Books

The Bard – Yet Again?? …

Posted on October 28, 2018. Filed under: Books |

From The Wire by Pramod K. Nayar who teaches at the University of Hyderabad. 

Will no one get rid of this turbulent playwright? Apparently not! When the world’s most popular (defamed?) author comes up against a most brilliant interpreter, the contest is amazing.

Stephen Greenblatt, Pulitzer winning Harvard professor, returns to his old hunting ground in a highly readable account of the dramatist’s most enduring theme – Power.

But, and this is the catch, it is not (just) a Shakespeare book. It is a book about our times: its totalitarian regimes, its demagogues, its dictators and, horrifyingly, its democratically elected tyrants.

The case Greenblatt makes for tyranny is emphatically not restricted to Henry VI, Richard III, Lear, Macbeth, Leontes – the ostensible subjects of his study, but can be applied to the people who occupy positions of power – institutional, state, corporate.

Greenblatt begins with Henry VI (Part II), where he shows how a perceived weakness at the centre of a state enables a less-than-able person to occupy the throne, and acquire the power that comes with it.

Chaos is also engineered – there is always the bogeyman of ‘national security’ – so that what Greenblatt calls ‘fraudulent populism’ drives the successful bid for the throne.

The leader-in-waiting has only contempt for the underclass: ‘he despises them, hates the smell of their breath, fears that they carry diseases, and regards them as fickle, stupid, worthless, and stupid’ but ‘they can be made to further his ambitions’.

Appeals to various segments of society with promises of their welfare if elected, but underwritten by contempt and issuance of threats, are instances Greenblatt’s analysis of Shakespeare directs us to from our own time.

There is a promise, Greenblatt says, to ‘make England great again’ and appeals made to the people on the basis of parochially inflected jingoism about ‘us’ and ‘them’.

It is the break down of basic values – respect for order, civility, and human decency – that enables a tyrant to capture power.

But Greenblatt shows how political propaganda in terms that would have ‘provoked charges of treason’ and outrage at some point in the past – hate speech, exclusionary and discriminatory language, unverifiable accusations, implied threats from within, the attack on established national values enshrined in the constitution – become acceptable as a build up to the demagogue’s ascent.

In another case Greenblatt maps the psychological make up of tyrants: ‘barking orders’, ‘no natural grace, no sense of shared humanity, no decency’, and ‘the feelings of others mean nothing to him’.

A tyrant divides the world into winners and losers. More worryingly, Greenblatt notes, ‘the public good is something only losers like to talk about’, and what a tyrant likes to talk about is only winning.

In an age when the public good has been subsumed under the target of corporate good (and corporate greed), and anybody defending the former is a ‘loser’ (read: liberals!), we understand Richard III, the immediate subject of analysis.

Such tyrants are supported and encouraged by ‘enablers’.

First, there are those who cannot accept and see the tyrant for what he is and what he will do to the nation: ‘they have a strange penchant for forgetting … just how awful he is … they are drawn irresistibly to normalise what is not normal’. 

Then there are those who feel ‘frightened and impotent in the face of bullying and the menace of violence’. Then there is a group that hopes to benefit from the rise of the tyrant.

Finally, there is a crowd that simply carries out orders, ‘hoping to seize something along the way for themselves, still others enjoying the cruel game of making his targets … suffer and die’.

Greenblatt makes it clear that all these are persistent ‘types’, and each one, in their own way is complicit with the tyrant. This is lived experience, transformed into theatre, emphasises Greenblatt.

But uneasy lies the head that wears the undeserving crown – the tyrant having reached his goal is solely obsessed with loyalty and suspects everybody around him, there is growing fear and frustration at not being able to keep the confidence of his ‘trusted’ people.

He only seeks ‘flattery, confirmation, and obedience’. Naturally, there is no appeal to the general populace, who never count in his scheme of things: he only seeks to secure his position, further.

When signs and portents – or accusations, dissent, public opinion – appear, finally, the tyrant lashes out. He ensures the exit of anybody, from within his party/inner circle, or even his older mentors, through any means.

In Shakespeare they are killed, of course, as is the case with the Stalins and the Pol Pots, but Greenblatt’s reading allows us to see how even in democracies the former more-moderate comrades and mentors are erased, marginalised, sent away.

Those with a vestige of self-reflexivity – a rare thing in any tyrant – discover what they have brought upon themselves. Greenblatt cites Macbeth as an instance here, and his ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ soliloquy.

When the tyrant makes absurd promises or indulges in crazy rituals or unwarranted exercise of power, few recognise them as a deteriorating mind and personality, evidenced for Greenblatt in Lear’s actions that precipitate the crisis in the kingdom eventually.

As Greenblatt argues, even in systems with ‘multiple moderating institutions, the chief executive almost always has considerable power’, but the question is: is he fit to employ it? ‘What if he begins to make decisions that threaten the well-being and security of the realm?’

This is a question that resonates throughout history, as Greenblatt makes clear. Those who object are summarily dismissed, counter-opinions are discounted.

Those who stay silent, are complicit and commit the wrong  with the tyrant (Gandhi is reported to have said, ‘I serve the empire by not partaking in its wrong’).

Greenblatt explores resistance, such as it is, from courtiers, insiders, and well-wishers of the realm, but acknowledges that it is hard to fight a tyrant.

However, there are unlikely possibles: such as the very minor servant who says ‘hold your hand, my lord’ when Cornwall is about to gouge out Gloucestor’s eye in King Lear.

Then there is a courtier’s wife, Paulina, who stands up to the tyrant-king, Leontes, in A Winter’s Tale.

Greenblatt reads the former as an unforgettable moment when ‘someone in the ruler’s service feels compelled to stop what he is witnessing’.

Although the common people, ‘easily manipulated by slogans, cowed by threats, or bribed by trivial gifts’ do not resist, ‘tyrannicides are drawn … from the same elite whose members generate the unjust rulers they oppose and eventually kill’.

But even the small voice of dissent, Greenblatt seems to suggest, is a blow against the tyrant. Greenblatt gives pride of place to two lines in A Winter’s Tale when Paulina, threatened with death by burning by the king,

Leontes, retorts: “It is a heretic that makes the fire – Not she who burns in it”.

Greenblatt calls these as ‘some of the most magnificent words of defiance in all of Shakespeare’.

 

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Man Booker Prize 2018 …

Posted on October 18, 2018. Filed under: Books |

From The Wiew –

An unflinching account of an 18-year-old in Northern Ireland in the 1970s against the backdrop of sectarian violence intertwined with dark humour bagged the 2018 Man Booker Prize in London on Tuesday.

 

 Author Anna Burns was named the winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize for her novel Milkman at a lavish awards ceremony in London on Tuesday night. Burns, 56, who was born in Belfast, is the 17th woman to bag the award in its 49-year history and the first woman since 2013. It was her third novel.

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Set in an unnamed city, ‘Milkman’ is a coming of age story of a young woman’s affair with a married man set in the political troubles of Northern Ireland. It focuses on a “middle sister” as she navigates her way through rumour, social pressures and politics in a tight-knit community.

Burns shows the dangerous and complex impact on a woman coming of age in a city at war.

In a review for the GuardianClaire Kilroy stressed on Burns’ emphasis of “the oppressiveness of tribalism, of conformism, of religion, of patriarchy, of living with widespread distrust and permanent fear” and lauded the narrator’s voice as “original, funny, disarmingly oblique and unique.”

“None of us has ever read anything like this before. Anna Burns’ utterly distinctive voice challenges conventional thinking and form in surprising and immersive prose,” said Kwame Anthony Appiah, the chair of the 2018 judging panel.

“It is a story of brutality, sexual encroachment and resistance threaded with mordant humour. Set in a society divided against itself, ‘Milkman’ explores the insidious forms oppression can take in everyday life,” he said.

Unusually, in the book, the characters have designations rather than names. In an interview for the Man Booker Prize website, she said, “The book didn’t work with names. It lost power and atmosphere and turned into a lesser – or perhaps just a different – book. In the early days I tried out names a few times, but the book wouldn’t stand for it. The narrative would become heavy and lifeless and refuse to move on until I took them out again. Sometimes the book threw them out itself.”

The judges considered 171 submissions for this year’s prize. Burns, who lives in East Sussex in England, saw off competition from two British writers, two American writers and one Canadian writer.

In addition to Milkman, the Booker Prize shortlist – two-thirds of which were written by women – included Robin Robertson’s The Long Take, which uses prose to follow a World War II veteran across the US in Hollywood’s postwar glory years.

Richard Powers’ The Overstory, a work of narrative with an ecological message, The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, an steadfast account by a woman of poverty and mass incarceration, Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, an unusual story of colonial slavery and the burden of freedom, and Daisy Johnson who’s nomination for Everything Under, her debut novel about a complex mother-daughter relationship, made her the youngest nominee in the Man Booker Prize history.

Man Booker Prize

Milkman is published by Faber & Faber, making it the fourth consecutive year the prize has been won by an independent publisher.

Burns’ win was announced by Kwame Anthony Appiah at a dinner at London’s Guildhall. She was presented with a trophy by Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, and a 50,000 pounds cheque by Luke Ellis, Chief Executive of Man Group.

The recipient of the Man Booker Prize gets 52,500 pounds ($69,223 or Rs 50.85 lakh). The winning author also receives a designer bound edition of her book and a further 2,500 pounds for being short-listed.

“We are honoured to support the Man Booker Prize for the sixteenth year, as it continues in its fiftieth year to champion literary excellence and the power of the novel on a global scale,” Ellis said.

Appiah, a British-born Ghanaian-American novelist, was joined on the 2018 judging panel by crime writer Val McDermid; cultural critic Leo Robson; feminist writer and critic Jacqueline Rose; and artist and graphic novelist Leanne Shapton.

In 2017, George Saunders won the Man Booker Prize for Lincoln in the Bardo, making him the second American in a row to win the prize after the Man Booker Foundation decided to change the rules in 2014 to include for consideration of the prize, any novel written in English and published in Britain.

The Man Booker Prize was previously limited to authors from Britain, Ireland, Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth. Northern Irish writer Anna Burns’ win will do well to assuage the fears of those within the literary community who fear the intrusion of an American hegemony in the Man Booker awards. 

Val McDermid, the best-selling crime writer and one member of the Man Booker judging panel, said, “The kind of people who read literary fiction do not ask authors for passports.”

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And the Blog of a Young Girl

https://eclipsedwords.com/2018/09/28/with-love-and-uncertainty/

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Jane Austen – Feminist Fairy …

Posted on October 13, 2018. Filed under: Books |

FromThe Wire – Robert Morrison is professor of English language and literature, Queen’s University, Ontario.

Though she created her stories more than 200 years ago, Jane Austen’s novels were forerunners of feminism.

Jane Austen is not an obvious ally of today’s feminist movement. All six of her novels are now more than two centuries old. All six centre on a tale of provincial domesticity and romantic courtship. And all six are full of twists and witty turns that move inexorably toward a gratifyingly happy ending.

Yet below their glittering surfaces and rose-coloured tales of well-matched couples falling deeply in love, Austen’s novels vigorously critique the patriarchal structures of her day. They bristle with anger and a deep sense of injustice. Many of her plots and sub-plots about men and power — and women’s resilience in the face of that power — sound like stories we are hearing today.

Austen wrote in the early 1800s, when life for most women involved submerging their individual identities in their responsibilities as daughters, wives and mothers. Women were considered politically, economically, socially and artistically subordinate to men. It was a life that condemned many women to half-lives of humiliation, loneliness and abuse.

The novelist and short story writer Carol Shields has concisely summarized the complicated nature of Austen’s artistry and appeal. Austen, declares Shields, exploits “an arch, incontrovertible amiability” to conceal “a ferocious and persistent moral anger.”

Fairy tales meet social critique

Mr. Darcy’s first marriage proposal to Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (1813) is the most famous moment in Austen’s most famous novel. It is also the most telling example of Austen’s remarkable ability to combine wish fulfilment with social realism, and fairy-tale romance with biting cultural critique.

The cover of Pride and Prejudice and the scene with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.
American Library

On one level, the scene between the two would-be lovers is a world removed from harrowing accounts of sexual harassment and assault. Darcy is proposing marriage to Elizabeth, not sex, and in his eyes at least, it is a very romantic offer.

He knows that her social standing is far below his own, and that in asking for her hand he is going against the wishes of his family and his own better judgment. But, as he patiently and politely explains, his love for her has overpowered him, and he wants her to become his wife.

On a more fundamental level, though, the exchange between the two is full of irony and dark anxieties.

Darcy is a wealthy and well-connected man who enjoys great freedom, and who moves assertively through a world of elegance and opportunity. Elizabeth is a younger and much more vulnerable woman who can already see poverty and spinsterhood out of the corner of her eye, and who can only obtain a place in the higher echelons of society through marriage to a man like Darcy.

The stark power imbalance between them fills Darcy with certainty that Elizabeth will be delighted to learn that she has been singled out by a man of his influence and social standing, and that she will eagerly consent to the match. To be sure, as he outlines his plans for their future, he expresses his “hope” that she will accept him.

But this is an empty gesture. Elizabeth “could easily see that he had no doubt of a favourable answer. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security.”

When Darcy concludes his offer and Elizabeth is finally given the chance to speak, she rejects him with an eloquence and a decisiveness that make her among the most admired women in English fiction. Her character gives passionate expression to the anger she (and Austen) felt at patriarchal presumption and authority.

Darcy is utterly confounded by her refusal, but what Elizabeth objects to in his behaviour is what millions of women from her day to ours have objected to. Operating from a position of much greater social and financial power, Darcy wants Elizabeth to agree to an arrangement that suits him, but not her. He presumes that he knows what she wants. He devalues her. He objectifies her. He pressures her.

Elizabeth is having none of this. She may be well below Darcy on the social ladder, but she towers above him in terms of her understanding of sexual politics and gender relations. Darcy expects deference and gratitude from her. She demands respect from him. They spar constantly.

Finally, she lashes out at him for his “arrogance,” his “conceit” and his “selfish disdain of the feelings of others.” No one — let alone a socially inferior woman — will have ever spoken to him in those terms.

Having imposed himself on Elizabeth, Darcy does not like it when she pushes back at him. “His complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature.”

Safely ensconced within the conventions of romance, Elizabeth does not have to worry about Darcy’s anger boiling over into violence. Indeed, after bidding her a civil farewell, his love for her quickly reasserts itself, and then steadily transforms him into a partner who is worthy of her.

Austen occupies a key position in the long continuum of modern feminist thought. As the great novelist and literary critic, Virginia Woolf, observed almost a century ago, “Austen is…mistress of much deeper emotion than appears upon the surface.”

Elizabeth Bennet is her most sparkling character, and she plays the lead role in one of the most compelling love stories of the last 200 years.

But she is also a woman whose bravery, anger, and intelligence enable her to expose the patriarchal assumptions of Darcy, and to refuse him because of them.

Austen’s novels contain insightful contemporary critiques of patriarchy. They also throw searching light on the ways in which those same injustices continue to inflict widespread and long-term damage now.

Ultimately, Austen is about love and mutual respect. Her life was diminished by the same patriarchal structures that damaged the lives of so many women in her era, and far beyond. But Austen can inspire us now because she fought back in her life — and especially in her art.The Conversation

 

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The Bronte Sisters …

Posted on August 28, 2018. Filed under: Books |

Hila Shachar, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, De Montfort University – in The Wire

With their fierce, independent heroines, brooding anti-heroes and all sorts of dastardly plots, it’s no surprise the Brontë sisters and their novels occupy a special place in screen adaptations of literature.

Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) tends to attract different kinds of film and TV adaptations to the usual polite drawing-room dramas. This is partly because Wuthering Heights is a brutal novel, despite all the romance associated with it. But it’s also down to how Brontë is remembered as an author. In this, her bicentenary year, her enduring appeal as a romanticised figure is much discussed.

This can be traced back to her older sister Charlotte’s own myth-making around Emily following her death in 1848. The myth of Emily relies on her image as a noble savage: a child-like innocent who had little contact with the world beyond her Yorkshire village and beloved moors. Charlotte’s defence relied on the idea that Emily didn’t really know what she was doing when she wrote this extraordinary novel.

It’s easy to understand why Charlotte felt compelled to defend her sister. In the 19th century, writing was still considered a masculine creative act, and taking up the pen as a woman brought accusations of being “unfeminine”.

The Brontës existed in the real world and had to navigate their social reputations within it, especially if one of the aims of their writing was economic independence. But Charlotte’s defence of her sister set the scene for how adapters would later approach Emily and her work.

Bringing out Emily

A good example is the 1992 film adaptation of Wuthering Heights starring Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff and Juliette Binoche as Cathy. This version neatly does away with the novel’s complicated story-within-a-story structure and its two main narrators – housekeeper Nelly Dean and the pompous visitor Lockwood – and instead casts Emily herself as the storyteller.

Played by the waif-like Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor, Emily stumbles upon the ruins of a real house while wandering the moors and, under a mysterious hooded cloak, tells the viewer:

First I found the place … something whispered to my mind, and I began to write.

Emily as a mystical medium is the ultimate visual symbol of how authors are commonly conjured up – as divine geniuses, inspired from above. Of course this is far more attractive than showing the blood, sweat and tears that come with the real craft of writing.

But there is something more going on here – something which is representative of wider cultural politics and what often happens with authors like Emily Brontë: they are turned into easily consumable, harmless, generic figures.

Western culture tends to invest in ideas of transcendence around well-known writers. People like to think of them as unique beings who move above and beyond their own cultural and social moments. But when it comes to Emily Brontë, perhaps there is also an unspoken desire to neutralise her complex and subversive engagement with her own world.

An explosive tale, Wuthering Heights is unflinching in its depiction of domestic abuse, racism, women as property and the abuse of social power. The direct, unromantic way in which this is explored in the novel is itself threatening to the social order it portrays, and seems like a subversive act for a female author.

Adapting the story as romance sells better, and plays down the book’s uncomfortable brutality, as does the idea of Emily Brontë as an “unworldly” young woman who existed outside of conventional society.

This results in constant adaptations of her novel that rely on almost identical images of natural transcendence, beginning with an image from William Wyler’s hugely popular 1939 Hollywood version starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.

It shows Cathy and Heathcliff together on the moors, which seems to encapsulate for many people what the novel is about. Most adaptations repeat this imagery, but you’d have to search hard to find it in the novel, as Cathy and Heathcliff aren’t really depicted as adult lovers frolicking on the moors.

This iconic imagery is not just due to Hollywood creating a visual “template” for the novel through romance; it’s also the product of how adapters have woven the myth of Emily as a transcendent noble savage into her own characters.

A more realistic Emily

A notable and recent exception is To Walk Invisible, the 2016 BBC biopic of the Brontës, in which the sisters are shown discussing the economic necessity of becoming writers. When debating whether to take up male pseudonyms, Emily, played by a straight-talking Chloe Pirrie, says:

When a man writes something it’s what he’s written that’s judged. When a woman writes something it’s her that’s judged.

This blunt assertion seems to summarise how authors of the past – particularly female authors – are dealt with: who they are as human beings and their specific cultural environment are often ignored. They are rendered harmless and powerless to speak to us in a politicised way about the past we’ve inherited, and about our own world.

With Emily, the emphasis is instead on romanticising the female author as a child-mystic, rather than focusing on her fiction as informed adult social critique.

Mythologising an author like Emily Brontë may provide a consistent and comfortable way to “consume” famous writers in contemporary culture, but it does a disservice to the potential for a more complex dialogue between past and present – after all, the realities of power, race, gender and class that Brontë wrote about in the 19th century are still issues being tackled today. The Conversation

The question is, in 2018, should adaptations continue to collude in the screen legacy of a “safe” Emily Brontë, viewed from a transcending distance, or could they consider a more dangerous, unpredictable Emily who compels the reader to examine forms of power and powerlessness in contemporary times?

It’s time to shed the romance for the reality.

 

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Mark Twain on Bombay 1885 …

Posted on August 27, 2018. Filed under: Books |

From The Wire –

In 1895, Mark Twain set out on a tour of the British empire. His primary aim was to make some money and pay off debts.

He landed in 1896 in Bombay and stayed at the city’s leading hotel, Watson’s. Watson was to become famous a few months later as the venue of the first ever screening of a film by the Brothers Lumiere – and for reportedly not allowing industrialist Jamshed Tata to enter, prompting him to build the Taj Mahal Hotel.

A decrepit structure now, renamed Esplanade Mansion, Watson’s was in the news when a portion of a balcony crashed onto a taxi standing right below.

At that time it was the most luxurious hotel in the city, hosting the British elite. Twain writes about the countries he visits with his customary wit, keen sense of observation and humanity, commenting on racism, religious intolerance and the imperialistic behaviour of the British empire.

Twain finds Bombay – India – an enchanting land, full of colour and beauty but also the plague that the city was grappling with. In Bombay, he met and was feted by British officials, Maharajas and merchant princes such as Premchand Roychand.

Excerpts from Mark Twain’s ‘Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World’ –

January 20th. Bombay!

A bewitching place, a bewildering place, an enchanting place – the Arabian Nights come again! It is a vast city; contains about a million inhabitants. Natives, they are, with a slight sprinkling of white people— not enough to have the slightest modifying effect upon the massed dark complexion of the public.

It is winter here, yet the weather is the divine weather of June, and the foliage is the fresh and heavenly foliage of June. There is a rank of noble great shade trees across the way from the hotel, and under them sit groups of picturesque natives of both sexes; and the juggler in his turban is there with his snakes and his magic; and all day long the cabs and the multitudinous varieties of costumes flock by.

It does not seem as if one could ever get tired of watching this moving show, this shining and shifting spectacle.

In the great bazar the pack and jam of natives was marvelous, the sea of rich-colored turbans and draperies an inspiring sight, and the quaint and showy Indian architecture was just the right setting for it.

Toward sunset another show; this is the drive around the sea-shore to Malabar Point, where Lord Sandhurst, the Governor of the Bombay Presidency, lives.

Parsee palaces all along the first part of the drive; and past them all the world is driving; the private carriages of wealthy Englishmen and natives of rank are manned by a driver and three footmen in stunning oriental liveries – two of these turbaned statues standing up behind, as fine as monuments. Sometimes even the public carriages have this superabundant crew, slightly modified – one to drive, one to sit by and see it done, and one to stand up behind and yell – yell when there is anybody in the way, and for practice when there isn’t.

It all helps to keep up the liveliness and augment the general sense of swiftness and energy and confusion and pow-wow.

In the region of Scandal Point – felicitous name – where there are handy rocks to sit on and a noble view of the sea on the one hand, and on the other the passing and repassing whirl and tumult of gay carriages, are great groups of comfortably-off Parsee women – perfect flower-beds of brilliant color, a fascinating spectacle.

Tramp, tramp, tramping along the road, in singles, couples, groups, and gangs, you have the working-man and the working-woman – but not clothed like ours. Usually the man is a nobly-built great athlete, with not a rag on but his loin-handkerchief; his color a deep dark brown, his skin satin, his rounded muscles knobbing it as if it had eggs under it.

Usually the woman is a slender and shapely creature, as erect as a lightning-rod, and she has but one thing on – a bright-colored piece of stuff which is wound about her head and her body down nearly half-way to her knees, and which clings like her own skin. Her legs and feet are bare, and so are her arms, except for her fanciful bunches of loose silver rings on her ankles and on her arms.

She has jewelry bunched on the side of her nose also, and showy cluster-rings on her toes. When she undresses for bed she takes off her jewelry, I suppose. If she took off anything more she would catch cold. As a rule she has a large shiney brass water-jar of graceful shape on her head, and one of her naked arms curves up and the hand holds it there.

She is so straight, so erect, and she steps with such style, and such easy grace and dignity; and her curved arm and her brazen jar are such a help to the picture – indeed, our workingwomen cannot begin with her as a road-decoration.

It is all color, bewitching color, enchanting color – everywhere – all around – all the way around the curving great opaline bay clear to Government House, where the turbaned big native chuprassies stand grouped in state at the door in their robes of fiery red, and do most properly and stunningly finish up the splendid show and make it theatrically complete.

I wish I were a chuprassy.

This is indeed India! the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations – the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.

Even now, after the lapse of a year, the delirium of those days in Bombay has not left me, and I hope never will. It was all new, no detail of it hackneyed.

And India did not wait for morning, it began at the hotel – straight away.

The lobbies and halls were full of turbaned, and fez’d and embroidered, cap’d, and barefooted, and cotton-clad dark natives, some of them rushing about, others at rest squatting, or sitting on the ground ; some of them chattering with energy, others still and dreamy ; in the dining-room every man’s own private native servant standing behind his chair, and dressed for a part in the Arabian Nights.

Our rooms were high up, on the front. A white man – he was a burly German – went up with us, and brought three natives along to see to arranging things. About fourteen others followed in procession, with the hand-baggage; each carried an article – and only one; a bag, in some cases, in other cases loss.

One strong native carried my overcoat, another a parasol, another a box of cigars, another a novel, and the last man in tlie procession had no load but a fan. It was all done with earnestness and sincerity, there was not a smile in the procession from the head of it to the tail of it.

Each man waited patiently, tranquilly, in no sort of hurry, till one of us found time to give him a copper, then he bent his head reverently, touched his forehead with his fingers, and went his way. They seemed a soft and gentle race, and there was something both winning and touching about their demeanor.

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A Book Review by CHAZ …

Posted on August 15, 2018. Filed under: Books, Uncategorized |

AN ARTICLE BY CHAZ –

‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’ – Mark Manson

In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger cuts through the crap to show us how to stop trying to be “positive” all the time so that we can truly become better, happier people. – Goodreads Synopsis

This one has been at the top of the charts for a while, and after it has been recommended to me multiple times, I thought what the hell. I’m not one much for “self-help” books, (Maybe that’s why I have so many problems…) but this one promises to be different from all the rest.

I secretly thought that most books like this were just a scam trying to make a quick buck by telling you to just be happy. This one is a bit different (You can tell by the title alone), and that is because it knows the target audience – Millennials. (Scary OoOoOoOo)

Millennial has been tossed around in the media and from everyone else that is not a 1101130520_600“Millennial” and usually it is associated with a negative connotation.

The word “entitled” is always used in conjunction with Millennial as well. Mark Manson also knows this, and speaks in depth about this feeling of entitlement.

What really stuck out to me was how Mark explains that there are actually two ways to channel that entitlement. There is the first way that everyone knows: that you deserve something more because of who you are/what you’ve done, and the second way: that because when you make yourself a victim out of a negative experience in your past, you are also expecting different treatment.

Now that seems obvious to understand, I just never thought about how victimizing yourself is also a form of entitlement. There in lies the true power of the “self-help” books – changing your perspective.

Ok… So I am entitled. What now?

Now the main body of the book starts to come into play. Sure we feel that this hard work thumbnail_largewe have done deserves something special – I work harder than everyone else in the office,

I accomplish more, and I need that promotion now! Where the fuck is it?! Maybe the problem is that you are channeling all of your “fucks” into something that is not going to end up paying dividends later on.

Mark tells us that we need to take a step back from caring 110% (and getting 110% emotional) about everything and pick what is really going to matter to us in the long run.

Ask yourself: Why I am giving a fuck about this so much. Why is this so important to me. Why are my emotions going totally fucking berserk over this.

As it turns out, if you ask yourself why enough times, you might end up getting to the root of the problem and fixing your self-entitlement on the way. So stop fucking crying and figure out what really matters to you.

I am focusing on being happy! Where is my progress?

Nope. Mark wants you to actively seek out the negative experiences instead of the positive ones. (But this goes against all of the other self-help books!)

Why would we want to be OK with negative experiences? Because that is how we grow. We learn the most, and grow the most, from all of the negative experiences in our lives.

Mark understands this and makes an attempt to reach us through his own personal journey. Maybe we should have just listened to Alfred all those years ago:

Bruce Wayne: What have I done, Alfred? Everything my family… my father built…

Alfred Pennyworth: The Wayne legacy is more than bricks and mortar, sir.

Bruce Wayne: I wanted to save Gotham. I failed.

Alfred Pennyworth: Why do we fall sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.

Bruce Wayne: You still haven’t given up on me?

Alfred Pennyworth: Never.

It starts to get a little Buddhist, but we need to learn to accept the negative experiences that have come before, and that will come in the future. It is what will make us a better, and stronger, person.  Stop giving a fuck about trying to be happy all of the time.

My Takeaway

I’ve been going through some “Millennial” shit recently and I didn’t even know it. The main thing that has been irking me is my work life. I work too hard, I care toomuch, and I am too ambitious. All of that boils up to one great big pot of entitlement. Aside from the entitlement, I also feel empty. I feel that I am kicking ass all day, giving the world all it’s worth, using the most energetic years of my life, but for what? So some other entitled prick can benefit (or baby-boomer who crashed the houseing market and destroyed the environment)? Take a look at the chart below (shout-out to Kyle for showing me this) –

1_qNNzYd3SE1Z09d_IaJOdGA

 

Ikigai: The Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” Hmm ok then. So where do we see ourselves here? I am smack in the middle Good/Paid For/Need, AKA – “Comfortable, but feeling of emptiness”. Yes I am good at what I do, Yes I get paid a decent amount for it, and OK I guess someone has to do it – but I feel dead inside. I’m not helping anyone really, I’m not making a difference for the better in the world (which is common among Millennials I guess), so why am I trying so hard? That’s where Mark Manson has helped me. I need to sort out in my life what I should give a fuck about, and I need to bring back balance to the force. (Well maybe not that)

It’s time to stop rejecting the negative, time to stop feeling entitled, and time to sort out the fucks.

Want more Millennial context?

Check out this video. Simon Sinek really explains it better than anyone else I’ve ever heard talk about it. The guy is fucking sharp.

Thanks to Gioia @ My Crazy World of Books Blog for sharing this with me. Check out her blog!!

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Naipaul …

Posted on August 12, 2018. Filed under: Books, Personalities |

From The Wire –

In London, miles away from his house in the quaint village of Wiltshire where he lived with his wife Lady Nadira Naipaul and his cat Augustus, Sir V.S. Naipaul died aged 85. Naipaul was indisputably a global voice.

The Nobel laureate cast his shadow on all things that were relevant in the world in which he lived – the ironies of exile, the various beliefs and portraits of the post-colonial worlds.

In 2001, the Swedish Academy described Naipaul as “a literary circumnavigator, only ever really at home in himself, in his inimitable voice”. It was true. He was a circumnavigator whose unique voice captivated the world for almost half a century.

There is something magical about Naipaul’s writing, a swan-like flair, a sense of originality and character. But his works have always left a bittersweet impression in the reader’s minds.

He not only had a wide readership, but also a plethora of critics who never spared him. Today, he is remembered as a prolific writer whose purpose in life was to only write, and a fierce personality who would sometimes walk out on public appearances and generate controversies throughout the world with his remarks.

https://thewire.in/books/vs-naipaul-obituary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://thewire.in/books/vs-naipaul-obituary

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Leningrad Symphony I and II – Suffering and Music …

Posted on August 12, 2018. Filed under: Books, From Russia with Love |

From The Wire – Anjan Basu –

For us Indians, August 9, 1942, will forever remain a date to look back to with awe and pride. On that day, with the launch of the Quit India movement, India’s colonial masters were served their final notice: get out or get shoved out. 

August 9 was supposed to have been a very important date in the Third Reich’s calendar as well, perhaps the most important date. In the end, it may well have been that, but in not quite the manner Adolf Hitler would have liked.

Indeed, in some sense, the day proved to be the tipping point for the Nazi campaign for world domination. Hereafter, it would only be a journey downhill, to disaster (though it did not necessarily look like that at the time).

This may sound somewhat far-fetched – after all, the Stalingrad offensive did not even start before August 22 that year, while the epic tank battle in the Kursk salient was nearly a year away yet – and so the story of that day bears retelling.

s://thewire.in/history/leningrad-symphony-siege-world-war-two-germany-russia

and

When a Long, Dark Night Lit up with Music: The Story of the Leningrad Symphony II

After the German invasion though, he was ‘mainstreamed’ again together with many other well-known personalities, Shostakovich started work on his Seventh Symphony soon after the war began, but it was well after he and his family had been evacuated from blockaded Leningrad to Moscow that he could complete, in December 1941, this monumental composition, requiring as it did nearly 100 orchestra hands, ran for over an hour-and-a-quarter, and touched high, repeated crescendos.

Its theme – war and the pity of war – resonated powerfully over Europe. It was premiered in Kuibyshev, near Moscow, and later in the capital itself in March 1942 to thunderous ovations.

“The Seventh Symphony”, a reassured Pravda now exulted, “is the creation of the conscience of the Russian people”.

https://thewire.in/history/leningrad-symphony-siege-world-war-two-russia

 

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Nelson Mandela …

Posted on August 10, 2018. Filed under: Books, Personalities |

Gen KM Bhimaya –  

As Francis Bacon exhorted “Weigh and Consider,” the following quote from the late Nelson Mandela makes one understand the moral high ground he aspired for – and accomplished. The moral force he engendered is reminiscent of Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

“I detest white supremacy and will fight it with every weapon in my hands,” he wrote to a senior prison official in 1976″.
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In another letter of grievance.
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“But even when the clash between you and me has taken the most extreme form, I should like us to fight over principles and ideas and without personal hatred, so that at the end of the battle, whatever the results might be, I can proudly shake hands with you because I feel I have fought an upright and worthy opponent who has observed the whole code of honor and decency.
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But when your subordinates continue to use foul methods then a sense of real bitterness and contempt becomes irresistible.”
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Story of the ZERO …

Posted on August 8, 2018. Filed under: Books |

From BBC Travel —- The invention of zero was a hugely significant mathematical development, one that is fundamental to calculus, which made physics, engineering and much of modern technology possible. 

In Gwalior, a congested city in the centre of the India, an 8th-Century fort rises with medieval swagger on a plateau in the town’s heart. Gwalior Fort is one of India’s largest forts; but look among the soaring cupola-topped towers, intricate carvings and colourful frescoes and you’ll find a small, 9th-Century temple carved into its solid rock face.

Chaturbhuj Temple is much like many other ancient temples in India – except that this is ground zero for Zero. It’s famous for being the oldest example of zero as a written digit: carved into the temple wall is a 9th-Century inscription that includes the clearly visible number ‘270’.

The invention of the zero was a hugely significant mathematical development, one that is fundamental to calculus, which made physics, engineering and much of modern technology possible. But what was it about Indian culture that gave rise to this creation that’s so important to modern India – and the modern world?

Nothing from Nothing

There is this TED talk by renowned Indian mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik in which he tells a story about Alexander the Great’s visit to India.

The world conqueror apparently met what he called a ‘gymnosophist’ – a naked, wise man, possibly a yogi – sitting on a rock and staring at the sky, and asked him, “What are you doing?”. ……………………………….  …… “I’m experiencing nothingness. What are you doing?” the gymnosophist replied. “I am conquering the world,” Alexander said.                     

They both laughed; each one thought the other was a fool, and was wasting their life.

This story takes place long before that first zero was inscribed on Gwalior’s temple wall, but the gymnosophist meditating on nothingness does in fact have a connection to the digit’s invention. Indians, unlike people from many other cultures, were already philosophically open to the concept of nothingness.

Systems such as yoga were developed to encourage meditation and the emptying of the mind, while both the Buddhist and Hindu religions embrace the concept of nothingness as part of their teachings.

Dr Peter Gobets, secretary of the Netherlands-based ZerOrigIndia Foundation, or the Zero Project, which researches the origins of the zero digit, noted in an article on the invention of zero that “Mathematical zero (‘shunya’ in Sanskrit) may have arisen from the contemporaneous philosophy of emptiness or Shunyata [a Buddhist doctrine of emptying one’s mind from impressions and thoughts]”.

In addition, the nation has long had a fascination with sophisticated mathematics. Early Indian mathematicians were obsessed with giant numbers, counting well into the trillions when the Ancient Greeks stopped at about 10,000. They even had different types of infinity.

Hindu astronomers and mathematicians Aryabhata, born in 476, and Brahmagupta, born in 598, are both popularly believed to have been the first to formally describe the modern decimal place value system and present rules governing the use of the zero symbol.

Although Gwalior has long been thought to be the site of the first occurrence of the zero written as a circle, an ancient Indian scroll called the Bhakshali manuscript, which shows a placeholder dot symbol, was recently carbon dated to the 3rd or 4rd Centuries. It is now considered the earliest recorded occurrence of zero.

Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, is quoted on the university’s website as saying, “[T]he creation of zero as a number in its own right, which evolved from the placeholder dot symbol found in the Bakhshali manuscript, was one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of mathematics.

We now know that it was as early as the 3rd Century that mathematicians in India planted the seed of the idea that would later become so fundamental to the modern world. The findings show how vibrant mathematics have been in the Indian sub-continent for centuries.”

But equally interesting are the reasons as to why the zero wasn’t developed elsewhere. One theory is that some cultures had a negative view of the concept of nothingness. For example, there was a time in the early days of Christianity in Europe when religious leaders banned the use of zero because they felt that, since God is in everything, a symbol that represented nothing must be satanic.

So maybe there is something to these connected ideas, to the spiritual wisdom of India that gave rise to meditation and the invention of zero. There’s another connected idea, too, which has had a profound effect on the modern world.

The concept of zero is essential to a system that’s at the basis of modern computing: binary numbers.

Silicon Valley, India-style

As you drive out of Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport towards the city centre, about 37km away, you’re greeted by several large signs stuck somewhat incongruously into the ground of rural India.

They proclaim the names of the new gods of modern India, the companies at the forefront of the digital revolution. Intel, Google, Apple, Oracle, Microsoft, Adobe, Samsung and Amazon all have offices in Bengaluru, along with home-grown heroes like Infosys and Wipro.   

The sleek airport and shiny signs are the first indicators of transformation. Before the IT industry came to Bengaluru, it was called Bangalore, and was known as Garden City. Now it’s Bengaluru and is known as the Silicon Valley of India.

What started in the 1970s as a single industrial park, Electronic City, to expand the electronics industry in the state of Karnataka, has paved the way for today’s boomtown. The city now boasts many IT parks and is home to nearly 40% of the country’s IT industry.

Bengaluru may even overtake Silicon Valley, with predictions suggesting it could become the single largest IT hub on Earth by 2020, with two million IT professionals, six million indirect IT jobs and $80 billion in IT exports.  

It’s binary numbers that make this possible.

 Modern-day digital computers operate on the principle of two possible states, ‘on’ and ‘off’. The ‘on’ state is assigned the value ‘1’, while the ‘off’ state is assigned the value ‘0’. Or, zero.

“It is perhaps not surprising that binary number system was also invented in India, in the 2nd or 3rd Centuries BCE by a musicologist named Pingala, although this use was for prosody,” said Subhash Kak, historian of science and astronomy and Regents Professor at Oklahoma State University.

Lalbagh Botanical Gardens is at the cultural and geographical centre of Bengaluru, a symbol of ‘old Bangalore’ and the first must-see place locals recommend.

Originally designed in 1760 with many later additions, it has a distinctly Victorian feel to it, featuring 150 types of roses and a glass pavilion made in the late 1800s and patterned after London’s famous Crystal Palace. Lalbagh is a treasure in a city that is one of the fastest growing in Asia, and a charming reminder of the days when Bengaluru was a favourite spot for retired British civil servants during the days of the Raj.

They built quaint cottages with large gardens and quietly whiled away their retirement years enjoying the temperate climate and ideal growing conditions of the sleepy town.

But old Bangalore is disappearing beneath much-needed infrastructure construction and the city’s ambitious expansion. In the 10 years from 1991 to 2001, Bengaluru grew a whopping 38%, and it’s now the 18th most populous city in the world with 12 million people.

The traffic is arguably the worst in India, as infrastructure planning has not kept pace with the development of the many IT parks and the never-ending influx of IT workers.

The chaos and congestion that’s the hallmark of India’s metropolises reaches something of a zenith in Bengaluru, where it can take an hour to drive 3km. Nevertheless, the inhabitants carry bravely on, living as close to the high-tech campuses as possible – and even on them in some cases – creating start-ups, designing software and supplying the world with IT products and know-how.

It’s hard to imagine the number of computer chips and bits and programs that have come from Bengaluru, the number of computers and devices built and powered. And even more impossible to imagine is the number of binary-system zeroes it has all taken.

And yet all of this started in India …………….  from Nothing.

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