Friday, December 17, 2004

Of Silver Linings and Rainbows

She kicked into the castle, smiling bitterly as it collapsed. Its walls breached, the waves rushed into its courtyards, flooding it, destroying its foundations. She stood there watching it dissolve…

“Anahita, jeez woman what’s gotten into you today? You can’t just get up and walk out on me in the middle of the conversation – that too, at Mocha! You know how bloody slow they are to reacting and producing the bill, don’t you? I was just beginning to think my instincts were wrong and that you’ve probably headed home and was just about to turn on my heels, when my eyes caught those ghastly ear-rings of yours twinkling away…that’s about the only colour you have on you today anyway! And what is this – why in god’s name did you go and kick that castle? Some kids probably spent hours building and fortifying it…imagine how disappointed they will be when they return tomorrow morning to see that it met with an unknown enemy and gave way to the onslaught of the waves?”

Anahita turned around, her eyes glistening with unshed tears, “That’s what happens when you try building castles without sinking foundations first and stabilizing them. A lesson learnt early in life will go a long way.” She laughed bitterly and turned away, starting to walk down the beach once again.

“Hey come on, chill out. Where’s my babe – the one who approached everything with enough joie de vivre to fill a room? Where’s all this cynical talk coming out of?” He reached for her hand, only to have it moved out of his reach. “Anna? Jaan, kya ho gaya? I thought after that sumptuous dinner polished off with your favourite Kahlua mousse cake, we’d head down to your place for that talk you’ve been pestering me for. I guess I’ll just have to hear it down here, won’t I?”

Her raucous laughter fell like brittle crystals on his ears. “Yeah right, we’d talk at my place alright. I haven’t spent the last decade of my life with you, without knowing what going back to my place after being fed like a pig being fatted for slaughter means. Talk! Ha! Right! And the cow just jumped over the moon didn’t it?”

“Anna, for chrissake you make it sound like some sordid coupling! What’s gotten into you? All this evening you’ve been taunting me and calling yourself a loser. Look, either I failed you or you failed yourself – you can’t have it both ways. I’m getting fed-up of this whole routine now – can we just cut through the bull and get down to what’s eating you?”

She turned on him her look slicing through him, making him cringe even before she opened her mouth. There was bleakness in that look, disguised by the anger that made her voice tremble as she spoke.

“So you want to know what’s eating me huh? Let’s start with unfulfilled ambitions. Rejection from all the Universities I applied to, despite the excellent grades in college and in masters, not to mention a 1380 GRE score. Having to teach uninterested college students a language they think is ‘cool’ only because they can use it to make the vernies look LS in the canteen, or perhaps to patao their latest crush, so that I can pay off the loans I took to fund my application fees. Having my thesis rejected by our esteemed University, because it was considered too radical…radical my foot. And to think I allowed myself to be persuaded not to report him for sexual harassment, out of fear that he’d wreck my academic career later. Like it helped…I should have reported him and requested for my guide to be changed. At least my self-respect would have still been intact.”

“Anna, hey, I thought it was all water under the bridge now – jaan, you can’t let yourself be bogged down such vermins. It is a bad world out there, but it’s not all bad. Come on cheer up. I mean look, you’ve got an envious job with Penguin Publishing now, working your way up…I’m sure it’s not going to be long before you’ll be occupying the position of…”

“I’m not finished yet,” she cut him mid-sentence. “That job sucks, and you know it. I’m not doing anything useful there. It’s a job, it pays. Enough for me to pay my rent and get me through the month. Fullstop. Job satisfaction? Accomplishment of goals? Not a hint of it.”

“It got you the contacts you needed to get your manuscript noticed didn’t it? There’s always a silver lining to every cloud…what is it you used to say? Apres le beau temps la pluie?”

“It’s apres la pluie, le beau temps. And I don’t see the silver lining or the rainbows. They rejected my manuscript. I got their letter today. Too many clichés, they said. And the characters weren’t real. No one likes happy endings any more. Nor happy people. Inject some sadness into your tale, and we might reconsider. Fuck them.”

“Anna, I’m sorry,” he made to reach out for her hand. “Look you can approach some other publishers…Penguin isn’t the only one in the market. There are others willing to support new talent…”

“Please! I don’t want any fake sympathy. You’d said pretty much the same thing when you read it – too happy for me jaan, but give it a shot if you wish. You’ve got nothing to lose. Well I did, and I have. I’ve lost the willpower to go on.

28 years of breathing, eating, digesting, shitting. That’s all I’ve done. Not a single accomplishment to boast of. Rien! Nada! Damn I couldn’t even manage to convince the guy who’s the center of my life, that I’m the one for him. He still needs time. The least I could have done is to win his heart…” She laughed sending a chill down his spine.

This time he did manage to get hold of her wrist, forcing her to turn around. “Stop talking like that. You have accomplished a lot. There are people out there who admire you, admire the way you’ve kept yourself going even after the rug was pulled out from under you, at your parent’s sudden unexpected death in the train crash 6 years back. You didn’t let that defeat picked up the pieces and built your life all over again. Single-handedly. Without an iota of help from your relatives or even from me. And what’s this about not winning my heart? I don’t dance at your isharas for nothing, jaan. I am yours. If I’ve been asking you to wait before we tie the knot, it’s only because I wanted to settle down in my own field, start climbing that corporate ladder, before I asked....”

“Let it be. I don’t want to hear the excuses anymore. There’s no point anymore...”

“What do you mean there’s no point? Anna, look at me damn it...what are you saying?” She shook her hand free and started to walk off. “Damn it, woman, I’m talking to you. Don’t you walk out on me again! You can’t let 10 years just go down the drain! Anna, damn it, stop!”

“Please, just leave me alone. I’ll find myself a rick and go home...don’t follow me. And don’t bother me. Please. Just do this one last thing for me...”

“Last thing...what the hell are you talking about? Look, go home right now, if you want. Sleep over it. You need to do that. We’ll talk tomorrow. I’ll come around with some croissants and we’ll have breakfast together, ok?”

She didn’t reply. He wondered if she’d even heard him and stared helplessly at her back as walked away from him into the inky blackness of the night.

A year later, he walked down from the dais to a thundering applause. He’d just been telling an apt audience about his Anna, the love of his life, who had once filled life with the myriad colours of a rainbow and taught him to never give up. Of Silver Linings and Rainbows was a bestseller, winning critical acclaim all over the world. The publishers had milked the unfortunate early demise of the author for all it was worth and were smiling as the counters rang with each new purchase and fresh demands for the book poured in everyday.

An hour later, he stood at the shore, his right hand in his trouser pocket, staring out at the horizon, lost in his thoughts. His fingers wrapped around the hard, brittle object in his pocket, sending him back to that fateful night. The last time he’d seen his Anna. She’d walked out of his life that night. Never to return. The next morning when she didn’t answer to repeated calls and a continuous ringing of the doorbell, he’d had the door broken down. She wasn’t in the apartment. The bed hadn’t been slept in. His heart had frozen then and it hadn’t thawed since. He’d rushed to the police station to report her missing. “Kab se?” they asked. When he said he hadn’t seen her since last night, they laughed him away, telling him to come back after 24 hours. “Silly lovers tiff,” wasn’t that what they’d said? 24 hours later when he went back, they asked him to identify a body that had been washed ashore the previous morning. It was his Anna.

A month after her funeral Penguin India changed their mind about her manuscript. “It had a gripping tale. A story of unsung courage. A beacon of light in an otherwise bleak world. They would publish.” The author’s death in an unfortunate drowning accident, pushed the book to the fore. The readers’ curiosity was piqued. The first edition sold out within weeks. They hadn’t stopped printing since then. It had broken all records.

He pulled his hand out of his pocket and turned the object over in his hand. A 24 carat diamond caught the dying rays of the sun, flashing its brilliance, blinding him for a moment. For his Anna. He’d promised himself that the day he went down on his knees and asked her for her hand, he’d present her with nothing less. She deserved no less. Tears, unheeded, slid down his face. He should have never let her go that night. He should have pursued her. He should have...

What was the point now? It was too late. Anna had gone, leaving his life plain, colourless. It had been a year since he’d seen a rainbow after a shower. He turned the ring over in his hand once more, raised it to his lips, kissed it. “For you Anna. I’m not going to let you walk out on me in the next lifetime. It’s a promise...” With one last longing look at the twinkling diamond, he threw the ring into the sea.

Dec '04

Monday, December 06, 2004


"Hang your head Tom Dooley, Hang your head and cry,
You killed Poor Laura, Poor boy you’re bound to die."

The lines were stuck in her head like an unending refrain. Try as she might, she couldn’t get the words out of her mind. Hardly had it faded away, that it started all over again. Perhaps it was good that there was music in her head. It meant she still had the fighting spirit in her. She was still alive. And then, music had always been the essence of her being. It filled her heart with joy, spreading light in the dark corners of her soul, making her steps lighter, her eyes shine with suppressed glee, her mouth curve into the hint of a smile. Just as it did now.

"So he thought he had her beaten and subdued did he? Crushed her wings like he had crushed that fragile butterfly last week? He wished."

She’d spent her lifetime, dedicated to serving him. She met his every whim and fancy, toiled all day to keep his house clean so he could entertain his guests with pride and they could comment on his beautiful “home” and his good taste. Ironed his shirts, laundered his trousers, and ensured his tie was knotted perfectly for that important meeting with the German Chancellor. Gave him his vitamins every morning with the glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, poached eggs, bacon and warm toast, just the way he liked it. . Cooked and served him gourmet meals night after night. And then she lay back, like a dutiful handmaid, praying it would end quickly tonight. Praying fervently throughout that she’d conceive and get the excuse to avoid this nightly torture for at least a few months. But it didn’t. It went on and on and on…

It had been fifteen years now. Fifteen years of negating her identity and preserving his. Fifteen years of servitude. Of broken dreams. Of dissatisfaction. Of unfulfilled yearnings. She’d accepted it as her fate, plodding on listlessly through life, doing what he told her to do, dressing as he told her to dress, seeing the world through his eyes, seeing herself through his eyes. What had he said before he left for work today?

"Look at you. You look like a whore with that disheveled hair. You could have combed it back into your usual chignon. And those crimson lips? Didn’t you wipe that blood off, before doing the eggs?"

He left a few minutes later, leaving his breakfast unfinished. He’d grab a Subway on his way to work. The eggs were cold. And the toast was not crisp enough.

"I thought you’d have learnt by now. Such ineptitude won’t do. You better not screw up tonight. These people are important. I can’t have them thinking I married a useless bimbo who can’t even look good, leave alone prepare a decent meal."

She’d listened quietly, her head bowed down. Cleared up the remnants of breakfast after he left, then gone to wash the blood her face, rub some ice on her lips to reduce the swelling and improve her appearance before the maid came. He’d never beaten her before this. But then, she’d never refused him before this either. could she have agreed? What he had asked her to do…a cold chill ran down her spine as she remembered. Shaking her self, she shut her eyes and focused on emptying her mind of the pain. She was good at that.

She slid in her favourite CD into the Sony Music system and started wiping the Swarvoski crystals. After the maid left, she entered the kitchen, having planned the menu while she worked. Quickly removing the vegetables from the refrigerator, she started slicing the onions finely to prepare the gravy for the chicken. Chop, grind, mix, sauté…soon the aroma of spices filled the air. She reached over and switched on the exhaust, continuing to stir the Kheer with one hand, lifting the lid of the other saucepan to check if the gravy was ready.

As she chopped the coriander for the chutney to go with the Shaami Kebabs she planned to serve with the drinks, she remembered this song she’d heard a few years ago. It sang the tale of a woman, much like her, who worked without pay for thirty years, negating herself for him and his children, and then one day, she met him at the door with her bags. She had a job now. One, that paid more than the current job of being a wife. "He thinks he’ll keep her, wasn’t that the refrain? Perhaps she too, could…"

The acrid smell of spices burning wafted to her nose and she abandoned the coriander, running over to turn of the stove. The gravy had burnt a little while she was lost in her thoughts. She’d have to make it all over again. He wouldn’t leave her in peace if there was even a hint of the burnt smell in the gravy. She picked up the knife and began slicing the onions again…

"Hang your head Tom Dooley, Hang your head and cry,
You killed Poor Laura, Poor boy you’re bound to die.


Friday, December 03, 2004

The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood, author of twenty-five books including fictions, poetry and essays, has written a classic that deserves to be placed next to Orwell’s 1984. Critics say it’s no less than Huxley’s Brave New World and Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, but since I’ve not read either of them, I can’t comment. (I tried reading the second since it was prescribed for the Novel Paper in MA-I, but I couldn’t get past the first 10 pages)

Coming to us in first-person, The Handmaid's Tale is an account of a handmaid’s life in the Republic of Gilead in the United States of America. Offred is handmaid to a Commander and her value is marked on the functioning of her ovaries. Handmaid’s according to this tale, were women who served the function of bearing children for the elite, those who’s wives could not conceive children themselves due to various reasons. They were, women who had not yet been married, or were second wives or mistresses, in the era before the Republic, now with no rights and no hope of any life. They go to a school, where they are trained to prepare for their lives as Handmaids, knowing that if they fail, they could face execution and hung at the “Wall” as a lesson to others, or shipped off to the Colonies, declared “Unwoman” where they would spend the remaining years of their lives, cleaning up junk, as the radiations from the nuclear waste slowly ate away at their system.

Offred lay down on their back once a month and prayed that the Commander would make her pregnant this time, so that she could give them what they wanted - a baby in this time of non-fertility and reproductive systems gone askew, when babies were dying in wombs before full-term or being born with numerous defects as a ramification of years of chemical pollution of the elements, nuclear warfare, and strain of mutable diseases that ran through the human system, a by-product of the “loose” sexual morals of the yester-years. Interpolated with flashbacks of her life before the Republic, when she lived with Luke and had a job of her own, an independent bank account and a lovely daughter whom she cherishes till this day, the novel is a horrifying and scathing account of a dystopia that could be.

Atwood, claims that “this is a book about what happens when certain casually held attitudes about women are taken to their logical conclusions. For example, I explore a number of conservative opinions held by many – such as a woman’s place is in the home. And also certain feminist pronouncements – women prefer the company of other women, for example. Take these beliefs to their logical ends and see what happens.”

Powerful and gripping, I could feel a chilling sense of fear and menace grip me as I turned the pages to reach the denouement of the novel. This wasn’t magic realism, this wasn’t science-fiction; it was a warning to the human race, a warning against our excesses, a warning against the increasing use of nuclear warfare and chemical products, a warning against totalitarianism.

It’s a MUST READ!! (Thanks Madusa!)

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Encore Provence - A Book Review

“Encore Provence” – the third in series on Provence by Peter Mayle, is the most delightful read, if you love France, or even if you don’t. A Francophile (I’d prefer calling him an Anglais Francison) he couldn’t get Provence out his system even as he pursued international acclaim in America…so he returned to the south of France and fell in love all over again with la vie Provencal!

In this Vintage Departures publication, Mayle presents a most appealing picture of life in Provence – from the secrets of the truffle trade, to a parfumérie lesson on the delicacies of scent, from an exploration of the genetic effects of 2000 years of consumption of foie-gras (smacking my lips even now as my tongue tingles in memory of the flavour) to the recipe for a perfect village…it is a very insightful, witty and charming tribute to his beloved Provence. He also includes helpful tips on what to do on a summer afternoon (a most delightful chapter), where to find the best honey or the best melons, how to create the perfect garden, the benefits of lavender, or the wonders of the olive tree….
A wonderfully poetic, hilarious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek account of Provencal life, revealing his love for the region, it makes you want to catch the first flight out and settle down to the delights of that way of life…

“Mayle’s prose is, as ever, as pure and welcoming as a glass of the house wine at a Provencal café” – The Philadelphia Enquirer.

“Delightful, amusing, and appealing.” – The New York Times Book Review

Here are a few excerpts pique your curiosity:-

“For everyone coming to France directly from America, the first and most nerve-wracking shock to the system is traffic shock, and it hit us as soon as we left the airport. Instantly, we were sucked into high-velocity chaos, menaced on all sides, by a hurtle of small cars driven, it seemed, by bank robbers making a getaway. The French-man on wheels, as were quickly reminded, sees every car in front of him as a challenge, to be overtaken on either side, on blind bends, while lights are changing or road signs are advising prudence. The highway speed limit of eighty miles an hour is considered to be an insufferable restriction of personal liberty, or perhaps some quaint regulation for tourists, and is widely ignored.

It wouldn’t be so alarming if the equipment, both human and mechanical, were up to the demands placed on it. But you can’t help feeling, as yet another baby Renault screams past with its trees barely touching the road, that small cars were never designed to break the sound barrier. Nor are you filled with confidence if you should catch a glimpse of what’s going on behind the wheel. It is well-known that the Frenchman cannot put two sentences together without his hands joining in. Fingers must wag in emphasis. Arms must be thrown up in dismay. The orchestra of speech must be conducted. This performance may be entertaining when you watch a couple of men arguing in a bar, but its heart-stopping when you see it in action at ninety miles an hour.” ***

“…an even more essential ingredient, joie de vivre – the ability to take pleasure from the simple fact of being alive.

You can see and hear this expressed in a dozen small ways: the gusto of a game of cards in a café, the noisy, good-humoured exchanges in the market, the sound of laughter at a village fete, the hum of anticipation in a restaurant at the start of Sunday lunch. If there is such a thing as a fomula for a long and happy old age, perhaps it’s no more than that – to eat, to drink, and to be merry. Above all, to be merry.” ***

“I could never understand how anything could be extra virgin. This has always seemed to me like describing a woman as extra-pregnant. How can there be degrees of virginity? I’d assumed it to be one of those flights of Italian self-promotion – my virgin is better than your virgin – that served no purpose other than to look impressive on the label…” ***

There is so much more, that tickled my funny bone, appeased my curiosity, tempted my senses…that conjured images of sun-kissed valleys and vineyards, of lazy afternoons spent relaxing in a hammock after a sumptuous meal washed down by a bottle (or two) of rosé wine, of meandering strolls through the countryside, of colouful, noisy, chaotic Friday markets in village squares, of the groves of olive trees and the customs of picking olives in winter (or grapes in autumn, for that matter!), or inhaling the perfume of bushes of lavender as you walk past quaint cottages that dot the countryside….

I think I’m well on the way of being called an “Indienne Francison” ;-)

P.S “Francais Francison” (fr-awn-say fr-awn-si-zon) is a term used to describe a French man who talks perennially about the wonders of France…I’ve bastardised the term to suit my purposes.

*** Mayle Peter, Encore Provence - New Adventures in the South of France,
© 1999 by Escargot Productions Ltd.

The Canonisation

FOR God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love ;
Or chide my palsy, or my gout ;
My five gray hairs, or ruin'd fortune flout ;
With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve ;
Take you a course, get you a place,
Observe his Honour, or his Grace ;
Or the king's real, or his stamp'd face Contemplate ;
what you will, approve,
So you will let me love.

Alas ! alas ! who's injured by my love?
What merchant's ships have my sighs drown'd?
Who says my tears have overflow'd his ground?
When did my colds a forward spring remove?
When did the heats which my veins fill Add one more to the plaguy bill?
Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
Litigious men, which quarrels move,
Though she and I do love.

Call's what you will, we are made such by love ;
Call her one, me another fly,
We're tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find th' eagle and the dove.
The phoenix riddle hath more wit By us ; we two being one, are it ;
So, to one neutral thing both sexes fit.
We die and rise the same, and prove
Mysterious by this love.

We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tomb or hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse ;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms ;
As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonized for love ;

And thus invoke us, "You, whom reverend love
Made one another's hermitage ;
You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage ;
Who did the whole world's soul contract, and drove
Into the glasses of your eyes ;
So made such mirrors, and such spies,
That they did all to you epitomize—
Countries, towns, courts beg from above
A pattern of your love.

By John Donne

Saturday, November 27, 2004

The Interview

34-24-36. 5’6”. Shiny black tresses caressed the curve of her neck, brushing lovingly against her shoulder, much like a lover would. The red waist-coat faithfully moulded her body, highlighting her assets beautifully. She wore a skirt that stopped just short of her knees – some silky material that shifted sensuously against her legs with each step she took forward…
Please have a seat...
Thank you, Sir.
Those husky tones could do a lot for a man’s imagination, not to mention the libido. As she sat down, her skirt shifted higher drawing the gaze down to her thighs. She shifted, her spine stiffened as she straightened in the chair.
My Curriculum Vitae, Sir. As you can see I completed my Masters from…
Her voice droned on in the background as his gaze drifted idly upwards taking in the nip of her waist and higher up, the proud tilt of her chin to the kohl-lined deep brown eyes that were sparkling indignantly with fire. If looks could, he would have burnt at the spot. He leaned back in his chair and smiled.
She would do. Oh yes, she would do alright...

(Inspired by John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” – an influential book, in which he talks about the male gaze. He argues (successfully) that “men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” Women continue to be “depicted in a different way to men - because the "ideal" spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him” Berger was speaking with art in mind, yet his arguments are highly applicable in a quotidian situation – aren’t we as women, constantly aware of the male gaze, perpetually modifying our appearance to please it?)

Friday, October 15, 2004

The Ice Man Under The Bridge

lives on moth soup
the string keeping up his green pants
strangled a barking dog outside the boarded up all night off-licence.
For twenty years he delivered ice to fishmongers
from the mouth of the Thames to Greenwich.
They lived on the best salmon cuts
lobster on her birthday Dover sole for his.
He never accepted the Doctor's prognosis
and when his beloved wife died
he packed her body in bed with ice
kissed her brow like always
left a note for the milkman
and gently as ever, closed the front door.

-By David Crystal

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Bon Appetit

I wish bon appetit
to the frail old fisherwoman
she is no more than just
an armload of bones
grown weightless over the years
and caught
in a net of wrinkles)
who, on her way to the market,
has stopped
to have a quick breakfast
in a hole-in-the-wall teashop,
and is sitting hunched
over a plate of chickpeas
— her favourite dish —
on a shaky table,
tearing a piece of bread
with her sharp claws
to soak it in the thin gravy
flecked with red chilli peppers;
and whose mouth is watering
at this very moment, I bet,
for I can almost taste
her saliva
in my mouth.

And I wish bon appetit
to that scrawny little
motheaten kitten
(so famished it can barely stand;
stringy tail,
bald patch on grungey back,
white skin showing through sparse fur)
that, having emerged
from a small pile of rubbish nearby,
and slipped once
on a bit of onion skin,
has been making its way,
slowly but unerringly,
towards the shallow basket
full of shrimps
— left outside on the pavement by the fisherwoman —
has finally managed
to get there,
raised itself on its hindlegs,
put its dirty paws
on the edge of the basket,
and kissed
its first shrimp.

By Arun Kolatkar (1932-2004)

Arun Kolatkar won the Commonwealth Prize for Poetry in the late Seventies. Decidedly reclusive, he wrote in Marathi and English and lived, without benefit of a telephone, in Bombay. Read more, in his Obituary as written by Ranjit Hoskote.

The Lotus

Love came to Flora asking for a flower
That would of flowers be undisputed queen,
The lily and the rose, long long had been
Rivals for that high honour. Bards of power
Had sung their claims. "The rose can never tower
Like the pale lily with her Juno mien" -
"But is the lily lovelier?" Thus between
Flower fractions rang the strife in Psyche's bower.
"Give me a flower delicious as the rose
And stately as the lily in her pride"-
"But of what colour?"- "Rose red," Love first chose,
Then prayed, - "No, lily-white, - or both provide";
And Flora gave the lotus, "rose red" dyed
And "lily white," queenliest flower that blows

By Toru Dutt (1856-1877)

We did this poem in MA-I ....remembered it recently, though I don't quite know why...what I love about the poem then and now, is its sheer simplicity. You'd hardly believe there was a nationalistic strain lying beneath it - oft I wonder if we make too much of the poet's intention. Should we tear apart every literary work to discover the "subverted text" that lies hidden beneath layers? Or simply appreciate the work for what it seems to for art's sake?

Friday, October 08, 2004

Nobel Laureatte - 2004

Elfriede Jelinek - that's a name you can't not know. Why? Because she just won the much coveted Nobel Prize for Literature for the year 2004. An Austrian author, she is known best for her novel "The Piano Teacher" (1988)...her debut novel "Lisas Schatten" (1967) was followed by several politically conscious novels, till her most recent novels which deal with the role of women in society.

Guess she will be seen gracing the shelves of bookstores soon enough - yet another addition to my "Must Read" list, that is growing much faster than I can read...hmmm....

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Spring and Winter

WHEN daisies pied and violets blue,
And lady-smocks all silver-white,
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
Cuckoo, cuckoo!—O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
And merry larks are ploughmen's clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
Cuckoo, cuckoo!—O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

WHEN icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
To-who!—a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doe blow,
And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian's nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
To-who!—a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

By William Shakespeare

Saturday, September 11, 2004

On My Bookshelf These Days

I finally finished reading Hari Kunzru’s "Transmission" a few weeks back. I was quite excited about the book, having heard so much about this new diasporic author, who had won accolades for his debut novel - and I was just as disappointed. The book has absolutely nothing remarkable - I went through it without experiencing a single moment of delight or fascination at anything he said or how he said it. As I said the other day, it is just another novel churned out by the current spate of diasporic authors. Novels such as these make me question the attention being given to post-colonial authors, irrespective of the content and style of the works. If it isn’t bad enough that they give you an absolutely stereotyped representation of their country of origin, the country they have nothing in common with anymore, except for some ancestry and some relations they would probably have nothing to do with any more, they are claimed as one of “our own” by the country in question– in this case Hari Kunzru is being touted as in Indian – and I fail to understand why. His attitude towards Indians is almost completely condescending and it is glaringly obvious through the narrative that he is in his element (what little there is of it!) while talking about U.S.A or U.K and not the least bit comfortable when talking about India! I definitely wouldn’t ask you to pick up the book – read it if you must, to know who’s who on the Literary Scene these days, but don’t expect much out of it!

Having finished that book I started devoting all my attention to
Kavita Watsa’s “Brahmins and Bungalows – Travels through South Indian History” (2004). Now this is a remarkable book, if I may so. I have still not finished reading it, but I can already recommend it – to everyone, not just people interested in history or those who are from or now live in South India. The book is divided into several chapters each dealing with a separate region/city :- Srirangapattana, Mysore, Bangalore, Padamanabhapuram, Devbagh, Goa, Madras, Pondicherry, Tranquebar, Hampi, Mamallapuram, Thanjavur and Kodiakanal.

Off late I have been increasingly and uncomfortably aware of my relative ignorance of Indian history. I have a copy of Romila Thapar’s "Early India" which I intend to read soon, but the book requires a lot of concentration. So when I found this book, I was completely charmed and won over. Coming to you in the guise of a travelogue the book takes you along the history of South Indian cities, weaving personal experiences (from childhood to adulthood), accounts from other travelogues or journals of the colonizers along with historical facts. Kavita Watsa has narrated the history with panache, without giving it the feel of a lecture - rendering it personal and making it seem like your own discovery of the city. Her comments on the growth of the cities and what she feels about their current state are incredibly insightful and sensitive. Though the historical facts are selective, and are from the Anglo-Indian perspective, it is still an enlightening read!

Brahmins and Bungalows was all the more interesting for me, since I have visited Srirangapattana, Mysore, Bangalore and Goa – reading the accounts brought back memories of my trips, threw light over places I visited without knowing the complete history behind them and made me want to go back once more, with this book with me as my guide!

Most of the other placess she talks about were on my list, but one that has been added is Devbagh. A few months back I had had stated that it would be a dream come true to spend my honeymoon at
Devigadh – I think I’ll change that statement of mine. Devbagh definitely would be more romantic – a small island inhabited only by a small fishing community, one has the option of staying in rustic cottages or tents at a jungle camp on the island. What could be more idyllic than spending your days on a pristine beach, that is yet untouched by commercialization – soak in the sun during the day, walk along the beach, letting the surf wash off your feet, relax on a hammock tied between palm trees,lulled to sleep by the gentle sea breeze, make love lying under the stars at night and fall asleep to the sound of the waves breaking on the shore not too far away? If you are adventurous enough, you can even persuade one of the fishermen to take you to a nearby island that is completely uninhabited – Devbagh, as Kavita Watsa says is “Beyond the realm of prose!”


Wednesday, September 08, 2004

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
Alone and palely loitering;
The sedge is wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,

So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full,
And the harvest's done.

I see a lily on thy brow,

With anguish moist and fever dew;
And on thy cheek a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads
Full beautiful, a faery's child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long;
For sideways would she lean, and sing
A faery's song.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look'd at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew;
And sure in language strange she said,
I love thee true.

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she gaz'd and sighed deep,
And there I shut her wild sad eyes--
So kiss'd to sleep.

And there we slumber'd on the moss,
And there I dream'd, ah woe betide,
The latest dream I ever dream'd
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings, and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
Who cry'd--"La belle Dame sans merci
Hath thee in thrall!"

I saw their starv'd lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke, and found me here
On the cold hill side.

And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.

By John Keats (1795-1821)

[Ballad, n, A narrative poem, often of folk origin and intended to be sung, consisting of simple stanzas and usually having a refrain.
Etymology: -
Middle English balade, poem or song in stanza form,
Old French ballade,
Old Provençal balada, song sung while dancing, balar, to dance,
Late Latin ballre, to dance ]

Thursday, August 26, 2004

If I Could Tell You

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.


Friday, July 23, 2004

Carol Shields

Carol Shields is the author of eight novels and two collections of short stories. “The Stone Diaries” won the Pulitzer Prize and was short-listed for the Booker. “Larry’s Party” won the Orange Prize.

But I’ve not read either of them. My first Carol Shields’ novel was “Unless” (2002) – the novel dealt with 44 year old Reta. A novelist by profession, Reta’s life has been easy, ordered and what on might call contented. All this falls through one day when her daughter Nora, drops out of the system to sit on the roadside with a sign “GOODNESS” around her neck. Reta’s search for what drove her daughter to this, her attempt to understand this strong statement, leads to a quest for meaning, meaning of loss, of life and of hope.

On the back-cover of the novel is this comment by the Daily Telegraph:
“Shields is about the best we have, she does not just express what oft was thought; she snags the shadows of those thoughts, the thoughts we did not know we had. The effect – at once elating and visceral – feels like a conjurer pulling a handkerchief from your heart.”

I just wrote this on
Geebaby – and am not surprised that this review echoes what I felt about her writing. What appeals to me in her novels.

"The Republic of Love" (1992) is an older publication, but I laid hands on it much after “Unless.” It deals with Fay McLeod, a folklorist, and Tom Avery, a radio-jockey. Passionate about mermaids, she is strongly connected to the past – but this interferes in her acceptance of the present. She runs away from love, till she meets Tom. Tom, is a die-hard optimistic (if I may use that adjective for him), who has been married thrice and hopes to get it right the fourth time!

It sounds like a typical love story, but beneath that strand, lie other strands of human relationships, the ways families work, an attempt to understand how love eludes so many of us despite our frantic hunt for it, how so many of us don't know when we've found it even though it's staring us straight in the face and I think also an attempt to understand life in this confused world we exist in. I loved reading the novel, with its marvelous insights, use of myth, ironic style and sentimentalism.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


"Sybil", written by Flora Rheta Schreiber, is a true story of woman possessed by sixteen personalities. Sybil suffered a traumatic childhood as a victim of the most horrifying abuse inflcited on a child. She suffers mysterious black-outs and goes onto to develop sixteen personalities (male and female) as a defense against the horrifying truths of her life that she did not want and could not face...the first case of multiple personality to be psychoanalysed, this book traces her journey back to being one whole person.

I first heard about this book in FYBA when our Psychology teacher recommended it for all those interested in multiple personalities or schizophrenia...after years of trying to find it in our college library and in bookshops, I finally found it on my trip to Ahmedabad in Oct 2002. Goes without saying that I pounced on it - devoured it within days. It left me very disturbed and sickened me with the accounts of the abuse inflicted on an infant Sybil by her own mother...but I couldn't put the book down till I reached the last page.

I maintain that it's one of the most brilliant books I've read till date! The book has also been made into an Emmy award winning film starring Oscar winner Sally Field, but I've not seen that...I'm sure it must be one hell of a powerful movie! Go for the book first, then hunt down the movie!

Friday, April 30, 2004

Indian Ink - Tom Stoppard

Written in the vein of Postmodernist writing, Tom Stoppard's "Indian Ink " - a quietly elegant and moving drama adapted by the British playwright from an earlier radio play and turned into a modest stage hit in London in 1995 - is yet another artistic attempt to make sense of India, where Stoppard spent many years.

Flora Crewe, an unconventional English poet visits India in 1930. Her sometimes scandalous life is the subject of a biographical inquiry more than 50 years later by one of Stoppard's favourite comic targets, a pedantic academic who has a scholarly talent for misreading Flora's life. The play moves in time and space between India in 1930 and Britain in the 1980s (where Flora's sister now lives), as Stoppard introduces the arduous task of deciphering the past and piecing together a life and an era long gone.

Against a backdrop of colonialists whose civil facade masks racial intolerance and fabled maharajas the play has some dramatically convenient juxtapositions. Stoppard sketches a love story between Flora, and Nirad Das, an Indian painter.
The 1980's scenes present Nirad's son Anish Das, who is a part of the Indian Diaspora in England and now considers England as "home" - he comes to visit Flora's sister and as they put together the missing pieces on Flora's life-story, her would-be biogrpaher is shown following a dead-end trail in India. The play cheekily pokes fun of the pedagogic world, while also show-casing one of the most often used themes of post-modernism : diaspora!

Definitely an interesting play to read - it doesn't offer any challenges to the mind, for sure, but it is the kind of a play that I would like to see staged.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Henrik Ibsen

Finished reading "A Doll's House" and decided I must blog about here's some gyan first :

Ibsenism = The dramatic practice or purpose characteristic of the writings of Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), Norwegian poet and dramatist, whose best-known plays deal with conventional hypocrisies, the story in each play thus developing a definite moral problem.

"A Doll's House"exploded like a bomb into contemporary life…"It pronounced a death sentence on accepted social ethics. For whatever one's opinion of A Doll's House as a play may be, there can be no question of it's startling unconventionality." ('Flashes from the Footlights' Licensed Victuallers' Mirror, June 1889 ). Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House" , was unconventional in its themes and in the way in which they were presented. Ibsen questioned contemporary Norwegian society's conventional male and female roles, the morals of marriage and challenged all human beings, particularly females, to strive to be one's self and to be responsible for themselves. The play was obviously far ahead of its times and though Ibsen was never appreciated in 1879 when the play was first staged, he is hailed as one of the Fathers of Moden Drama. The play is truly remarkable in its theme, portrayal of everyday characters, which make it all the more hard-hitting.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Namesake

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning Jhumpa Lahiri, the book is one of the most engrossing books I've read recently. I read the book from start to finish at a speed that I've not read at for quite a while now...I think the last novel that captured my attention in a similar fashion was Doris Lessing's "The Sweetest Dream."

In "The Namesake" Lahiri enriches the themes that made her collection of short stories "Interpreter of Maladies" an international bestseller: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations. I do find the depiction of the diasporic Indians a bit stereotypical but I guess when you are writing about that community you can't help but lean towards stereotypes!

"The Namesake" takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name. Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Innocent England

Oh what a pity, Oh! Don't you agree
that figs aren't found in the land of the free.

Fig trees don't grow in my native land;
there's never a fig-leaf near at hand
when you want one; so I did without;
and that is all the row's about.
Virginal, pure policemen came
and hid their faces for very shame,

While they carried the shameless things away
to gaol, to be hid from the light of the day.

By D.H.Lawrence (of the infamous "Lady Chatterley's Lover")

The reason why I'm posting this poem is because I loved the satirical attack on the prudishness of the British society in the 1920s - easily applicable to our society even today, eh? Incidentally this poem was written when the Police siezed 13 of Lawrence's paintings because they were deemed too scandalous, depicting as they did, scenes of human nudity...

Here are two of those paintings :

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Scenes from Macbeth

Having given the plot line of the play, I thought I'd also toss in the 2 most famous scenes of the play - the witches prophecy and the scene in which Lady Macbeth tries to wash off blood from the wall - a sign of her guilt. She is haunted by this and eventually dies of insanity....I've marked the most famous lines in bold - these are most oft quoted even in contemporary parlance.

ACT 1. SCENE III. A heath near Forres.
Thunder. Enter the three Witches
First Witch
Where hast thou been, sister?

Second Witch
Killing swine.

Third Witch
Sister, where thou?

First Witch
A sailor's wife had chestnuts in her lap,
And munch'd, and munch'd, and munch'd:--
'Give me,' quoth I:
'Aroint thee, witch!' the rump-fed ronyon cries.
Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master o' the Tiger:
But in a sieve I'll thither sail,
And, like a rat without a tail,
I'll do, I'll do, and I'll do.

Second Witch
I'll give thee a wind.

First Witch
Thou'rt kind.

Third Witch
And I another.

First Witch
I myself have all the other,
And the very ports they blow,
All the quarters that they know
I' the shipman's card.
I will drain him dry as hay:
Sleep shall neither night nor day
Hang upon his pent-house lid;
He shall live a man forbid:
Weary se'nnights nine times nine
Shall he dwindle, peak and pine:
Though his bark cannot be lost,
Yet it shall be tempest-tost.
Look what I have.

Second Witch
Show me, show me.

First Witch
Here I have a pilot's thumb,
Wreck'd as homeward he did come.

Drum within

Third Witch
A drum, a drum!
Macbeth doth come.

The weird sisters, hand in hand,
Posters of the sea and land,
Thus do go about, about:
Thrice to thine and thrice to mine
And thrice again, to make up nine.
Peace! the charm's wound up.


So foul and fair a day I have not seen.

How far is't call'd to Forres? What are these
So wither'd and so wild in their attire,
That look not like the inhabitants o' the earth,
And yet are on't? Live you? or are you aught
That man may question? You seem to understand me,
By each at once her chappy finger laying
Upon her skinny lips: you should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are so.

Speak, if you can: what are you?

First Witch
All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!

Second Witch
All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!

Third Witch
All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!

Good sir, why do you start; and seem to fear
Things that do sound so fair? I' the name of truth,
Are ye fantastical, or that indeed
Which outwardly ye show? My noble partner
You greet with present grace and great prediction
Of noble having and of royal hope,
That he seems rapt withal: to me you speak not.
If you can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear
Your favours nor your hate.

First Witch

Second Witch

Third Witch

First Witch
Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.

Second Witch
Not so happy, yet much happier.

Third Witch
Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none:
So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!

First Witch
Banquo and Macbeth, all hail!

Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more:
By Sinel's death I know I am thane of Glamis;
But how of Cawdor? the thane of Cawdor lives,
A prosperous gentleman; and to be king
Stands not within the prospect of belief,
No more than to be Cawdor. Say from whence
You owe this strange intelligence? or why
Upon this blasted heath you stop our way
With such prophetic greeting? Speak, I charge you.

Witches vanish

The earth hath bubbles, as the water has,
And these are of them. Whither are they vanish'd?

Into the air; and what seem'd corporal melted
As breath into the wind. Would they had stay'd!

Were such things here as we do speak about?
Or have we eaten on the insane root
That takes the reason prisoner?

Your children shall be kings.

You shall be king.

And thane of Cawdor too: went it not so?

To the selfsame tune and words. Who's here?

ACT 5. SCENE I. Dunsinane. Ante-room in the castle.

Enter a Doctor of Physic and a Waiting-Gentlewoman

I have two nights watched with you, but can perceive
no truth in your report. When was it she last walked?

Since his majesty went into the field, I have seen
her rise from her bed, throw her night-gown upon
her, unlock her closet, take forth paper, fold it,
write upon't, read it, afterwards seal it, and again
return to bed; yet all this while in a most fast sleep.

A great perturbation in nature, to receive at once
the benefit of sleep, and do the effects of
watching! In this slumbery agitation, besides her
walking and other actual performances, what, at any
time, have you heard her say?

That, sir, which I will not report after her.

You may to me: and 'tis most meet you should.

Neither to you nor any one; having no witness to
confirm my speech.

Enter LADY MACBETH, with a taper

Lo you, here she comes! This is her very guise;
and, upon my life, fast asleep. Observe her; stand close.

How came she by that light?

Why, it stood by her: she has light by her
continually; 'tis her command.

You see, her eyes are open.

Ay, but their sense is shut.

What is it she does now? Look, how she rubs her hands.

It is an accustomed action with her, to seem thus
washing her hands: I have known her continue in
this a quarter of an hour.

Yet here's a spot.

Hark! she speaks: I will set down what comes from
her, to satisfy my remembrance the more strongly.

Out, damned spot! out, I say!--One: two: why,
then, 'tis time to do't.--Hell is murky!--Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power to
account?--Yet who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him.

Do you mark that?

The thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?--
What, will these hands ne'er be clean?--No more o'
that, my lord, no more o' that: you mar all with
this starting.

Go to, go to; you have known what you should not.

She has spoke what she should not, I am sure of
that: heaven knows what she has known.

Here's the smell of the blood still: all the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand. Oh, oh, oh!

What a sigh is there! The heart is sorely charged.

I would not have such a heart in my bosom for the
dignity of the whole body.

Well, well, well,--

Pray God it be, sir.

This disease is beyond my practise: yet I have known
those which have walked in their sleep who have died
holily in their beds.

Wash your hands, put on your nightgown; look not so
pale.--I tell you yet again, Banquo's buried; he
cannot come out on's grave.

Even so?

To bed, to bed! there's knocking at the gate:
come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What's
done cannot be undone.--To bed, to bed, to bed!


Will she go now to bed?


Foul whisperings are abroad: unnatural deeds
Do breed unnatural troubles: infected minds
To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets:
More needs she the divine than the physician.
God, God forgive us all! Look after her;
Remove from her the means of all annoyance,
And still keep eyes upon her. So, good night:
My mind she has mated, and amazed my sight.
I think, but dare not speak.

Good night, good doctor.


Macbeth - Shakespeare

Act 1: The play takes place in Scotland. Duncan, the king of Scotland, is at war with the king of Norway, and as the play opens, he learns of Macbeth's bravery in battle against a Scot who sided with Norway. At the same time, he hears of the treachery of the Thane of Cawdor, who was arrested. Duncan decides to give the title of Thane of Cawdor to Macbeth.

Macbeth and Banquo, traveling home from the battle, meet three witches, who predict that Macbeth will be Thane of Cawdor and king of Scotland, and that Banquo will be the father of kings. The witches disappear, and Macbeth and Banquo meet up with two nobles who inform them of Macbeth's new title. Hearing this, Macbeth begins to contemplate murdering Duncan in order to realize the witches' second prophecy.

Macbeth and Banquo meet up with Duncan, who tells them he is going to pay Macbeth a visit at his home at Inverness. Macbeth rides ahead to prepare his household. Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth receives a letter from Macbeth informing her of the witches' prophesy and Macbeth's subsequent new title. A servant appears and tells her of Duncan's approach. Energized, she invokes supernatural powers to strip her of her feminine softness and prepare her to murder Duncan. When Macbeth arrives at Inverness, Lady Macbeth tells him that she will take care of all the details of Duncan's murder.

Duncan arrives at Inverness, and Lady Macbeth greets him. Macbeth fails to appear, and Lady Macbeth goes to find him. He is in his room, contemplating the weighty and evil step of killing Duncan. Lady Macbeth taunts him, telling him he will only be a man when he kills Duncan, and that she herself has less softness in her character than he does. She then tells him her plan for the murder, and Macbeth accepts it: they will kill him while his drunken bodyguards sleep, then plant incriminating evidence on the bodyguards.

Act 2: Macbeth has a vision of a bloody dagger floating before him and leading him to Duncan's room. When he hears Lady Macbeth ring the bell to signal the completion of her preparations, Macbeth follows through with his part of the plan and leaves for Duncan's room.

Lady Macbeth waits for Macbeth to finish killing Duncan. Macbeth enters, still carrying the bloody daggers. Lady Macbeth again chastises him for his weak-mindedness and plants them on the bodyguards herself. As she does so, Macbeth imagines that he hears a voice saying "Macbeth will sleep no more." Lady Macbeth returns and assures Macbeth that "a little water clears us of this deed."

At the gate the porter pretends that he is guarding the door to hell. The thanes knock at the gate, and Macduff discovers Duncan's body when he goes in to wake him up. Macbeth kills the two bodyguards, supposedly in a fit of grief and rage, when they are discovered with the bloody daggers. Duncan's sons Malcolm and Donalbain, fearing that their lives are in danger, flee to England and Ireland; their flight brings them under suspicion of conspiring in Duncan's death, and Macbeth is crowned king of Scotland.

Act 3: Macbeth hires two murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance in an attempt to thwart the witches' prophesy that Banquo will father kings. Lady Macbeth does not know of his plans, and he will not tell her. A third murderer joins the other two on the heath, and the three men kill Banquo. Fleance, however, escapes.

Macbeth throws a feast on the same night that Banquo is murdered, and Banquo's ghost appears to him, sending him into a frenzy of terror. Lady Macbeth attempts to cover up for his odd behavior, but the party ends up dissolving as the thanes begin to question Macbeth's sanity. Macbeth decides that he must revisit the witches to hear more of the future.

Meanwhile, Macbeth's thanes begin to turn from him, and Macduff meets Malcolm in England to prepare an army to march on Scotland.

Act 4: The witches show Macbeth three apparitions that tell Macbeth to fear no man born of woman, and warn him that he will only fall when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane castle. Macbeth takes this as a prophecy that he is infallible. When he asks the witches if their prophesy about Banquo will come true, they show him a procession of eight kings, all of whom look like Banquo, the last holding a mirror to signify the reign of James I, the Stuart king for whom Shakespeare wrote this play.

Malcolm tests Macduff's loyalty by confessing to multiple sins and ambitions. When Macduff proves loyal to him, the two plan the strategy they will use in attacking Macbeth. Meanwhile, Macbeth murders Macduff's wife, whom he has deserted, along with all his children.

Act 5: Lady Macbeth sleepwalks and reveals her guilt to a watching doctor as she dreams that she cannot wash the stain of blood from her hands. Macbeth is too preoccupied with battle preparations to pay much attention to her dreams, and is angry when the doctor says he cannot cure her. As the castle is attacked, Lady Macbeth dies (perhaps by her own hand). When Macbeth hears of her death, he comments that she should have died at a different time, and muses on the meaninglessness of life. However, he reassures himself by remembering the witches' predictions that he will only fall when two seemingly impossible things occur.

Meanwhile, the English army has reached Birnam Wood, and in order to disguise their numbers, Malcolm instructs each man to cut a branch from a tree and hold it in front of him as they march on Dunsinane. Witnessing this, Macbeth's servant reports that he has seen something impossible ­ Birnam Wood seems to be moving toward the castle. Macbeth is shaken but goes out to fight nonetheless. During the battle outside the castle walls, Macbeth kills Young Siward, the English general's brave son. Macduff then challenges Macbeth. As they fight, Macduff reveals that he was not "born of woman" but was "untimely ripped" from his mother's womb. Macbeth is stunned but refuses to yield to Macduff. Macduff kills him and cuts off his head. Malcolm is proclaimed the new king of Scotland.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Rohinton Mistry

Rohinton Mistry was born in 1952 in Mumbai, and shifted to Canada in 1975, when the emergency was declared. In the same way that Thomas Hardy sets the action in his novels against the backdrop of fictional Wessex, Rohinton Mistry uses Bombay as a setting to explore the complexities and moral dilemmas which face his characters and their families as they struggle with poverty, questions of religion and prejudice, bringing to life the reality of what it is like to live as part of the Parsi community.

Rohinton Mistry's Swimming Lessons and Other Stories from Firozsha Baag(1987), describes the characteristics of middle class Parsi life and, in these eleven interconnected stories, the daily life of the residents of an apartment block, their relationships, the uniqueness of community living and issues of economic hardship and alienation.

Set in 1971, during the time when India went to war over what was later to become Bangladesh, Mistry's first novel, Such a Long Journey(1991), navigates issues of the public and private, as the protagonist, Gustad Noble, attempts to define himself in relation to his family and the shifting concerns of his country. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and Trillium Award and won Canada's Governor General's Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book of the Year and the WH Smith Books in Canada First Novel Award.

The action in A Fine Balance (1995)is based around four characters whose lives are changed by the state of emergency in India in 1975, when Indira Gandhi suspended many aspects of the constitution in order to hold on to power after being implicated in a scandal. Mistry gives a layered account of the unlikely friendships built between people in times of upheaval.

Mistry's most recent novel, Family Matters(2002), centres on a Bombay-based, modern-day Parsi family whose priorities shift when their father, a 79-year-old man suffering from Parkinson's Disease, breaks his ankle and is bed-ridden, forcing them to face the reality of his illness and their attitude towards it. Through the means of the novel, Mistry deals with a dilemma which is only too familiar, a universal morality tale filtering through the colours and smells of an overcrowded, Indian apartment block.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Night of the Scorpion

I remember the night my mother was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours
of steady rain had driven him to crawl beneath a sack of rice.
Parting with his poison -- flash of diabolic tail in the dark room --
he risked the rain again. The peasants came like swarms of flies
and buzzed the Name of God a hundred times to paralyse the Evil One.
With candles and with lanterns throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the sun-baked walls they searched for him; he was not found.
They clicked their tongues. With every movement the scorpion made
his poison moved in Mother's blood, they said. May he sit still,
they said. May the sum of evil balanced in this unreal world
against the sum of good become diminished by your pain.
May the poison purify your flesh of desire, and your spirit of ambition,
they said, and they sat around on the floor with my mother in the centre.
the peace of understanding on each face. More candles, more lanterns,
more neighbours, more insects and the endless rain.
My mother twisted through and through groaning on a mat.
My father, sceptic, rationalist, trying every curse and blessing,
powder, mixture, herb, and hybrid. He even poured a little paraffin
upon the bitten toes and put a match to it.
I watched the flame feeding on my mother. I watched the holy man
perform his rites to tame the poison with incantation.
After twenty hours it lost its sting.

My mother only said:
Thank God the scorpion picked on me and spared my children

By Nissim Ezekiel