Thursday, June 8, 2017

Book Review: Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

This is the tale of an introvert. This mini-novel (124 pages long) is written in first person. The author introduces himself and his family of father, mother, uncle, sister and later his wife in the dedicated chapters for each member of the family.

The plot begins with the story of a typical middle-class family who count every penny they spend and the hardships they go through. It takes a slower turn as the novel progresses. As the family’s income begins to improve, their lifestyle also gets better and they move out to a better house from the small house with little privacy where-in author’s mother had to battle with ants on a regular basis.

Author gets married and then things begin to change in their family. Anita, author’s wife asks tougher questions seeking the darker truths of the family. Until then, all of the family members did not question each other’s motives and remained selectively deaf and blind. That had created a bonding in the family. But the daughter-in-law questions the belief system of the family and shows that they were indeed all selfish for their own reasons.

When Anita, wife of the author, is out of town, the family gets together and the casual conversation develops among them and the old bonding feels like coming back into the family in her absence. But the conversations turn into how and why people get killed and how one could easily walk out of that mess without legally binding into it. That indicates morale of family is beginning to compromise.

After that discussion, author becomes uncomfortable. He gets out of the house and goes to a coffee bar which he regularly visits. Sitting there, he contemplates whether his wife will reach home back safely or does she get killed on the way. As that thought comes to him, he gets tensed and breaks the glass he was holding and that will injure him and he sees his own blood.

This is a classic work and gets into the minute details of how our sub-conscious thinks, adjusts and changes with the external factors. The language of this book makes it more interesting than the plot. This book is not meant for the young readers but those in the middle-age would appreciate this as the trauma of the protagonist of this book would be theirs too.

This book was originally written in Kannada but it got widely known after its translation into English. Though I would have preferred to read it in Kannada, I came across the English translation first and it became my last weekend’s read.

Book Review: Veerappan: Chasing the Brigand by Vijay Kumar

This book beats a thriller movie in its speed, narration of events and providing a visualization of the details that went through the years spent in nabbing Veerappan. This is not just the biography of the sandalwood smuggler but that of the author and many more police officials who were part of STF, who had a single mission in their lives that of putting an end to the saga of the bandit.

All of us know the criminal activities Veerappan was involved into and how many people he had killed in the process and his kidnaps for ransom too. But we would not know in detail that he was a master strategist coupled with knacks for detailed tactics that gave him an upper hand in all the confrontations with the police of three states. Every time he had emerged winner in those 20 years span. Though the author thinks Veerappan was lucky, I suppose it was Veerappan’s intelligence, knowledge of territory, ability to quickly identify the dangers and knowing when to flee the battlefield were keys to his success.

After failing to capture him (or shoot him) for two decades, STF adopted different ways. Until then, they were successful in reducing his team’s size and they could only eliminate those who were not as agile as Veerappan but the main target always had managed to slip away, right under their nose. So they changed their tactics and begin to mimic what Veerappan did, like moving in small teams and choosing the advantageous place to meet. Some of the plans failed but one bait finally hooked up the bandit. And Veerappan’s eye was bothering him beyond tolerance. They could bring him out of the forest cover in the pretense of getting his eye operated but that was all planned in detail by STF and the ambulance too was driven by one of them. As the vehicle carried Veerappan and his mates into a pre-decided spot, STF turned on the fire and killed those in the van.

Victor writes the history. Vijay Kumar, author of this book and the head of STF, could do what his predecessors did not see success at, though they came very close several times. So you get to hear the story straight from the person who outsmarted the bandit. Of course, it was a team effort and all of them have their own valid versions. This one could be the best version.

This book is edited well and makes the read very interesting and captures the readers throughout. I took three days, six sittings to read this 250 pages book. My experience was wonderful and better than watching a thriller movie.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Literature Festivals, do they create new readers?

There are so many good things which can happen in a literature festival. I will touch upon them before I proceed to grim factors. First of all, readers to get to see the writers. You will hear their personal stories or their favorite writers and other details which are not documented in the form of books. You get to know of new literary works and their creators or even remembrance of some of the legendary writers. Yes, the discussion would revolve around the subject of literature. At last they, the literature lovers, got a forum to get together.

But beyond a physical meet-up of existing literature lovers, will these Literature festivals attract more people to read literature? Try asking the book-sellers at those festivals, the answer is not that encouraging. Those who were already attracted to literature would definitely buy books at every opportunity. Leaving them behind, are there new readers being created through these festivals? And in what numbers? You see, the writers who conduct panel discussions or read-out sessions are no movies stars. Much of them are introverts and may not feel easy at public speaking. They may not have the physical charm to attract new audience and hook them up into reading. Reading has to be done in solitude and the choice to become a reader is internal. So if the young are not coming in considerable numbers into the field of literature, how long these lit fests would make sense?

You check with the younger generation if they had watched the movie ‘Bahubali 2’. They would quote a dialogue or two from the movie. They would not have missed the IPL series too. And they would read hundreds of messages on their Whatsapp. But reading a book? It does not interest them. Some of them would have had a copy of Chetan Bhagat or Shiva trilogy. But beyond that can they name couple of authors or their interesting works? Don’t ask or get ready to face a strange look.

When the majority of population is not interested, that business line does not make much commercial sense. Let us look at best-selling authors. Books of S L Bhyrappa have been doing well but has he made any serious money from it? Who is the next author in Kannada who can find considerable number of readers? A publisher would tell, selling 10,000 books would make him see some profit. When Karnataka’s population is more than 7 crores, it is just 0.0001% market penetration. A savvy marketer would make more money selling off perishable things than books which last really long.

Those who write for self-expression may not experience pain learning this. But the budding writers who want to make a living out of it would understand first that their probability of seeing success is 0.0001%, may be same chances of winning in a lottery. Better they find a job which pays and limit literature to a hobby.

The literature fests, though they intend to revive the habit of reading and spread its joy, are unlikely to see much success. Publishing may never become a commercially attractive business anytime but keep losing its shine and disappear some day or live a negligible presence. Don’t blame the modern life style for it. Change is part of evolution. But have sympathy for writers who could not learn any other life skill.

A Tale of Two Cities

I am talking of Bangalore and Mysore. I am living in Bangalore for the past two decades and I have visited Mysore more than a dozen times and I find both of them very contrasting. One moves at a breakneck speed and other is slow and peaceful. Not just the cultural variation across these two cities is too drastic and it is the outlook towards life that puts them at opposing ends.

It is money over happiness. Every one of us know that money is important. But how important? If the money making is the prime purpose of life, even at the expense of your health and reduced time with family, you are likely to be a Bangalorean. If you want to strike a balance between money and family and also aim towards peaceful life, Mysore could be your home. If you go by GDP per capita, Bangalore may score well but if you go by happiness measure, Mysoreans would beat Bangalore by a huge margin.

Now let us look at things apart from money. See how the waste is being handled. Bangalore has garbage heaps everywhere. Mysore is titled the cleanest town of India. Now you know why I say Mysore people are healthier.

Look at population density. Bangalore is geographically 4-5 times bigger than Mysore but it has 10x more population. That would mean Bangalore’s population density is 2-3x higher than that of Mysore. And if you look at vehicles per family, Bangalore is no comparison to Mysore. So all these numbers explain why Bangalore is a choked city while Mysore is not. And I don’t have to mention separately about air quality.

Think of water? Mysore has a dam at the outskirts. Bangalore gets its water pumped from as far as 60 km. Think of green cover? Mysore has protected forests at less than an hour drive. In Bangalore, you drive for an hour, you will still be in the middle of traffic, among the cruelest animals of this earth.

In Bangalore, if you have money, you can get food or most kinds of services round the clock as the city refuses to go to bed and aims at making money in the night too. In Mysore, if you did not have dinner before 9 pm, you are likely to go hungry as most of shopkeepers close and go home for a restful sleep. They are not lured by the money the night travelers bring.

These comparisons can go on and on. And probably you are convinced now why these two cities are different. They are meant for different kinds of people. A proper Mysorean would not be able to live in Bangalore for long and he would return as soon he gets an opportunity. And an aggressive Bangalorean would see Mysore as no more than a tourist place. So the cultures of these two cities continue to remain as they are.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Essay: Who Am I?

[Essay written for admission to a writing course]

Who am I? Yes, I am asking this question to my inner self. Instead of giving an answer, it questions me back. “Have not you been asking this same question over the ages?” I agree and I do remember those interactions.

The first instance was when I was too young. I was told by my elder sister that I am Anand. That was what my parents had named me. But why “Anand”? I had probed. And my sister had told me smilingly “When you were in mother’s womb, Appa and Amma had gone to watch a Kannada movie starring Rajkumar and Julie Lakshmi. They had liked the movie and they took a decision that if the new born is a boy, the name will be that of hero’s character in the movie. If girl, then it would be of Heroin’s”. So I came to know how I became Anand.

The next was during school going days. Then routine was simple and it repeated year after year. Get up and get ready. Reach school in time. Come back in the evening, play with neighborhood kids until it gets dark. Do the homework and sleep with books next to my pillow. My school teachers had liked my promptness and consistency in completing the assignments. They told everyone that I am a good student. And I believed in that. Even my parents never missed to tell those visiting our home that I am good at school. Now you know how I, Anand, got to be known and identified as a good student.

Then teenage came, I left home to study at college. I had become more independent. For the first time I tasted Tea at a hotel outside of home though I was a regular tea-drinker at home. I began to develop awareness of my looks and also started to notice how the world judged people by their dressing and outlook. I was not a complete rebel but yet refused getting a short hair-cut which was the norm until then. I demanded additional pocket money to buy a nice pair of shoes. Yeah, I was thinking for myself and decided what was good for me. What a phenomenal change! For others, I was a son of so and so parents and came from the place which is bigger than a village but smaller than a town. But I knew those were just external identities and I knew for sure I had a mind of my own and that was my true self.

Education was over and I started job hunting. During the interviews, the first question asked was “Tell about yourself”. I would narrate them how Anand, a good student, now is in search of a job and a steady income. They believed my story and I got a job with some disposable income. That was when the sub-conscious person in me went on a high and soon I was riding a bike, bought out of my own earnings and of course with few EMI’s to pay. Who was I then? I was a person who saw the world full of opportunities and trying to make the best out of it. Then I begin to see the inner selves of other people too, beginning with my parents. They wanted to own a house and they saw me as the vehicle to reach their desire. A part of my inner self was a part of theirs too. I was just an extension of my parent’s souls.

It was time to marry. My soul mate had chosen me for the reasons unclear to me yet. Happy times followed and the children too. I became a complete family man. Who do not like their young kids? The answer to “Who am I?” got changed again. I was observing the transformation of my soul with the changing life phases but yet simple things like career, money and indulgences in keeping the physical senses happy were ruling my soul.

I was nearing my fortieth birthday and one day I was not able to read the newspapers and magazines with the same ease I was doing before. My wife suggested to see a doctor, so I went to one. After making the checks, the doctor asked “Are you 40?” I was surprised how she knew my exact age. I got my reading glasses and I began to carry them wherever I went out apart from two cell phones in two different pockets.

It was not just my vision which was blurred but the soul too had become dim. I had realized that it does not matter who I am but what matters is why I am here and one has to know the purpose of life. My friends and colleagues shrugged it off saying it is mid-life crisis. Had they gone through the same thing I was going through? I was not convinced. I googled it which led me to spirituality. I found that Adi Shankara and Swami Vivekananda who took the spiritual path had found their answers quite early in their lives and they did not live to forty. I realized I was slow and thought of attempting to trace the routes one of them had traveled. I could form a small group of friends to reach the Himalayas. During Adi Shankara’s time, it took many months to get there from south India but for me it took just three days. After taking a dip in the holy Ganga, I went on to meet a hundred year old yogi. He was a renounced man but still a man. The concept of God became clearer to me. There is no God and God is everywhere. Hope you do not see any contradiction in it else you are not yet ready for it.

Now the question ‘Who am I’ does not bother me anymore. Bhagavad-Gita says I was here before and I would come here again. Not the time to discuss if Mahabharata had really happened but the philosophical take away is, it does not matter who I am but what matters is what I do.