Archive for May 2009

Hit-and-Run Down Memory Lane

It happened on the 7th of May 1998. Two days before my convocation ceremony. I was going to take the afternoon train to Mumbai to attend it. It being a defining moment in my so far uneventful life, I wanted to look spiffy. An ambition seriously impeded by the absence of some crucial toiletry items. So I set off immediately to rectify the error. Er...I went shopping that is.

Shopping required that I cross two main roads - Sarojini Devi and Sardar Patel. Both arterial roads in Hyderabad (my home town)and by definition very busy and chaotic. Add to it the quaint Hyderabadi penchant of never obeying traffic rules...and you have, to be cliched - a recipe for disaster.

The lady was obliging and I negotiated Sarojini Devi Road successfully. Emboldened by my success, I ambled along, under the cool shade of my flower-patterned umbrella, day dreaming about the degree that would soon be mine. But, Sardar Patel, Iron Man that he is, proved more difficult to conquer.

I stepped onto the road and like a good pedestrian, looked first right, then left - or was it first left then right? Whatever be the case, I looked to see that all was clear. Then I moved forward in an attempt to cross the road. I say attempt since I did not, in fact, manage to cross the road. This was mainly because I was ambushed by an elephant.

When I recovered my breath, I saw that it was not an elephant, but a scooter. I also noted that I lay sprawled on the road in an undignified manner and my flower patterned umbrella was blowing down the road. The terrified face of a young man loomed above me. I realised that I had been knocked down by a speed demon, driving on the wrong side of the road in order to get into a bye-lane.

Enraged,I yelled : "Are you crazy?! Cant you see where you are going?" With hindsight I realise, that these were rhetorical questions. It was plain that the answer to the first was yes, and the second was no. I scrambled onto my feet, wincing as a burning pain registered on my right knee. It was bleeding. I saw red (pardon the pun).

Confronting the trembling young man, I resumed my tirade: "What's wrong with you? Which idiot gave you a driving license? Look what you've done! Where is my umbrella!" I spotted it flying past and commanded the boy to fetch it for me. He did so without demur. "What is your name? And don't try to lie to me!" And so it went on.

Finally, when I ran out of steam, the young man stuttered his apologies. I was not in a mood to accept them, beleaguered as I was, by visions of myself hopping across the college lawns, to collect my degree certificate from the chief guest. Naturally, one cannot hope to look spiffy on one foot. Coming out of my tortured visions, I noted that the young man was still carrying on with his apologies. "....anything you say. Anything at all. I'm really sorry".

I did think of asking him to drive me to the shops and back. Perhaps it would not be quite the thing to be chauffeured by the person who brought you close to death's door. "Well, then you better drop me home".

What happened at the convocation you ask? I managed pretty well I must say. A combination of painkillers and sympathy from friends and family. I gave 'swan like glide' a whole new meaning!!

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The White Tiger That Wasn't

I do not think The White Tiger deserved a Booker prize. I do not think it deserved anything at all. I'm sick and tired of authors making a commodity out of India's poverty and earning millions from it. But lets talk about the book first.

It is a mediocre story, set on a theme that is as boring as it is over done. Poverty, corruption and the great rich-poor divide. So passe! Don't get me wrong. There are many books and short stories written on Indian poverty - many of them in regional langauges - brilliantly conceived and subtly executed to to convey the message. Adiga's story is just too in-your-face. And as described by another blogger' crudely moralising'.

What is wrong with this book is that Adiga went over the top. He painted everything black or white - more black than white if you ask me. He even went so far as to name it Light and Darkness, a sledgehammer approach to imagery which leaves the reader cold. The story moves on, in ever darkening morbid circles, outlining everything that is wrong with India - urban, rural - nothing is spared. No one has any redeeming features. And so the protagonist moves through the story, lying, deceiving and finally murdering his way to success, all the while calling himself an entrepreneur.

Adiga seems to be under the mistaken impression that, by writing a superlative version of all that ails India, he is raising awareness about it. In an interview he says: "...nearly a thousand Indians, most of them poor, die every day from tuberculosis....I've tried hard to make sure that anything in the novel has a correlation in Indian reality." Depicting reality is one thing. Many others have done so and far more successfully than Adiga. But trashing your country, every which way you turn, is unforgivable. It makes me want to kick his Australian immigrant ass.

Incidentally, Mr. Adiga, if you wanted to correlate to Indian reality, what did you do with the 50,000 pounds of prize money?

So how did he win that Man Booker prize? Here is my theory - I think the English were rather pleased with his depiction of India. It kind of assuaged their hurt at being relieved of the 'white man's burden'. And they decided to do their good deed for the day by rewarding Adiga. Run along then! How else can you explain why Adiga triumphed over Amitav Ghosh?

I'll end now, on a positive note (unlike Adiga). The book has one redeeming feature. Its a quick read.

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