay who plays her five year old son is a real star of this movie, Brie, with her large depressed eyes brings the tale of a troubled mother to life.

How can I end this article without mentioning ‘Spotlight’? In this ‘Best Picture of the Year,’ a group of journalists from ‘Boston globe’ uncovers a scandal of child molestation in several churches throughout Boston. A victory for true journalism, this real story is a tale worth telling.

Before I conclude, tell me how many actors we can find who mentions climate change in their victory speeches? Kudos to DiCaprio who ended his Oscar speech by saying “Let us do not take this planet for granted. I do not take this night for granted.”

Oh, yes Leo! You have earned it!

 

A Naive Crave for Love

9 Apr

between-the-assassinations

Meet Shankara, a school boy from a socially neglected community who blasts a fertilizer bomb with a simple detonator in the classroom as a protest against a bragging teacher. At last, even if he admits the villainy, Shankara is ignored.

Here is the story of Kittur, a fictitious town in Karnataka. It should not be confused with the town by same name in Belgaum district. The author brings out the nuances of this delusive town while portraying the stories which took place between the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajeev Gandhi. If you read R K Narayan’s novels and short stories, this book will doubtlessly hold your attention.

Kittur, a small but diversified town pictured in this book is Adiga’s Malgudi. It is located on the banks of Arabian sea and surrounded by Kaliamma river and Bajpe forest. It is named after the Kittamma Devi temple which is located in this town. You can find all sorts of people in this town. A neglected man of the town Ziauddin obeys an incendiary party just because he finds some respect and care from him.

Characters in this book personifies trustworthiness with certainity in the beginning and gradually tend to become corrupt. Murali, a communist who later counterblows Sulochana’s family as she doesn’t accept his marriage proposal, is one of them. George, who slowly manipulates his employer Mrs. Gomes for his own good who later suffers, is the other.

In Adiga’s short stories, the poor are more vulnerable to acid test than the rich. Jayamma, a house maid who takes care of a plump rich child of Valencia faces hardship in picking up a punctured cricket ball for her little Brijju in the village. Even when she asks for it, the rich child disagrees and neglects her plea.

The author never dramatizes the rich- poor relationship. After reading the story of Chenayya, a coolie who craves for a few extra tips for his hard work and gets insulted again and again is a mock to the economic differences in Indian society. You do not find a single character who is forced to be a God. Everyone have their own benefits in their behaviors. A fair- skinned stranger who skillfully influences Ziauddin is a good example.

adiga_getty

Two people with same nature are quite common in these stories. The teacher in Alfonso’s School D’Mello and Journalist Gururaj Kamath are two such exemplars. D’Mello’s only objective is to save his dear student Girish from bad company and Gururaj’s passion is to print the truth. He goes so deep in the chase of truth and falsehood, at the end the line between the two vanishes before him. His search finally leaves him in the disheartened reality.

Soumya, a little girl who begs to serve drugs for her father and longs just one hug and kiss in return from him leaves a complex image of today’s poor.

All the stories in this book can be described as the naive thirst for love and respect that every human soul demands.

Adiga sketches many pictures of social and economic discrepancies in the society. For him, the enormous nation is within this small town, Kittur. Most of the times, he reckons with the poor despite the rich, as talking to the poor and understanding them is more effortless to him.

The above mentioned reason is sufficient to continue reading this author of Man Booker fame. 

This is Rockstar, a film on passion

5 Jan

Ranbir_Kapoor-rockstarHe murmurs in a deep shivering voice confessing in front of his senior friend, “Please kuch karo, mera dil nahi thutna chahiye” (Please do something; my heart should not be broken). This utterance doesn’t come to his rescue but reluctantly succeeds in venturing a rockstar in him. Few years back, you would see the same vehement guy who went in search of pain to rediscover that ‘go’ from within. He denies it, anyway, thereafter.

This is ‘Rockstar’, a film on passion. It depicts the life of a pop-singer who aptly has a passion for music, for desire and for his lady love.

The film casts Janardhan, an enthusiastic guy from an ordinary family in Delhi whose life, a morsel of monotony, without ups and downs. The pain of a broken heart, according to him, would pave the way to success. In search of fault pain he finds a true companion in Heer, an ebullient girl of crazy desires which she wishes to quench before her to- be- held arranged marriage. Jordan, a nickname given by her becomes Janardhan’s identity, his signature in his music career.

Throughout this film, one can find various forms of pain. The malaise of girl friend’s marriage, the piercing pain inbuilt in Sufi songs, the pain to lose his lady love for the second time, physical pain of being beaten down… the pain which drives Jordan into the passion towards creative endeavor.  Jordan who cannot imitate others paves his own way. But later, this pain comes out as such a popular music; even his loud shriek will be followed by the applause of a crowd.

Beyond his eccentricities which make his fans crazy and a media crowd around him, Jordan lives in his own world, where he bothers about no worldly affairs.

Amid all his films, Rockstar serves as Ranbir Kapoor’s extraordinary masterpiece which proves him as an established actor. Jordan, who discovers the sound of guitar in his girl’s physique, whose fingers play the tunes of guitar in air when he hears a rockband, finds the right stage to emulsify his talent and his love for music even in the brothel.

Imtiaz Ali’s tact of storytelling has given the film an ardent touch of earnestness. The same story would be plain if the editing (Aarati Bajaj) didn’t supported the film so well.

A.R. Rahman’s music and background chore plays complementary to the screenplay; Mohit Chavan’s vocal is a cherry on its top.

 

Paan Singh Tomar- a worth watch

19 Nov

“Saab, hamen toh choutwa kaksha fail hai. Abhi hum toh kitab kum aadmi zyada pada hai.. (I have not even completed fourth standard Sir, I have read people more than books)” says Paan Singh to one of the senior Army official. The same words prove him wrong in many of his life circumstances throughout.

Paan Singh Tomar, a film directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia showcases the life of an athlete who had verve and who deserved a high place in the society, but was declined of it by negligence. Paan Singh, an innocent and enthusiastic young man who changes his victory path from military to sports just to suffice his passion for good food will not be aware of the gusto in him until his coach discovers it. If a wild beast in him was not invoked by negative elements of his surroundings, this genius of zany humor would have contributed as a retrospective to Indian sports.

But his sportsman spirit was ruined for no cause. The film shows how ignorance may light up a fire in a spotless identity. His words “Hum ko dhar naiy; Jaan dunga magar surrender nahi karunga” (I have no fear. I would rather perish than to surrender)” reflects his audacity towards the putrid system.

It is true that the anti- social elements are celebrated in the media. It is human tendency to gape at something negative, at something which creates discomfort to mankind. But at the same time, when someone wins a high honor by his own effort, the community is least bothered. Same thing happens in case of Paan Singh too. Once, frustrated, he points his name in media with dejection where he was made popular overnight as a dacoit.

The film is all set to exhibit Paan Singh. So the other characters appear to be namesake sometimes. Irrfan has ones again proved his stamina as an actor of international caliber. Mahi Gill deserves applause.

Spark Scenes

  • A police inspector throws away Paan Singh’s gold medal in anger. When Paan picks it from the floor, the faded medal reflects to demonstrate futility.
  • The last scene, when Paan Singh recalls his golden days, he recalls a lovely Japanese fan of his, calling him in her own accent. This holds the audience in grief.
  • Paan Singh asks his fellowman to switch off the radio, his eyes filled with distress.
  • Paan Singh visits his coach’s house to collect his photographs. But realizing the lacuna of times, he quits the pseudo attempt to recall his past self into which he would never return. He leaves the photograph in the album itself.

And many more.. A film worth a watch.

 

 

New light into Brothels

5 Nov

‘Born into Brothels’ is a documentary by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski, focused on saplings of prostitutes who work in brothels and red light areas of Calcutta. It is an Academy award winning documentary produced in 2004.

Zana Briski selects eight children living in Brothels with their mothers. The children were almost ‘used to’ that environment, they washed clothes and utensils and go to play when their mothers were busy in earning bread. Their vision about brothels has become so casual, one of the girl Suchitra answers very coolly to the question of her aunt, “When you decided to join the line?”

Zana conducts a photography campaign for these eight children, Avijit, Manik, Puja, Shanti, Gour, Tapasi, Suchitra and Kochi. ‘Camera’ becomes most attractive source among the children. The purpose of Zana was to understand how the world looks like to these children.

She first shows some photos and asks the children to pick their favorite photo. Then she hands over the camera to the children and asks them to click few interesting ones.

Zana discovers unique sight of children grown up in brothels. They suffer from high insecurity and that was reflected in the photos clicked by them. They were taken to the Zoo and admitted to a schooling belonging to a Christian Missionary. Zana and Ross Kauffman brought them out from brothels and were shifted to hostels during the campaign.

This documentary also focuses on success of their project of bringing the children out of the brothels. Avijit, Gour. Tapasi and Kochi aims to join school whereas Manik, Puja, Shanti and Suchitra are still living in their houses hoping to come out.

I must say that the documentary is all about swimming against all odds and almost hoping against the lost hope!

Issues in New Kannada Fiction: Tucked Fabric in a Changed World

5 Nov

Fiction, according to a noted critic of Kannada language Dr. Gourish Kaikini, is a testimony to writer’s strength. In Kannada he describes it as “Gadyave lekhakana satwakke sakshi” which means prose, which can be taken as fiction in this context, is a reflection of writer’s creative endeavor. Even though poetry is commonly considered the highest art form, fiction has its own perceptive impact on the readers.

So by choice, I wish to liken this topic to the tucked fabric in a changed world. I like to use this metaphor to overview the recent developments in new Kannada fiction. The new Kannada fiction is as good as the tucked fabric, where the fabric woven with variety of threads of different colours and formats serves as the background, it is tucked evenly in a new fashion to match the expectations of the new world around.

In this paper I will be focusing on three main topics. First will be the brief history of Kannada fiction. Kannada language, with most Jnanapeeth awards to its credit, where the total number is eight and the recent award winner being Dr. Chandrashekhar Kambar for his collective works, has a rich legacy. When it comes to representation in Indian literature prose writing in Kannada is flooded with experimentation. The second part will speak on how the new writers were influenced by the seasoned writers and in the mean time what challenges they faced to overcome the so called written rules. And finally in the third part I will be giving you the updates about present issues of new fiction in Kannada. Well the latter one will cover the major part of our time where the earlier two may just subordinate the main topic.

In Kannada, the literary works never stick to one rule; it doesn’t mean that the ideologies of the writers are fluctuating. The social beliefs and political ideologies of the writers always remained constant but the process of storytelling and the preference for the choice of topics have undergone frequent change with time. Fiction in Kannada never had a stagnant presentation but it always had an easy flow with natural ups and downs. When it comes to aesthetics, running water has its own beauty, a beauty of transparency. Again going to the above illustrated metaphor, the tucked fabric has its own attraction.

Most of the significant fiction works in Kannada came forth in the sixties and seventies with the background of two major literary movements, the Navya or the modernist movement of the sixties and the Dalit movement of the Seventies. Most of the writers, even the women writers who made significant contribution to the Kannada fiction entered the literary scene in these two decades. The Navya writers wrote in introspection. The focus here was on individual psyche, their grief and introvert desires. Intellectualism was a keyword in Navya writings. D. R. Nagaraj, a late Navya critic wrote ones in Vibhava magazine about this. If you allow me to quote him, just listen to this in D. R. Nagaraj’s words, “When ideologies like nationalism and spirituality become the apparatus of the state, a section of the intelligentsia has no option other than to seek refuge in bunkers of individualism. Individualism becomes the politics of the disillusioned.”

As a contrast, the Dalit Bandaya movement of 1970’s gave Kannada literature a social relevance. The leftist ideology was the watchword of this movement. This movement also rendered a great contribution to the treasure of Kannada fiction as the exploited and marginalized people came forth to the main stream and wrote in their own dialects. Devanuru Mahadeva who wrote Kusumabaale is the most noteworthy writer among them. But as every movement, even these two movements had their own flaws. Some of the Navya writers were branded for metaphysical write-ups and some from Bandaya were stigmatized as sloganeers.

Then the postmodernists came to the forefront. They took the essence from Navya movement and activist attitude from Bandaya. Celebration of middle class and cosmopolitan storytelling made this genre popular as it built certain aesthetic taste in the readers as well. But again, some of the writers were the victims of the mediocre created by this style.  Post modern genre did not emerge as a powerful literary movement as the earlier duo did. As another Jnanapeeth award winner Dr. U. R. Ananthamurty puts it, “Movement gives focus on the scattered creative writing. But the real creativity as a whole, even though inspired by the movement, peers beyond that.”

Hence this quality, as a whole can be taken as strength as it welcomed more experiments and convergence in the art forms. Short story writer Nagaraj Vastarey, an architect by profession who is well known for experimentalism in fiction forms, puts all his poems and short stories in one collection and when read as a whole; it gives a feel of delight, which one gets after reading a fiction. This is a success of the new fiction form.

Hence the fictions of the new writers who started writing after post modern genre got carried away neither by their immediate parents nor their ancestors. They are writing in a freewheeling space. They break the rules and often rejoin them. As a result they had a plenty of space for experimentation without any mediocre. And thus, the new Kannada fiction is flourishing with the beauty of tucked fabrics with a new set of enthusiastic writers.

In earlier paragraph I was talking about the space, I feel I should elaborate this point. The space where the writer’s creative world evolve, not only plays a significant role in deciding the form and content of his creative work but serves as the voice as well. It cannot be completely disagreed if one claims that the occupations in which the writers are in influences their fiction content. But it is inescapable to notice that the contemporary generation is freer from the good old hang-ups to moralize the content. The themes are mostly urban centric but some of the new writers who gained momentum from the rural background write with rural essence which give them the expression of transcendence. The changed societal scene which includes the converged media, malls, FM channels and social networking sites also plays a warp and woof in the new literature.

Some writers came to a forefront through the short story competitions conducted by the vernacular newspapers like Prajavani, Vijaya Karnataka and Kannada Prabha. Many of the writers have their own blogs and some of them contribute to the web portals avadhi.mag and kendasampige.net. The entire scenery is refreshing with a modified set of writers for the changed readers. After the women readership drastically came down due to the invasion of cable television networks, as in the other languages, the number of fictions in Kannada also came down. But it also had an advantage; the readers who are very few in number are very serious consumers of constructive fiction.

When it comes to the use of language, the growth is significant. Uninhibited usage of new language has brought the new fiction its own beauty. The changed language of expression in the changed world has a fresh manifestation pertaining to novel ideas. The use of new language provides as a great tuck to keep the fabric in an attractive shape.

But as like as in any setup, there are some loopholes even here. In one of the earlier paragraphs I was talking about breaking the rules. As William Strunk says, breaking rules are always ideal but to break the rules, we should first know what the rules are. I feel perturbed to make a point that the deep study of past literature is lacking in our new generation. The fast food culture which has seized our tongue to the healthy food intake has come in the way of our attitude towards perceiving the literature also. This is a major impediment of our times.

Story telling without excitement is different from storytelling without spirit. Some fictions in the new era glitter with the colour of excitement and lack the luster of spirit which in turn affects the contemplation of storytelling.

It is good to see that in Kannada each writer writes in his own structure. This can also be taken as a drawback as there are very less seminal works in the new fiction. The cut throat experimentation has come in the way of creating seminal works. Lack of strong decision making attitute has brought severe fluctuations in a writers’ mind and as a result there are no vibrant write ups in the new era.

Despite all these complaints I would like to conclude this talk with an end note. In Kannada new fiction, quality superiors the quantity when it comes to recent write-ups. The tucked fabric, however small, is in good shape and likely we can expect that it fetches some good results in coming days.

References:

  1. ‘Sirigannada- Anthology of contemporary kannada writings’ edited by Vivek Shanbag
  2. ‘Beyond Bangalore’ edited by Kruti.R
  3. Article in Times of India newspaper ‘English poetry by Indians is as good as Indian fiction’
  4. C.N. Ramachandran’s forward to Jayant Kaikini’s short story collection ‘Dots and Lines’
  5. U R Anantmurty’s interview in Mugulu magazine
  6. D R Nagaraj: ‘A note on modern Kannada writing,’ in Vibhava magazine

Presented on 5 October 2012 at: All India Young Writers’ Festival,Sahitya Akademi Auditorium, New Delhi-01

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