Sunday, June 30, 2013

Superstar India- From Incredible to Unstoppable

Title: Superstar India- From Incredible to Unstoppable (ISBN:9780143102588)
Author: Shobhaa De
Publ: Penguin Books

I remember reading M. Krishnan Nair many years ago commenting on Shobhaa De’s works. According to him, he was wasting his precious time reading the trash while so many quality works from great authors were waiting to be read. I admire his openness and impartiality as a critic, but I can’t help enjoying De’s books. I have read Socialite Evenings earlier and have thoroughly enjoyed it. And Superstar India is the second one I am reading. I believe she is a gifted writer who knows well to use apt words and expressions for any context thanks to her stunning vocabulary. Her word power will never stop amazing me. She is one of the authors who command the entire attention of readers like me to what they read. While reading even the greatest books, my mind wanders a lot.

Shobhaa De says she loves India however flawed it is, and has never considered moving to a better country and settle there even though it would be so easy for her. I for one am always dreaming of moving to a better place. I do love India, but I find it hard to tolerate its people with all the hypocrisy more than its potholed roads and filthy places. But then, if I were a person of De’s standing and as rich as well with “the latest phone, laptop and car” and whose “watch is a Cartier” and drives a “midnight-blue Mercedes”, I guess I wouldn’t be pining as much as now for a serene life in a distant land because then I would be able to have right here the kind of life I have always been dreaming of and the kind of company I would be having there.

She takes pride in India’s noteworthy qualities and at the same time feel ashamed and, being an Indian, sort of accountable to the world, about the dirt, filth and crap lining the neighbourhoods of Indian cities. Perhaps she feels so disgraced just because as a famous Indian figure that sojourns abroad frequently and is constantly in touch with eminent personalities around the world, especially west, she must be getting entangled in discussions in international gatherings where topics of India and Indians pop up now and then. This is quite evident from her words about the slum dwellers with respect to their daily routine of emptying their bowels in public places:

“Often I’m asked, ‘Where are all these people going, carrying cans of water?’ I can’t get myself to say bluntly and crudely. ‘To shit…’ So I answer. ‘To bathe their cows…’

She is an adorable woman anyway. She has all the luxuries in her life and still keeps an observant eye on anything and everything that has only to do with the wretched and the lay citizen in the street. Even though she can drive her Mercedes all the time she isn’t blind to the experiences of the ordinary commuter in the yellow-blacks, BEST buses and trains in the city of Mumbai. She is concerned about the same happenings of the society as the common people which otherwise individuals of her stature tend to overlook, as much of them doesn’t have any negative impact on their lives, and if at all they do they are sufficiently equipped with ample resources to bypass them.

She discusses at length the trait of Indian hypocrisy, especially in matters of sex. Sensuality is still a taboo. And no doubt many of the ghastly rape/assault/murder combos are unfortunate outbursts of the repressed sexual urges. The Delhi gang rape/assault case is one of the latest instances. It is interesting to read a clear and plain observation of the author:
“it isn’t uncommon to see Indian men walking around un-self-consciously with their arms around each other’s waists or shoulders, or their fingers interlocked. Outsiders often believe that sight is an example of how liberal and accepting Indians are about homosexual love! What it actually is, is a displacement or an expression of frustration. Human beings want to touch and be touched. I’m sure most of those men would rather be fondling/ embracing females _ but they can’t … ”

I don’t know if De has any other non-fiction title to her credit. I guess all her other books are novels, whereas this is part biography, part travelogue and she has spilled a fair share of her beans. This book reveals a lot about the person that she is. She is not hesitant in relating her innermost feelings, desires, insecurities.. In the Meet my Mrs. Section, she reminds the reader of Erica Jong and her book The Fear of Flying.
“Power lady? Ha! If the world only knew my anxieties and fears each time I walk into an airport!”
The word ‘airport’ looks like a subconsciously let out motif. The protagonist of Erica Jong is never satiated by her man and is in mental turmoil and moves from man to man and spends a lot of time on psychoanalysis sessions seeking genuine contentment and existential fulfillment, which in turn reminds of yet another woman Kamala Surayya (also variably known as Kamala Das or Madhavikkutty) and her work of collected biographical jottings Ente Katha (My Story). Jong’s character has to finally return to her own man, trying and failing repeatedly, humbled and embarrassed.

De goes on to say…
“It’s not all that easy to shrug off years of conditioning. It’s not all that easy to obliterate one’s mother’s life, circumscribed by tradition and role-playing. I suspect there’s more than I care to admit of that life, deep within me. Secretly I often fantasize that I’ve switched places with my mother. For a while that fantasy looks so appealing. What a ‘safe’ existence__ no risks to be taken. Everything handled by the ‘Mr’. No stressing about an uncertain future.”

“Maybe I’m longing to hear my own husband introducing me with a reticent, ‘Meet my Mrs’. And there I would be, eyes lowered, three steps behind him, smiling a perfectly controlled half-smile, speaking only when spoken to, never interrupting, never arguing, never contradicting. An obedient, well-behaved ‘Mrs’, an asset of the old-fashioned kind,__ quiet, non-threatening, willing to compromise, eager to please, not looking beyond the hearth of my well-run home, forgetting about the enticing world out there.”

“… that’s when my iPod rescues me. Like right now. I drown myself in Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s dhadkan and the pain becomes easier to bear…’Dulhe ka sehra suhana lagta hai,’ he sings, and I can see a newly-minted ‘Mr’, with his ‘Mrs’. It brings a smile to my lips. But the tears in my eyes are equally real. I’ll never be that ‘Mrs’. And I don’t know whether that’s a blessing or a curse!”

Even though she says that the obsession with the Mrs. Image is due to her mother’s influence, I guess there is more to it. Every woman must be yearning to finally obtain solace in the arms of her dream prince, finding self-fulfillment in total submission.
Shobhaa De sounds too naïve and immature at times, what with all her teenager-like rants. But then it could well be a conscious round of masquerading which conveniently helps her shout out anything and everything she wants, rather than donning the intellectual cloak and stay silent and ugly. And I guess she enjoys it herself thoroughly.
The season of Diwali comes with a load of nostalgic as well as guilty feelings for her. She grieves about not having learned or bothered to record the priceless recipes of traditional Indian delicacies prepared by her mother and elder women in the family years before.
“So many years later, I regret I did not participate more fully in the activity or bother to record those secret family recipes. Those are treasures lost to me forever. And with their loss comes the realization that my own children, and later their own, will have no knowledge, no memory of this valuable tradition. And several traditions as precious and priceless as this one. There are no substitutes for legacies that knit and bind cultures and communities in such subtle and profound ways. Who can put a price on this?”

But then, as she herself admits, (and as my own favourite Life-is-a-package theory claims), “When the belch goes, a lot more will go with it”.
“Yes, we actively annoy people in an adopted land by our far-from-endearing habits—we spit, scratch, belch and pass wind in public without the slightest self-consciousness. We plead guilty. These are national traits that need to be addressed and modified since nobody finds them anything but offensive. Perhaps the neo-Indians who are global globs, blending seamlessly into the international circuit, will be more conscious of tailoring their social behavior to conform to what’s universally acceptable. One can already see this change taking place, as young adults squirm, pull faces and sharply correct parents and grandparents who burp contentedly after a hearty meal in a posh restaurant.”

Yeah, in a package, there often could be bad things as well as good things in the same offer. So, on one side 
when we lament about things changing for the worse, on the other we could feel ourselves proud of transitions for the better.
I would like to quote one more touching passage from the book before winding up..
“Today, when I talk to my children about 'their' India, they ask, 'Why do you call it “ours”? Doesn't it belong to you, too?' I don 't answer. I don't need to. At sixty, you learn to give away all that you hold most precious. The gifts you pass on at this stage are the ones that make the difference. For they are given with the fullness of your heart, and minus any expectations. India belongs to the young. it is rightfully 'their' India, and they should be intensely proud of it . . . cherish it. For it is a rare gift that has come to them with no strings attached. Like the best gifts always are. One only hopes and prays that this new generation of bright and beautiful Indians values its extraordinary legacy . . .  enriches it.”

I must not forget to add that the page layout of the book is quite attractive. The cute small sized fonts coupled with the wide empty margin spaces around gives a neat adorable look to the pages…

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Red Sorghum by Mo Yan

The book wasn't really very impressing. Perhaps it is the subject. This is the first time I’m reading Mo Yan. I’m not sure if all his books are of the same style. If it is, then he can never be an appealing author to me.

I couldn’t appreciate the book well. This is the kind of book that sort of tells the story of a certain class or community of people belonging to a certain culture. And I guess I am not sufficiently acquainted with the setup to appreciate it enough. And I feel there must be people who are sufficiently equipped to really enjoy reading it.

The book is filled with lurid descriptions of violence and cruelty. The author looks like a lover of blood. He seems not being able to restrain himself from bringing in blood even while talking about romance and love. The ‘red’ in the title is not only of sorghum, but also of blood.

Nevertheless, the honesty in narration is commendable than anything else in the book. So brutally honest.