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Showing posts from May, 2014

Loneliness in Diasporic Life as Depicted by Anita Desai

It is not too preposterous to claim that no single person in the so-called civilized world is a native, all are migrants. The validity of the point made can be ascertained by outlining the history of the human race since the pre-historic time, when all land was Pangea. From Pangea’s “heart of darkness” originated the human race and migrated to different parts. During the glacial phases of the “Quaternary or Pleistocene Age” (Butlin et al 1-2), the local migration within a geographically defined single landmass was transformed into cross-continental migration (Clark 1-18).

When the continental plates separated out, the local migration within a geographically defined single landmass was transformed into cross-continental migration. Aided by the tectonics of the earth, the earliest human beings became great migrants but they were not yet ‘civilized’ and hence when the first civilizations cropped up they became the first ‘civilized’ natives. Still, the civilizations of Indus valley (India)…

Muriel Spark: the author as dictator

While she was at school in Edinburgh in the Thirties, Muriel Spark met a teacher who profoundly influenced her fiction. It was not Christina Kay, the model for Spark’s most famous character, Jean Brodie, but her science teacher Sandy Buchan. As Spark recalled 50 years later in her memoir Curriculum Vitae, Buchan “impressed on us the dangers of trusting in appearances, especially when colourless, odourless and tasteless matter was concerned”. She continued: “I reflected then, and still reflect, that there could be people like that: no colour, no taste, no smell. The moral is, avoid them; they might be poison.” The young Spark, if we trust the author’s recollection, had already perfected the unruffled moral certainty that makes her prose such a pleasure. In nearly all her 22 novels, the narrative voice sounds like a witty judge summing up a case: characters are hauled up, humorously belittled and then dragged away for punishment. In Sparkworld, the novelist observes what appears innocuous…

Wilkie Collins’s page-turners

There is nothing like a good read. And Wilkie Collins was the master of the Victorian page-turner, the long, heavily plotted “sensation novel” that revealed the secrets lurking beneath the surface of seemingly placid households, each chapter irresistibly leading to the next. In the words of a contemporary critic, “Nobody leaves one of his tales unfinished.” Collins was the ultimate craftsman of the controlled ratcheting of suspense and surprise. Who can ever forget the build-up to Walter Hartwright’s first breakfast room meeting with Marian Halcombe in The Woman in White: “The easy elegance of every movement of her limbs and body as soon as she began to advance from the far end of the room, set me in a flutter of expectation to see her face clearly. She left the window—and I said to myself, The lady is dark. She moved forward a few steps—and I said to myself, The lady is young. She approached nearer—and I said to myself (with a sense of surprise which words fail me to express), The la…

Pankaj Mishra: Narendra Modi and the new face of India

In A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth writes with affection of a placid India's first general election in 1951, and the egalitarian spirit it momentarily bestowed on an electorate deeply riven by class and caste: "the great washed and unwashed public, sceptical and gullible", but all "endowed with universal adult suffrage". India's 16th general election this month, held against a background of economic jolts and titanic corruption scandals, and tainted by the nastiest campaign yet, announces a new turbulent phase for the country – arguably, the most sinister since its independence from British rule in 1947. Back then, it would have been inconceivable that a figure such as Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist chief minister of Gujarat accused, along with his closest aides, of complicity in crimes ranging from an anti-Muslim pogrom in his state in 2002 to extrajudicial killings, and barred from entering the US, may occupy India's highest political office. Modi is…

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee – Marxism and tradition in 1960s India

Neel Mukherjee's very ambitious and very successful novel is set in Calcutta and the ricefields on the edge of the jungle in the west of West Bengal. It takes place in the second half of the 1960s and centres on the large and relatively wealthy Ghosh family, whose head, Prafullanath, owns various paper mills. The eldest grandson, Supratik, has left home and joined the CPI(M) (Communist Party of India, Marxist), and is working secretly to mobilise the peasants against the landlords. Letters from him to an unnamed correspondent form one thread of narrative. The other is an intricate account of events and relationships on the various floors of the Ghosh house. There are tragedies and comedies, deaths and births, disasters and feasts. The story is marked by marriages, and the failure of Chhayha to marry because she is too dark-skinned. The cast is huge and the reader spends time, at one point or another, with most of them. It takes a while to get to know all the men, women and childre…

Amit Chaudri: The second time

At Home Abroad Jhumpa Lahiri turns her gaze to history

A Solitary Life Is Still Worth Living - Anita Brookner

AT a crucial point in ''Hotel du Lac,'' the winner of England's 1984 Booker Prize, a rich and attractive man leans toward a woman and says, ''You may feel better if you tell me about it.' '' '' 'Oh, do you think that is true?' she enquired, breathing rather hard. 'And even if it is, do you guarantee that the results will be immediately felt? Like those obscure advertisements for ointment that help you to 'obtain relief.' One is never quite sure from what.' '' It's a conversation that might have come straight from a Barbara Pym novel: the man all intensity, the woman devastatingly down-to- earth. In fact, Anita Brookner has often been compared with Pym - less because of style, one supposes, than because of her cast of players. Her central character is invariably a mild-mannered English spinster, pleasant to look at, if not very striking, and impeccably dressed. She is so correct, so self-controlled and p…

Nadeem Aslam: a life in writing

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Nadeem Aslam was years into his second novel when the 11 September attacks took place. "Many writers said the books they were writing were now worthless," he recalls. Martin Amis, for one, felt his work in progress had been reduced to a "pitiable babble". But Aslam's saddened reaction to 9/11 was one of recognition. "I thought, that's Maps for Lost Lovers – that's the book I'm writing."

The link might seem tenuous to a novel set many miles from the twin towers or Bin Laden's lair, in an almost cocooned urban community of Pakistani migrants and their offspring in the north of England, where Aslam grew up from the age of 14. The novel was almost pastoral in its tracing of the seasons, with riffs on jazz, painting and spectacular moths. Each chapter was as minutely embellished as the Persian and Mughal miniatures Aslam has in well-thumbed volumes on his coffee table. But the plot turns on a so-called honour killing, as an unforgiving brand…