Burmese days : A review

September 12, 2016

On 8 June 2016

A review of Burmese days by George Orwell
The most unflattering account of India and its people is there in ‘Burmese days’. The authenticity of the book is stunning. George Orwell saw things far more clearly than even Forster, who totally ignored Hindus for they appeared mysterious to him, besides noting passingly Dr. Godse.
On the reverse side, the Gorge Orwell’s book presents the colonials in even poorer light. The true nature of colonialism and its soul-sapping decadence and corrupting influence on both the parties is pity-provoking.
You simply can not detest the British underclass, representing the face of colonials in India. They are capable of inflicting the severest violence on the natives to prove their loyalty to the Raj and win promotions, while they are distressed by their financial worries, childrens’ education or their future, once they complete their tenure in India.
For the ones not married yet, finding a suitable English match is almost out of question. At best they will find a woman who is considered too low in Britain and fit to be a servant only, or fit to marry a British man serving in India.
Then you have orphaned and destitute English young woman coming to India looking for a husband.
(Such was the tyranny at home–Towards which he was drawn ‘Like a moth to a flame” in the words of BBC–and Orwell went out looking for it all over the places to begin his revolution.)
The prospects of joining the retirees’ ghetto of British-Indian servicemen in England is the another loathsome inevitability at the end of a such a career.
That is, if an uprising of natives does not annihilate them before that.
They drink and indulge excessively to keep their minds off the dirty work they are doing here in most cases. Then there is the fear of tropical diseases.
From the first sentence it holds you by your neck and hits you with brilliance almost relentlessly.
He was disillusioned of his job and despaired as a writer to almost kill himself by smoking while writing 1984. He had weak lungs and a TB and lived a life of exile mostly. For his writing rendered him an alien in Britain.
To this day few writers have the courage to follow his legacy and Britain reads and produces occult-fiction or mommy porn mostly, if it not regales in foreign cultures.
The concept of home guard he suggested and the government adopted during the WWII gave him a hope that a revolt will take place in Britain itself, with millions of armed civilians. But he failed to see that British people were incapable of it, being very tribal by nature.
Before that he joined the Spanish civil war to fight the tyranny and got nearly killed. His personal life says that he was a born revolutionary with no true comrade. So writing was the last resort to him though it earned him very little to ever get settled in life. Today his works earn millions of pound in royalties.
What is the most appealing about Burmese days is the intimate scenes between Flory and his Burmese mistress in the earlier part of the book. The hostility and mutual distrust among them is total. Flory needs her to relieve his carnal desires and she needs Flory to extort money. They hate each other as much as possible otherwise. Once this relationship fails the woman turns vindictive, prompted by the villain and finally destroys Flory. The villain is a Burmese in British civil service who is against Flory because Flory supports a South Indian doctor for the membership of the club, where only one Indian will be entered to make it look more egalitarian, as per orders from higher commands.
It divides the members of the hitherto all white club, who sulk at the prospects of having an Indian now in a all white club. Now they want the one closer to them. It makes Flory an enemy of the rest of the whites and the other wannabe for the membership: the Burmese villain, for he clearly supports his friend the South Indian doctor for the membership.

It is the most forthcoming narrative of the writer where he doesn’t hide behind many symbols or allusions. Which is the case with his later work which was more celebrated than his first.
Though it is about Burma rather than India, it is almost about every country ever colonised.
The ending disappointed a bit. For neither Flory is that sensitive a soul to commit suicide after killing his pet dog when he was rejected by Elizabeth for the second time after his disposed Burmese mistress creates a scene in a church gathering. He was never that proud of his Englishness that the rejection of an English woman, who is an orphan and a destitute and is desperate to find a husband in India after finding none at home.
On the part of Elizabeth too, the second rejection of Flory is too much over done with. More so since she already rejected Flory for the same reason earlier and then accepted back after she herself was rejected by the military officer Varrell, who she and her aunt were prospecting for her husband. Flory was rejected first time as soon Varell arrives in the town and is accepted back as soon Varrell leaves without saying a goodbye to anyone after his month long stay in the town, during which he took out Elizabeth almost every evening but never proposed the marriage Elizabeth wanted from him so badly.
In the meanwhile the uncle who gives her shelter in Burma has repeatedly tried to rape her.
All British characters are too practical in the book for they are from the underclass at home and are out there to make a career in British Raj in India. When they appeared inordinately principled in the end of the book, it looked disingenuous to say the least.
If it was created to make the end dramatic it has failed completely. If it was done to uphold the uprightness and pride of British colonials it again fails miserably. For the book gave away a great deal earlier on that count.

Poop and poetess

December 25, 2014

Pooping poetess returns, through Danish embassy this time.
http://www.ekantipur.com/2014/12/25/entertainment/sarah-kay-in-ktm-on-saturday/399493.html

Worst book of the year?

December 23, 2014

Which was the one for you? The Reason?

Poetry is like..

December 20, 2014

‘Poetry is like pooping. If it is in you it will come out’, said a young American poetess to an adulatory Nepalese audience at American embassy here a few years ago. A graduate of creative writing from an American university, she was promoting the course here among the wannabe Nepalese youth with some cash in their pockets. She was wearing a low cut blouse and a skirt. Her words ring often in my ears and make me shiver.

‘The shame of it all is: there is a plot here’.

December 12, 2014

http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=The_Royal_Enigma_by_Krishna_Bhatt

I really struggled with this book from start to finish.

December 5, 2014

http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=The_Royal_Enigma_by_Krishna_Bhatt

Balzac Meets Naipaul in Nepal

November 26, 2014

http://www.amazon.com/review/RQQOFBEP9QJK1/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B004EYUD00&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=133140011&store=digital-text

The Mumbai literary festival

November 25, 2014

Times Of India is organising a literary festival in Mumbai. It has invited many feminist writers from across the world and an Indian writer accused of rape from his jail seclusion. Let us see who are dropping out. TOI can not be denied the credit of imagination here–which causes a similar outrage like its editorials.

…is it a polemic against the changing world?

November 24, 2014

There is absolutely nothing wrong with books that cross genres. The best historical novels are as much history as fiction. However, it is a golden rule that a book must know who and what it is. One of the problems with The Royal Enigma is that it suffers from a serious identity crisis.

Is it meant to be a history? If so, of what? Nepal? India? The relationship between the two? The impact of colonialism on the wider region?

Or is it meant to be a novel… the personal story of Nawin, who crops up for whole chapters at a time. Sometimes, living out his life, at others merely as a cipher to be used to have a conversation with someone of an opposing viewing point.

Or is it a polemic against the changing world?

From the title I expected some kind of analysis of the role of royalty in Nepal, or maybe a biography of one or more of the Royal family. In the event, I’m afraid it doesn’t really work on any front.

I really struggled with this book from start to finish. In general I applaud the advent of e-publishing to the extent that it allows good works by unknown authors to reach a public willing to give them a chance. However, there are also times when I do feel that the ability to put out a book quickly and relatively easily is just too tempting. Books reach the world ill-prepared. Try as I might to be positive, this is a case in point.

The Royal Enigma needs three things: a proper sense of direction, a serious edit and a translator with a better grasp of English.

As it stands, it is a number of barely related strands that aren’t tied together in any cohesive fashion. There is detail in here and it could be put to good use, but as a whole, it simply fails.

Trying to extricate the various strands, let’s start where the book starts with Nawin’s story. We meet him as a child, at election time, when the children are more excited by the flags and balloons than their parents are by the politicians’ speeches. We meet his family and gain some insight into the local life… and then there is a tragedy. And life moves on. Death and new birth and more problems. None of this is explored in sufficient depth for the characters to be ‘real’. Events happen. Then more events happen. And sometimes we are told how some people feel about it… but mostly we’re not, and we never get to spend enough time sharing those reactions to ‘feel’ anything ourselves in response.

Then suddenly we’re into a we’re into Operation Blue Star (whatever that was) and a hopscotch backwards and forwards through Indian history: Indira Ghandi’s return to power, the previous State of Emergency, asides into the political state of play in Pakistan, in Punjab and elsewhere and so ultimately to Indira’s death which (albeit briefly) brings us back to Nawin and his student friends.

Without anything of interest to disturb us having happened in the meantime Nawin has graduated and found himself unable to find work in India and so (being a Nepali citizen – possibly the first we’ve learnt of that) he heads over the border, where he decides to take part in the national games. Cue an essay on the behaviour of royalty and officialdom during the games: Nawin’s own experience is nailed in five sentences.

And so it goes on. Somewhere along the line our hero gets married… or at least turns out to have got married – there’s no meeting or love affair or wedding. I’m not even sure the poor woman gets a name.

The shame of it all is: there is a plot here. It needs a lot more work, but there is a story lurking in the background. All of the historical research that has simply been dumped on the page needs to be ditched well away from it. Aspects of it should be allowed to seep in, subtly, rarely, purely as background colour. The plot needs to be taken apart and set out as a simple time-line – with the gaps then filled in. If Nawin is good enough to play at the national games, let us see him learning the sport, give us a game or two, allow us to watch him develop. Develop all of the key characters. Give them names and backstories and characteristics…. But again only allow in as much of that as drives Nawin’s story.

That will provide the ingredients, which then those ingredients need to be built into the drama by allowing us to see how and why our protagonist does what he does, in a single flow. We need to engage with the characters to be able to feel for them, they need to be ‘real’.

Then finally, if the book is to succeed in English, it does need work on the use of the language. Quirky phraseology in translations can work. Particularly with some of the Asiatic languages, it can be used to capture the particular rhythm and way of speaking that exists in those languages which is so different to the western inflexions. To begin with, that was what I felt I was in for, and I was reasonably happy with it, but as the book progresses the constructions worsen.

Sometimes it is the choice of words that is simply wrong in the rural often being used for in the countryside. The king was coroneted rather than crowned. This doesn’t hinder meaning, but jars and interrupts flow. At other times (presumably technical) expressions are used with an assumption that the reader will understand them Every winter people in the country faced load shedding half the time, as the rivers dried up after the monsoons and the power generation plummeted. I am guessing that we’re talking about power cuts (or power outages for the US audience) but I’m not sure.

These sound like small criticisms but they occur so frequently that they become a major distraction. To talk of a newspaper’s English translation as being so crude that it reported the sound of firing by Dipendra as Rat-Rat-Rat… but then in the very next paragraph speak of someone chocking with laughter does kind of undermine one’s own argument.

In other places I got so lost that I had literally no idea what was being grasped at.

I would love to be kind about this book, but my first duty as a reviewer is to be honest – and I am afraid that this is not so much a book as a ‘first draft’. It needs a lot more work.
Summary: Some interesting ideas and the making of a good story lie behind this book, but I can’t genuinely recommend it as it stands. More work on the ideas could produce something really worth reading.
Lesley Mason
http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=The_Royal_Enigma_by_Krishna_Bhatt

Balzac Meets Naipaul in Nepal

October 23, 2014

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1074967638?book_show_action=false&page=1