Monday, 31 December 2012

Non-Fiction Reads: Sunny Days by Sunil Gavaskar

We think this to be an apt year-end post, bookworms, for December saw two developments in the cricketing world.

Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement from the game format he had made his own - One-day internationals. Meanwhile, former England captain and TV commentator, the legendary Tony Greig passed away on December 29, 2012. He was 66. Now on to the book. Let me start with an excerpt, a scene that tells of simpler times when cricket was a game, non-commercial, unhurried and joyous. England are playing India away from home in the 1972-1973 season. Over to Sunil Gavaskar: 

During my innings there was a funny incident when I survived a leg-before appeal off Arnold.Greig walking past me at the end of the over remarked, "It was close, wasn't it?" I replied, "Yeah, sure. But the umpire is my uncle!" Greig then asked what his name was. I said, "Gothoskar, but he had changed it, or else he would never get to be a test umpire." Within minutes word had gone round and I was asked with much consternation by quite a few people whether umpire Gothoskar was really my uncle. 

An autobiography at 27? 
Sunny Days is an autobiography that is unique in many ways. The book was published in 1976, Gavaskar was only 27 then, hardly five years since he had made his sensational test debut. As Gavaskar confesses in the preface - It is always hazardous for an active cricketer to venture into the realm of authorship,...

But as the words unfold it is clear - there is a story to be told. Sample this, Sunil Manohar Gavaskar was misplaced after birth at the hospital, and had it not been for an 'eagle-eyed' uncle, he would have grown up as a fisher woman's son.

From his childhood initiation into cricket, playing for St.Xavier's College, a winning season with the Bombay Ranji team, the book zooms to his landmark 1971 Caribbean debut as early as page 28. From then on, each chapter concerns accounts of almost every international and national match played by the writer until the end of the 1975-76 season. This is where the book becomes a cricket lover's and historian's delight. 

Delve into carefree days of doubtful umpiring, whirlwind bowling, lack of protective gear, on field chatter, dressing room antics and cricketing greats. This is a cricketer's perspective, not his memoir. So we do not get to know how Gavaskar met his wife, the proceedings documented here are all of the cricketing field.

Gavaskar writes with flair, his style is breezy, much like the cricket commentator that he is now, outspoken, matter-of-fact and brimming with anecdotes in between.For those who love their Wisden and Sportstar, here is a slice of a cricketing world we may never see again. That is what this book is, 'autobiography' stands as an afterthought, a tag line.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Non-Fiction Reads: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

 “Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
- Virginia Woolf, A Room Of One's Own

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf questions the mentality of the herd and the bovine behaviour and attitude meted out towards women down the ages. Written in 1929, it is a series of essays that Woolf had prepared for lectures at two colleges for women at Cambridge: Newnham College and Girton College. This series focuses on women and fiction and the contribution to literature by several female writers such as Jane Austen, Aphra Behn, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, Anne Finch, George Eliot, Countess of Winchilsea and Rebecca West.

Woolf’s had said, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”  This statement holds true till this date. It rings true in all spheres of life if a woman desires to be individualistic and is gifted. Ironically, she had no formal education because her father, Sir Leslie Stephen was of the belief that formal academic education was meant for boys. Emerging from a patriarchal world or a world that favoured men, she went on to become a celebrated writer way ahead of her time and was a hallmark of brilliance. While she lectured the female students at these colleges about the relevance of their formal education, she hinted at how they or their relevance in society would be held inane in a society that was solely lumpen world of bigots.

Woolf touched upon the basic truth that is timeless – ‘the effect of poverty on the mind’ and ‘the effect of tradition and of the lack of tradition upon the mind of a writer’.

(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Fiction Reads: Classic Sherlock Holmes

We all have our stories of been had in matters related to purchasing goods, but for us bookworms, it is another thing altogether. A book may seem unreasonable to procure, too expensive, but once one calls out to you in some ultrasonic scale of the Sirens*, nothing much can be done about it. 

I talk here now of the most unlikely siren of a book that lured me from a bookstall as I alighted from a Pune-Mumbai bus, a couple of years ago on a May morning. Despite its dictionary-like bulge and paperback status, this one had a bright red cover with a large smoking pipe on it. The title proclaimed - Classic Sherlock Holmes

Now would you blame me? This edition has all the 56 short stories and four novels that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote. Nine books compiled into one, to be more precise, the complete Sherlock Holmes. All of 1122 pages, stories arranged chronologically, and comfortable in the hand, not heavy. The bus had halted for fifteen minutes that passengers had a quick breakfast. I bought the book, ate little, gulped down tea.

Once the geek clouds cleared, I noticed that – 1. The text font size could have been a couple of points larger. 2. The edition could easily have been divided into two portable volumes and peppered with illustrations. 3. The volume could have been in hardcover.4. My stomach was growling its emptiness. 

Apart from these complaints, Classic Sherlock Holmes is a steal. A complete edition is the pride of any bookshelf, a ready pick whenever the inclination to read any Holmes story seizes the reader.

See Holmes and Watson been introduced to each other in A Study in Scarlet (1887), watch Holmes fall off a waterfall with his nemesis in The Final Problem (1893), read one of the most contrived stories that brought Holmes back from the dead on public demand - The Adventure of the Empty House (1903) and end with the final Holmes story ever written by Doyle, The Adventure of the Shoscombe Old Place (1927).

If you are looking for the ultimate Sherlock Holmes one-book compilation, this one is your best bet.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

*See Ulysses by Homer

Friday, 28 December 2012

Art Corner: Delphi Art Hotel

In the Omonia neighbourhood of Athens, Delphi Art Hotel is an echo from the past. Now my memories of it can only draw a smile of joy and amusement at having been there. The location breathed of the free, the nonchalance, history, migration and drugs. On my first night at Athens, venturing out past midnight made one a witness to a drunken girl’s respite somewhere between the pavement and the center of the road. She seemed to pass out for the night in an absolute state of calm with no passerby to bother her although the street pulsated with tourists. That was a midnight Kodak moment!

We headed to the Delphi Art Hotel from the airport by bus only to be dropped off somewhere halfway. We were left with no choice but to drag our baggage. It was warm and sultry; the journey from Bangalore to Athens via Doha was a transition of thoughts, sights and crowds. It was a really cool flight from Doha to Athens and I listened to Baxter Dury for the first time. Finally we trudged down to the hotel.

Inspired by and designed on the neoclassical style, the Delphi Art Hotel is situated at a very interesting location at Konstantinou Street. Neoclassical was derived from the classical culture, art and heritage from ancient Greece and Rome. It was built in the 1930s; and today it is an arty place.After checking in, I almost blanked out due to the exhaustion and took a nap that lasted for hours. The next evening, while returning from the Acropolis and indulging at the sights, smells and food at Plaka, a man approached us and whispered ‘charas’. Had it been someplace else in any other part of the world, I would’ve been offended but at Athens I didn’t care and we walked on.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Fiction Reads: Alfred and Emily by Doris Lessing

There is something about the unforgettable and inimitability in Doris Lessing’s writings. Alfred and Emily is no exception to the rule and one such read indeed. Inspired by and based on the lives of her parents, this book is divided into two parts. As she mentions in the foreword of the book, “My parents were remarkable, in their very different ways. What they did have in common was their energy. The First World War did them both in. Shrapnel shattered my father’s leg, and thereafter he had to wear a wooden one.” The first part of the book contains the ‘lives’ or the reconstruction that Lessing sketches for them as people who live their lives and pursue their aspirations and lead fulfilled lives. For Alfred, he lives the life of an English farmer. Emily nurses the sick and the wounded at the historic Royal Free Hospital during the ‘Great War.’ Later she marries a renowned doctor and is subsequently widowed. She turns into an educationist setting up schools all across England and Scotland.

Part One (Alfred and Emily: a novella) unfolds in the 1902 summer at the village of Longerfield in England. Alfred is a carefree and happy-go-lucky boy who plays cricket and enjoys farming and the archetypical village life. Emily on the other hand is ambitious and wants to train as a nurse to which her father is obstinately reluctant. He wants her to go to university instead. When he finally does not acquiesce and tells her with finality – ‘never darken my doors again’, she leaves to be interned at the hospital. There begins her career while Alfred stays on in the village and life goes on.

Part Two (Alfred and Emily; Two Lives) is a memoir of Lessing’s parents. She speaks of a time when Alfred was high on energy in Persia despite the handicap of a missing leg (the mishap of the Great War). She says, “He would ride, in Kermanshah, Persia, to his work at the bank. I’ve seen him go down a rough fine shaft in a bucket, his wooden leg sticking out and banging against the rocky sides. He ran, or hobbled, in fathers’ races at my brother’s school. He climbed a difficult tree to a tree-house made by my brother and me. He would go stomping through the bush, more than once taking a fall, or clamber over the great clods in a ploughed field.” This was before diabetes sapped his life. Emily works as a nurse where she meets wounded Alfred at the Royal Free Hospital. They marry and live in Persia where they raise a home with children.

However the family decides to move to former Rhodesia (current Zimbabwe) in 1925. They find nothing of the ‘Happy Valley in Kenya’ in Rhodesia. They are there to grow maize and manage a farm of their own. This is where Lessing is educated by her mother’s fervent purchase of books while Alfred’s health moves downhill. They are also a witness to racial prejudice, something of the apartheid scene in nearby South Africa. It is a time of immense historic change and in a few decades, Mugabe would come to power.

What is really unique about this book is Lessing’s forte in providing a sense of the time and place.Former Salisbury which is present-day Zimbabwe comes to life; the farm life, the so-called society that is almost non-existent due to which Emily McVeagh silently suffers, her meals and her care for the underprivileged are wonderfully described. There is something of the magnanimity and progressive in Emily McVeagh. Lessing left her children and husband there to pursue a life of writing; something of her mother’s high-mindedness is reflected in this quote, “For a long time I felt I had done a very brave thing.There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children. I felt I wasn't the best person to bring them up. I would have ended up an alcoholic or a frustrated intellectual like my mother.”

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Monday, 24 December 2012

Book Excerpts: Bluebeard's Egg and other stories by Margaret Atwood

First published in 1987, I have just begun reading Margaret Atwood's collection of short stories. The author dedicates the book to her parents and the first story is a remarkable one, titled as it is - Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother.

Atwood's mother grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada. These were conventional times, a time when women's fashion was still evolving and there were dangers of your attire (including undergarments) slipping off you in the most unguarded moments. Then there were boys, girls and flirtation, as the following excerpt from the story will tell you.

This was a world in which guileless flirtation was possible, because there were many things that were simply not done by nice girls, and more girls were nice then. To fall from niceness was to fall not only from grace: sexual acts, by girls at any rate, had financial consequences. Life was more joyful and innocent then, and at the same time permeated with guilt and terror, or at least the occasions for them, on the most daily level. It was like the Japanese haiku: a limited form, rigid in its perimeters, within which an astonishing freedom was possible.  

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Graphic Novel Reads: Kabul Disco by Nicolas Wild

Expatriate (Expat, in short)
n. a person who lives outside their native country. 

Kabul Disco is a humorous, irreverent and tongue-in-cheek account of a young French illustrator who, as a knee jerk reaction to financial penury and boredom, opts for an initial two-month stint as a comic book author in Afghanistan. The assignment - Co-write and illustrate a comic book version of the Afghan constitution. Target audience - The children of Afghanistan. The year is 2005 and apparently the war against terrorism is over. At least, that is what Wild presumes before arrival. The spirit of Kabul Disco is of the travelogue, caricature and anecdote. It can also be read as a comic artist's journal.'Comic Take' are two words that underline the treatment.

Expat is a much bandied word here. Apart from Wild, his colleagues and trio of bosses are all expats and make lively cameos. For them it is business as usual, as they try creating a mini France in a remote country. News of a kidnapping and suicide bombing bring home somber realizations. Even then, there are seldom any grim, reflective moments, so if you are looking for deep insight this isn't that book.

Kabul Disco is not a classic of its genre, it doesn't become something more than fun and breezy documentation. That is not a grouse, it is damn funny. Thumbs up for all the smiles it induces. Like all well-interpreted first-hand accounts, the illustrations and text illuminate with the glow of the writer 'having gone through it'. In other words - Experience. 

The FICTION tag on the back cover seems appropriate. For as the photographs at the fag end of the book tell us, the whole thing pretty much occurred, except that Wild went and had fun with the real people and himself. We thank him for that.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Friday, 21 December 2012

Travel Reads: Corfu’s Old Fort (Paleo Frourio)

One of the things that I never seem to fall short of is memories of holidays and places. And one such favorite place of mine is Corfu or as the Greeks refer to it as Kerkyra on the Ionian Sea. I landed in Corfu with a friend of mine on a hot September afternoon. We headed straight from the bus stop to the Astron Hotel situated at Donzelot Street. After a bath and lunch at an alfresco restaurant somewhere close to the Corfu Museum of Asian Art at Palea Anaktora, I was all gung ho about exploring the island brought alive by the famous British author, Gerald Durrell. I drowned my club sandwich and chipswith several pints of Heineken. While it was a holiday in Greece among the cool, the skinny dippers, the sports aficionados and the residents, my mind felt eclectic. In my definition of Greece, it is soul-liberating and that’s that. That afternoon, the Heineken made my head swim; I felt light and happy.

Our first sight of exploration in Greece was the Old Fort, Paleo Frourio. It was evening by the time we walked up the fort. It was about closing time and the tourists had descended. While we requested the lady caretaker (or rather pleaded), she sternly acquiesced and warned us to be back in the next five minutes. But we were carefree and we hopped and jumped up the fort not to return for the next forty-five minutes!

Now Paleo Frourio stands testimony to Greek history. Constructed in the eighth century, it was a Byzantine castle that was retouched with the Venetian style. Today it where certain cultural events are hosted and history is brought to life! Up the hill, I lay by an ancient cannon with the Lonely Planet concentrating on Greece. My head seemed to float and we could see the coast of Albania. We felt a sense of timelessness against the heat and the sea wind and I fell into a nap.

All of a sudden when I woke, it was just about dark. Against the evening sun, we realized that we were locked inside the fort. We walked down and anxiety seemed to have left me forever. We tried to cause a stir (there were loads of tourists about) about being marooned in an island fort, rankled with the bars and I was kind of okay about staying there for the night. Someone volunteered to take a picture of me behind the grilled door and laughed and then went to call the caretaker. The latter returned with a scowl and opened the gate. We headed back to the city to change, wine and dine in the Corfiot style!

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Travel Reads: Doomdooma, Assam

I’ve been day tripping in Doomdooma for the last couple of years I’ve been visiting Upper Assam. It is yet another town in Assam, left forgotten and unbothered. Tracing its origin to the days of the primordial; it has been mentioned in the Mahabharata. Cradled by the River Doomdooma, it seems it flowed into the bathroom of an epic warrior. Today one would see huts on one side of the bank flanked with tropical greenery; it is a quintessential picture of the Far-East with a flotilla of quaint old boats.

Down the town, my parents and I make our way to our tea estate. Irrespective of the season, it is a delightful place to be at; the Camellia Sinensis, the elephant apples, the monkeys, the birds, the oranges, the ferns and the stream flowing by create the perfect setting for a picnic, followed by a round of tea and then heading back home. In the winter, it gets really dewy, something that I felt homesick about for years when I was away from home. In the summer, the crickets, the frogs and the mosquitoes will keep one awake in the estate.

There was a time when I lived there as a child with my parents and sister in a house which boasted of an expanse of a lawn. It was all too bewildering in the evenings as if we were the only ones living in an abandoned forest in a really still house with antique paintings and furniture. It was all about tree shadows, silence and an eerie moon. During the day, it was alright. Years later after we moved out of there, we heard from the grapevine that someone had committed suicide decades ago. The house was unoccupied for decades following the event until my dad fell for it.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Comic Book Reads: Watchmen by Alan Moore / Dave Gibbons / John Higgins

Comic books are not meant for children alone. Ask the creators of Watchmen: Writer Alan Moore, illustrator Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins. There is violence, sex, numerous brutal deaths and superheroes who come off worse than humans. The cruelty of war and supplementary text adds more steel to this graphic novel/comic book.

First released as a 12-issue series between 1986 and 1987 by DC Comics; the complete Watchmen was published soon after. Engaging, disturbing and the darkest comic book I have yet read, Watchmen triumphs in telling a complex story with astonishing effectiveness. Legend has it that the writer’s (Moore) proposed plot would have ended the career of established comic heroes. He was thus asked to create new, original superheroes.

The story? In an alternate take on American history, a rising band of superheroes during the 1940′s and 1960′s help the US win the Vietnam war. But their unpopularity during the 70′s leads to the 1977 Keene Act, declaring all superheroes illegal.

Set during the cold war period of the mid-eighties, the book starts with the murder of one Edward Blake. Wanted masked vigilante Rorschach makes his own investigations. He discovers that Blake was none other than The Comedian, a former superhero who was still working for the US government.

Meanwhile, with US superhero Dr.Manhattan (The only one in the book with superpowers) forced to self-exile, war clouds loom large. The Soviet Union has entered Afghanistan. This is just the gist of a plot that has various threads, characters and grimness, and yet there is a convincing completeness rarely seen in a comic book story of such ambitious stature.

Of all the various strands, bordering on devilry is the ‘comic book within the comic book’ story of Tales of the Black Freighter. A sole survivor of a decimated ship rushes back to save his town from a pirate ship invasion, only to be felled by his inner demons.

One hell of an achievement in its writing and apt in its old-school illustrations, Watchmen is a path-breaking comic book. Devoid of lightness and easy humor, the creators of Watchmen walk a less trodden path in robust, layered, grim comic book storytelling and surprisingly makes it through in grand style.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Comic Book Reads: My Comic History

Garfield by Jim Davis

This is my first post on comics and by default I feel duty bound to narrate my history with comic books. The risk, dear reader, of you falling asleep or diverting your limited attention span to narcissistic social networking activities is always there. But this can’t be done without. Here goes.

Phantom by Lee Falk 

The introduction to this colour candy (sometimes black and white) world occurred during my adolescent years. By happy incidence, my dad's colleague was allowed a separate desk built with multiple drawers at the workplace, overflowing with comic books. It was his personal collection that was lent to staff members for the maximum period of one month. Each book cover was marked with a serial number, and a heart shape design as the number’s outline, in red ball pen ink. Written above this number, in red ink again, was the legend: The Comics Club.

In all my visits, the proprietor of The Comics Club never spoke much. Instead, he had a thing for grand effect. I recall the first time, as he led me to the desk and pulled open all possible drawers with an unhurried air of a magician displaying his wares. In moments, my textbook-sick childhood found a happy refuge. Over the next two years I gorged on Phantom, Mandrake the MagicianAsterix and Obelix, Tintin, the War Series (extolling US World War stories), Archie Comics and the sole Indian comic magazine Tinkle (They had some great illustrators back then).

                                    Mandrake the Magician by Lee Falk

Sometime during my teenage years, my reading interests diverted to English literature, the likes of Mark Twain, Somerset Maugham, Agatha Christie and P.G.Wodehouse, among others. It was only recently, with the advent of Manga comics and graphic novels that comic book interest has found its fountain again. In between, there have been the newspaper comic strips, of course.

Comic strips have been a fascination in this second coming: Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield (The lazy bum!), The Piranha Club, The Far Side, Beetle Bailey…such that I maintain now, a couple of glue-stuck volumes of my favourite comic strips. Collecting and reading graphic novels, panel to panel, end to end is a new, rewarding pastime.

On other aspects of comic books and graphic novels and why they are not meant for kids only: that will take another post. Meanwhile, I thank the comic book makers for livening up my childhood.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Archie Comics -  Created by John L. Goldwater, written by Vic Bloom & drawn by Bob Montana

Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker 

Tinkle - Founded by Anant Pai

Tintin by Herge

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Travel Reads: Dali Universe, London

In the September of 2006, I had entered the zany, interesting, bizarre, overwhelming, surreal, thrilling and cryptic universe of Dali. Situated at South Bank in the County Hall in London, it was just a wonder. It had housed some of the most incredible items produced by Dali on display. These were mostly lithographs, water colours and works of sculpture by Dali mainly focusing on sensuality, mythology and fantasy. What would really draw one to the former Dali Universe in London was the ‘Persistence of Memory’ sculpture outside the gallery. Although visitors were not allowed to take photographs inside the gallery, his creations were etched in my memory forever.

What I remember most about what I saw was the iconic ‘lobster telephone’ by Dali. It is also referred to as the 'aphrodisiac telephone’. He designed five such telephones and one of them was showcased here. It was initially created for the British poet, Edward James who was also a collector and enthusiast of Dali’s works. Not to miss, it also displayed the famous Mae West lip sofa that was again commissioned by James. And the melting clocks that I would love to see yet again.This gallery includes some works by Picasso too!

Today, Dali Universe in London remains closed. However all lovers of the surreal world must take a glance at Dali’s works no matter whey are housed. He brought myths and characters to life.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 


Monday, 17 December 2012

Graphic Novel Reads: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is a memoir drawn and lettered in the graphic novel format by Marjane Satrapi. The memoir was first published in year 2000 in French, and has since been translated into several languages including English.

Satrapi uses decorous, simplistic black & white illustrations, humour, lyricism and witticisms to conjure up a memorable childhood. After all, Satrapi grew up in Iran, where the 1979 Islamic revolution imposed the veil and other stringent rules. The regime protesting parents, a grandmother, revolutionaries and god play an important part in Satrapi's imaginative, dreamy adolescent years.

Then comes the war with Iraq and even as things become grave, grim and threatening, a 14 year-old Satrapi is send to a French school in Austria by her concerned parents. Thus begins Satrapi's journey to adulthood, even as she hilariously describes her physical transformation. At first, Satrapi pretends to be French, but a overheard taunt makes her declare fiercely that she is an Iranian and proud of it. Then follows love, disillusion and a brush with death...Satrapi recreates her life, family, friends, lovers and enemies with mercurial craft. This is a book I love returning to.

Soft, hard?  
Now there are two published versions of the book. One is a paperback edition that comprises of the entire book. The second version is in hardback and available in two volumes: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis: The Story of a Return. We would recommend the latter version for its durability.

While the 2007 animated movie version does not cover the entire book text, it is certainly watchable, co-directed by Satrapi herself. The movie review can be read here.    

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Non-Fiction Reads: Zimmer Men by Marcus Berkmann

Welcome to the real, decaying world of Zimmer Men - A world where the team fielding post a delicious tea break is destined to lose the match. Stiff fielders find running after the ball and consistently ending up second. The best bowler the team ever had, calls on match day to inform that he is obliged to take his wife out shopping. Team members have a thing for convertibles, even as the men battle middle age and heavy defeat margins.

Zimmer Men is the 2005 sequel to the writer's 1995 book Rain Men. The latter was more concerned with the travails of a English cricket team fan, the former follows Berkmann's cricket team and the idle, languid playgrounds of English village cricket. 

The trials of a middle-aged English village cricket team is depicted light-heartily, even as the team plunges from one defeat to other on weekend matches, struggles to assemble a playing eleven, and deals with aging legs and vanishing dignity. Berkmann, the captain of the ill-fated team, maintains his sense of humour through the humiliating defeats and paints resilience  - that one may be down but not yet out. Due to the lack of options one may laugh it off too.

A hilarious book on life and cricket, and I don't see why those who do not play or follow the game wouldn't enjoy it too!

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Friday, 14 December 2012

Art Corner: Romancing the Unknown: Alexander Ivanov & Boris Kustodiev

ApolloHyacinthus and Cyparissus Singing and Playing Music by Alexander Ivanov 

Some of my earliest memories of childhood were the books my dad got for me or about the stories that he read to me. Two such books from those days that rank among my favourites contain collections of prints/posters (reproduction from the original) by the Russian masters: Alexander Ivanov and Boris Kustodiev. These have etched an indelible mark in my memory and maybe my passion and curiosity with fine arts sparked from here.

Alexander Ivanov from nineteenth century Russia was a painter who was influenced by Neoclassicism. He was born in St. Petersburg, lived in Rome and died in St. Petersburg. He knew the legendary Russian Gogol writer and playwright, Gogol. In Rome, he was largely influenced by the Nazarene Movement which aimed to revive the element of Biblical mysticism through its paintings. My book includes the prints of his masterpieces such as Cleansing of the Temple, The Appearance of Christ before the People, Apollo, Hyacinthus and Cyparissus Singing and Playing Music, Girl from Albano Standing in the Doorway, A Tree Branch, Stones on a River Shore, The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene, Seven Boys in Colourful Clothes, A Head of a Young Man, Head of John the Baptist and Nude Boy on a White Blanket. Each of these paintings tells a story and my favourite is Stones on a River Shore. His collection is housed at the Russian Museum at St. Petersburg.

White Horse by Alexander Ivanov

Boris Kustodiev was a Russian painter and stage designer who lived between the nineteenth and the twentieth century. His art was influenced by the Russian Revolution of 1905, the Russian Revolution of 1917 and his own childhood that he reconstructed in his paintings of the River Volga. However his art reveals the joy, richness and celebration of life such as the Portrait of Julia Kustodieva (his wife), the Promenade Along Volga River, Fair, Country, Shalyapin, The Merchant’s Wife and Russian Venus. He was a traveler; however he always returned to Russia.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

The Merchant’s Wife by Boris Kustodiev

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Non-Fiction Reads: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood grips you from the start. For it is a real story retold with every detail pinpointed and outlined. When first published in the 1959 New Yorker as a series, the work was regarded as a first non-fiction work to be written in the garb of fiction. Rest assured, this word dressing doesn't affect the razor-edge atmosphere that the whirl of words create. 

Right from the shocking murder of a farmer's family at a sleepy American village to the arrest and execution of the murderers, Capote has painstakingly covered every detail. The result is a amazing study of the murderers and their psychology. The book is our recommendation as the crime reporter's handbook. As a reader, haven't read non-fiction crime literature as focused and dedicated as this one. The book we bookworms will always remember Capote for.      

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Poetry Reads: Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Culbone Church in Somerset, England where Coleridge is said to have written the poem

Kubla Khan is the assimilation of imagination, language and eloquence. In 1797, Coleridge lived in Nether Stowey where he took walks with William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy at Quantock Hills (the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). On his way to Lynton, he was unwell and he recuperated with the aid of laudanum at Ash Farm at Culbone Church. At this time, he read British clergyman and geographer, Samuel Purchas’ book titled Purchas, his Pilgrimage, or Relations of the World and Religions Observed in All Ages and Places Discovered, from the Creation to the Present. This book included a description of Xanadu which was Kubla Khan’s summer capital. He fell asleep while reading it and he dreamed a scene of Kubla Khan. He woke up to write down the dream sequence; while he was past writing down a couple of lines, he was interrupted by the famous ‘visitor from Porlock’ who has been referenced and quoted by several authors today including Murakami. When he returned to writing it, he managed to write the recollection of the dream. Later what emerged was a fragmented piece of poetry.

Although fragmented and abstract, Kubla Khan is abundant with imagery and it is eloquent in language.The poem starts with Kubla Khan wanting a summer palace to be built across a land where the river Alph ran through caves and finally, to the depth of a ‘sunless sea’. There is the landscape of a picture - perfect place ‘with sunny spots of greenery’. However the narration takes a turn towards the gothic with ‘A savage place! As holy and enchanted’. Further he describes that ‘beneath a waning moon was haunted by a woman wailing for her demon-lover!’ From the many manifold abstractions, there is a surge of creative outburst ‘as if this Earth in fast, thick pants were breathing’ until ‘Kubla heard from far Ancestral voices prophesying war!’ while there is the contrast of a ‘sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice!’

The last stanza described is of another time and landscape which are a hint at the poet’s inspiration and the creativity. The 'Abyssinian maid’ ‘singing of Mount Abora’ is an illustration of it. The last couple of lines are terrific and it is a mere suggestion that this poem be read for the relevance of Coleridge’s writing process. Simply marvelous!

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Art Corner: Piero Manzoni: Thank you for the Audacity!

 “I cannot possibly understand those artists who place themselves in front of the canvas as if it was a surface to be filed up with colors and shapes, following a taste that is more or less appreciable. They trace out a sign, walk a few steps back, look carefully at what they have just done, bend their head, half close their eyes, then jump forward and start again. They go with this sort of physical training until they have filled up the canvas completely. In this case a surface if endless possibility is now reduced to a sort of receptacle in which artificial colors and meanings are compressed. Why do they not empty out this receptacle? Why don't they set this surface free? Why do they not investigate the endless meaning of a total space, of a pure and absolute light?
- Piero Manzoni

The first time I ever heard or seen any works of Piero Manzoni, the avant garde Italian artist was at Tate Modern in London. It showcased one of Manzoni’s iconic small cans titled Artist’s Shit - his famous bit of contribution. My friend and I were novices at Tate. We stared at this piece of art and then back at each other suppressing giggles; onlookers looked on and appeared serious – this was serious shit! Despite the amusement and the shock horror of the eccentric and the informative at Tate, this was one of its kinds. Citing references, Manzoni experimented with rabbit fur, hard-boiled eggs, human excrement, cotton, fiber glass, colours and many others.

Manzoni was a keen observer of the Economic Miracle (an echo of Italy’s 1994 elections Berlusconi pledged a ‘miracle’) during the 1950s and 1960s in Italy which was the onset of consumerism. He was a critic of those times and questioned waste and bulk production.Today when I look back, my classes in Literature, Economics, History and Philosophy would have been far more enduring if the likes of Manzoni were quoted. A shift from the conformity of drab lectures would have yielded a little bit of thinking and could’ve wiped the mediocrity of minds. I can only be glad that travel has been my greatest educator after my parents’ contribution.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Fiction Reads: The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

First published in 2004, The Hungry Tide tells the story of Kanai, the owner of a Delhi translation firm, Piyali, a US based Cetologist (One who studies marine mammals), and Fokir, a fisherman who navigates the deceitful waters surrounding the Sunderbans - a group of islands off the Bengal coast. It is in the meeting of these three distinct worlds that much of the beauty of the novel lies, along with the studied, visual detailing of  flora, fauna and life in the Sunderbans.

Amitav Ghosh writes with deliberate verbosity, the words do not seem wasted, they only kindle a sense of both mystery and surprise - especially in the relation between Piyali and Fokir. It is a depiction rarely seen in modern literature, of how two different people can still form a deep, silent relationship without ever understanding each other's spoken language. Evoking a sense of tragedy, despair and wonder, the book is a treat for literature lovers.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Monday, 10 December 2012

Travel Reads: At Hadrian’s Arch, Athens

(click image for large size view)

It is a sultry afternoon at Hadrian’s Arch at Athens. The sky is a brilliant cobalt blue (a blue that I’m not accustomed to everyday) with wisps of cloud. I’m overwhelmed with all that I’m getting to see; it’s my first time in the city. Hadrian’s Arch presents its magnificent glory: its past and the present. There are two inscriptions that read: This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus (facing the Acropolis)!

The second one reads: This is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus!Constructed in 131 AD, Hadrian’s Arch is a reflection of the influence of Roman architecture in Greece. Speculation and history read that it was constructed in the honour of the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s (one among the five good emperors) contribution to Athens and after all, he was a philhellene in his love for fine arts and architecture. It was assembled and created from Pentelic marble from Mt. Pentelikon (once a home to several animals from the antediluvian world). It was designed from the centre of ancient Athens to the Temple of Zeus.

Coming back to the present, there was only a handful of us, wanderers drifting across an expanse of antiquity. It was kind of surprising not to see too many people out there where voices did not drown in a sea of photograph clicks.

Notes to myself: A monument to remember and visit once again!

(Sept, 2010)
(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Friday, 7 December 2012

Book Excerpt: Maximum City by Suketu Mehta

The vadapav poses for one last click

Finally delved into an increasing pile of books - to be read and reread. Books bought at various clearance sales and second-hand selling footpaths.The first on the list is one by the name of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta. Here is an extract from the non-fiction book about the most economical and popular snack of the city - the vadapav.

Nobody seems to be ordering just one. Not everybody will get their vadapav from this batch; the timid will have to keep waiting. The assistant serves the women first. The stacks of pav have been sprinkled with chutney – the top half of the inside of the bun is bathed in green chutney, the bottom with red garlic chutney – and the assistant reaches out with one hand, in one continuous arc of his arm opening the pav, scooping up two of the vadas, one in each nest of pav, and delivering it to the hungry customer.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

Travel Reads: Digboi - A journey down modern day Timbuktu

A full moon hangs from a dark and inky sky. Crickets screech and the hills have been laid to rest. This is the land of backyard and beyond – a township where leopards prowl on courtyards during the winter carrying away bulky Alsatians effortlessly from Shillong Road. This is an eerie sort of place but very beautiful and deep, colonial and very Assamese at the same time. It is a painter’s delight and gives the traveler a kind of joy that one cannot fathom unless one has traveled the untrodden way down the Himalayan foothills. A winter evening in this part of the world is foggy, cold, and wet, yet the warm, familiar smell of bonfires is something that will draw you to Digboi. It is a time for picnics and Christmas parties, and the place bustles with the town’s children coming back home for their holidays.

Digboi is known for its undulating hills and absolute greenery and pines. It stirs and stimulates the romantic imagination of both the young and the old. The oaks, the rickshaws, the narrow lanes, the old bungalows, and the colorful foliage of trees everywhere are reminiscent of Rudyard Kipling’s times and books. A rainy day in Digboi makes children sail paper boats around flower beds outside. The beauty of Digboi lies in its homes, houses that are old, sturdy, and picturesque. They have been built in a way that no house faces the front of its neighboring house keeping privacy very intact. Every house is adorned with a lawn that grows everything from marigolds and roses to pineapples and olives.

Digboi is also steeped in history. It is home to the oldest oil refinery in the Asia and the morning siren from the oil field spells early morning for all its inhabitants. The old hospital, the cemetery from the Second World War, the wide and rolling golf course, and its outskirts sketch a breathless landscape. Digboi is flanked by numerous tea estates, followed by paddy fields, a dense forest which is also home to unique kinds of flora and fauna. There is one straight road that leads one to Margherita and Dehing, to Arunachal, and finally Myanmar. This is the road that remains imprinted in the minds of all those people who travel to Assam and beyond. The journey is one of a kind; it is exotic and spectacular, without the support of plush and swanky amenities. This route used to be a paradise for the well-traveled and the curious until trouble in the north-east began.

Digboi is a route less traveled and it keeps enticing travelers to it time and again regardless of time and age.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Poetry Reads: He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by WB Yeats

Maud Gonne

One of my all time favorite poets, WB Yeats, I was introduced to his poetry as a teenager in an O’ Lit class in Mayo.

It’s a simple love poem that I’m sure would always tug at the sensitive strings of an individual. The sheer richness of its language and imagery define the narrator’s love for the beloved. In other words, the poem resonates Yeats’ love for Maud Gonne, the Irish revolutionary, feminist and actress. The ‘dreams’ suggested in this poem juxtapose and reveal love. Love and respect are what he has to offer – ‘spread the cloths under your feet’. The ‘cloths’ are imaginary; it feels like a tapestry of hope, romance, love, and admiration. Simply marvelous!

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven 
by WB Yeats

HAD I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

Poetry Reads: Musee Des Beaux Arts by WH Auden

WH Auden’s Musee Des Beaux Arts is inspired by the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium which houses the painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. The painting reveals a calm landscape where people are sailing on a ship. Such is life or rather, the poem illustrates how art is an imitation of life and Icarus’ fall from the sky seems‘ something amazing’ to the ship crew and they just sailed on. It is merely an emphasis on how life must run its course despite any turbulence and people’s existence or death is a situation of apathy to the rest.

This poem is spectacular in terms of its description. It feels like words that are strewn to create a scene of beauty, existence and ennui. If one is on the lookout for existentialist poetry, here is Musee Des Beaux Arts to read.

Musee des Beaux Arts
by W.H.Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

(Review by Kabita Sonowal)