“The Dwarfs” by Harold Pinter

1382550It is a novel that explores the lives of 3 males living in London and a woman dating one of them mainly through dialogues between them. It is said to be Pinter’s only novel but even this one has been written almost as a play in the form of dialogues. It is an interesting read but I could not connect to any of the characters and overall the book is too abstract for my liking. It might be perhaps better to watch it as a play on stage.

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State & Other Social Institutions

Coetzee discusses several opinions on State and other social institutions that man associates himself with in his book “Diary of a Bad Year”. Overall his opinions are reflected in the opinions he voices of Margaret Thatcher: She doesn’t believe in the existence of society as it is an empirical ontology. Society is an abstraction invented by academic sociologists. Nation and family an individual by birth ineluctably belongs. But every grouping between family and nation has a voluntary character like football league, religion etc.”

Coetzee is mostly solitary and disengaged with social groups. He had married once but not for too long and having lived in UK, US and now Australia, Coetzee has even transcended his South African nationality.

I also quite agree with this. My nation and my family I belong to but the other groupings I have a choice as an individual and I have mostly chosen to abstain from them- religion, region or marriage.

On the origin of state, Coetzee puts forth theories by 2 people:

  1. Thomas Hobbes states: “State was established to escape violence of internecine warfare without end. Law was created to enable the state to use physical force to punish criminals.”
  2. Kurosawa has demonstrated the formation of state in his movie: “Seven Samurai”

I watched this movie post reading the book and I do agree it does adeptly demonstrate the evolution of a state. But no matter how the state may have originated, today you inevitably belong to a state. In case you decide to defy the state you become an outlaw or outcast and depending on the state you chose to defy it can have dire consequences.

Thus nation or state is a social institution one is forced to endorse but another institution that most Indians irrefutably endorse is marriage and I can’t fathom how in the world today. Like the state, I presume the concept of marriage or family would have originated to protect the off-springs and ensure the survival and continuation of human species. But I fail to understand how it remains to be such a ubiquitous phenomenon today especially in India where our past generations have done more than enough to ensure the continuation of the species even if there is no off-spring born in the country for a century now.

What I really fail to understand is how intelligent individuals with an acute ability to think and form their own beliefs endorse this institution without a thought and with the choice of life partner purely incidental. Marriage usually eats out the very soul of many individuals, destroying their being completely. So what forces all these people to adhere to this institution and renounce all their individuality, freedom, and beliefs? Just the fear of being alone or simply the lack of will to question the herd?

But I do sincerely hold the belief that today marriage should be just about companionship. The comment “I don’t know why I married this person”, is enough to make me lose all respect for that person. What is the use of the person’s intelligence if he/she cannot put even the slightest thought to an important decision of his/her own life?

Maybe I think too much. Maybe as Coetzee has said “Mass is the norm, solitary is the aberration”, I am the aberration. But I am who I am and I stand for my beliefs and actions and like individuals who have coherence in their thoughts and actions.

Coetzee again voices my thoughts through the line: “Only from a self-disengagement from the mass and critical of the mass could true art emerge.”

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“Diary of a Bad Year” by J.M.Coetzee

“Miscellany” – the term Coetzee uses for this work. “Unlike a novel, it has no beginning or end.”

This book is divided into 2 parts: Part 1- Strong Opinions that expresses his opinions on 31 different topics and Part 2: Second Diary that expresses his soft opinions on 24 different topics. Every page in the book is also divided into 3 sections: the first section is his opinion; second section his narration as he gets his booked typed from the hot secretary -Anya and the third section Anya’s perspective.  Reading this was slightly difficult as when you read page by page then due to different sections continuity is lost. Thus it is best to read section by section for the entire book

Coetzee’s writing style is usually simple and direct-no superfluous language, no surrealism. Most protagonists are camouflaged reflections of the author but Coetzee, in most books including this one, doesn’t even try to camouflage his protagonist. “Senor C” is how he is addressed by Anya. He repaints his own image as the old reclusive author and many of his recurring opinions like meat-eating figure in this work as well.

After reading so many of his works I can relate to him, his characters, his style of writing and his opinions. Thus there was nothing fresh about this book but I was not bored and really enjoyed reading it, perhaps because Coetzee offers an honest piece of himself in every book. Reading every book makes me feel closer to him; akin to the intimacy you feel on meeting a person several times and still enjoy hearing his/ her honest opinions.

In this book he converses with you, opening up, expressing his opinions. I do not wish to review this book but wish to converse back, let him know my opinions. Hence in the following blog I will perhaps express my opinions, on topics that he may or may not have put forth in his book. Thus I am continuing the conversation channel that might not reach him but might trigger more conversation paths.

This blog is random musings after all so I will add some randomness to it!!

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Death in Mythologies: Orephus-Euridice

Ancient mythologies are fascinating, ion how they are similar and yet so different from each other. One of Greek mythologies- Orephus-Euridice is a heady concoction of love, music, suffering and human weaknesses and hence is one of the recurring myths in many novels. “Ground beneath her feet” by Salman Rushdie and “Equal Music” by Vikram Seth are considered to be modern recasts of the myth.

But in the current book I am reading, “Diary of a Bad Year”, Coetzee adds another dimension to the myth and says it mainly highlights the solitariness of death. The myth doesn’t say that they are reunited after death. You die alone and meet your fate after death alone.

This is quite in contrast to Hindu mythology (as per which they will be reborn and reunited), Roman/ Christian mythology (as per which they will be reunited after death) and Egyptian mythology (as per which they would even take their worldly possessions after death and hence the same are kept in the pyramids).

“Orpheus, as per some myths, was the son of Apollo and as per some a Thracian prince but as per all myths he was a magnificent musician who could accomplish any feat through his musical lyre. He wooed Euridice through the power of his music and married her but soon after the wedding, Euridice died from a snake bite. Orpheus followed her to the underworld and through his music cajoled Hades, the king of Darkness to give Eurydice back to him. Hades acceded but upon one condition: that he would not look back at her as she followed him, until they had reached the upper world. But just when they were almost there, he turned to her. It was too soon; she was still in the cavern and in an instant she plummeted back to darkness and he could not go back.

He was forced to return to the earth alone, in utter desolation and sang melancholy songs. He swore he would never love another woman as a result of which, some Thracian women, after hearing his music,  tore him limb from limb in a fit of jealousy.”

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Zeitgeber

What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare. “- William H. Davies

And yet life presents such majestically beautiful forms that a lesser mortal like me can’t help but stare. Even in the humdrum of busy Gurgaon life, peacocks wake me up daily and dance, flashing their majestic blue and I stare mesmerized, losing track of time. Now you seat yourself opposite me during vapid business meetings, engrossed on your business phone, oblivious to your own incredible good looks, a unique blend of features. A plain white shirt. Plain black trousers. A blue tie with a small yellow pattern. Black shoes. Nothing that calls for attention and yet I can’t steer my gaze away. You decide to jump in the conversation, gesticulating with your long hands. I am mesmerized with the gestures and gaze on as you fondle with your tie infinitely before managing to tie a successful knot.

I speak but not what I would like to. Unspoken words hang in the air; speech has always been elusive, never my forte. Even as a child I remained absolutely mute till the age of three when my fingers found expression through the stroke of a pen, only then did some sounds manage to break through my vocal chord. Even today my pen moves interminably, through lines, contours and words, undeterred by comprehension of the onlooker or the reader, but the spoken word remains grossly inadequate.

You meet my gaze and flash me a genuinely impish smile that lights up your eyes, miraculously producing three deep lines around the contours of your eyes running all the way up to the boundary of your wavy hair. My hands twitch to feel the texture of the waves and capture the playful colorful smile into my own black and white rendering, erasing the highlights, soiling my hands and clothes in black charcoal dust. I look at my hands- marred by far too many lines, some deep, some superficial but overall too clean. Charcoal has not left an indelible impression on them. Not just yet.

I look at my clothes.  Too immaculate. Too formal. Too insipid.  Too impersonal. Completely obscuring the person underneath.  The unwritten laws of professional conduct tether my action. But every experience is personal isn’t it?

Posted in Thought

“To The Wedding” by John Berger

“To the Wedding” establishes John Peter Berger as a complete artist- writer, painter and musician who successfully acts on every sensory organ of the reader. The novel is more like an opera where a blind third person is narrating on behalf of most of the characters but in between Ninon (the protagonist), Gino (her fiancé) and even Frederico (Gino’s father) have pieces that they narrate themselves.  The blind man describes the voices quite intrinsically: “Listening to her voice I saw slices of melon carefully arranged on a plate”

The narration has a pulse of its own, parallelly explaining the journey each one undertakes for the wedding and their way of handling the emotional turmoil. It is not chronological. 1 paragraph about Ninon is followed by 1 paragraph about her father who is repeatedly addressed to as “the Signalman”.

The novel is also like a series of paintings where John uses visual details to recreate the picture in the reader’s mind. The cover picture itself of a girl in a wedding dress with inverted feet is so apt.

This novel (published in 1995) was inspired by the discovery that his daughter-in-law was HIV positive and she later died of HIV. Frederico’s initially wanted to kill Ninon to save his son but on meeting Ninon and seeing the pain in her eyes gets transformed into saying, “Marry her. You are marrying a woman, and not a virus.” Frederico perhaps mirrors John’s inner conflict.

All I can say is that reading every line of the book is a sensory delight. I read the book twice simultaneously to absorb and appreciate the beauty of each line.

 

Few lines from the book for your pleasure:

“During the first year of my blindness the worst recurring moment was waking up in the morning. The lack of light on the frontier between sleep and being awake often made me want to scream.”

“Blindness is like a cinema, coz its eyes are not on either side of a nose but wherever the story demands.”

“When Zdena laughed it was like discovering a tree was still alive, although it had no leaves coz it was winter.”

“Thrushes look as if they’ve just taken a dust bath but they sing like survivors- like a swimmer who swam for it through the water and made it to the safe side of the night and flew into the tree to shake the drops from his back and announce: I’m here”

“Land is getting flatter, losing its folds like a tablecloth smoothed out by the hand of an

old woman. In her other hand she holds plates and knives and forks. As the land gets flatter and flatter, its distances increase till a man feels very small.”

“The city is being announced by huge, printed or flashing words. Some syllables are so large that they seem to be deafening.”

“The laugh belongs to the body, not a joke. A laugh like a cape thrown over the shoulders of the words being spoken.”

“There may be despair particularly that of boredom, or the sudden mortal rage of fatigue. But the threat of the future as something different recedes. Every day leads to the next which is more or less the same.”

“The water was flat, only when it came up against something it wasn’t carrying away at its own speed, did it form a wave.”

“In small towns where the skyline hides nothing, they wait for moments during which life counts. Time here is often like time for athletes who prepare

for months or years for a performance that lasts less than a minute.”

“He has the striking leanness that sometimes goes with percussion. To play a battery well, a man listens to silence, until it splits itself open into rhythms, eventually into every conceivable rhythm. It does this because time is not a flow but a sequence of pulses. Listening to that silence often makes a man’s body thin.”

“When time is pulse as music makes it, eternity is in the gaps between.”

 

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“Chronicles of a Death Foretold” by Gabriel Garcia Marques

I have tried reading Marques before but have never been able to read beyond 100 pages of both 100 years of solitude and live in the time of cholera (although they had been strongly recommended). It’s hard to pinpoint the reason; perhaps the translated English that is not difficult but just not fluent to read. Hence I picked up this 122 pages book that despite its brevity turned out to be quite profound. But since this is practically my first read of Marquez I cant compare his works and nor can pinpoint on the characteristics that are peculiar to his writing. Perhaps since I have been able to get through this work I may now be able to read his other works as well.

 

The weird this about the novel is that the narrator is a nameless third person whose sisters (a nun and Margot) and mother do have a role to play in the story but he never does.  His relation to the victim- Santiago Nasar or the murderers- Vicario brothers is never disclosed and nor the reason as to why is he going through the details of a murder that happened 27 years ago.

 

The gripping part about the story is that the victim- Nasar gets murdered

edited image of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, signin...

edited image of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, signing in Havana, from an image in the public domain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

despite everyone in the village being foretold of his murder and everyone having tried to prevent it from occurring in his or her own right. Marquez leaves one question unanswered of whether Nasar was actually responsible for the crime that he got punished for, while the murderers were set free by court after spending 3 years in prison as they didn’t have money to pay for bail. Marquez himself plants this question of Nasar’s culpability and leaves it unanswered. Even if he was culpable, does his murder actually restore Angela’s honor as honor once lost could never be restored right? Her husband left her anyways!

 

 

The narration of the story is interesting and cyclical. Throughout the book several characters mention, It was the last time he (she, they) saw him” and also Marquez several times mentions that it wasn’t raining and. Not once does he mention that it was raining, adding to the eerie feeling of the book.

 

 

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