Writer's Blog

Transient Thoughts

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Here are the first few lines from "The Strange Case of Billy Biswas" which I mentioned the post before last. Even the prospect of merely typing out well written lines is somehow extremely pleasurable:


There is a song among the bhils of the Satpura Hills that goes somewhat like this:

I came a thousand miles to see your face, O mountain,
A thousand miles did I come to see your face.

It is an odd song, playful and melancholy by turns, like the wind in a saal forest on a quiet afternoon. For reasons that I have not understood it is sung both at births and also at the time of funerals. As far as I know, it has nothing to do with the story of Billy Biswas, except that, of late wherever i think of the one the thought of the other also comes to me.

As I grow old, I realize that the most futile cry of man is his impossible wish to be understood. The attempt to understand is probably even more futile. If in spite of this I propose to relate Billy's story, it is not so much because I claim to have understood him as it is on account of a deep and unrelieved sense of wonder that in the middle of the twentieth century, in the heart of Delhi's smart society, there should have lived a man of such extraordinary obsessions. I could be wrong. Perhaps his obsessions were not so extraordinary, after all, even if the garb in which they appeared was. Perhaps, as he once said, before the eye of each one of us, sooner or later, at one time of life or another, a phantom appears. Some, awed, pray for it to withdraw. Others, ostrich like, bury their heads in sand. There are those, however, who can do naught but grapple with such faceless tempters and chase them to the very ends of the earth. These last, he might have added, run the most terrible of perils that man is capable of.

What happened to Billy was, perhaps, inevitable, as inevitable as the star-constellations in which he came so absolutely to believe. Looking back, however, it is not so much the final resolution of his life that interests me as I am intrigued by what preyed upon him during the course of it. If life's meaning lies not in the glossy surfaces of our pretensions but in those dark mossy labyrinths of the soul that languish forever, hidden from the dazzling light of the sun, then I do not know of any man who sought it more doggedly and, having received a signal, abandoned himself so recklessly to its call. In brief, I know of no other man who so desperately pursued the tenuous thread of existense to its bitter end, no matter what trails of golry or shattered hearts he left behind in his turbulent wake.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Patta patta, boota boota haal hamara jaane hai
Jane na jaane gul hi na jaane, baag to saara jaane hai

The above sher is by Meer Taqui Meer, who I am about to become fan of. I had heard it in a Hindi Film song and liked it. Only recently while surfing did I find out that it was written centuries ago. Watch this blog for more shers and Ghazals by Meer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

When I bought the book "The strange case of Billy Biswas" for 5 or 10 bucks at the roadside secondhand book shops in Mysore, it was because the title of the book was vaguely familiar. I also bought that day "Silas Marner", "The Guide" and "The Financial Expert" by RK Narayan, "Untouchable" by Mulk Raj Anand, some book by Manohar Malgaonkar, and "Pickwick Papers" by Charles Dickens, I think. All this must have cost me around 70-80 bucks. (These Arts college junta get prescribed some fundu books for English literature and you can buy them real cheap at second hand places. There are lots of second hand places in Mysore. So if you go there, keep an eye open). I started reading "Pickwick Papers" on the bus back to Bangalore. It's an extremely funny book. Funny and lazy. Unfortunately I forgot it on my seat, and I had read only a few chapters.

Of the others, I read "The Guide" and the "The strange case of Billy Biswas" and am reading the "Untouchable". Did start reading "Silas Marner" but never got going. The Manohar Malgaonkar book is at home in Kumta.

"The strange case of Billy Biswas" is the story of a very intelligent man who knew exactly what he wanted and gave up a lot of "comfort zones" to get there.

Key words: New York, Anthropologist, IAS officer, Marriage, Delhi, Chattisgar, Tribes, Dancing, Wine. It is set in the 50's and 60's.

The book is very easy to read because it is written by an Indian (Arun Joshi), it is written in 20th century English, It is small (250 pages), and it is written in the Indian context (so one can easily empathize with the characters). The first person narration is extremely believable. I will be extremely surprised if the story is not heavily based on real life. A very gripping book.

I don't know what impression of the book I have managed to convey, but if you chance upon it at a second hand store or a library, do read a page or two and see if you like it.

Friday, November 21, 2003

There was this really amazing Headline in the Times quite some time back. It is funny in more ways than one:

"Suicide Not An Option : Expert"

From now on, if I ever watch an Australia Match where India is not playing, there's a chance that I will watch it without bias.

Earlier, I used to hate Australia's guts.

The change of heart has resulted from the Aussies total dedication on the field during the Final on Tuesday, (I am sure the dedication was always there. I somehow must have overlooked it), the pretty modest speech Clarke gave on the podium after winning the man of the match, and the almost human way in which Harvey and Williams blushed/smiled when their skipper or Manjrekar mentioned their names during the award ceremony.

Mind you, I still disapprove of the Aussie's UnAbashed Arrogance,their resorting to sledging and Unfair play despite being the best team in the world (Martyn's by-runner was accused of taking unfair starts when Martyn was batting on Tuesday), and the savage way in which some of their bowlers celebrate wickets. But one human must forgive another for his follies ( How do you like the patronizing touch? :-) and so I forgive Australia and hope that there is hope for them yet.

When I joined the snack table at office yesterday evening the discussion was along the lines 'These Humans are Crazy'.

Millions of Indonesian Rain Forest Going Away A Year. American consumerism resulting in destruction of Amazon Forests. The bio-diversity in the oceans - 10 new species discovered a day - and how Frech Nuclear Tests and kutti-kutti oil spills everyday were destroying it. Sigh. If only human beings learnt only to live. Etcetra. Etcetra.

I get quite cynical about human beings too. Often. But that when they show needless cruelty or callous thoughtlessness. War and the (unnecessary) death of soldiers really puts me off sometimes. Iniquity also I don't like.

But Indonesian rain forests don't bother me too much. Someone IS consuming them, are they not? (someone please advise me on the right question tag on this one - Is he not? Is he/she not?). If you eat good food, wipe your hands on tissue paper, and drive a car/bike you have no right to crib about someone cutting those rain forests down.


Anyways, that's beside the present point. So when the talk went to the oceans, Ankit started talk about the new trans-atlantic under sea rail road they were planning. From there the discussion took a differnt route. How would they do it? They can't put it too low because of the pressure. Would it really be faster than Air Flight? Amazing. The possibility of a terrorist attack and how that had already been taken into account. Hope it happens soon so we can, maybe, travel in it? What if they made the whole thing transarent, the tunnel and all. How would it be to travel under sea. Amazaing. From there the Panama Canal and some airport the Japs built on the sea were discussed.

A new join-ant to the table would have no idea that the original discussion had been 'Doom is Nigh'. In Ankit's words in the end 'Everyone was excited about What the Humans Were Doing'.

:-) We Humans Are Crazy.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Speaking of History books and History in Schools. We had a history teacher in my shcool in Belgaum. Undale Sir. He used to teach history not from the books but through stories of those times. Many times History class was a story telling session. I don't remember any of the stories except the description of the Sultans' 'Hamam Baths'. Undale Sir was also our class teacher and he had written on my report card once 'Tejasvinavadhitamastu'.

But Undale Sir had a drinking problem. We didn't know why. Then one day we came to know that he was no longer a part of the school. There were rumours that he had been fired. That he had been found lying drunk on the road.


I read two good books in the recent past. The Insider by PV Narasimha Rao.And Delhi by Khushwant Singh.

I want to write a lot about both books. But if I write too much then I will have to be careful so that I do justice to them. So I'll just say a few words.

'Delhi' is naturally more entertaining, it being written by a professional writer. It's a first person (different first persons) account of the history of Delhi. The Delhi Sultans, the Sufi saints, the Mughal Emperors, Nadir Shah, Taimur Lane, the poet Meer Taqui Meer, Bahadur Shah Zafar and the 1857 revolt, the partition, the death of the Mahatma Gandhi, the anti-Sikh riots, all feature in the book. Translations of urdu couplets appear very often.

One realizes what kind of shallow history one is taught in school - only names and dates and who succeeded who on the throne of Hindustan. What is required is a stoic description of real (or at least believable) people and their lives. The description should be at a personal level. Only then is it possible to learn from History. Khuswant's Singh's account has a sad touch to it - You can only expect so much from Human Beings - but it is not pessimistic and beauty and vitality and poetry and spirit are also brought out in equal measure.

The Insider is an account of that part of Indian History which is never depicted in school books . Indian politics from 1947 till date. The reign of Nehru , Lal Bahadur, Indira Gandhi, the wars with China and Pakistan, the centre state relationship etc. The book gets extremely funny in parts and slightly boring in some others. Since it depicts real life it is full of anti-climaxes.

OK I want to say more but I am getting all muddled up. So I will stop abruptly here.

Maybe I will put in excerpts from both books sometime.

Australian dominance over cricket is total. Its time the Monopolies Comission did something about it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Whenever I need to do some serious thinking I go into the woods...
...There are always a million distractions out there.

- Calvin

Monday, November 10, 2003

Among the N junta who tried their hands at getting tickets for the India-Australia Bangalore match were me, Som (wrik.blogspot) and Sumeet (sumtya.blogspot). We were also among the N-n junta who returned home disappointed.

Som had warned me not to 'Count your chickens before you reach the counter' when we were in the queue (600buck). That was when I had talked about getting T-shirts and face paint and placards and had started soft-chanting "Indyaaa Indya pa-pa-pup Indyaaa Indya".

We got there around 6.00. While we waited, we solved Crosswords, sketched Policemen, ate biscuits, gave business to banana-walla, channa-walla, churmura-walla and boo-ed people who tried to poond in ( poonding is slang for 'entering a Queue at illegal entry-points'. If there is a regular English word for it, I would be happy to use it.) Our wait finally ended when the dreaded word 'Sold Out' travelled quickly through the Queue.

Near the mouth of the 200 buck counter, the queue was 5-6 people thick and people were falling all over each other.

We went to Dominoes and ate Pizza.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Sunday Night I had one of the high adventures of my life. I was caught by a Traffic Policeman. (I am Pathetic!)

We were going to a restaurant called 'Aangan' close to Race Course Road. Since I did not know the place I was following a friend. Now when you are following someone you neither notice the way you have taken nor do you see any traffic lights.

I jumped one. And didnt jump clear.

Vehicles were crossing from the other side and I had to slow down. The cop coaught me. As he was taking my key, an autowalla said in Kannada "Don't spare these two wheeler fellows"

Bangalore Autowallas are generally nice, so I figure Two-Wheeler-Fellows must be quite a nuisance in these parts.

I am asked to Park my bike and I start following the Policeman. The advantage of having a blog is that even in adversity you refuse to take life too seriously. I can only think 'Ah! Blog Topic'. The policeman explains to me that 'Young Boys only jump lights' 'Jumping Lights causes accidents' 'Its for your good only.' All this is in Kannada, for I have had the good sense to immediately start the conversation in Kannada. He also asks me where I work. I know it is to size my purse up. I say evasively 'Software Company in Domlur'.

Meanwhile I am happy to note that there is a Police Station closeby. Going into a Police Station is another of my Life Time Ambitions.

We have reached another Policeman. By this time the First Policeman has checked my Driving License. The second Policeman also starts putting fundaes. I repeatedly say that 'It was all my fault. I agree.'

They finally say. 'Fine Katt-teera?' - Do you want to pay the fine? A moment's hesitation and I say looking at the Police Station. 'OK. Let's go'.

I can see they are taken aback a bit. They stall proceedings by saying some Roll Call or other is happening. They praise me. You look like a Gentleman, You have admitted your fault, why do you want to get in trouble? Your Wish. Your Wish. 'Your Wish' meaning, 'Pay according to your wish'.

My cell rings. The friend I was following is wondering what the hell I am up to. I look at the police station, should I go in? As is often the case with me 'the spirit is willing but the spirit is weak.'

I take out my purse. It is in bad shape, externally. I am thankful it is not fine leather because the policeman is watching. I don't have a fifty. I take out a hundred and wonder how to tactfully ask him to take only Fifty. The second Policeman is nice 'Give only fifty' he says. He asks the first guy to give me fifty back in change.

The Poliemen were quite nice actually. Very polite and all. No bad words. They didnt pain me too much either. I wonder now how the whole thing would have happended in, say, Delhi or Patna?

The dinner at Aangan was too good.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Sambhalane De Mujhe Ai Na-Ummidii kya kayaamat hai
Ke Damaan-e- Khayal-e-yaar choota jaaye hai mujhse

( Let me control myself, O Hopeless-ness! what sorry state is this!
The skirts of the thoughts of my beloved are slipping from my fingers)