Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Monday, December 25, 2006
We should be wondering tonight, "Is there a world?" But I could go and talk on 5, 10, 20 minutes about is there a world, because there is really no world, cause sometimes I'm walkin’ on the ground and I see right through the ground. And there is no world. And you'll find out. (Jack Kerouac in interview with Al Aronowitz)
My initial interpretation of Kerouac's Big Sur was drilled with disappointment. The reason for this letdown would be obvious to any On the Road fanatic who gets through the semi-autobiographical novel, but, fear not for this disappointment was the author's intention, or so it seems.
The semi I insist on affixing to the autobiographical label is due to the nature of it's semi-automatic alter ego narration that finds its voice in one Jack Duluoz who has been instrumented by Kerouac in some previous works. This was also the wishes of the publishers apparently; copyright complications that saw the real life hip-and-beat contemporaries of Kerouac in the beat generation's input in the San Francisco renaissance, writers like William S. Burroughs and Alan Ginsberg to name a few, morph into fictional characters, the names of which some of them were given the choice to choose.(to be continued)
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Poverty was defined by an unknown intelligible source as, “having too much month left at the end of the money”, and is from what I can gather from some personal experience, quite true. Being a student in UK is no easy task what with milk selling here at the price of gold. I have lasted entire semesters depending on vending machines and TESCO value (8p is value enough!) noodles. Then there was the time that I sold my soul to as many freelancing devils I could conjure up, in London this summer, when I slept for a fortnight on the pavements of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square and the rough benches of Heathrow and Hyde Park…all because I spent the last of my money on seeing Pink Floyd live. This summer was the most beautiful summer of my life yet, for, it was during this period when I had the tiniest idea of what it is to be down and out. To wake up every morning without a roof above your head, without a pillow under it, to wake up and contemplate daily defeats, to hear your stomach speak to you in languages of its own…these are not pretty experiences but are experiences nevertheless and I am quite glad to have had them. Yet poverty, man’s worst enemy, is an issue that needs to be addressed and is addressed rather well in Down and out in Paris and London by George Orwell (Animal farm, Nineteen eighty-four).
The book is a semi-autobiographical account of Orwell’s encounter with penury during his stay in Paris and London. One would immediately hyperlink Orwell with a successful literary career, which is true given his significant contribution to literature, but having read this book, my respect for the man has only doubled in affection as a different Orwell emerges from this first published work of the writer: an Orwell far away from Big Brother, a struggling Orwell who with broken and accurate sincerity pens the hopelessness of the homeless. Although published in 1933 and reflective of post-WWI consequences, Orwell describes in this work not just the assault of poverty on nations at large but the painful echoes of hunger in those who have lost it all and who wander in the concrete jungles of twentieth century Progress.
Orwell begins in Paris and gives us an introduction of his living conditions at the ‘Hotel X’ and the colourful characters that inhabit and frequent the quarters. Here, we come across the ideal dreams of the idle and the sour complaints of the working class. We meet Boris, a handicapped Russian waiter who claims to have seen better days as a maître d' in famous Paris restaurants and cafes and who is finding it increasingly hard to get employed. Orwell’s own descent into poverty is a slow one as the English classes he used to give to get money get stopped. As a result, he begins to pawn his belongings for insanely low prices just so he can get something to eat. He has horrid experiences of going without food for days and then getting duped by Russian communists who extract money from him on the pretext of finding him employment. Unable to go on any longer in his humane desperation, Orwell gets a job as a plongeur or kitchen staff to feed himself.
Monday, November 20, 2006
For the first time on this blog, I’m going to review something that I have written myself. This I do with two reasons in mind: one, that you can perhaps get the gist of my last published work and what it was about…how it came to be…etcetera; two, so that in reviewing my own work I can perhaps see its better shortcomings.
My last published work – People look like ants from up here – was almost completely completed when I was about 20. It was something that I wanted to use to get my foot in the door (and perhaps further) of the publishing world and hence it does exhibit a frenzied completion. I wrote some of the poems when I was around 14 and getting into literature heavily at my boarding school in India. In those days at school, I would have to sit for two hours everyday in prep time and complete the allotted homework of the day. Of course, your truly Romantic was not in immediate harmony with the education system and would spend the toiling and boiling hours of compulsion into creating art (no matter how absurd). Writing was the only thing I ever got claps for. I was a well known bibliophile in the school circuit and would win the short-story, poetry and essay competitions on a regular basis and would write love letters and speeches for friends. I loved writing. As far as I can remember, I never really had any ambition as such; astronauts, doctors, policemen…they may appear as role models to a six year old but to a sixteen year old mind their cons are more revealing. I worshipped the written text because it was my way of entering and leaving the world. My prep time writing would follow me into dawn as I sat in the freezing cold outside my dormitory composing satisfying nonsense. My English teacher would encourage me to write more and more till I felt like one of those helpless monkeys typing staggering works of Shakespearean genius. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait all eternity. Moving from my school in Ooty, India to Cardiff, Wales was a leap of sorts as I travelled in the Welsh valleys and edgily fulfilled the student dream of sex, drugs and rock n’roll. It was here and at this point in my life when I finally decided to contact a publisher to submit my manuscript. PublishAmerica came to the rescue and agreed to publish my first anthology. Cool. Here, I will give a brief synopsis of the work.
(To be continued…)
Friday, November 17, 2006
The difference between pornography and erotica is the lighting.
I loved Trainspotting. I know that it’s the sort of book that many may not particularly like due to its graphic portrayal of drug addiction, but, the fact still remains that it is one of the best books I have ever read. In it, Irvine Welsh managed to accurately present the Scottish middle-class in all its glorious dialect, and all of it with a pretty catchy and cheeky plot.
Porno, however, as a sequel was filling but unnecessary. Upon seeing a cheap copy in a bookstore, I settled down to read it in an anxious glee and finished it in a couple of days. To anyone who did like Trainspotting, I would have to recommend the book but I wouldn’t hand it out as a prescription to anyone. This is because Porno, though written in a similar style and setting as its prequel, fails to deliver the novelty delivered by its predecessor. True, it has its moments and the climax is not so much as a peak but a point where you reach only to be shown the plateau of yet another sequel. For, lo, the book does not end as I had hoped. Ever since picking up that orange copy of Trainspotting, the one with the skull on its cover, I have been ushered into the cul-de-sac of Welsh’s mind and can only hope to see the hazy saga to its end.
The book begins, ten years from Trainspotting, with our megalomaniacal pal Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson getting fired from a job due to his obvious charms and deciding to move back to Leith. His decision is final when he learns that he can have his aunt’s old pub to run. The pub attracts the wrong crowd but Sick Boy changes all that as the story progresses and takes control. However, Sick Boy is not bent on changing his old ways and still indulges in wake-me-up-before-you-go-go sex and maintains a thin white line between him and the rest of the world: cocaine. Nevertheless, some things have changed in Leith. Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie, who was in jail, is now out and hungrily looking for Mark ‘Rent Boy’ Renton who is still in exile and is flourishing as a club promoter in Amsterdam. Then there is Danny ‘Spud’ Murphy hanging around as well; still the same sweet fuck-up… still in rehabilitation, unemployment, heroin, robbing and scheming. He is married with Alison though and sits down to write a book on Leith history.
Some new characters and some from Glue also feature in this novel. There is Rab Birrell, his brother Billy, Lauren – an apparent feminist, Nikki – a university student who has body image problems, Dianne – Renton’s love interest from Trainspotting, Terry ‘Juice’ Lawson – the serial shagger from Glue and loads of new characters all over the place.
One cannot imagine how the abovementioned bourgeois characters could find shelter under the title Porno but one should leave such imaginings to the scheming & scamming mind of Sick Boy who wants to keep every finger in every pie. Sick Boy is still pissed off with Renton and manages to catch up with him and make temporary amendments in Amsterdam. He is busy and thrilled because Juice Terry and him have started fiddling in the porn industry, making stag videos they make with some of the Leith girls they know. The latest addition in this group is Nikki who is madly infatuated with Sick Boy and agrees to star in his latest project: a porn feature-film of epic proportions (in the right places). Sick Boy has the presence of an omnipresent scammer in this novel with him involved in some credit-card fraud and blackmailing as well, which he indulges in to raise some capital for the production of his porno. All is well until…
Perhaps I have a little harsh about the novel at the start, for now I remember some cheeky, some vivid, some sexual, some druggy and some raging passages of the book. Begbie’s contribution to the plot is brilliant and there is a hilarious and spine tingling part where his prey Renton and him are sitting beside each other in the hospital toilet, unaware of each other’s presence. And Renton clearly steals Sick Boy’s thunder once again. Lots of it.
The novel has some important issues dealt with subtly as well. Throughout, the reader is presented with both the sides of the story and shown the polarization of the sexes and how it affects the way we approach pornography. Questions of feminism, female exploitation, the what’s-hot-what’s-not of the porn industry, the decline of Leith culture, the changes in drug culture…etcetera, all find a place in Porno and the novel is not just about porno…like I had hoped.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
And we will be ready, at the end of every day will be ready, will not say no to anything, will try to stay awake while everyone is sleeping, will not sleep, will make the shoes with the elves, will breathe deeply all the time, breathe in all the air full of glass and nails and blood, will breathe it and drink it, so rich, so when it comes we will not be angry, will be content, tired enough to go, gratefully, will shake hands with everyone, bye, bye, and then pack a bag, some snacks, and go to the volcano.
The premise of the book has a lot to do with Eggers and his siblings becoming orphans, successively, over the short period of a month as they surrender their father and then their mother to cancer. What follows this tragedy is an unflinching account of a Generation X Oliver Twist trying to find the ground not just under his own feet but his younger brother Toph’s as well. There are also Beth and Bill who are older and do not require Dave’s assistance in the near or distant future; all of them having been allotted finances by the trust of their parents’ wills. So, Dave and Toph move down to San Francisco to start a new life.
Now, what I found heartbreaking about the work was the extreme care that Dave describes for Toph and the way the duo manage to find the own corners in time and space to communicate with each other. There is blatant brotherhood running through the whole thing and yet the two want to turn down the volume of their unspoken understandings by pretending to not care of each other’s presence. This is what makes it so heartbreaking, the sheer helplessness and union of the duo to play the hand dealt to them. There are also a lot of pages dedicated to the years Eggers spent in running a magazine called Might!.
My favourite part of the book is where Dave auditions for a chance to get on the MTV’s Real World show. It is here that he sees a ready medium, one more tempting and popular than the written word, to share his story of defeat and reprise, confidence and insecurities. The way in which he unveils his whole life and beyond in the interview in a carefully planned digressions is something I found quite striking. He sits down to accurately narrate the ideals, preoccupations and possibilities of his generation to a complete stranger which is something I fancy doing one of these days.
Any criticisms of the book are one-way because Eggers already lists down all the possible criticisms himself in the preface and acknowledgements. Perhaps this is where the genius side of the title comes into play.
All in all, A heartbreaking work of staggering genius is a good read for the emotional and stream-of-consciousness styling performed by Eggers but it has to be said that the ending doesn’t really leave a good taste in your head, as it wallows in its own helpless rage and fails to wave goodbye at the right moment. Although, fans of Catcher in the rye will probably like it for the way it digresses and regresses through a variety of coming-of-age situations and behaviours. A beautiful read.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
(i) A frustrating situation in which one is trapped by contradictory regulations or conditions.
(ii) Any illogical or paradoxical problem or situation; dilemma.
"That's some catch that catch 22," He [Yossarian] observed.
Indeed the best catch in arguably one of the best novels ever written. How many works of fiction can boast of pushing a term into the common vocabulary as an accepted bridge? Not many. OK, maybe some but I can’t be asked to do the research involved to illustrate a simple point, namely – Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (God Knows, Something Happened, Closing Time, Picture this) kicks ass and there is every reason under the Sun why you should read this book.
The theme of Catch 22 has a lot to do with 20th century madness and the desire of the ordinary man to survive the insanity around him. The story takes place on the fictional island of Pianosa, west of Italy, during the World War II and follows Captain John Yossarian and a number of other characters on the island serving in the U.S.A Air Forces. Yossarian, however, comes across as the only real protagonist in the novel.
The title of the novel has to do with a military rule that is introduced to the serving men; a rule that is so absurdly paradoxical and double binding that it is genius. It grants the military the right to do anything that they can be stopped from doing. But the essential catch that gave the novel its legendary status was the catch that Doctor Daneeka explained to Yossarian. When Yossarian asks the doctor why he can’t be grounded on the grounds of insanity, the doctor explains that Catch-22 specifies that a concern for one’s safety in the face of danger that were immediate and real was the process of a rational mind. Anyone crazy could be grounded. All they had to do was ask and as soon as they did that, they would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Someone would have to be crazy to fly more missions and sane if they didn’t but if they were sane they had to fly the missions. If they flew them they were crazy and didn’t have to but if they didn’t want to then they were sane and had to. Logical irrationality at it’s best.
Of course, Yossarian learns later that Catch 22 does not really exist but because the powers that be claim it does and the world at large believes it, it nevertheless has dangerous effects. By the time this revelation comes across, it is too late, and the War has already swallowed some patriotic, unsuspecting, innocent and stupid men. Yossarian wants to steer away from his end and faces quite a struggle from some strange strangers who want him dead for their own reasons.
Please, please read this book because it is one of those books that will really make you smile and understand the hilarity and the sadness of the Bigger Picture. Nowhere else will you find characters like Milo, Hungry Joe, the Chaplain, Major Major Major Major, Hungry Joe, The Soldier Who Sees Everything Twice, Nately, Nately’s whore…all in one book. Some may say that the novel is repetitive but it is one of the redeeming features of the novel and once you get past page 60 you’ll be wondering why everyone does not write with such hilarity, absurdness and satire. Do yourself a favour and read this.
Ancient Roman Epicureans
What makes this book a good read, even with the hundred translations, is the underlying pace and message of the work. It would be fair to say that Dostoyevsky was well ahead in his time in portraying the inner tempest of men from all walks of life and was even a philosopher of sorts. Nietzsche was quite a fan; and with good reason. Some say that the works of this Russian writer are highly melodramatic but finishing this novel, I have to say that the over-sensualisation of his works were perhaps carried out with making a strong impression on the reader since most of his works are about symbolism, salvation and existentialism. Being a forerunner in his field, he was bound to appear contrived. He was only human and a Russian at that.
The beginning of Crime and Punishment introduces us to Raskolnikov, a student who is living in St. Petersburg and who is facing financial difficulties. To get the simple luxuries of a meal and a roof above his head, the young man is forced to plan and carry out the murder of an old and unkind pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna, and her innocent sister Lizaveta. He did not intend to kill Lizaveta but her interruption during the targeted murder brings her end as well. What follows is a series of paranoia, illness, depression and distrust as Raskolnikov suspects that everyone he comes into contact with suspects him of murdering the old moneylender, a murder that is the talk of the town.
There are various subplots in the novel as well involving the Marmeladova family, whom Raskolnikov comes into contact while planning the murder, and his own mother and sister – Dounya. However, the main theme of the novel is very much to do with Raskolnikov and his guilt and how he tries to justify his errors and construct escapes out of his awaiting punishment.
The novel is quite paced and accurately depicts the terror of a guilty man but is at times repetitive and over-indulgent with its own premises, so much so that one could be forgiven for predicting the climax. I rather like the end because of the way it reconciles Raskolnikov with his sanity and a partner, showing that if one takes the pains of redeeming himself of his sins then he can come across the flood of punishment as a changed and better man.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
'The finest kind of friendship is between people who expect a great deal from each other but never ask it.'
Have no doubts about this…Glue by Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting, Ecstasy, Porno) is not about solvent abuse, as much as I expected, but about the deep bond of friendship that acts like an adhesive in holding four friends together after three decades of growing up in the Edinburgh schemes. To be honest, I can only compare the book with South Park.
I found the book quite hard to read and not just because of its unnecessary length, 555 pages, but because of the trademark Scottish phonetics pioneered by Welsh running through this length. Nevertheless, putting the book aside now and coming up for air, I have to say that it is a very involving book with complex characters and that if one liked Trainspotting then one is bound to like Glue. This is because while the former was criticized for glorifying drug abuse, the latter only glorifies street principles and the relationship between those living by the code. Franco, Spud and Renton make cameo roles in this novel as well.
Like South Park, Glue has several characters but mainly revolves around the lives of four friends who grow up in Edinburgh schemes in the nurturing environment of street values. They are Terry Lawson (womanizer and lazy), Billy Birrell (boxer), Carl Ewart (famed DJ) and Andrew Galloway (drug addict and HIV positive). These guys have traits of becoming what they become later in their lives from an early age which perhaps goes to show that we all carry our futures in our pasts. We get a decade by decade account of their lives told by each of them individually as monologues and this presents different sides of the story and an interwoven storyline.
Needless to say, there will come a part in the book when you’ll sit back and say, “Oh my God! They killed Kenny! You bastards!” but I’ll leave it to you to find out who the Kenny is, not being a spoiler. This is not a book for the faint hearted because Welsh doesn’t seem to give a toss about readers who do not understand Scottish phonetics and the monologues of the characters are such that would pass for normal talk in a Scottish pub. But there is also the evolution of Scottish culture in the backdrop and how the lives of those living in Edinburgh revolve around it. From football fights, raves, snorting coke, dropping Es, the Oktoberfest at Munich, the numerous sex accounts…this book has it all. And what’s better, the next time a Scottish person talks to you…you will have at least some idea what the hell he/she is talking about!!
Friday, September 22, 2006
“Yeah, I was run out of town. They chased me up to the castle of Aberdeen with torches. Just like the Frankenstein monster. And I got away in a hot air balloon. And I came here to Seattle.”
Kurt Cobain, 1992
Nirvana means a lot to different people. To some it means “inner peace” and “contentment”, to some “an extinction of passion, hate, lust and delusion” and to some “transcendental happiness”. To me the word instantly brings to mind a sweaty, druggy and manic band from Seattle, Washington. Nirvana, formed in Seattle, is perhaps all of the things the word brings to mind and more.
It would be fair to say that the band I listened to first and which has haunted me till this very day is Nirvana. There I was, a clueless fourteen year old, sitting thousands of miles from Seattle and years from the band’s primal point, in the music room (compulsory) at my boarding school in Ooty, India when I sneaked into my music-teacher’s private collection and put on Nirvana: MTV Unplugged in New York, simply because I was bored and was intrigued by the name of this record. Until then, I was brainwashed alike my friends and school-mates into listening to the Backstreet boys, Michael Jackson, Boyzone and other horrible music. The thing about India, a decade back, was that the only international music that came across was selected by stupid MTV VJs who chose to simply bring to the Indian market all the chart twaddle from international territories. The result was that in the absence of choice or direction, most dedicated music fans were sadly discussing and singing along to “Words”, “I’ll never break your heart” etc. Of course, that has all changed now. What was worse was that in my boarding school, this trash was further filtered so as to skip “obscene” artists such as Michael Jackson and Spice Girls. Hence, my musical puberty never hit until that fateful day when I was sitting alone in that room and played Nirvana. As soon as the chilling tones of The Man who sold the world and Come as you are settled on my brain, I got goose bumps and pins and needles and suddenly I had found what I was looking for, not just all my life before but in my life to follow. The music of Nirvana had completely swallowed me. As soon as I got home that Christmas, I got all their albums and did some research on this melodic ghost in my ears. I was quite sad to find that Kurt Cobain, the singer/guitarist of the band and its leader of sorts, had committed suicide two years before. Nevertheless, I voraciously listened to them all around India; in cars, taxis, streets, trains and planes. It seemed to me that I had found my own nirvana even if Nirvana had broken up following Kurt’s suicide. I guess that’s the beauty of music; it creates waves in the pond of the world and the ripples can be seen for eternity.
Kurt Cobain by Christopher Sandford is a biography on the musician. When I first picked it up as a young music fan completely in awe, I was gullible enough to believe everything the book told me about Cobain. It said that Cobain was a serious cross-dresser, had nearly raped a woman and was constantly doing drugs. I later found that this was mostly false. The book was been hugely accused of fabricating a lot of Cobain’s life and including information taken from wrong or susceptible sources.
Cobain was a disturbed individual, there’s little doubt of that following his suicide and his general behavior on stage. But there was a reason for this disturbance in his being. Cobain grew up in a small town and was forced to comply with the mindset of these village-folk. He was a very expressive child and was reportedly fascinated by music and musicians even at a young age. This fascination was bound to turn into ambition which is quite painful when you consider that he had the nature but not the nurture. Aberdeen was not supportive of modern influences and fads. Add to this the fact that his parents were divorced when he was quite young and you have a broth of wrath. Cobain turned hostile and made this hostility clear at school, jobs and around town. ‘In Aberdeen, I hated my best friends with a passion, because they were idiots,’ he said in an interview. When Cobain got tired of working as a janitor and sleeping under bridges (Something in the way), he decided to move away from this town and its limitations. This is the part of the book that chiseled itself on my mind forever. It depicts Cobain as finally making the decision and taking the only road out of town in a car. On the way, he asks a friend to join him into an excursion out of small-time America. When the friend declined, Cobain reportedly laughed and stepped on the gas and didn’t stop till Seattle. I love this part. It portrays to me the hunger for a future that Cobain possessed, the unflinching, if sad, decision to leave the past behind and dive headlong into the future. It is this dive that I loved the most about Cobain.
Little need to said about Nirvana’s influence on not just modern-rock and music but popular culture and fashion as well. Their first album, Bleach, was successful to some extent and was widely received in the UK. However, it was only with the second album, Nevermind, that the band set themselves in history. The album was the American take of Never mind the Bollocks, albeit with an originality and anger that shocked the world into submission. Suddenly, the genre ‘grunge’ was on everyone’s lips and music-collections. Bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins all followed later. Grunge fashion was covered by Tommy Hilfiger and the like. ‘Smells like teen spirit’ went on to break record after record. Nirvana became the official band of the Generation X, a generation with no heroes or gods and a fistful of fury against corporate values.
Kurt Cobain, however, wasn’t all that impressed with himself. He had this success in mind the moment he had left Aberdeen but to find it so easily and be labeled as ‘spokesman for a generation’ was a little hard to accept considering he knew that he had drug-habits and was constantly under the watch of the press. He observed and found that his popularity and music had extended to the very people he had always despised. Jocks, sexists, racists, homophobes and yuppies were all lapping up his music due to the MTV influence and were hypocrites who never understood the true expression he was expressing. This resulted in increased drug-use and complete breakdown even under the wing of his wife, Courtney Love (‘the best fuck in the world’).
Sandford’s biography does attempt to bring this small-town rebel who had transformed himself into a global phenomenon with the simple aids of a guitar and a never ending scream. And it also discusses how it was that such a brilliant, loved and successful musician like Cobain happened to turn a gun on himself on the 5th of April, 1994 and became a martyr to a generation already lacking its heroes. Nevertheless, it does not do too good a job because of its fabrication of something that needs to be true and well-researched. Nevermind. Frank Zappa once said, ‘rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.’