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.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"Family Planning" and "One Night @ the Call Center"

Over a longish stretch we decided to read two very different books, for somewhat different reasons. Many thought that Family Planning looked promising, and the interest in One Night @ the Call Center was to see what all of the hubub in India was, being that this was such a bestseller for so long.
In a surprising turnabout, it seems that FP was less well received than ON@TCC, but this may be due to the expectations preceding each title. I think only Kate P. was an out and out supporter of FP. KP felt that the book was written excellently in the voice of teen boy(s), and found there were many laugh aloud moments throughout. Others felt that there was not enough plot, that the writing was immature to some extent. One readers (or group's) jejune writing is another reader's brilliant stylings, I guess. It might also bear noticing that many people did find it fun to read and very funny at many points, and it brought out one question in this reaser's mind- can humorous writing ever be taken as seriously as tragic or dramatic writing? It has been noted that the Oscar for best film has not ever been given to a comedy, for example, even though comedy is perhaps the most challenging form to work in, and so easy to fall flat.
Regarding the second title, Call Center, there was some discussion of the political or social content of the book, and regarding its popularity, what seems to be a tiny bit of soul searching per what is being bought and sold in India's "best and brightest". None of us went in expecting literary fiction at any rate, so this will sound overblown, but there were a few surprises nevertheless. It cannot be seriously recommended as a work to read, and there are moments where the telenovella style writing make it unintentionally funny.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Jaipur Literature Festival- let's go in 2010!

Note the lines by Nadeem Aslam: "Mueenuddin mused on the tremendous changes in Pakistan and how that causes a sort of “premature nostalgia,” and the urge to commit it all to print, to pin down a precious, disappearing world. In Aslam's words, it's like “writing very fast with a quill whose other end is on fire.'”

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sea of Poppies by Ghosh and Love Marriage by V.V. Ganeshananthan

After a slightly longer absence than usual due to holidays and lovely excursions to India (for the lucky!) we got together to talk about these two titles. The suggestion had been made to read two but also due to the above most people read one or the other, so some catching seemed in order. Love Marriage is a freshman effort by a writer who does more journalism at this point, and several of the group felt that the book read more like non-fiction in general. All were grateful to have a better exposure to Sri Lankan Tamil points of view, and there was a pretty great level of description of what a first generation emigre from a minority group tends to carry in baggage, in particular as the country of origin is warring still. There was sense that some of the themes introduced did not get played to their conclusion, particularly regarding the Tamil Tiger uncle in the story. There were some sparks of literary phrase here and there, but the overall work seemed strangely dry and needed some editorial assistance.

Sea of Poppies had a few strong supporters, Amardeep for one considered it almost a thesis, one could learn quite a lot about the period of time and phenomenon and mechanics of the opium trade. Kate P. talked a bit about the boat brother/sister phenomenon and how that actually manifested in Trinidad, where Hosay is still celebrated among formerly indentured South Asian migrants hundreds of years later. (Until recently also in Jamaica but now in demise due to cross cultural marriages, according to a friend from there). There was some discussion about the language, Amardeep noted that Ghosh's use of Hobson-Jobson vocabulary is quite unlike Rushdies in that it is used accurately for the time and not as word play. Sonan was not entirely impressed with the writing style, finding it I think stilted. Samian I think liked the story overall and is generally a Ghosh fan. Sanjay and others were surprised at the sudden drop off at the end of the story- although we realize this is the first part of a trilogy, it seemed as if it could not stand alone as a separate work, a small flaw according to the English teachers of the group, including Anne. There was an interesting split between people who considered it almost to the academic side of fiction and those for whom the book struck an almost popular/romantic fiction tone, because of all of the unrequited love dramas being played through. Perhaps it was in fact a balance of both!