Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Bloodstone Papers: A Review

I know several people for whom a novel is just a story -- something to be distilled to its barest essentials and then ingested summarily. To me, though, a novel is much more than the sum of all its parts -- the plot, the characters, the language, the ambience. A novel is something that you need to savor at leisure, rolling the words around in your tongue until you get all the last nuances of the prose, while still enjoying the storyline and empathizing with the characters.

Glen Duncan's The Bloodstone Papers offers all of the above. 
The novel is written in the first person and we hear the voice of the protagonist, a lecturer moonlighting as a porn novel writer and a bartender, in his late thirties who makes incisive observations on everything about life, including death. The Bloodstone Papers follows the story of two main characters, Owen, an Anglo-Indian in contemporary London who struggles with his identity, his one true love and his search for a direction in life and his father whose beginnings trace back to pre-independence and newly independent India/Pakistan. The novel switches back and forth between Owen and his novel about his father as it tracks the loneliness of Owen and the bloodstone ring that his father lost to a con-artist in India. The contemporary part of the novel is the most resonating as that is where the author is in his elements. Witness his commentary on aging and the tortured relationship that some children have with this fact about their parents

I shoulder my bag and begin to walk away, carrying the guilt of every grown-up son from the beginning of time, the guilt of knowing it's my world, now, not theirs. If they'd been younger when they had me, there would have been a period - me in my twenties, say, them in their mid-forties -- when the world was ours, together.

He distinguishes the voices of the past from the voices in the present with a single entity - God. While everything the principal characters in the past do is in some way related to their intense relationship with God, everything that the principal characters in the present do is influenced by their ambivalence towards, or denial of the existence of God.

Although there is the underlying plot of finding the bloodstone ring and confronting the con-artist, the novel is much more than a whodunit. It is about the fragmented lives of the protagonist and his family and friends. It lingers on their feelings as much as it lingers on their actions. Identity is a big issue across the generations in The Bloodstone Papers. Ross Monroe in India is often cautioned by Anglo-Indians as well as some Englishmen that once the English up and leave, they (Anglo-Indians) will be in grave danger. Owen in contemporary London denies ever wanting to be tagged as an Anglo-Indian
 I don't know what it means to be Anglo-Indian. I don't care what it means to be an Anglo-Indian.
He insists. But he does care. He cares that they are too small a race to matter. He cares that no one will believe them. He cares enough to mention it as part of his personal ad in the Guardian.

Of all the identities that Owen Monroe takes on, his role as a porn writer seems to have the most influence on the entire narrative. For this reason, the book may not be for everyone. However, there is something about his prose that makes even the more hard-to-take parts of the novel less repulsive.

If there is anything that strikes a discordant note in the work it is that Glen Duncan's pre-independence India simply does not ring true. It is rife with western generalizations about India, and anachronistically, it is rife with contemporary western generalizations about India. This is a bit of a let down, especially when you consider the level of understanding of, and empathy for, the human condition that you get to see throughout the book. That said, it does not detract significantly from the experience that is this book. India after all is not easy, even sometimes for Indians.

The Bloodstone Papers is definitely something I would recommend -- for the prose, for its compassion towards people who are not exactly society's idea of success and for, strangely, its sadness! However, this is probably not a book for the easily offended.

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I must be addicted!

There is no other way to explain this! Just after signing up for a book challenge, I signed up again for a book challenge. The themes are practically the same, although there is a difference in the details. So, this is my second South Asia book challenge, this time hosted by S. Krishna's books. I think I will be signing up at the Explorer level. Who knows, may be miraculously I will even surprise myself and read more than five!

The list remains practically the same as in the other challenge that I accepted for this year:

1. The Bloodstone Papers, Glen Duncan
2. Sister of my heart, Chitra Bannerji Divakaruni
3. Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, Kiran Desai
4. White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
5. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri

I expect to post reviews of the books as I read them.

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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Body Shoveling

I have decided that I am a genius. You can't possibly invent something so elementary yet so useful, if you weren't one. So, I give myself the genius award of the day. What did I invent? The brand new, eco-friendly, almost-nirvanic, body-shoveling method. This soon-to-be-patented method is especially useful when you have to dig yourself (actually your car) out of some God-awful gobs of snow. Like feet of snow. Like when there is already snow on either side of your car from the previous snow storm and before you are 15% into your shoveling for the day, the snow on either side of the car has piled up to shoulder height. Or worse.

So, what do you do in this case? Hoist the wet, white stuff over your shoulder by the shovel-fulls? If you answered yes, you are either Arnie (the ex-governor of California) or an Arnie wannabe, or a newbie at shoveling, or just plain insane! If you are none of the above, then this method is for you.
All you need for this to work, is some old waterproof winter gear (it's going to get messy, don't say I didn't warn you!), some waterproof winter boots and a shovel (it is still called shoveling). Oh! And of course, your body, the heavier the better.

So when you hit an impasse with the shoveling, when there is no more space to dump the white stuff, when you have already exhausted yourself carrying shovel loads of heavy snow along the road looking for a suitable place to dump it, then this what you do.

You go back to the snow bank on either side of you car. Stand facing perpendicular to the direction of the drive you are shoveling and tip over! Yes, topple. Ramrod straight, on your back, on to the snow. If you've done it properly you should either resemble a really leaning tower of Pisa, or you should be sitting on your snow-armchair. If you are sitting, then go get yourself something to drink and get back to sitting on your snow-chair. Wave happily to your neighbors as they labor through the powdery stuff. Once you have finished your drink, or if you have no drink, when you are really bored of sitting on your wonderful armchair, wiggle your bottom. If you like, you can even roll from side to side on the snow. Then get up. Voila! You have now reduced the height of your snow pile, got yourself some well earned rest, communed with nature and actually compacted some snow. All you have to do now, is to shovel the rest of the stuff on to the newly created crater (well didn't I tell you its better if you were bigger?)!!

See? Simple, useful. You can do some serious shoveling like this.

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Friday, 14 January 2011

Joined a Blog Challenge!

OK. So, I have gone and done it. I have joined a blog challenge.
I have been trying really hard not succumb to another long hiatus in my blogging life and so have been combing the web for some inspiration, some impetus, some kick in the pants that will keep me going. Then I stumbled on these challenges. There are tonnes of blog challenges out there for readers and some for writers too. While most are impractical for me, like the write a novel of 50,000 words in a month challenge that I saw somewhere, Rob Crilly's South Asia Reading Challenge seemed doable. Sort of. May be. I am going to try anyway. The basic idea is to read and review 6 books that have something to do with South Asia.

So far, my list looks like this:

1. Sister of my heart, Chitra Bannerji Divakaruni (if Barnes and Noble ever gets around to shipping it to me!)
2. The Bloodstone Papers, Glen Duncan (my review)
3. Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, Kiran Desai (steal from sister)
4. White Tiger, Aravind Adiga (same as above)
5. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (found that I possessed a copy!)
6. The Palace of Illusions, Chitra Bannerji Divakaruni (my review).

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Sunday, 9 January 2011

Dancing with Diva

Diva was having some mysterious issues. She would get up from a deep nap and you'd discover a mysterious puddle of liquid where she had been. After a couple of such incidents from a very fastidious, cleanliness conscious dog, I decided that something was definitely amiss and called her vet. The vet broke it to me as gently as she could, "As dogs get older, they sometime tend to have bladder control issues. This is easily fixed with..."
"But", I interrupted quickly, "when she was five, they thought the same thing and it just turned out to be an infection".
An infinitesimal pause later, "Sure, we can definitely check for infections. All you have to do is drop-off a sample", said Vet.
"Great!" said I, feeling all positive. As soon as I hung up, I realized that dropping off of a sample, involved, as a first step, the acquisition of such sample. This, to put it mildly, is easier said than done. Consider for instance, the structure and behavior of a dog. Even medium sized dogs, which mine are, are only about as tall as your knees when they are on all fours. And they squat. Unlike cats, they do not dig. So, you have such a small window between the preparation for the deed and the deed itself, that if you snooze, well, you lose. Add to that all the fur and long hair and you really are working blindfolded!

Friday, 7 January 2011

The Wait -- A very, very short story

The story of the post: This is a story I wrote when I was in 12th grade. It was when terrorism in Punjab was headlining most news papers. Six years later, I submitted this story to a competition where it won the first place! Although the context is old, unfortunately, it is still relevant. (BTW, I do not think 35 is middle aged any more! :)

The Wait

She was sitting there, in front of the idiot box, all senses fine-tuned, her eyes sunken with worry and anxiety writ deep on her face. She looked middle aged, 35 one might say. Far from it. She must have been at least ten years younger. Endless worries had blotted out the melted gold of the sunshine forever from her sight.
Ramya was her name and it suited her well, until some one year back when her brother was transferred to Punjab.

The Palace of Illusions: A Review

So after what seemed like ages, I read a book that had nothing to do with work. It was Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (CBD)'s Palace of Illusions. Given that I had grown up on a steady diet of stories, especially from The Mahabharata and related works, this was indeed something to look forward to. What piqued my interest further was that it was a retelling of the Mahabharata from Draupadi's viewpoint. For someone who gave themselves a pen name (Agnija ) derived from Draupadi's birth story, I really couldn't wait to get my hands on it.

The Palace of Illusions unfolds from the birth of Draupadi, who, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni avers, would have preferred to be called Panchali (thank you very much!). Retelling an epic like the Mahabharata from a single person's perspective must definitely present some challenges. One of which is being able to touch all the important points in the story, that the narrator could not have witnessed. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni circumvents this problem using several plot devices. Mainly conversations between other characters.

To tag this book as a retelling of the Mahabharatha, though, would be an injustice to the novel. It is more than a mere retelling. It deals with the emotions of the people involved, especially, Panchali. Something that is lacking in works like Rajagopalachari's Mahabharata. If CBD is a painter, she is really painting the mind-scape of the characters over the familiar landscape formed by the crux of the Mahabharatha. It is also a coming of age story of Panchali as she grows out of her petulant, tempestuous childhood into a woman who has learnt to bridle her fire, albeit a little imperfectly. Imperfection -- I think that is the most charming quality of the Mahabharatha itself and that comes through very well in CBD's Palace of Illusions.

 A definite must read, as far as I am concerned.

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