A feeling of emptiness

The Association of Small BombsThe Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was at my parents home, and on Christmas morning, I picked this book. A few hours later, I had read it completely in almost 1 sitting. Set in Delhi, against the backdrop of smaller acts of terrorism which seldom make TV and newspaper news for a day or two but they have a butterfly effect causing a very brutal chaos for eternity.

Karan is an engrossing story teller. Sometimes, he is too verbose, but that is Ok, if the story he writes has humanity. The book leaves you with a feeling of emptiness - that is what it was intended to. Terrorism destroys all who are touched by it. In the end, it is dark nihilism unleashed.

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All Alone (55 Word Flash Fiction)

Late evening, ICU units, Houston, September 2009.

Are you all alone?” 

No, I just stepped out. I am visiting a relative next unit.” 

Do you want to watch Monday Night Football?” 

I step into an ICU room, a smiling man.

Thought you’d give me company. I am alone. My girlfriend has not even visited once.”


It took me four years to write again 55 words of flash fiction (or maybe, partial fiction).  More on flash fiction.

What makes a story universal?

Often, I like to share the concept of "universal stories" and why it takes an incredible talent for an artist to produce such pieces of work. No doubt, every work of art has some universality attached to them. However, few of them distill the universal appeal for you much more than others. They become classics. We all cry, love, laugh, and die. Even then, some of us tell a story that makes us connect strongly - from Boston to Cairo to Bloomington to Cochin.

Sometime ago, I suggested Aranyi, a well-travelled cosmopolitan Mumbaiker to read "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez through blog comment conversations. She really loved it. I had read the book in early 80s and thought about for a long time. Recently, I read it again. I had missed a lot of meaning back then.

"Chronicle of a Death Foretold" is an universal theme of revenge, loss of virginity, family honor, guilt, complicity of the society for real inaction, the power and inevitability of fate set in South America. Simply put, you do not have be a South American to empathize. Marquez describes the fragile human soul no matter wherever they reside on earth. It is not at all an exercise in "exoticism".

Some selected quotes from the "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" are presented below to highlight my point. Right of "-" underlined is my viewpoint to the selected parts of the book.

"Don't bother yourself, Luisa Santiaga," he shouted as he went by, "They've already killed him." - We all feel for somebody who is doomed. We will always want to save.

"They're perfect." she was frequently heard to say. "Any man will be happy with them because they've been raised to suffer." - Women in any society are reservoirs of strength with infinite capacity to suffer.

"Love can be learned too." - Love is more complex than pulp literature makes out of it.

"When you sacrifice a steer you don't dare look into its eyes." - Brutality of killing.

"That day," she told me,"I realized just how alone we women are in the world!" - An universal sense of helplessness a woman might feel.

..listened to their parents in Arabic and answered them in Spanish - That is how immigrants assimilate.

Give me a prejudice and I will move the world.

"Shit, cousin", Pablo Vicario told me, "you can't imagine how hard it is to kill a man!"

Please leave a comment about your favorite universal piece of work. Especially, from non-English cultures that have been translated to English or paintings from lesser-known artists. This is not entirely my original concept -It has been around. It is a really old universal concept.

Note: This is not a review for "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" nor discusses the story. Neither, this is a critique on universal stories nor on Marquez's work - It is an attempt to highlight the power of a story, irrespective of your culture, experiences, and upbringing.

Bravo!! Mahabharta redux as a spoof

250px-Krishna_giridhar3.jpgIf you look up at Wikipedia (or anything similar), Mahabharta is considered to be one of the greatest epics - four times longer than the Bible and seven times longer than the Iliad and Odyssey combined. It looms large on the psyche of South Asia for thousands of years and even beyond for the likes of Robert Oppenheimer. Mahabharta is about brothers against brothers, the righteous life, duty, moral dilemmas, and compelling story-telling.

Recently, I read Aashray's spoof on Mahabharta. She brings in modern day, western, as well as popular cinema culture sensibilities to a timeless story from India. It is incredibly addictive and worth reading. For those who still do not know what Mahabharta is about, let me in her words:

Vyasa calls Ganapati.
Ganapati: "Hello?"
Vyasa: "Hello this is Vyasa. I am looking for somebody to write a book for me. Brahma said you would be willing to help me out?"
Ganapati: "That depends on what your book is about."
Vyasa: "The two main pillars of the book are sex and violence."
Ganapati: "So when do we start?" [Link]

And so it came to pass, the great epic called Mahabharata.

Read, go read her spoof......... Bravo, thumbs up. Over there.

Via Gaurav Sabnis. Please be aware of Aashray's copyright statement. The picture in the post is from Bhaktivedanta Book Trust

Wikipedia - Only a starting point

I use Wikipedia very often. It acts as a starting point for me, not end all be all in seeking knowledge on a specific topic. I have always been aware of its power and weakness. Lack of peer-review makes the content quite vulnerable. However, the power of wikipedia lies in its speed and open house, open source knowledge, and the assumption that the contents are self-correcting by its collective and democratic nature. In topics, where I had some knowledge, I always thought their write-ups are quite accurate and at par. I have had wikipedia account for a while and maybe, I should contribute regularly in topics, I can. Some people like from inkycirc rightfully think that it is the duty of experts to give sometime to forums like Wikipedia if their work is funded through tax payer's money.

In light of recent faux pas or prank discovered, a very reputed journal Nature has stepped in and given heads up to Wikipedia. Also, Wikipedia is going to implement a review process starting next month.

I am quite pleased with their review process decision.

Believe and patience, grasshopper.

laxman1.jpgFrom Guardian [via 3QuarkDaily]

Although it is spoken by half of India's 1 billion people, its writing is absent in the literary canon of India, which is dominated by exiles such as Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth. "I do not read these books. They do not talk about the India I know," says Rao. "The stories do not mean anything to me or people like me. India lives in villages, small towns, on streets. The authors do not." [Link]

Right on, Rao. Indian writers from Indian subcontinent, especially the ones who write in non-English seldom receive as much attention as they should even in India, and in the rest of the world. Finally, Guardian talks about an intrepid writer and entrepreneur of humbler means, Laxman Rao who is finally is getting noticed at home. 

Writers writing in their mother tongue, and being close to the populace and their experiences and yearnings can present very powerful universal stories - stories that touches the entire human race and experience. As such, literature in Indian languages is quite robust but has not received attention and marketing push like Latin and Russian literature. One of the greatest story ever told is Mahabharta but only handful of Indophiles would talk about it. For Indian authors, to be heard around the world, they will need the means to get noticed, like Rabindranath Tagore by WB Yeats and CF Andrews and RK Narayan by Graham Greene. Maybe, that is the reason that a writer like Guleri with Usne Kha Tha never became a household name for presenting such a poignant tale of tragedy in fighting another man's war during imperialism, and about dreams not lived. Usne Kha Tha set both in Punjab and the trenches of World War I has the depth that is comparable to Erich Maria Remarque's work.  Or Munshi Permchand is not discussed at par with other great writers, like Ernest Hemingway and others. These are some ground realities.  For Russian authors, there is a common bond of  European culture and for Latin America, the proximity to USA. Maybe, one day will come......

"when Hindi literature has the same popularity as Russian works or Latin American authors". [Link]

Till then, believe and patience, grasshopper. Do keep writing and be fully appreciated at home, at least. I think the predicament is the same for all the developing world artists producing in their mother tongue and seeking place under the sun. Maybe, the likes of Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth should pitch for their brothers and sisters in ways, Yeats and Greene did.

Love in the Time of Cholera

Usually, I take these internet quizzes - laugh about them, then immediately erase them from my memory, and move on. However, today I took a book quiz and I guess I am "Love in the Time of Cholera" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read the book in 1995, when I was at sea for two months. It was western Mediterranean - almost everyone on the drill ship had read the book before. Quite a few of them had read it in Spanish. It is a timeless love story.

It is a timeless love story.

In 1980s, I read "Chronicle of a Death Foretold". I was quite young but when a South American author makes a teenager in India wonder if the end of the book could have been really different and was it raining on that fateful day for a long time, then you know you have read a masterpiece. Are we all struggling against the inevitability of the fate every day? - I will blame it on Gabriel Garcia Marquez for putting such a thought in my mind added with my cultural upbringing of Hinduism. Around the same time, I read "One Hundred Years of Solitude". I think I was too young to fully understand how our collective memories and histories are shaped and manipulated. I will read it again , perhaps many times.

When I made this blog I told myself that I will make this space strictly as a palette board for writing and art, and not as a pop collage or a diary. I had promised not to clutter the blog with other stuff unless I felt strongly about it. But I cannot pass a link of myself to Marquez's work into oblivion even it is through a corny computer test.

Bravo, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

End Note: I would encourage you all to read Marquez's works rather than me giving the gist of his stories.

You're Love in the Time of Cholera!
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Like Odysseus in a work of Homer, you demonstrate undying loyalty by sleeping with as many people as you possibly can. But in your heart you never give consent! This creates a strange quandary of what love really means to you. On the one hand, you've loved the same person your whole life, but on the other, your actions barely speak to this fact. Whatever you do, stick to bottled water. The other stuff could get you killed.
Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.


Gregory David Roberts has seen India with a clearer eye than I have. It will knock you off. But then I have'nt lived the adventures he has, so far.

A few weeks ago, at milktea's blog, I read about "Shantaram" by Gregory David Roberts. Last week, during traveling to Southwest, I read 100 pages (out of 900 odd pages) on the plane in one go. Certainly, one soon realizes that we are reading someone who is a poet and has a heart of gold. As I continue reading this book, let me leave you with two quotes:

"I was a revolutionary who lost his ideals in heroin, a philosopher who lost his integrity in crime, and a poet who lost his soul in a maximum-security prison. When I escaped from that prison, over the front wall, between two gun-towers, I became my country's most wanted man.

Luck ran with me and flew with me across the world to India, where I set up and ran a free clinic in a crowded Bombay slum. I joined the Bombay mafia, and worked as a gunrunner, a smuggler, and a counterfeiter. I was chained on three continents, beaten, stabbed, and starved. I went to war. I ran into the enemy guns. And when those wilderness years of hunted exile came to an end, when I changed my life, when I stopped running onto the knives and started running into the light of love instead, I wrote the novel, Shantaram, that was based on my wild and wicked life."

- Gregory David Roberts www.shantaram.com

"....Anyone who walks away from Shantaram untouched is either heartless or dead or both. I haven't had such a wonderful time in years."

- Jonathan Carroll, author of White Apples