17-02-09: (most of) what i know abt gaiman… a.k.a. authors i like to read (part 1):

there are people you love to read.  all the time.   any which way.   the regular stash run thru, you are reduced to digging out old forgotten books published in the early part of their careers and dismissed in their time as frivolous, or as strictly avoidable.

these are the authors whose books wou will end, close, and wish you had not read so that you can read it again, and hope that there will be occassion, at some point in the distant fuure, when you may have  forgotten the plot  enough to read it again.

these are authors whose characters or writings or stories stick with you for a lifetime, whose metaphors twist their way into your everyday moral measures, tipping the scales as you judge and evaluate.

i wish to make a list of such authors.  every one has different lists, and i am sure any list i rattle off the top of my head would be incomplete.  and miss out on some really good people.   yet, here is my first attempt:

of course, before we go on,  there are rules.   as always.   there are rules.

  1. the book should not be an established religious text that has disputed authorship.  you cannot claim to love king james, or mathew, or whoever it is that you wish to attribute you corner of the bible to, but no it doesn’t work.
  2. the writer should have attempted to be prolific.  that could mean anything depending on the resources availble at that point of time, like lao tzu‘s writings, which definitely qualify for a whole body of work. yet one-time authors (like, say, siddharth sanghvi) in a post-printing press-era are not allowed.  so while there is certainly no doubt about considering someone as versatile as shakespeare (let’s just asume for the sake of this post that there was only one man, that it was a bargain that he had made with an extra terrestrial entity, who exacted his part of the bargain, or maybe didn’t 🙂  the works of kalidasa, or homer would certainly to be considered to be in the running,  too.
  3. there has to be a book.  that you can hold.  in your hands.  it can be any format,   novel, essays, short stories, graphic novels, collage narratives, picture books, what have you.  but books.   no blogs, no online columns, no periodicals, no newspapers, no official correspondence (u cannot claim to love the bukke shahato, saying that Tokugawa leyasu is your favourite author)
  4. group authors are ok, so long as they show cognisable evidence of having worked together.   (like lapierre and collins are perfectly ok, above the board, ekdum bindaas chun.)

but why am i saying all this in the second person, addressing it to you?  it is, obviously, dear reader, because you would have perhaps read so far, and have moved on to fantasising about you own list, so this is just a framework that you can use, to narrow ure search…

P G Wodehouse.

will certainly be the author to have influenced me the most, in so many different ways.  he has written books that i wished would never end, books that i thought were so hilarious, i have rolled around and laughed, tears streaming down my face.   contrary to most media representations, it is not the story of bertie and jeeves that interests me, tho i must confess a more than grudging respect for the entire line now, in retrospect.  my favourites were always situated in blanding’s castle, near market shropshire, with the butler Beach who enjoys his glass of port down by the pantry. and the pigman who keeps changing:  cyril wellbeloved was the most popular of them, elciting the approval of lord emsworth, anyway.  and when two variant characters and worlds collide, as in leave it to psmith which has psmith coming to blandings, and going thru that entire routine with baxter and the flowerpots, it adds a whole different level of hilarity.  “psmith leapt across the lawn like a long-legged mustang”.  i also thoroughly enjoyed monty bodkin (heavy weather “uncle woggly to his chicks: “hullo chikkabidies…” “) and other books here and there like meet mr mulliner, brinkley manor, and doctor sally (errmmm… ummmm personal tee hee and furious blushing moment).  spoken simply, or better, in evelyn waugh‘s words, “…wodehouse’s idyllic world will never stale….(he has)  created a world for us to live in and delight in”.   if ever i should use terms like ‘blithe insouciance’ and still have a straight face it should be for describing wodehousian characters.  the man is genius, of course.   his language, his turn of phrase, his sharp wit, self deprecating comments only serve to romanticise the fate of the foppish nobility in the twenties, as these penniless young men waltz in and out of his books, their wits about them, their innocence intact, and their idyllic world never stale.  the women are cuteness, desirability, wit and charm all rolled into one.   the men are goofy and lovable, or suave and sophisticated.   either way, the result is confusion, charm and hilarity.

Goscinny and Uderzo

some of the best humour in graphic literature has come from both these guys, especially thru their immensely successful and hugely popular “asterix” series.   honestly, i think that the great divide (with its lead couple melodrama and histrionix) is one of the smartest, brightest, funniest books ever written.   as for sheer genius, it has to be  asterix and the roman agent featuring the indomitable tortuous convulvulus (they put him in the circus in rome, but the lions eat each other).   for sheer inventiveness, you have to note asterix and cleopatra, aand as for smart and biting european farce and comedy, i suppose asterix and the banquet, asterix and the magic cauldron would get my vote.   also, the great visits to foreign countries for these thrilling adventures : corsica, britain, belgium, scandinavia (great crossing), greece, india, the middle east (asterix and the black gold) and so on.  the ability to keep such hilarious names intact, even after the translation from the french and the ability to retain the humour in exchanges like “join the army, they said…. its a man’s life they said (muttering)” is what really astounds me.   and also the great cameo performances (like ‘dubbelosix’ in asterix and the black gold and the fly who is his carrier fly and is in love with him). clearly, goscinny and uderozo were humorists far ahead of their time, using humour to tell a self-deprecating story that makes light of the more glaring truth : that all of france was run roughshod over by the italians, who plundered and conquered and toyed with the french till the last blue-gummed dying days of their own lead-fuelled demise

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Next post  : features christie, crompton

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friday, 13th february, 2009 : sri ram sene and the slumdog millionaire :

well, today is friday the thirteenth.  wat sweet irony, tomorrow is valentine’s day.  and made ever more so (ironic, ie) by the flurry of pink panties, godless women and publess men, scary economy blues, lunar eclipses (ok so there was only one), scarier environment reds and the victory of likud with the spectacular rise of lieberman….

never before really has love had such a bad chance.  it has been amusing to see the amount of anger and righteous indignation that has poured out on to the indian streets over the last few weeks.   of course, in some cases , it has been just outrageous and tragic (sri ram sene dragging women out by their hair), in some cases dangerous and thought provoking ( a free and fair election in israel that threw up the anger that it did), in some cases eerily premonitory (the moon, that trusted friends of lovers everywhere, obscured by a shadow of the earth), and in some cases, just downright insulting and presumptuous (the widespread disapproval of slumdog millionaire for portraying the ugly india)

so let me dwell on two of these issues that i feel are related in some way, and which have animated our discussions, in the month past.

when slumdog millionaire was released, at first, there was the pleased smile of a nation that was charmed.   here was danny boyle, maker of the beach and trainspotting, making a movie on india, shooting in mumbai.  and all that had happened in the city over the last year would be laid to rest.

then there were the whispers that it showed india in a bad t, a throwback to the snake charmer-and-elephant days.  nooooooo……  a collective groan rose all over the country, not again, we don’t want to be branded as exotic pieces in a cornershop in colorado, oh no!

then a few days later the great B spoke, and said : ” if SM projects India as [a] third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations.”

oooohh. prickly, aren’t we?  protests went off across the nation.  said voices …this is not how we are: a bunch of dirty, impoverished, thieving schemers, flirting with disease and danger with easy nonchalance.   we are the new india. the one that grew up after shriman bakshi left, so thank you very much mr peter sellers, but we’ll be the judge of how funny your faux indian turn in the movie was.   and if you want to look at the new india, the real india, then for heaven’s sake get your nose out of the gutter and see the millions of young people who’re crouching in front of a “roadies” skinned orkut, sending sixteen scraps to suneeta and sunaina, sataak-se, like that!  we’re cool, really, and we listen to a r rahman’s remixed sufi tunes on our pink iPods while waiting to talk to business associates across the globe, shivering in a european winter..   wake up.   this is the new india…..

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the sri ram sene, on the 25th of december, dragged women out of a pub in mangalore, ironically named “amnesia”, and thrashed them in public, obliging eager videographers in the vicinity.   when confronted, the leader of the ram sene, muthalik, said that this was his duty, so to speak, he was just doing what the parents of these girls would want, and that this was the sene’s way of enforcing the dictates of indian culture.  this is not indian culture, all these women going to pubs, taking drugs and indulging in alcoholism, he said.   plus, we have reasonably certain information that some pubs are fronts for making blue films, and also for prostitution.

muthalik is a vandal, a publicity-hungry hound who will sell his own mother for a record price if the attention and sensation is worth it.   i shall not waste any time talking about him.   even as i write, a group of women have spearheaded a campaign to send him pink panties, and sanjukta, my friend (of http://www.sanjukta.wordpress.com  fame) is at the spearhead of a “hug karo pub bharo” cmpaign.   there are many women across india who want to join her, and many more who are pledging their support.   many men, too, and children.

my point is this: at a very basic level, wat is the difference between muthalik and the persons protesting the depiction of poor people in SLD? lete us refer to “persons protesting the depiction of poor people in SLD” henceforth as big B, since he has actually voiced it after all.   muthalik believes in a depiction of india that he defines narrowly within his limited understanding of what it is to be indian, and how one must behave.   having done so, he goes on to enforce it, using force to do so.   big B objects to a depiction of a slice of india  shown in an international film that’s gathering much acclaim because he believes its not the india he wants shown outside.   there are many other things here.   why don’t you write about them?   (pardon me for shuddering, but i cannot help but get  a deja vu of some idi amin-esque african dictator’s helpful advice to a visiting journalist: “there are many other things here.   why don’t you write about them?”)

yes.  the difference is the use of violence.  that’s right.

i don’t know if you have seen the movie.  i have, and i did not imagine that the movie depicted anything that was hyperbole in the extreme, nor did it show scenes of incredible squalor and deprivation.  if anything, it showed a smart, self-sufficient people, resourceful and ingenious, living in the massive slums of mumbai (itself housing a population that rivals that of many world cities) and leading their lives with dignity, not as wasted junkies living on dole and roadside crack.  the ugliness that we glimpse thru the movie too, is real, and boyle’s mistake is in perhaps making jamal’s life a generic collection of different situations that may eventually only occur independently to different people.  yet, the details are true.   if you don’t believe me, the proof is a short auto ride away.   your city has a slum too, you know, teeming with people who work in your garages, in your homes, on the fringes of your lives, keeping costs low and luxuries affordable.

yet the great B deems this as causing “pain and disgust” among patriots and nationalists.

wowow. lets stop for a minute here.   what if someone came up to you and told you that the india that you knew, the india that formed your daily existence, your everyday reality, that india (for india is simultaneously many indias rolled inside of one)  is not pretty enuff to swell the hearts of patriots, and showing it is in bad taste?  how would you feel?  what if someone came to you, mr big B-aka-millions-masquerading-as-one, wat if your world of forum malls and swank offices and smart plastic cards clipped on smooth pinstripe shirts  was not beautiful enuff for people to show in an english movie?

what then, mister big bee?

what, indeed?

as a matter of fact, if i have a complaint with SLD, it was the characterisation of anil kapoor as rude and derisive, heaping insult upon pejorative, and heckling a chai-wallah working in a call centre in mumbai.   is that how the west sees noveau rich india, how it imagines the perfumed plutocracy of this country to be, as shallow insensitive cads without a shred of conscience or a sliver of empathy: cold, crude and calculating, calmly calling the cops to carry out their corrupt bidding?

and if that is so, isn’t that wrong?   the great indan middle class cannot be like that!

after the uproar, i’m suddenly not so sure.