Archive for August, 2013

Miserable writers

August 30, 2013

Many of them try to pass their misery to their readers.
If it is too much about race, class, family or religion, one should drop it.
Writing is trying to entertain, not anything less.

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The hunt

August 27, 2013

The hunt is on to find an enemy, when the things appear getting worst enough and beyond salvation. Several rounds of bail-outs seem to have failed to give the stimulus, as promised by the experts and politicians. So what is wrong with the world? Why is it slipping from the grip?
We are the innocent people having our share of privations in life. But still there are people who do not wish us well. They even may organize and try to finish us. The only defense would be for us to consolidate the league we have made and find the real enemy. It was not a dictator like in Iraq, we have seen.
But there must be some one else, who is responsible for our plight. There are other dictators ruling nations beyond our influence or under the influence of our rivals. It is time to target them. We can not wait for ever to find one. The world can not be stopped before it becomes democratic.

Decaying classics

August 24, 2013

The summer has been so humid that it took my breath away. I was found to be an asthmatic. Dusting through old books I put off often. It leaves me breathless. Putting on a mask, I tried it recently. To my surprise, many books were damp and were infected by a fungus. So Dust was not the only threat.
The books I like, often rest beside my pillow of the bed. They shift between my hands so often that they are dust free mostly. The one that begins to gather dust, I shift to the racks. Where it could decay like this year.
To my surprise, the decaying lot consisted of a few classics too. But the greater shock was to find the same book twice among them. It was the reputation of the author and the book, that I purchased it twice, but never read it. There is something decaying about these classics, like their copies in my collection.
I have to muster courage to dispose them and not buy them again. But I will have to make a list first.

The royal enigma

August 16, 2013

Once, when he started his journey home the Maoist war in the countryside was at its peak. There was a curfew on the highways during the night and the buses had to stop at sunset, and wait for dawn. Buses and their passengers were routinely inspected at regular check points. Nawin watched when his bus was checked at an outpost after Narayangarh. Soldiers walked onto the bus, weapons ready. With the barrel of an automatic weapon, his finger ready on the trigger, a soldier pointed to a piece of luggage and asked to whom it belonged. An absence of an immediate claim to it by someone would make it suspect, along with the owner of it. Thankfully, someone claimed the bag. The soldier did not bother to look into it. Of the two bags someone else claimed, the soldier asked him to open the other instead of the one the passenger was opening for checking.
The bus had to stop often, at times for another kind of checking. Passengers were asked to carry their luggage to a counter nearly half a kilometer away. Troops observed them while walking, looking for anyone with an injury. Injured Maoists were routinely arrested by the Army at check points. They were usually on the way to India, to receive medical help.
The soldiers also interrogated people they suspected, while checking the luggage. The suspects were often young men wearing cheap jeans, who looked shabby in their thick uncut hairs and Mongoloid face. Some of them had their handkerchiefs tied on their forehead.
On reaching Butwal at ten pm, the journey was stopped until four the following morning, due to the curfew on the highway. Thankfully, there was a hotel next the patrol pump where the bus was parked, and Nawin was able to hire a room and rest.
There was an Israeli tourist on the bus who smoked hashish whenever the bus stopped. He had already found a few friends among the passengers to share the smoke with him. He showed them a picture of a girl, saying that it was his girlfriend, who was waiting for him in Kallu in India. His hashish-smoking friends declined to believe him. One of them said that she looked like a Nepali. To it he laughed heartily and complained that the hashish in Nepal was of poor quality compared to that found in Shimla or Kallu, in India.
He said his friends came to India mostly to smoke drugs. He came to Nepal to celebrate a festival, during which all the Jews in the area are expected to assemble in Kathamandu. He showed Nawin a book in Hebrew he was reading. He read it for Nawin, moving his finger from right to left. It was just like Urdu, to Nawin’s amazement. That group smoked Hashish all night and talked, disturbing the other people who were trying to sleep in the hotel.
That evening the radio brought the news that a bomb blast by Maoists had injured three dozen people, near the post-office at Sundhara in Kathmandu. A young Tibetan refugee was among the passengers on the bus. He was in his early-twenties perhaps, as his boyish-face betrayed, though he was overweight to look middle-aged. He was born in India, and had never been to Tibet, he told Nawin. He spoke fluently in Hindi and English and managed a few sentences in Nepali too. He was gregarious and cracked jokes popular in India.
But he was confused about what male and female genitals were called in Hindi, which made the people laugh even more at his jokes. He had attracted a different group of young fellow-passengers, who had their own jokes to tell him. In spite of his funny manner, he was anxious. Perhaps that was what made him talk continuously. He told the people that, when he came to Nepal last time, the bus was so packed with the people returning for Dipawali that in the bus ahead of his, at Chisapani check post, a few of the returning Nepalese migrant-laborers from India were found tied by ropes to the luggage, on the roof of the bus.
The army men made sure, before they let the bus pass, that those people were tied by their own will, by the staff of the bus. They were tied because of the fear of falling, should they fall asleep on a cold night of an autumn. The Tibetan added that they still needed to walk for two days to reach home, from the bus-stop they would be dropped at, high in the hills, towards to border with China. He was amazed that some Nepalese people were still as bad off.
The Tibetan had many stories to tell.
One story was about a dance-bar at Thamel in Kathmandu, where he went to have some drinks with a friend one evening. Like a scene in a Bollywood movie, dancers performed on a brightly lit stage to the latest hit Hindi or Nepali songs. The dancers performed on a pole or under a shower and often sprinkled water on customers, who were sitting and drinking in dark, by whipping their wet hair around.
They undressed themselves down to two pieces during the dance, often appear like removing the last two pieces too, before acting as if they restrained themselves. It was due to recent strict application of the law by police, the Tibetan informed. The manager of the restaurant had told him, that, earlier, nude performances were staged. After a performance a dancer, still in two pieces, was mostly found sitting on the lap of a European tourist or a migrant Nepalese worker returning home from Dubai or Hong Kong, who would take her later to the room upstairs.
It was here that the HIV or STDs were transferred, to spread in the villages in the remote hills, Nawin guessed. As many NGOs in Kathmandu made the workers in those restaurants in Thamel their main audience to raise awareness about these diseases. Also, at times, a returning Nepalese migrant labourer from abroad or a tourist was murdered and his belongings were taken away, by a prostitute of a Thamel restaurant, who took him to a room where the criminals were waiting. So, a restaurant in Thamel was a seedy place where the business was shadowy, to go alone to, the Tibetan warned.
One of the dancers came to sit with them, the Tibetan further told, and asked them to order a glass of wine for her. She informed him that she too was a Tibetan, and had very recently joined the bar. When she found that they would not take her out, or upstairs, she frantically drank the wine-glasses she asked them to order for her. She probably got a commission on everything she made a customer order. Food or drinks were very expensive. She gave them her mobile number before she left. He next saw her when he went to one of the common bathrooms. She was vomiting into one of the sinks.
Among the crowd in the bar was an Indian. He showered the dancers with brand new ten-rupee Indian bank notes, seldom accepted for transaction in Nepal. He left his chair often to go the stage to shower the notes. He held the bundle of notes in his one hand and with fingers of other hand he dropped them above the head of a dancer. Then returned to his seat. He produced a new bundle from his bag when he exhausted the one in hand. The man sat with two friends. They were speaking in Hindi loudly among them and drinking beer recklessly.
Once he found a dancer sitting on his chair when he returned from the bathroom, talking to his friends. She had her back to him. He caught her elbow and pulled her so forcefully that she fell on the floor. She looked shocked as she stood slowly and went to the dark behind the stage.
New dancers emerged one after another, in the trendy dresses which they slowly removed. Some of the dancers were too young, the Tibetan said he also observed.
At around mid-night the bar closed and the manager requested the customers leave, as it was illegal to remain open. The customers left reluctantly, crowding the narrow stairs down to the main road of Thamel. The Indian and his friends entered in a Tata Sumo vehicle, with a driver waiting for them, the Tibetan saw, while he and his friend were looking for a taxi.
It was around two in the morning. People on the bus who had not hired a room to rest at the hotel, including the Tibetan, became restless and started to make a lot of noise. They wanted the driver to resume the journey. He was sleeping the hotel. Finding no response from any of the bus-staff or the fellow-passengers in the hotel, they started to sing popular folk songs, while beating the seats in the bus. Soon they fell silent. The bus resumed the journey at five a.m. only.
There was more checking by the Army and the armed police. At one place a crowd had gathered. They were looking at a body covered by a sheet, near the shed serving as a waiting place for the passengers. The corpse was a policeman returning on leave to his village. The Maoists heard about him. They came and stabbed him to death, after torturing him to collect the information about the enemy.
Nobody touched his body, for the fear of the Maoists. It was expected that security officials would come, to provide the protection to cremate the body of that hapless man. By then, families of men serving in the security forces were being threatened by the local Maoists, to ask them to resign. Many ran away to India, from their duty, while some joined the Maoists .
A little farther along the journey they again stopped. The road was blocked this time. Maoists had cut a few trees and dragged them to the road with their branches intact from the thick jungle covering both sides of the highway. Sunlight had started to illuminate the green hills in the north a little distance away. It was a beautiful autumn morning. People expected to celebrate the festivals and holidays in the days ahead, though traveling around was not easy. The night buses and other vehicles were approaching, making the waiting crowd of held-up passenger bigger by every fresh arrival.
Getting out of their vehicles, some passengers made a crowd a little distance away from the blockage. Nobody went near the trees blocking the road, fearing the explosives which may go off. A helicopter appeared after a few hours, from the opposite side, from behind the forests. The base-station of armed-police was not far. It hovered for a while and then returned. The passengers began gossiping for what would happen next. Some of them exchanged their experiences when they were held-up on their way like this, in different areas of the country.
The Maoist war was about a decade old. It seemed to have touched the life of almost every one traveling, in the roads covered by forests and the hills not too far away. In a recent incident, the younger brother of a friend of Nawin was killed. He was traveling from Biratnagar to Rajbiraj in the east of the country. Working for a pharmaceutical company, he had to call upon the doctors. His bus was caught in a cross-fire in the early morning on the highway. A single bullet pierced his lung on the right side. He died before help arrived. He was just twenty-two, and was not married yet.
Nawin went with his friend to the office of Home Ministry at Singhdurbar, a few months later. It was to receive the compensation of one lac rupees, his friend got. It was mentioned in the papers his friend signed that his brother was killed by a bullet from the Maoist side. Mentioning that it was a bullet from the security forces might not only had entailed more inquiries but also a bigger compensation from the government.
Passengers began discussing the huge casualties the Maoists were receiving recently. The Army, under the leadership of the new King, was on an offensive. Many Maoist ambushes of outposts ended in disaster. The rebels ran away carrying their wounded or dead comrades. Later, security forces discovered hastily dug common graves, each with nearly a dozen bodies piled one upon another. The stories with pictures were spilled by newspapers in Kathmandu. It seemed if the tide was slowly turning, and the Maoists were on the run finally.
There were rumors that fighters seriously wounded but not dead were also buried, as the retreating guerillas were not able to carry them. Injured rebels could leak the intelligence, if found alive. Yet in some places the Maoists were winning, killing all the security personnel at an outpost, who had surrendered, and taking away their weapons.
The Maoists now had several M16 rifles, shown in the newspapers. They had AK 47 rifles too, which were not used by any of the security forces in Nepal. They were getting weapons from other sources too, from outside the country.
The taking over of power by the king had made the war more open. Day-to-day politics, which was creating confusion among the security forces, on how to deal with the situation, which was claiming more lives of their ranks, was there no more, after the king took over. This situation strangely drifted the democratic political parties towards the Maoists, and against the king.
An hour after the helicopter left, a truck full of Army men arrived. After making sure that there were no hidden explosives, they carefully removed the trees from the road. The buses moved ahead, and stopped an hour’s drive later. The passengers disembarked. Some of them started brushing their teeth, before they had the breakfast at the eating places under the roof of dried grass, over walls of mud and wood.
Nawin felt skeptical about the people, who were getting on with their daily activities so normally, after a night-journey full of so many uncertainties and unpleasant surprises (apart from being a sleepless one). They gobbled up boiled eggs, beans and sel rotis.
The Israeli tourist had a little juice and was smoking again his hashish cigarettes. Nawin had his black tea. The tourist told Nawin that he had recently completed his mandatory military service and was on holiday. He was bitter when he talked about his experience in the Army. He was just a few years past twenty, and was tall and slim. A brown beard covered his handsome face, under the thick hair on his head. He wished that the war in Nepal would end soon.
As soon as they reached the next base of the Army, a few hours’ drive further, half of the passengers left the bus. They were Army men returning to the duty from holidays. Nawin was surprised that no one doubted their identity, including the security people checking the bus so often. Traveling with so many security personnel in a vehicle was full of risk for the civilians, as Maoists had recently blown-up one such bus in Chitwan. About two dozen civilians were killed, apart from a few of the security personnel in the bus. Maoists had warned the civilians to avoid traveling with security people in public transport vehicles. But civilian vehicles were the safest transport for the security people, as Maoists had blown off many of their vehicles on different highways, at times killing a high ranking official also.
By afternoon they approached the border with India. The Israeli tourist was the only other person from his bus, going to India. Nawin heard the tourist complain that the officials at immigration desk would pester him for Baksis or tips, both in India and Nepal, though he had a valid visa. Nawin deliberately allowed him to go a little ahead.
He was worried that the tourist still had drugs on him. He did not want to be seen as his friend or a companion. If the drugs were discovered by officials of either India or Nepal, he too could land in serious trouble. While the tourist was undergoing the formalities at the immigration office, with his back to him, Nawin hastily crossed the border.
That evening he rested at a comfortable hotel, at Tanakpur, just near the railway station, finally enjoying a shower and the delicious food it served.

Talking writers

August 13, 2013

The pity is, writers also have to explain. Talk what they have written.
It can not be any worse.
And now they are performing too.
And people are applauding.

The great Gatsby

August 4, 2013

Trying to read ‘The great Gatsby’, after selecting it as paperback amongst several versions of its movies, I thought so, if the word great was fitting in the title. It was difficult to find the book. And I felt if it was written for a movie by a man who wrote advertising slogans in the beginning of his career. Every scene appears fast like a movie and dialogue are very dramatic. The prosperity of America almost ugly then. Uglier were the Britons trying to have a share of it. Very little passing hints at the WWI the writer had recently fought. Or did he? But you are trapped by your situation and are bound to write about it.
The brisk few lines about a Jew, who finds Mr. Gatsby gentleman enough to introduce to his mother and sister, succinctly describe the matters. As did the presence of flat-footed or short-sighted young men, who could not join the army during war, only around, for the girls; and the husband of Nick’s cousin, who is threatened that other races are overwhelming the superior, white race, and the need to reverse this trend. The America between the two wars sounds a strange place indeed, from this book.
Before long one starts to think about the driver, who was dismissed for an hour or so by Daisy, on finding his cousin Nick, the narrator of the story, waiting for her for the tea, to which she was invited. Mr. Gatsby pretends to drops in and stays long, to meet his lover of earlier times. Nick leaves them alone for half an hour, while he comes out of his apartment and has a long look at the house of Mr. Gatsby nextdoor.
Then they go to that house, which is as big and glamorous as a palace. Mr. Gatsby brings to tears Daisy, throwing in front of her and Nick his shirts in various colors, imported from England, making a heap. It was her confession of the revived love. And then they wake a sleeping artist to play the piano for them, while it rained with thunder and Mr. Gatsby dropped the curtains of his house to light it as in night. Probably the driver will return, though Nick has left to leave the old lovers alone, listening to the embarrassed artist. The circumstance and scenes pass as if in a daze. Things look nebulous. One could forget the driver, alternately, or that he was away longer than he was sent for, in a free country.
The language is as glamorous as the people and life it describes. But it is nearly impossible to read more than a few pages at a time, as the prosperity of oil described is greasy and sticks the pages of this book. This author is made of a different sensibility, than, (?), say Hammingway, and never wears his Amaricanhood on his sleeves, to scrutinize it only. But does he?

Before long the short novella deteriorated into a love triangle, with the two men trying to win the love of Daisy. It was an unpleasant surprise of a celebrated book. The saving grace was the wisdom of Nick, who had earlier discovered the wickedness in the character of his cousin Daisy, who manipulates the men around her by falling for the richer. But her husband Tom is creating a scene, by claiming to have loved her only, and not his mistress. In spite of the temptation of going for the far more richer man, Mr. Gatsby, his earlier but poorer lover, who had earned his riches through shadowy bushiness after the war, as Tom has discovered, she is unsure of herself, as usual.

On his thirtieth birthday it occurs to Nick: ‘So we drove on towards death through the cooling twilight.’ There are none of the tragedies described belong to him, apart from the fact that he is poorer than his friends and relations and by choice not in a serious relationship. He is a clever man who is able to see through the people and their emotions with clarity, at times avoiding alcohols while everyone else is drinking, to do so. But to express such a despondent emotion on his birthday privately, there is no motive described in the story. So it neither shocks or wins sympathy of a reader.

A successful book becomes a trend which dogs the literary culture for decades later.