Friday, February 26, 2010

The Immortals by Amit Chaudhuri

This meeting there was nearly unanimous praise for the novel. All observed with interest that it follows recent trends in cross-cultural literature, by dropping in Hindi and some rarely used British words, the author is making the non-Indian audience work a bit harder to follow his meaning but gaining much in flavor. Anne equated this with Junot Diaz's writing, and Kate P. agreed, having just read Oscar Wao. Maybe this is possible because of ubiquitous internet access as well, (so easy to look words up). This however did not prevent Kate P and Anne from asking Deep, Samian and Sanjay to translate a few words and concepts. The first subject of interest was the mention of several mystical poets, both Hindu and Sufi, and some discussion of connections between Kabir and the Guru Granth Sahib.  
We all enjoyed the very subtle references to class, which made an interesting contrast with Rohinton Mistry, where the subject is more overt and central. The more central theme here seemed to be the subtleties of the relationship between guru and student, the inner lives and workings of the family, and to some extent the greater cultural context of music, classical versus popular. Kate P., Anne, Samian and Deep seened to appreciate Chaudhuri's softness and quietness, the slow movement of his story which is slowly revealed, where Kate B. felt a bit frustrated by the lack of drama in the plot. Anne and Kate P. found themselves astonished by some of Chaudhuri's sentences, which sometimes find themselves starting in one place and ending somewhere else completely. This could make for some slow reading at times; like watching a replay of a figure skater doing a triple axle, or a free style skiier- one has to go back to the beginning to marvel at how it was done. Or to change metaphors- listening to Thelonius Monk- you are sure that a rule was broken, but it was broken so beautifully that it must be listened to thrice to see how it worked. If for nothing else at all, the book seems to want to draw our awareness to the complete world of classical music, in which there were times of day for specific forms, and in which there were reasons for everything, devotion and much internal structure, most visible from the inside.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Stars from another sky

There were many likable aspects to this peculiar little book, according to Kate and Amardeep but not Narayan, and Ann reserves judgment until she has more time to read.
Narayan's main objections were the disjointed aspects, lack of structure, and his feeling that it closely resembled Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon.
Amardeep and Kate acknowledged some queeziness about the gossip angles of the story, but feel it is more than redeemed by the personal depiction of the costs of Partition, as symbolized by the split of friends like Manto and Shyam. Favorite characterizations: Kuldip Kaur, Shyam, Rafik Ghaznavi, and Nargis.

Things that I learned that might be helpful to other readers:
All Bollywood films until the 70s or 80s were in Urdu, and switched to Hindi or Hindustani only after. Still now Urdu is more highly regarded as a poetical language, and many see the switch as a downfall.
Seth means boss, and may denote upper caste boss.
I thought it odd that Babu Rao Patel had two wives, (see p. 187 one was a doctor!) then I learned that Hindus also could marry more than once up until the 1950's.

Near the beginning of the book, the sections where Manto discusses the threats of communalists against his Hindu studio bosses, (p.17) we really got the idea this was the kernel of the idea for our previous book Filming.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

add away! pictures of 1940's stars

Kuldeep Kaur

Naseem Banu


"Filming" discussion

Maybe it was the lovely day, maybe the garden, maybe cute Puran dashing about, but one way or another we did not have a hefty conversation on this title. My recollection is that we got more involved with discussing the actualities behind the fiction, as discussed in the previous post. Those of us that are not fluent in Bollywood learned that : originally the majority of actors were Muslims, and probably poorer or lacking otherwise in status, & that many changed their names after partition. Per the book itself, it was liked by the group very much, including Ann's husband who joined us this once, but who expressed a general dislike of free association in literature. Deep mentioned that these sections were meant to connect with Manto, and perhaps Manto in his cups. Somehow Ann remembered a book by Manto given to her in Bombay by a headmistress or librarian, Stars from another sky, and we instantly adopted it as our next title to read.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Questions prompted by "Filming", Khair

I am now kind of curious about the situation of Muslim Indian actors during partition. Since there are so many actors today, many of the best known male leads are Muslims, it makes me wonder what happened in 47/48 and the years soon after?
Is there a great book about the legacy of Muslim Indian actors? Is there a book or article about the relative lack of prejudice within the industry?

Friday, June 5, 2009

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders

This month we read our first title set mostly in Pakistan, by Daniyal Mueenuddin, the discussion that followed took some lively turns. The largest sense was that the book was very well written and pretty depressing. The cleavage between those that admired the book and those that didn’t can be described thus: those that felt it could not be liked because there is no one likable in the story, and the others (majority) whom nevertheless found the writing very accomplished. Anne made a comparison to Joyce’s The Dubliners, in which most of the characters are darkly written. The themes of inheritance and class maintenance were also discussed. Kate P. noted that the stories have a sense of Nietzsche’s philosophy, that power is at the center of all relationships, and the jockeying for power the central motive for every character at every class level. Mueenuddin seems to be criticizing Pakistani society on this basis. However many noted that this is not unique to Pakistan. On the other hand, Amardeep mentioned that due to semi-socialist acts of the Indian government mid- century, the zaminders’ land holdings were broken up and some of their hegemony was broken down, therefore in contrast to India, his sense is that Pakistani society has remained more feudal than India’s. Amardeep read some passages that he found particularly brilliant in their turn in meaning from the beginning to the end of a paragraph, and revealing of much in a few words. An interesting contrast was made between Mistry and Mueenuddin, in which we realized that both are good at exposing the motives of opposing characters but Mistry has a gift for making us like them despite ourselves. Shalini liked the style of the stories very much as well, admiring their artistry.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Toss of a lemon by Padma Viswanathan

It has been over a month since we met to discuss this book, and somehow this post slipped away. We planned to discuss ToL and also Sita Sings the Blues by Nina Paley. Mostly we spoke about the book. Jamie provided fresh lemons from Arizona! The crowd generally approved of the book, Amardeep was surprised to like it as well as he did since he expected the story to be a rehash of widow-as-victim. The things that captured the imagination were the details of daily life- lots of thinking about how things are done and made. There was a wild card in the form of Mushami the gay overseer. Sonan I think found the story a bit stultifying. All agreed heartily that the book evinced a ton of research- though the basis of the story seems to be family history, the amount of detail on the traditions of Brahman families is vast. The sections that Kate P. and some others found most interesting historically were the depiction of an anti-caste system Ramayana play put on by lower caste Tamils in the town, (apparently this is historically accurate) also the visitations of Siddhis at the beginning of the story, prompting discussion about the difference between Siddhis and Saddhus.... Sita got the short shrift since people forgot to watch it for the most part, but those who did had glowing reviews. One question not answered- why does Laxman not take much part in this version? Perhaps to emphasize the (end of) love story interpretation by Paley.