Sunday, 27 October 2013

Non-Fiction Reads: Going Solo by Roald Dahl

A life is made up of a great number of small incidents and a small number of great ones. An autobiography must therefore, unless it is to become tedious, be extremely selective, discarding all the inconsequential incidents in one's life and concentrating upon those that have remained vivid in the memory.  
- Introduction, Going Solo by Roald Dahl 

Going Solo is the second part of Roald Dahl's memoirs.It is as vivid and engaging as Boy, Dahl's astonishingly well-written account of his childhood.Cumulatively, the two part memoir gives us the first 25 years of the writer's life in gripping episodic narration.

An 'extremely selective' approach also means that the book is scandal free and safe enough to be published under the Penguin children's book imprint Puffin. Yet war, death, nudity, empire builders, aflame fighter planes, sinking ships and charred bodies make it to the book. 

Each incident is aptly and chronologically placed in a new chapter.Again, Dahl's detailing and uncanny knack to take the reader along clinches the deal. The ink that flows in his spontaneous writing can't be pinned down to any style. A lively document of life recalled as it was lived; by the looks of it Dahl seems to have nailed it all in the first draft, except for corrections or deletions, probably. 

Going Solo starts off where Boy wrapped up.It is 1938 and the writer under a three-year contract with the Shell Oil Company is aboard a ship taking him from England to Africa.Apart from hilarious proceedings on the ship, Dahl starts with the joys of a long journey - Nowadays you can fly to Mombasa in a few hours and you stop nowhere and nothing is fabulous any more...  

Arrival at Dar es Salaam, tales of deadly snakes, lions and his African staff are a storyteller's pride, the blaze of World War II only adds more intensity to the proceedings. The wrath of Germany is everywhere and consequently Dahl asks leave from Shell in 1939 to join the RAF at Nairobi. Considering the severe caution that travellers exercise nowadays, it is exciting to read about the writer's solo marathon four wheeler rides across deserts and jungles.Not a word seems wasted - the book ends with Dahl's return to England in 1941, flying into his waiting mother's arms.

Few writers can claim to have faced death many times or to have had as many adventures as Roald Dahl.There is nothing like a first hand account and Going Solo has the long-lasting sheen of experience that provides credibility to the narrative.Interspersed with reproductions of photographs, documents and letters written during those uncertain three years, Going Solo is highly recommended.  

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Roald Dahl in his RAF outfit

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Poetry Reads: Daffodils by William Wordsworth

Most of us went through school without wondering why in the world we had poems like Daffodils revisiting the English language textbooks every two years. Well, at least I did...not...wonder. Nobody seemed to have heard of the flower or seen it in those sans Internet days. We were probably too bored to ask among other things - what did the flower look like? While teachers read the whole thing with the assurance of a kung fu master and horticulturist mingled in one sonorous voice, we can see now (as always when it is too late) that they were earning their paychecks. Reading the poem now, one can see why it is popular - there is universal appeal, an admiration for all beautiful things. The benefits of lingering in a moment are many, and Daffodils is a treasure house of one such moment.     

Back to the Future: William Wordsworth? 
Throwing the reins to fantasy, William Wordsworth would probably be too distracted to write solely about daffodils in a single poem in this progressive 21st century world. Things are just not that simple in the modern world nowadays, or so is life lived or made out to be. Wordsworth would (probably, probably) curse the looming, flashing cell phone towers, upcoming flyovers and the shopping mall for spoiling a previously unhindered horizon. Maybe, alas, he would just miss the daffodils, the first words of inspiration whisked away by a call from a bank eager to loan him money. Thus typing away furiously on his touchscreen keypad, he would have composed dark, murderous verse on malicious lightning - graphically describing its fatal impact on pesky phone callers. Daffodils would have been a juxtaposition of human accumulation, its image flashing on Wordsworth's 'inward eye', i.e, his mega pixel equipped cell phone camera. 

Reining in fantasy to its stable, we are glad Wordsworth lived in a world when nature were queen & king, and our species its admiring subjects. For those still wondering in school, no Indian poet has written as popularly about marigold, jasmine or the fiery mayflower...yet. If anyone out there knows of poems in any language of the world that tell endearingly about flowers, do share.  

By William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Murder Mysteries: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

Unlike the sense of occasion that Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes work A Study in Scarlet has in the way Watson's narration reveals to us a detective with (literally) superhuman powers of deduction, Hercule Poirot is treated as any other character. All Holmes lacks is a superman cape, in contrast Poirot is as human as a detective gets. 

Something is not right at Styles Court, England. Even as the shadow of World War I looms, new hostilities have taken root at Styles ever since the old Mrs Inglethorp took a younger husband. Her step children, dipped in financial problems, are now wary of what will become of them. Even as the old lady's close companion leaves the house after an altercation, the visiting Arthur Hastings sees that all is not right. Soon enough, a murder is committed.  

First published in 1920, The Mysterious Affairs at Styles is an astonishing debut. Christie's Doyle inspiration is only seen in casting Arthur Hastings (Watson to Poirot) as second fiddle and narrator. Hastings  is often piqued by Poirot's excitement, he frequently doubts that the bald headed Belgian is getting old. Nowhere is Poirot allowed to loom as the central figure. He has a passion for method and order; doesn't claim to have knowledge of all forms of cigar ash or of the exact origin of the earth stuck in a suspect's shoes. Instead, he has a sharp mind and common sense. Imbibing all that has occurred, taking in each detail, fitting in the pieces, playing a slow game of chess with his 'grey cells', Poirot unearths the truth systematically and painstakingly.

What is more chilling and awe-inspiring is Christie's genius. Like her British film contemporary Alfred Hitchcock, Christie had a thing for fitting in crime into ordinary, every day situations. Acute knowledge of poisons was Christie's forte, and somewhere between what seemed to have occurred and what had actually transpired, Christie built her intrigue.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Friday, 6 September 2013

Short Story Reads: Marrying Off Mother by Gerald Durrell

"When a writer is born into a family, the family is doomed." 
- Czelslaw Milosz, Polish poet

Few writers have been gifted by a wealth of source material as British writer Gerald Durrell (1925-1995) was endued with. The source material we are referring to is Durrell's family. Now, how many writers have lived a event-filled childhood with three older siblings, a widowed mother, and a motley of creatures on the Greek island of Corfu? Gerald Durrell did, between the age of 10 and 14; the four year stay leading to several books, including the 1956 memoir My Family and other Animals

Several Corfu short stories were also subsequently published. Durrell mentions in the collection where Marrying Off Mother appears that: All of these stories are true or, to be strictly accurate, some are true, some have a kernel of truth and a shell of embroidery. Durrell cheekily concludes the introduction with: Which of these stories is true and which is semi-true I have, of course, not the slightest intention of telling you, but I hope this will not detract from your enjoyment of them.  

The author's humorous narration makes Marrying Off Mother one of the breeziest stories you will ever read. Then there is the excellent range of vocabulary and rich descriptions of attire and appearance. Durrell himself features in the story as an adolescent Gerry along with his older siblings Larry (Writer Lawrence Durrell), Leslie and Margo. 

It is summer in Corfu and at the start we can already see the person Gerald is becoming. He keeps extraordinary company, waking up to a room filled with his troop of dogs, specimens in test tubes, tree frogs, translucent geckos and a Scops Owl, among other paraphernalia. The proceedings start at the idyllic breakfast table and it is Larry's casual comment on his mother's single status that brings in a wave of suitors to the family's door. Apart from a view of Corfu's heavenly surroundings, by the end of the story we know the entire Durrell family well enough to make their acquaintance. 

The fun never subsides in what is clearly a mix of memoir (certainly) and (probably) fiction. Gerald is usually a silent witness (who thinks a lot) to the proceedings, the quirky rejoinders are provided by his family. 

I do wonder what his family thought of Gerald Durrell's version. So many writers have found their families hostile post publication. We have no news yet of any unrest in the Durrell family. But it can certainly be concluded that easily available source material have their share of perils...

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Monday, 12 August 2013

Short Story Reads: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber

There is a little bit of Walter Mitty in all of us. 

First published in the New Yorker, this 1939 short story tells of a middle-aged day dreamer who is out shopping with his wife. Walter Mitty wades in and out of dream at the wink of an eye - from manning a ship through a hurricane to saving a patient by sheer genius to playing a sharpshooter accused of murder. Mitty plays his own TV channel, getting all the kicks that his routine, boring life doesn't offer - all in in his mind though.  

One can't help identifying with Walter Mitty. Will we end up like that too, having lived an unfulfilled youth, stuck in the routine of middle age, day-dreaming through the glorious adventurous life we could have been living? Man's greatest need is to be needed and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty vents open the pores to the gap that lies between how we live and how we meant it to be.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Fiction Reads: Angry River by Ruskin Bond

Another wisp of a book by Ruskin Bond, Angry River is a fine example of children's literature. The yarn is never overwhelming, the main characters are few.You should get to the end of the tale in little over an hour.

Having lost her mother early and with her father working in the city, Sita is a little girl who lives with her grandparents on a small island in the middle of a river. She spends her time taking care of her ailing grandmother. Sita can't go to school, because there is 'too much to do' on the island. The grandfather's character has shades of Ernest Hemingway's similarly brief The Old Man and the Sea.

It was an old tree, and an old man sat beneath it.

He was mending a fishing-net. He had fished in the river for ten years, and he was a good fisherman. He knew where to find the slim silver Chilwa fish and the big beautiful Mahseer and the long moustached Singhara; he knew where the river was deep and where it was shallow; he knew which baits to use - which fish liked worms and which like gram.

The trio live in a mud hut with a sole peepul tree, a couple of goats and hens for company. As things turn out, the old lady needs to be taken to the city for medical treatment. Used to living alone on the island, Sita watches her grandfather's boat dwarfing away from view, carrying her grandmother and two goats. The rain is already causing the water level to rise, and what follows as a consequence forms the rest of the book.

Though Sita and the river are the main protagonists of this novella, the enigmatic boy Krishan is an allegoric addition to the water-rising proceedings. A riveting little tale on nature's fury, human vulnerability and the anonymity of the poor.     

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Fiction Reads: The Blue Umbrella by Ruskin Bond

It is a sweet rush to the senses when a book revisited after years still has the lure to momentarily bring back the magic of childhood. The Blue Umbrella, first published in 1974 is one such work. A book for children that can be read in a couple of hours, this Ruskin Bond gem is adorned with extraordinary black and white illustrations by Trevor Stubley and an eye-friendly font size.     

The story is singular, of quite charm and simple pleasures, set in the hills of Garhwal. Ten year-old Binya lives with her widowed mother and elder brother Bijju, tending to the cows Neelu and Gori and helping the family in cultivating various food items on their own terraced fields. The produce is not ample to sell, but enough to subsist on. One day Binya happens to chance upon a group of picnickers from the plains and among their throng she notices a blue silk umbrella and falls in love with it. A woman's attraction to Binya's leopard-claw necklace leads to a dream exchange and lo, Binya now owns the beautiful umbrella! Meanwhile, 'the richest man in the area', the old tea shop owner Ram Bharosa covets the umbrella as its fame grows on the quiet hill side.

Beneath its straight-forward exterior, The Blue Umbrella has its insightful moments. Here's an excerpt:

Binya belonged to the mountains, to this part of the Himalayas known as Garhwal. Dark forests and lonely hilltops held no terrors for her. It was only when she was in the market-town jostled by the crowds in the bazaar, that she felt rather nervous and lost.  

Seen through a child's eyes, the umbrella is an ode to beauty and utility. For an adult it is greed, materialism and a blindness to possess. Yet the two generations meet in harmony at the end of the book in an agreeable manner, and like the best children's stories, a glow of happily ever after pervades long after.   

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Friday, 21 June 2013

Fiction Reads: The Ragamuffin Mystery by Enid Blyton

As I bask in the pleasantness of the Monsoon and before I go for an immediate seaside holiday, I stumbled upon a really light read: The Ragamuffin Mystery by Enid Blyton. And what a thrill it was to read this at leisure! It spells holidays and adventure from the first page itself. I also liked what Barney, one of the main characters in the book had to say about the concept of a holiday - "Well -  I  hate modern holiday spots where there are crowds of people. I would rather go to some quiet old place - where we can laze about in old clothes, do exactly what we like, and not have to bother with anyone else at all." This is is the central theme of the book; although it is a book for children (for eight years and above), it is a page-turner for adults too. What is beautiful in this book is the description of Penrhyndeudraeth (what Blyton referred to as Penrhyndendraith) in  Wales - "It was a truly picturesque place, a fishing village, with a dozen or so old cottages built along the seafront and others straggling up the slope of the hill behind." Further 'Round the coast they went, with the splashing sea on one side, and the mountains on the other - for now the hills had grown higher, and some of them towered up into the sky'.

From the Barney Mystery Series or the R Series, as each title starts with the letter 'R'; this story includes Roger, Diana, Barney and his pet Miranda; Snubby and his pet Looney; and Miss Pepper. Roger and Diana are siblings and Snubby is their cousin. Barney is their friend while Miss Pepper is a family friend to Roger and Diana's parents. They holiday in the Welsh countryside by the Penrhyndendraith Inn (Miss Pepper and Diana stay there) while the boys retire to their caravan to sleep at night. The spot is idyllic and the inn is illustrated as 'a strange old place with curious turrets and towers. It was set right against a cliff-like hill, so that the back of it had no windows at all. Some of it was falling to pieces, and it looked in places as if only the ivy held it together'.

The descriptions in the book create a deja vu feel; illustrated by Eric Rowe, The Ragamuffin Mystery is a cool and read. It was first published in 1951.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Fiction Reads: Last Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

Last Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton is the last book from the Malory Towers series. It is Darrell Rivers' last term there and she feels nostalgic. She thinks of experiencing the utmost at Malory Towers and speaks of the road ahead of her - "We're (her friends, Sally, Alicia and Betty) all going to St. Andrews up in Scotland, and what a good time we'll have." There are new girls at Malory Towers in her section: Amanda Chartelow (an excellent swimmer and tennis player from the numero-uno sports school, Trennigan Towers who is aiming for the Olympics) and Suzanne, a niece to Mam'zelle Rougier. In the true Enid Blyton style, she wittily and creatively sketched characters such as Jo Jones, Deidre, June, Alicia, Gwen and a host of other characters (teachers included). It is a fun-filled story which can aptly be described as the story with a twist-in-the-tale ending - "They (Sally and Darrell) went there (the rose-garden) and looked at the masses of brilliant roses. Each was silently saying good-bye to the places she loved most. They went to all the common-rooms, from the first to the fifth, remembering what happened in each. They peeped into the dining-room, and then went into different form rooms. What fun they had!"

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Monday, 17 June 2013

Fiction Reads: The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie

A sigh isn't just a sigh. We inhale the world and breathe out meaning. While we can. While we can.”

The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie is a blend of magical realism and both historical (perhaps in my opinion) and speculative fiction. Impish, quirky and treacherous are what this book is all about; an account of a family traced to four generations: “There is a thing that lives in us, eating our food, breathing our air, looking out through our eyes, and when it comes out to play nobody is immune; possessed, we turn murderously upon one another, thing-darkness in our eyes and real weapons in our hands, neighbour against thing-ridden neighbour, thing-driven cousin against cousin, brother-thing against brother-thing, thing-child against thing-child.” This quote summarizes the theme of the story although one does not know what one is in for and what to expect at the end of the read. Narrated by Moraes Zogoiby (nicknamed Moor & the protagonist), from the fourth generation of the da Gama – Zogoiby family, it is a tale of people from multi-cultural origins and it takes us across varied geographies and histories. As Moor defines himself as - “I, however, was raised neither as Catholic nor as Jew. I was both, and nothing: a jewholic-anonymous, a cathjew nut, a stewpot, a mongrel cur. I was--what's the word these days?--atomised. Yessir: a real Bombay mix. ”

Spanning Mumbai, Cochin and Spain, the story begins where it ends.  It unfolds in an estate in Cochin where the da Gamas settled, the descendants of Vasco da Gama after all – “they (da Gama and the Portuguese) came in search of the hot stuff, just like any man calling on a tart.” Moor elucidates, “What was true of history was true of our family in particular – pepper, the coveted Black Gold of Malabar, was the original stock-in-trade of my filthy-rich folks, the wealthiest spice, nut, bean and leaf merchants in Cochin, who without any evidence save centuries of tradition claimed the wrong side-side-of-the-blanket descent from great Vasco da Gama himself.” It is the early nineteen hundreds when Francisco da Gama and Epifania Menzes are the spice grandees of Cochin. It is a time when the society spells fusion despite the different environs and neighborhoods while history is in the making –  ‘the tales of Communist troublemaking and Congresswallah politics, the names Gandhi and Nehru, the rumours of famine in the east and hunger strikes in the north, the songs and drums of oral storytellers, and the heavy rolling sound (as they broke against Cabral Island’s rickety jetty) of the incoming tides of history’. Francisco is a patriot and so is his younger son, Camoens for ‘Francisco was all bustle and energy, so Aeres (the older son affected indolence, learned how to infuriate his father by the luxuriant ease of his lounging’.

Times are changing and so are the opinions in the da Gama household. Camoens and Aeres marry and attitudes run passionate. Francisco’s arrest being part of the Home Rule Movement and staging a protest against the British pick the momentum of the story. His beliefs are avant garde at a time when masses and classes cannot be part of the same club. His writings on the ‘dynamics networks of spiritual energy’ turn him into a laughing stock from an ‘emerging hero’.  He retires to his home which is like a ‘place lost in a fog’. His death brings several warring family members, Epiphania’s folks, the Menzes and Aeres’ wife Carmen’s folks, the Lobos at war for hegemony over the spice business until of course Belle, Camoens’ wife takes over the reins and revives it. This is the old world. Belle and Camoens’ daughter, Aurora is a child prodigy; after Belle’s death she emerges as the gifted, strong and gutsy artist with a lust for life. She falls in love with Abraham Zogoiby, a member of the da Gama business staff from the Jewish quarters of Cochin. There is a secret behind the Zogoiby lineage; he is a supposed descendant of Boabdil, the last Nasrid ruler of Granada in Iberia. Aurora and Zogoiby raise three daughters and a son, Moor. They move to Bombay where their trade flourishes.

Cutting a long story short, The Moor’s Last Sigh is a tale of love and betrayal, thievery and cunning, helplessness and lashes of power, and eccentricity and innocence. Rushdie reveals a world marked by both the old and the new; the illustration of cultural assimilation runs stark with descriptions of Cochin and Bombay. The title, The Moor’s Last Sigh inspired by Boabdil’s sigh on looking at the Alhambra for that one last time after his defeat shows the twilight of multi-cultured dynasties at another time and place. The distinction is well-etched and beautifully subtle. It is also the tale of a world marked by intolerance where Voltaire’s belief that ‘I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it’ does not hold true enough and perhaps borders on ignorance and malevolence.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Book Excerpts: Londonstani by Gautam Malkani

At the time of writing I am getting through at a snail's place through Malkani's slang-decorated narration of Jas, a rich 19 year-old Indian brat growing up in London. First published in 2006, the novel is told from the perspective of Jas, a wannabe, confused affluent teen who pretends he is deprived of wealth and lives in a slum. A wannabe with a die-hard love for the materialistic, here is just a little pick of the humorous ranting that the boy gets into. The following extract features the most ubiquitous electronic device of our times.

Havin the blingest mobile fone in the house is a rudeboy's birthright. Not just for style, but also cos fones were invented for rudeboys. They free you from your mum an dad while still allowing your parents to keep tabs on you.   

(Article by Snehith Kumbla

Poetry Reads: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S Eliot

Among the works of existentialist literature, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S Eliot is one of my favorites. Written in 1910, it is a reflection of the inner torment in Prufrock’s mind. Eliot was influenced by French symbolism which reflects in this poem. He was also inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Bible and Dante Alighieri. It was first published in 1915 in an issue of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  This poem is a paradigm of modernism. Modernism is best described in the words of Herbert Read - “The modern poet has no essential alliance with regular schemes of any sorts. He reserves the right to adapt his rhythm to his mood, to modulate his metre as he progresses. Far from seeking freedom and irresponsibility (implied by the unfortunate term free verse) he seeks a stricter discipline of exact concord of thought and feeling.”

His mind is in a conflict because he cannot make up his mind to approach the woman he fancies. To him, the world seems alienated and he is angst-ridden and cynical; being middle-aged and socially awkward, he wonders if he should – “ask the overwhelming question (the existential question of approaching the woman)’. This poem is a monologue; however the first stanza appears as if it were a dialogue between two people. It is also a reflection of urbanity and superficiality. 

Read the poem here.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Poetry Reads: Published Haiku Selections (2011, 2012) by Snehith Kumbla

Ahoy, Wolf here and I am here to howl out the news that a couple of my haiku have been selected for publication in the forthcoming World Haiku Anthology. Also, this post is to showcase a bunch of my previously published haiku.

For starters, haiku is an ancient form of Japanese poetry. It consists of three lines. Traditionally, each haiku deals with nature and must contain syllables in the order of 5,7,5 for each line. English haiku poets have not adhered to this stringency. In a way, a haiku is the prose form of a photograph, it is not extravagant imagination. The purpose of the haiku is simple - to show as it was seen. The document of a moment without adornments - there lies its beauty and philosophy. 

chained dog
chases the bee
with its eyes

hair strand
divides her

battle scarred dog
can't lick its
bleeding ear

night shift
only the air-conditioner 
is not mute 

(First published in World Haiku Review, December 2011 Edition)


(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Monday, 10 June 2013

Book Excerpts: Conquest of Dehli by Timur-I-Lang

Conquest of Dehli by Timur-I-Lang is an account by Timur who captured Delhi in 1398 when he was more that sixty years old. Born in Transoxiana, in present-day Uzbekistan, his father was a noble from the Barlas tribe. This excerpt in English has been translated from his memoirs, Malfuzat-i-Timuri on his conquest of Delhi. Fourteenth-century Delhi was a place gripped by political uncertainty, marauding invasions and a freaky fear that loomed with the commoners having nowhere to flee but to face the wrath of the conquerors. The following is a description of the plunder that followed Timur's invasion and what he had to write:

'By the will of God, and by no wish or direction of mine, all the three cities of Delhi, by name Siri, Jahan-anah and Old Delhi  had been plundered. The khutba of my sovereignty, which is an assurance of safety and protection, had been read in the city. It was therefore my earnest wish that no evil might happen to the people of the place. But it was ordained by God that the city should be ruined. He therefore inspired the infidels with a spirit of resistance, so that they brought on themselves the fate which was inevitable.

When my mind was no longer occupied with the destruction of the people of Delhi, I took a ride round the cities. Siri is a round city. Its building are lofty. They are surrounded by fortifications, built of stone and brick, and they are very strong. Old Delhi also has a similar strong fort, but it is larger than that of Siri. From the fort of Siri to that of Old Delhi  which is a considerable distance, there runs a strong wall, built of stone and cement'.

Further, 'The pen of fate had written down this destiny for the people of this city. Although I was desirous of sparing them, I could not succeed, for it was the will of God that this calamity should fall upon this city'.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Friday, 7 June 2013

Poetry Reads: I Walked The Boulevard by E. E. Cummings

On a Friday afternoon, I would rather revel at E. E. Cummings' poetry such as this one: I walked the Boulevard.

In the true fashion of Cummings' poetry, he describes the setting of a boulevard and the people that are walking it in the poem. To me, the poem’s eloquence on the sight is mesmerizing, like a sketch coming to life.

I Walked The Boulevard 
by E. E. Cummings

i walked the boulevard

i saw a dirty child
skating on noisy wheels of joy

pathetic dress fluttering

behind her a mothermonster
with red grumbling face

cluttered in pursuit

pleasantly elephantine

while nearby the father

a thick cheerful man

with majestic bulbous lips
and forlorn piggish hands

joked to a girlish whore

with busy rhythmic mouth
and sily purple eyelids

of how she was with child


(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Book Excerpts: Under the Sun by Perceval Landon

The following is an excerpt from Perceval Landon's (1868 - 1927) Under the Sun. It is a description of Delhi. Being a writer and a journalist, he drew a memorable description of the ancient city:

"Delhi, the mistress of every conqueror of India, Aryan or Afghan, Persian, English or Moghul, remains unconquered still. Over twenty square miles of sun-baked plain lie out the debris of her many pasts, relics of her dead and gone masters, some perfect still, some once more crumbling back into the levels of red-yellow marl that have alternately fed and housed, and fed and housed again, forgotten generations of men. Yet Delhi lives. Like some huge crustacean, she has shed behind her her own outgrown habitations, as she has crawled northwards from Tughlaqabad and Lalkot, through Dinpana and Ferozabad till the red lizard of the Ridge barred her way, and now she suns herself, a raffle of narrow and congested byways, beneath the crimson walls of Shah Jehan's great palace-fort."

What has drawn me towards this excerpt is the way Landon added character to the city and how it still bustles with life and energy.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Fiction Reads: The Six Bad Boys by Enid Blyton

The Six Bad Boys was written by Enid Blyton for an entire family. I caught hold of a copy of this book as an adult and what a beautiful experience it was to read this book. As the note from the author in the book tells the reader:

"It is written for the whole family and for anyone who has to do with children. It is written, as all stories are written to entertain the reader - but it is written too to explain some of the wrong things there are in the world, and to help to put them right. 

I love children, good or bad. I know plenty of good ones - and I have been to the juvenile courts and seen plenty of bad ones. One of the finest magistrates of these courts is the well-known Mr. Basil Henriques, who deals so wisely and kindly with all the delinquent children brought before him. I have watched him at his court dealing with these children.In trepidation, I asked him if he would be kind to enough to read through my book to see if I had made many mistakes in Court procedure."

This sets the pace of the book.The Mackenzies at Barlings Cottage finally have neighbors; two families with children have moved into their neighborhood. The Mackanzie kids: Donald, Jeanie and Pat are tremendously excited. Being a friendly lot, they look forward to being friends with the others. However all is not hunky-dory with the other families. Summerhayes, the Berkeleys' home is a place of discontent with the parents fighting, while the children: Eleanor, Harriet and Tom appear surly. The Kents at Hawthorns are no different; while Bob is a friendly boy and wants his mother to be a stay-at-home mother, she has other plans. Familial discord lead Tom and Bob to escapism.

The descriptions in this book are though-evoking and familiar. Bob's chance encounter with The Four Terrors Gang (Les, Jack, Patrick and Will) at a 'small, dark, stone cellar' is an induction for him into the gang where Tom is included later. Here is a description of the gang: "The gang always wanted money - money to buy food, money to go to the pictures, which they loved above anything else. To sit in a comfortable seat in a warm place and see the people being chased and shot, to see horses galloping at top speed, cars tearing down along at eighty miles an hour, aeroplanes being revved up...this was all glorious to them. They didn't have to think, or use their brains at all - they only needed to sit back and look." Les and Will's mother does not care while Jack has a family to go back to; however 'the boy escaped from home as much as he could. The rooms were dirty and smelly and untidy. No one could eat, sleep or read in comfort. Jack hated his home, and though he really loved his mother he couldn't bear her whining voice and miserable face'. Further it is 'no wonder the boy went to find happiness somewhere else - and to him the little hidy-hole down in the cellar was heaven'.

Tom and Bob have similar traits; they are nice boys who have gone wrong and let off steam knowing fully well that it is a silly thing to do. Their circumstances are in sharp contrast to what the Mackenzie household is: full of warmth and kindness. Long story short, this tale is about reforming such kids.

The setting of this book is Lappington and this book was first published in 1951. It is a recollection of Blyton's childhood. The illustrations were created by Glenn Steward.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Monday, 3 June 2013

Book Excerpts: I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale by Khushwant Singh

The monsoon has arrived! It fell upon the city without warning on the night of June 1, 2013, complete with lightning veins, thunder roll and a rush of drops that soon settled down to play a rhythm on all things that interrupted its airborne tryst. 

As usual, the meteorologists got it wrong - the monsoon has commenced its journey two days before the predicted date. To err is human, and in matters of nature, the scientists and experts are to be forgiven. For as much is claimed to be known about nature and atmosphere, human beings must concede that nature's mysteries shall always remain and maintain their allure. 

Anyway, I have been reading Khushwant Singh's remarkable 1959 novel I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale and it is a happy coincidence that the writer starts 'Chapter IV' with an eloquent five-page detailing on this wet, gray season: 

To know India and her peoples, one has to know the monsoon. It is not enough to read about it in books, or see it on the cinema screen, or hear someone talk about it. It has to be a personal experience because nothing short of living through it can fully convey all it means to a people for whom it is not only the source of life, but also their most exciting impact with nature. What the four seasons of the year mean to the European, the one season of the monsoon means to the Indian. It is preceded by desolation; it brings with it hopes of spring; it has the fullness of summer and the fulfillment of autumn all in one. 

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Travel Reads: The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux

The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux is an exhaustive, brilliant and comprehensive travel book encapsulating the thoughts, eccentricities and journeys of many travelers from Evelyn Waugh, Richard Burton, DH Lawrence, Henry Fielding, Eric Newby, Bruce Chatwin, Vladimir Nabokov to Dervla Murphy. However the list is endless. It also covers the thoughts and writings of Theroux himself.

The author aptly writes on the Preface: The Importance of Elsewhere:

'As a child, yearning to leave home and go far away, the image in my mind was of flight - my little self hurrying off alone. The word "travel" did not occur to me, nor did the word "transformation", which was my unspoken but enduring wish. I wanted to find myself in a distant place, and new things to care about. The importance of elsewhere was something I took on faith. Elsewhere was the place I wanted to be. Too young to go, I read about elsewheres fantasizing my freedom. Books were my road. And then, when I was old enough to go, the roads I traveled became the obsessive subject in my own books. Eventually I saw that the most passionate travelers have always been passionate readers and writers. And that is how this book (The Tao of Travel) came about'.

This book is an encapsulation of several ideas, crazy adventures, travelers' prejudices, obsessions, habits and neuroses. Read about Joshua Slocum who said he suffered from 'mental lapses' and was arrested for exposing himself to a young girl. Or read about the 'monumental grandeur' of Freya Stark. The excerpt highlighted from Niradh C. Chaudhuri's The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian is marvelous and gives the reader a sensory feel of the time and place. Or Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi is one of my favorite passages from this book. And so is No Picnic on Mount Kenya by Felice Benuzzi.

The list goes on. There are writers who have written about places they had not visited while writing about them as backdrops to their books. Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King is one such example and Theroux titles this passage as Saul Bellow's Fairly Serious Fooling. Edgar Rice Burroughs had remarked, "I can write write better about places I've never seen."

However one can summarize by saying that all these travelers and writers came, saw and conquered. The Tao of Travel is indeed a highlight of some of the best travel writings. It also highlights Theroux's favorite places on the globe and the ones that are on his wishlist.

Quoting from The Happy Isles of Oceania by the author: "One of the greatest rewards of travel is the return home to the reassurance of family and old friends, familiar sights and homely comforts and your own bed."

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Non-Fiction Reads: Useful Work versus Useless Toil by William Morris

An essay written in 1884 by William Morris can still be revisited for its wisdom, reflection and persistent relevance. A brief look at the life of Morris: William Morris was of all things, a textile designer, apart from a writer and artist. He was English and played a prominent part in the arts and crafts movement.

The essay takes us right into the heart of the thing, as it begins: The above title may strike some of my readers as strange. It is assumed by most people nowadays that all work is useful, and by most well-to-do people that all work is desirable. Most people, well-to-do or not, believe that, even when a man is doing work which appears to be useless, he is earning his livelihood by it - he is "employed," as the phrase goes; and most of those who are well-to-do cheer on the happy worker with congratulations and praises, if he is only "industrious" enough and deprives himself of all pleasure and holidays in the sacred cause of labour.

Morris then cuts through the issue, delving deeper, on how every human being has to work in order to survive. He then speaks on the ‘nature of hope’, the things that you expect when you work – “hope of rest, hope of product, hope of pleasure in the work itself.” He goes on to elaborate on these three points. Without ever wasting time on words, using them economically, he arrives at the statement that - All other work but this is worthless; it is slaves' work - mere toiling to live, that we may live to toil.

There is much more to the essay, practices followed through history and civilization is quoted, but always with an objective, unbiased eye. An essay worth revisiting - you will always find something to think about in each reading. 

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Friday, 31 May 2013

Poetry Reads: She Walks in Beauty by George Gordon, Lord Byron

This poem by George Gordon Noel Byron (Lord Byron) was written in 1814. The poem was inspired by his cousin, Mrs. John Wilmot who was in mourning at the time they met. Her beauty has been compared to the gaudiness of the day and in the last stanza he summarizes a person with depth, innocence and beauty.

This poem is considered as one of Byron's most popular poems.

She Walks in Beauty 
by Lord Byron

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!


(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Poetry Reads: First Fig by Edna St. Vincent Millay

The oft-quoted lines of this particular poem first appeared in the 1920 poetry collection A Few Figs from Thistles. So much is said in these lines - that to truly live is to burn and dazzle each day with one's free will and wish. 

The poet doesn't need to write an autobiography to get the message across. Instead, as if addressing all the people known to her, probably from an imaginary stage, she accumulates her entire life in four lines of verse.

First Fig
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light.


(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Non-Fiction Reads: A Time for New Dreams by Ben Okri

A Time for New Dreams by Ben Okri is a collection of essays on several diverse topics such as: Childhood, Writers and Nations, Seeing and Being, Plato's Dream, The Romance of Difficult Times, Photography and Immortality, Hospitality, Self-Censorship, One Planet, One People; London, Musings on beauty, When Colours Return Home to Light, Form and Content, Healing the Africa Within and a Time for New Dreams. The title is appropriate for this anthology. These essays are a peek and insight into Okri's thoughts. With wisdom and eloquence, he discusses thoughts and ideas that are universal in thought and timeless in appeal. His observations are hard-hitting too.

Here I have made an attempt to highlight some of his thoughts from this anthology.

On Childhood:

'Childhood: being under the care of those who are generally ill qualified to be parents. people ought to learn to be parents before they become parents. It should be more than just a biological inevitability'.

Childhood: focus of love - real love and confused love.

Childhood: a lottery, Chardin's game of cards, the luck of the draw, an unsuspected gamble, an obscure mathematics of destiny or karma; an unspecified punishment or an unnamed blessing - for deserving the parents that you have, the family you are stuck with, or the life you were born into'.

Childhood: the place of all society's experiments, its disastrous ideas of conscious engineering'.

101/2 Inclinations:

'Read outside your nation, colour, class, gender.
Read the books your parents hate.
Read the books your parents love.
Read what you are not supposed to read.
Don't read what everyone else is reading. Check them out later, cautiously.
Read for your own liberation and mental freedom.
Read widely, for fun, for stimulation, for escape.
Read the world. It is the most mysterious book of all

Plato's Dream:

'The universities of the future will do one thing we do not do today. They will teach the art of self-discovery. There is nothing more fundamental in education.

We turn out students from our best universities who know how to give answers, but not to ask the essential questions. They leave universities with skills for the workplace, but with little knowledge of the best way to live, or what living is for.

They are not taught the art of reading. True reading is not just passing our eyes over words on a page, or even understanding what is being read. True reading is a creative act. It means seeing first; and then a subsequent act of the imagination. Higher reading ought to be a subject in the universities of the future. As we read, so we are

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Short Story Reads: Night in Tunisia and Other Stories by Neil Jordan

Over the years my shepherd like attitude to books has waned. No longer does my heart bleed if a page has a dog-ear. Placing a book under a heap of dozen other books to straighten out the dog-ear, applying steam iron on the page, binding books with cardboard hardcover, designing a separate book cover with newspaper cut outs, book title and author name inscribed in a stylish handwritten blue scrawl - these adolescent pastimes no longer hold me.

Then there is the morally debatable case of lending books. Trust, friendship and a bookworm's bigheartedness play a major part in these decisions. Yet, much to my surprise, primitive feelings of territory and ownership still persist with this particular second hand copy of Night in Tunisia and Other Stories.

The 1950 born Jordan first established his reputation as a contemporary Irish novelist and later on as an Academy Award winning film maker. His written work is still published from time to time. Jordan was yet to delve into film making when this particular collection was first published in 1976.
Now on to...
The stories in this collection prominently deal with thoughts. Interesting, observant inroads are made into the intangible, invisible thing - the mind. There are no convenient endings as racing, random, nostalgic, angry, happy, lonesome and wondrous thoughts are revealed, much like scraps from a dairy entry.

The opening story Last Rites comes across like an experimental piece of abstract cinema, the effect in the tumult of words is disturbing. Seduction starts with the promise of mischievous expectation, then washes up like a sea wave with the boil of pent up sexual desire. Sand is another unpredictable tale - what seems to be a harmless squabble between a younger brother and the elder sister leads to a shocking event involving a gypsy and a donkey. Mr. Solomon Wept is an observant, cold note on the effect of betrayal in marriage on a middle-aged man.

Night in Tunisia is easily the happiest, free flowing story of the collection. Bathed in the perpetual sunlight that childhood seems to be, sea salt and breeze dissolves to the sounds of jazz and a father-son bridge to an alto saxophone. In Skin, we see how engaging words can vividly describe an Irish woman's mundane life along with an incident that displays her vain hope for change to occur.

Moving on...
A brief, dreamy, drowsy rambling of a woman apparently doused in alcohol during a party, Her Soul gives us a drab look at the female wondering and theorizing where her soul has slipped away to. Outpatient tells of strained husband-wife relations, and how both quietly realise that their relationship is meant to smother away.  

In Tree, the view of a whitethorn tree sets off intense nostalgia and the urge to change in a woman driving past it. The book culminates with a beautiful story -  A Love. Apart from mind reading, the sense of place and occasion are strong here. A young emigrant returns to Dublin to play out the last strands of his love affair with an older woman, even as the funeral procession of President √Čamon de Valera passes by.

To a degree, the tales in Night in Tunisia and Other Stories hold a mirror to how much we identify with our minds, replicating the chaos that swirls within our seemingly sane heads.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Monday, 27 May 2013

Comic Book Reads: Modesty Blaise by Peter O'Donnell

To my nine-year old mind, Modesty Blaise struck as a kind of fascination and wonder. I was introduced to the world of Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin from the graphic/comic strips on the English daily, The Telegraph several years ago. Today, that phase of my life feels like another lifetime; I read Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Modesty Blaise with the same gusto although the last one was from another literary zone. My understanding of Modesty Blaise was hazy; it felt like a read for grown ups. However many years and on, Modesty Blaise continues to make me  wonder.

A background to Modesty Blaise: British writer Peter O'Donnell teamed up with British illustrator Jim Holdaway to create this comic strip in 1963. Short stories, the series and film adaptations followed since then.

The story of Modesty Blaise starts in 1945. She escapes as a displaced person from a camp in Greece. She cannot recall who her parents are or where she comes from. There seems to be this feel of extreme pain in the mind of child who has witnessed a lot of brutality and therefore she has decided to blank all such memories. What remains of this child is a nameless girl who has traveled across the geographies of Africa and the Mediterranean during the Second World War. She strikes a rapport with a Jewish-Hungarian refugee called Lob who educates her and names her 'Modesty'. She adds 'Blaise' later on. He is a scholar; however he dies by the time she is twelve. She fends for herself fighting toughies and becomes the head of a criminal gang in Tangiers and calls it The Network. In the time that follows, she meets Willie Garvin and the rest is all history and adventure.

The Modesty Blaise series is a riveting one. Some of the books from this collection include: I, Lucifer; A Taste for Death; The Impossible Virgin, Pieces of Modesty; The Silver Mistress; Last day in Limbo; Dragon's Claw, The Night of Morningstar; Dead Man's Handle; and Cobra Trap.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Fiction Reads: Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje

First published in 1976, this is a remarkable debut by Ondaatje, for Coming Through Slaughter uses jazz music, multiple narrator-perspective, selection of factual records and the gift of flowing yet cropped prose to add bones, veins, blood, skin, myth, poetry and soul to Buddy Bolden's largely unknown life.

Buddy Bolden was for real. From whatever little is known about him, and dissipating the myths that have cemented themselves, one thing is certain - Bolden was a famous cornet player at New Orleans in his band from 1900 to 1907. He is considered to be a jazz pioneer, a musician who constantly improvised as he played, consistently touching high decibel levels. Unfortunately, Bolden was never recorded.   

Bolden - second from left, standing. The sole surviving photograph of Bolden's band is used to strengthen 'the truth within the lie', as good fiction is often referred to.   

Ondaatje gives us an enjoyable, tragic myth, breathing in characters, jazz lyrics, shackles of fame, fear and destruction. In this fictional novel, Bolden is a barber, publisher of gossip by day, drunkard by afternoon and musician by evening. 

He was the best and the loudest and most loved jazzman of his time, but never professional in the brain. Unconcerned with the crack of the lip he threw out and held immense notes, could reach a force on the first note that attacked the ear. He was obsessed with the magic of air, those smells that turned neuter as they resolved in his lung then spat out in the chosen key. The way the side of the mouth would drag a net of air in and dress it in notes and make it last and last, yearning to leave it up there in the sky like air transformed into cloud. (COMING THROUGH SLAUGHTER / PAGE 11)

Other characters Ondaatje conjures to create a mysterious haze around Bolden include Nora Bass as Bolden's wife, Webb - his close friend, now cop; Bellocq - a photographer specialized in taking pictures of whores; and Robin - the other woman in Bolden's life. The non-linear arrangement also keeps us hooked. A little gem of a book, raw in some ways, yet astonishing for the control a debutant novelist (Ondaatje was 33 then) displays. 

Recommended Edition
The image displayed below is the front cover of the concise Bloomsbury Classics edition - handy to carry around, the hardcover ensures durability.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Poetry Reads: Upon Westminster Bridge, Sept. 3, 1802 by William Wordsworth

The poem encapsulates a description of London from Westminster Bridge in the wee hours of the morning. There is a highlight on the magnificence of the sights of London while only ‘Dull would he be of soul who could pass by’ without taking in the beauty of this place. The city wears the morning like a ‘garment’.

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear

The city is quiet and bare without the bustle otherwise. This stanza feels like a painting as it evokes  images of ‘ships, towers, theatres, and temples’.

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

There is an element of tranquility during this hour of the day.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The Thames is flowing at its pace while the houses appear asleep. The ‘mighty heart’ in the following stanza refers to the spirit of London that is yet to wake up.

The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Upon Westminster Bridge was written by Wordsworth in 1802.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Poetry Reads: The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

The Highwayman by the late British poet, Alfred Noyes (September 16, 1880 – June 25, 1958) has always been one of my favorites. Set in Bagshot Heath in Surrey in England where Noyes stayed for a while and wrote this poem, it is rich in imagery; and phantasmagorical and real at the same time. He tells the story of an unnamed highwayman who is in love with Bess, an innkeeper’s daughter. However Tim, the ostler gives away his whereabouts and he is love with her too. She chooses death to warn him after she is harassed by the king’s men to reveal the truth. Once the highwayman learns of the truth, he decides to avenge her death and he is murdered; thereafter people sight the two lovers meeting after their deaths.

In 1995, The Highwayman was voted 15th in the BBC's poll for ‘The Nation's Favorite Poems’. 

The Highwayman
by Alfred Noyes


The following lines describe the imagery and the setting of the highwayman riding down the highway to meet Bess.

THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

The lines below illustrate the highwayman’s attire and his carriage.

He'd a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

The following stanza reveals the two lovers’ meeting.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord's daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Tim, the stable boy is quite the eavesdropper and the creep prying into the couple’s conversation as he is also in love with Bess. He is green with envy.

 And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord's daughter,
The landlord's red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened and he heard the robber say—

The highwayman reveals where he would be on that fateful night post their meeting.

 'One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I'm after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.'

Love, passion and parting never to see Bess again.

He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair i' the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the West.


The highwayman does not return; however the king’s men come looking for him.

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the moon,
When the road was a gypsy's ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
King George's men came matching, up to the old inn-door.

Bess is gagged.

They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

Bess is forced to reveal the truth about the highwayman’s whereabouts.

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
'Now, keep good watch!' and they kissed her.
She heard the dead man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

Bess decides what is to be done so that the highwayman can be warned.

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

She has decided.

The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love's refrain.

The highwayman returns; there is the sound of hoofs.

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding,
Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

Bess chooses death in the face of adversity.

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

The highwayman is stunned.

He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o'er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord's daughter,
The landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

He (the highwayman) decides to avenge the death; he goes stark, raving mad and he is shot.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

Strange sightings of the highwayman after his death.

And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Strange sighting of the highwayman and Bess who waits for him as she always did before they died.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord's daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.


(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Book Excerpts: Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

An opium filled opus if there was one, Narcopolis has Thayil take the garb of fiction to document a time of hallucination, ennui and quiet decay through a motley group of characters, covering three decades in old, derelict Bombay.  But what stands out in remarkable swing to the rest of the conventionally written content is the prologue titled Something for the Mouth. In the hardcover edition, the sole prologue sentence stretches for six and half pages. It is a breathtaking piece of literature - telling of a drug addict's delirium, brilliance and also his doom. Here is an excerpt of the first few lines: 

Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroin of this story, and since I'm the one who's telling it and you don't know who I am, let me say that we'll get to the who of it but not right now, because now there's time enough not to hurry, to light the lamp and open the window to the moon and take a moment to dream of a great and broken city, because when the day starts its business I'll have to stop, these are night-time tales that vanish in sunlight like vampire dust - wait now, light me up so we do this right, yes, hold me steady to the lamp, hold it, hold, good, a slow pull to start with, to draw the smoke low into the lungs, yes, oh my, and another for the nostrils, and a little something sweet for the mouth, and now we can begin at the beginning with the first time at Rashid's when I stitched the blue smoke from pipe to blood to eye to I and out into the blue world - ....


(Article by Snehith Kumbla)