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Welcome to Suprose.

Why Su-prose? "Su" in Sanskrit is a prefix for "good". This is a place where we will discuss and analyze prose (with a South Asian Connection) - that which is good, awesome, excellent, and maybe rant about prose that could be better.

Whether you love prose, are a prose expert, or want to learn more about prose, or to put it simply want to have anything to do with prose, this blog is for you.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Kaavya Viswanathan -- These are a few of her favorite things…

Like Julie Andrews sings in the Sound of Music -- I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel, so bad…. Here is a list of some of Viswanathan’s favorites which will hopefully help her recharge herself and get back to normalcy...
Favorite Books
By Indian Author: The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh / The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
By non Indian Author: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro / Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Favorite Movie
Indian: Never really seen any, but I did like Monsoon Wedding and Bend it Like Beckham (if those count).
Non-Indian: Pretty Woman!
Favorite Actor
Indian: I really don't know any Indian actors....sorry!
Non-Indian: I love George Clooney - looks *and* talent.
Favorite Actress
Indian: Again, I'm not familiar with any. I guess Aishwarya Rai is an obvious choice though.
Non-Indian: Nicole Kidman
Favorite Theater/Ballet
I love the ballets of The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. Favorite theater is definitely Guys and Dolls.
Favorite Kind of Music
Indian: I love the soundtrack for Gajani (I’m sure I’m spelling that wrong, but that's how it's pronounced I think....)
Non-Indian: Beatles, Oasis, U2, Coldplay, Keane.
Favorite Pastime
Shopping and reading in bed.
Favorite Cuisine
To Eat: French, Japanese. Indian is pretty high up there too though.
To Cook: French wins again.
Favorite Drink
Pina coladas. But plain, cold water is a huge favorite too.
Favorite Kinds of Dress
I like to be stylish - skirts and polo shirts, jeans, button down oxfords, ballerina flats and high heeled shoes.
Favorite electronic gadgets
My Treo (it's growing on me).
Favorite Restaurant
Indian: Namaskaar (it's this Indian place in a strip mall near my house, and it's stereotypical 'desi' food, and fattening and creamy, but absolutely delicious).
Non-Indian: Le Bristol (it's in Paris, and my parents took me there last summer. Crowning experience of my foodie life. Although, in NYC, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House is pretty fantastic too.)
Favorite Hangout
My bed (really). Outside if it's a nice day, wherever my friends are.
Favorite Cities/Places to visit
London and Paris
Favorites Clothes
To hang out in: Jeans and a cable knit sweater.
To be dressy in: I have a large collection of dresses. One gorgeous red Nicole Miller dress that never fails to make me feel glamorous.
Favorite Color
I really do like everything. But fuschia, and pale blue stand out.
Favorite Pets
Dog (I would love a little yorkshire terrier or a collie).
Favorite Mode of Transportation
Driving - it's what I miss most when I'm at college.
Favorite Car
Aston-Martin convertibles (maybe one day I can afford one). My car, which is a vintage '72 Mercedes SL350.
Favorite Part of the Day
Late afternoons.
Favorite Person(s)
My parents, my family.

The Mood at Harvard Post- Kaavya Viswanathan

Harvard University’s administrative board is looking into taking disciplinary action against Viswanathan. Opinions are distinctly divided, while one camp is for disciplinary action against her the other believes that this is not an academic issue; it is more of a personal issue. Is it the role of an academic institution to bestow not just education but also morals and ethics in its students, is an issue that is rising out of this controversy.
The Harvard Crimson in it’s staff editorial says that, “The Administrative Board does have—and should have—broad authority in cases such as the present one. As the Faculty of Arts and Sciences states in the Student Guide to the Administrative Board, “by accepting membership in the University, an individual joins a community ideally characterized by free expression, free inquiry, intellectual honesty, respect for the dignity of others, and openness to constructive change.” Membership in that community extends beyond the end of class each day and beyond the gates of the Yard.”
They also believe that, “The opportunity to attend a private university such as Harvard is a privilege rather than a right, and that privilege may be reasonably reconsidered in light of a student’s actions. The Ad Board explicitly recognizes “resolution of...breaches of community standards” as one of its primary functions.”
A dissent published in the same publication by two student editors Ramya Parthasarathy and Emma Lind takes a different stance, “To send Viswanathan to the Administrative Board is to send the wrong message to both the Harvard community and the community at large—namely, that Harvard’s name subsumes all other identities we might have before, during, and after our tenure here.” They firmly believe that, “The writing and publication of “Opal Mehta” lie entirely beyond the purview of Viswanathan’s academic work and therefore beyond the purview of the Ad Board. That she drafted the manuscript in a Lamont carrel is wholly irrelevant.”
Though reactions around campus ranged from disbelief to schadenfreude, students at the Harvard campus were not really discussing this in public. Nevertheless this has been a topic of conversation at the Harvard Crimson. Outsiders have also participated in dialogs and commented. An Indian journalist from Ahmedabad, India, is reported to have e-mailed the Crimson saying that this was the outcome of an Indian educational system where the emphasis is on memorization and learning by rote and an Indian students way of learning. The reaction from the Indian American students at Harvard University was immediate and they responded by saying that this was an Indian American student, not an Indian student.
Rabia Cheema, a Pakistani student at Harvard University who has not read Viswanathan’s book says, “ The campus is divided I would say amongst people who are confused about the entire incident [i.e. they don't want to believe that she plagiarized, but the evidence seems terribly solid] and those who have condemned her outright.” A biology major who expects to graduate 2008 she says, “I find it hard to believe that an intelligent girl like Kaavya would deliberately and knowingly plagiarize the work of others. Why would she go to the trouble of plagiarizing four different books? I find that the sentence structure and paragraph formulation that was duplicated in Kaavya's work is a staple of the chick-lit genre, and while some similarities are a lot more obvious than others, sometimes the so-called plagiarism is a bit hard to swallow.”
Cheema believes that a large part of the publicity of the Kaavya incident involved the fact that she was a Harvard sophomore, “I don't believe it will significantly impact upcoming writers at Harvard.” She also believes the media went a little bit too far, “Some of the similarities they that they 'caught' were frankly stretching it, and others were just ridiculous. I wonder how many similarities we would find if we perused the works of popular chick-lit today, not because they were plagiarized, but because certain plot lines, ideas and ways of writing have become native to that genre,” says Cheema who firmly believes whether Kaavya chooses to write again is completely her decision, and no one else, and although she might have a significantly harder time getting published, if she can, then she should be allowed to be published.
Paras Bhayani is a Harvard student works at the Harvard Crimson. One of the authors of the very first story that outed Viswanathan’s alleged discretions, he says, “The opinion here is that the whole situation with Kaavya is, quite simply, disappointing. None of us takes pleasure in seeing a peer fall. Everyone seems to have their theories: some argue that it was written by the book packager, many that she just internalized passages from other works, and others that she personally and deliberately copied. I think there are problems with jumping to any of these conclusions, but I could not propose a better one. The fact is that there were strikingly similar passages between her work and the works of others, and unless we can read her mind, none of us will ever know for sure what happened.”
Bhayani feels that were it not for the plagiarism allegations, Kaavya may have been the start of a new trend -- of publishing companies taking risks on younger writers. But because of these allegations, they will probably be more hesitant in the future, “I want to reiterate that it is not as though Harvard students were landing book deals left and right and that Kaavya's plagiarism is going to put an end to that. She was the first one with a book deal of this size, and because of the plagiarism, she may be the last one too, at least for some time to come.”
Bhayani says, “Kaavya received a tremendous amount of press for her book when it was published. It is naive to think that once the plagiarism allegations came out that the media would not cover them in great depth. But if a work is hyped and printed by a major publisher (Little Brown, Time Warner), it is unfair to attack the media for effectively performing it's oversight duty.”
“As for punishing Kaavya, it is important to keep in mind that her book deal is gone, her movie deal is gone, her book has been recalled, and Harvard is "gathering information" about the allegations and deciding whether or not it will look into possible disciplinary action,” articulates Bhayani.
Nehal Raj who will be graduating from Harvard Business School in Spring 2006 feels that it is unfortunate that Viswanathan’s editor or publisher did not catch her plagiarism before publication. “The fact that the author is a student at Harvard probably has a lot to do with the media attention—it makes for a more compelling headline.” He supposes that in the future, “Young adult writers will be especially careful to avoid plagiarizing the works of others, as the level of scrutiny will probably increase after this incident.” He firmly believes that, Viswanathan should be able to publish another book, “as long as the editor/publisher ensures that her book is her own work. Everyone deserves a second chance. Plus, the free publicity that she received from this incident might actually help to increase sales of any future books.”
Nikhil Raj, also a student at the Harvard Business School, finds it hard to buy Kaavya’s “internalization” argument on what happened, “There are way too many similarities between what she has written in Opal and what has been found in other literature. It is possible for an aspiring writer to be influenced by one or more established writers. I believe every writer has their own individual style no matter what their influences are, and that style develops over time as the person assimilates the different influences and comes up with their own.”
He believes that a truly mature writer will recognize when they have developed their unique style before they decide to unleash their work upon the world, “It is a tough profession for the author – both internally in the genesis of original ideas as well as externally in competing against other authors vying for the attention of the same, small audience.”
“I would hesitate to speculate on what really happened. My view is that the decision to publish Opal was immature on the part of Viswanathan as well as her publisher,” he says. Raj reckons that the issue highlights the lack of checks and balances in the highly competitive and struggling publishing industry, which is trying to find success, “Viswanathan must have known about the similarities between her work and the work of her influences (seems like there were many). Over time, she would have figured out what her own writing style was and would have been fundamentally prepared to deal with becoming a writer. I think she ventured out to become successful even before she became a writer.”
Raj is of the opinion that Viswanathan knew what was going on but he also believes it was a mistake from a young and immature kid, “The implications were not clear to her. She has special talent – not many kids have the energy, enthusiasm or opportunity to proceed as far as she did in getting her work out and published. She should be allowed to harness some of this talent and hopefully entertain all of us again in the future.”

The Birth And Demise of Opal Mehta

Whenever you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

On April 22nd 2004 the New York Sun reported – “The agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh of the William Morris Agency, told the Franklin Hills, N.J.-born Ms. Viswanathan that Little Brown & Company, one of the oldest and most prestigious American publishers - now part of the Time Warner Group - agreed to a two-book deal with the teenager.” Kaavya Viswanathan, who was just 17 years old at the time, could not believe the news, she was ecstatic. To add to the contract was the amount she was reportedly getting paid - $500,000 for a two-book contract.
While taking a full course load at Harvard, Viswanathan finished writing "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed Got Wild and Got a Life" during her freshman year. Her manuscript was written at the Lamont Library in Harvard. She was under intense pressure to churn out at least 50 pages a day and eventually “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life” was completed.
Why did she pick the name Opal? Viswanathan laughs and says that she was always amused with her mother’s friends name Ruby. So she picked another semi precious stone’s name for her protagonist.
Even though onlookers see many similarities between Opal and Viswanathan, she has consistently denied any similarities between her and her protagonist. She has disagreed that “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life” is even semi autobiographical in nature.
What does she like best about her book? “I like Opal, I like her because she is so neurotic, out-there and so crazy. But you cannot help feeling bad for her. What she does is with the best of intentions and always manages to mess it up, I think that is true of a lot of people.”
Dreamworks optioned the movie rights to Viswanathan’s book, “I would really like a cameo in the movie,” she said smiling. She hoped to be able to look at the screenplay and make sure it conformed to her book and the original story and plot.
Plagiarism Scandal Emerges
Almost exactly a year after she had signed the contract with Little Brown, calamity struck. On Saturday April 22nd, David Zhou and Paras Bhayani were at work at the Harvard Crimson, performing their routine tasks when their editor passed on to them an anonymous tip that the Harvard Crimson, a student run daily, had received. This tip was about a Harvard student and a teenage writer whose book carried several passages that were similar to those in another young adult author, Megan McCafferty’s works “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings”. David Zhou, with Paras Bhayani’s help set about discovering the similarities in the two writers works and published a story the same evening elaborating the similarities and alleged plagiarism.
The next morning the national and international media had seen this story and started reporting on this as well. By Sunday this was a national scandal. The life of a 19-year-old teenager had gone from being a celebrity to a plagiarist. “A Harvard student had been found in a compromising position, and less than 24 hours later, a frisson of sadistic glee was creeping up the Internet's electronic backbone,” said the Harvard Independent.
Over the next few days plagiarism accusations kept increasing. First it was 14 similarities to McCafferty’s novels, then it was 29, and then it was 40. Allegations were aplenty. Almost to the point where the media had started scratching the bottom of the pot to produce more juicy news Similarities were found between Viswanathan’s book and Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories and, Tanuja Desai Hidier’s Born Confused and Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries. The New York Times also reported similarities between Viswanathan’s book and Sophie Kinsella’s “Can You Keep a Secret?”
Initially Viswanathan denied allegations and tried to stay away from it all. Eventually she apologized in her interview to Katie Couric on the Today show, her first after the plagiarism allegations - “When I was writing, I genuinely believed each word was my own, The last thing that I ever wanted to do was cause any distress to Megan McCafferty. ... I’ve been unable to contact her and all I want to do is tell her how profoundly sorry I am for this entire situation When I sat down to write my novel, my only intention was to tell the story of Opal. I was so surprised and horrified when I found these similarities, when I heard about them over this weekend. I just hope she believes I would never, ever intentionally lift her words. The last thing I ever wanted to do was upset her.”
In her interview with Katie Couric, Viswanathan said that she will be rewriting her book and get rid of any similarities. She also said that would include Megan McCafferty’s name in her acknowledgement. Megan McCafferty and her publishers were not impressed with Viswanathan’s apology. Variety reported that, “Thursday, lawyers from Little, Brown and Crown parent company Random House were working to negotiate a solution that would head off a lawsuit.” Soon after Little, Brown decided to pull the book off the shelves.
Variety in an article titled “D'Works kisses off 'Opal' - Scandal dulls 'Wild' novel” reported, “For DreamWorks, the scandal arrived just after the studio received a first draft of a screenplay by Kara Holden.” Dreamworks eventually pulled the plug on the project as well.
This was the end of Opal Mehta.

By Visi Tilak

Kaavya Viswanathan -- Who is she?

I was waiting at the Burdicks Coffee Shop in Cambridge, MA and right on time at 10am a vivacious good-looking young Indian American woman, dusky complexion, high cheek bones, petite slim built, in a short pink pleated skirt and a striped Ralph Lauren shirt came walking up the street talking to herself very intensely. We introduced ourselves and ordered mint teas. She saw some of the questions I had planned to ask her, sighed and told me how delighted she was that I did not have too many questions about her book.
My interview with Kaavya Viswanathan, which was done just a few days before the plagiarism accusations surfaced, was more about her as a person and her desires and ambitions. She had been talking about her book a lot she told me, having been interviewed by numerous publications and media companies. She was excited to talk about herself and told me about her life, what she wanted to achieve and her goals.
Kaavya Viswanathan was born in Chennai, India to parents Viswanathan Rajaraman a neurosurgeon and Mary Sundaram, a gynecologist who gave up her career to bring up her daughter. Her mother wanted her name to be different from the other Kavya’s of the world and spelt her name with an extra “a”. Kaavya Viswanathan moved to Scotland with her parents when she was 3. She has very warm memories of Scotland where she went to elementary school; she is so very fond of England that one of her dreams is to win the Booker Prize. Her parents eventually moved to New Jersey when she was 11.
Transition to the American way of life was a little bit difficult, since she was already in Middle School. The going only got easier for Viswanathan, because her parents were extremely liberal, socially and culturally. Academically her parents expected the best out of her, like many Indian parents, and wanted nothing less than an “A”. Once they realized that she was as committed to getting A’s in school they did not push her and encouraged her to go get a life, somewhat like Opal.
Viswanathan describes herself as laid-back, ambitious, and very motivated. She likes to have her share of fun but is good at prioritizing her tasks, and its no wonder she is able to juggle as many things as she has been doing. “I think I am a nice person,” she said smiling and added, “I am a very normal person, I am nothing special.” During her free time, what little she has of it, she likes to go to the movies, read, shop and cook gourmet cuisine.
“My parents are my role-models obviously,” says Viswanathan who grew up with an agnostic Hindu father and a religious protestant mother. When she visits home, Viswanathan goes to church sometimes with her mother. An only child she is very close to her family and has had Indian values instilled in her from a very young age. She believes that this and her focus on education have helped her through some arduous times. Her high school journalism teacher and Katherine Cohen her counselor from Ivywise are some other role models.
Viswanathan has dated around and had a boyfriend while at Harvard but she decided to break-up with him because it was getting too intense. She believes that her education and academia are of primary importance to her. In fact, she condones the decisions of some of her high school friends who made choices on their college based upon their boyfriends and relationships. Talking about intimate relationships she says laughingly, “One thing that my mother always told me was that nobody will buy the cow if they can get the milk for free.”
Writing has always been a part of Viswanathan, “I did not wake up one fine day and say, I have to write, writing is a part of me,” she says. “It’s been so much a part of my life that I did not even notice when I actually started writing,” she adds. Even as a little child she would write stories and her father would help her to send the stories out to various children’s magazines. “I cannot tell you how many rejection letters I got, but I really appreciate all that my father did for me,” says Viswanathan.
Like Opal, the protagonist in her novel Kaavya applied early action to Harvard and unlike Opal she was accepted. Not surprising since Kaavya had always been a star student. In fact she was accepted to Bergen County Academy for the Advancement of Science and Technology, a public magnet school in Hackensack, New Jersey, a high school for gifted students. Viswanathan was editor-in-chief of her school newspaper and took advance placement tests. "I was surrounded by the stereotype of high-pressure Asian and Indian families trying to get their children into Ivy League schools," she said in an interview with the New York Times.
Viswanathan’s parents had hired Katherine Cohen, founder of IvyWise, a private counseling service to help her through the college application process. Cohen who is the author of "Rock Hard Apps: How to Write the Killer College Application," read Viswanathan’s work and recommended her to the William Morris Agency.
An English concentrator at Harvard, British pre-war and post-war fiction, works by Kazuo Ishiguro and Evelyn Waugh are some of her favorite. She also enjoys reading Jane Austen and Henry James. She is a member of Women in Business, Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and other social clubs. “I’m going to be writing whatever my job is, so I might as well get a real job says Viswanathan who wants to become an Investment Banker. “Eventually I would like to do something more entrepreneurial like start my own company,” she adds.
Where does she hope to be 10 years down the road – “Successful, Alive!” she says. “Professional success is very important to me at the moment.” A firm believer in equality she says, “I want to have a family, if I am making more money then I don’t see any reason why my husband should not be the stay at home father.” Viswanathan who sees herself living in New York City and intends to be financially independent says, “I am humorous, fun to be around, and I make sure I achieve my goal, these are some of my best qualities.” What does she like least about herself, “My mom says I talk back a lot. I do not tell people what I don’t like about them.”

by Visi Tilak

Friday, May 12, 2006

Book Buzz

It’s tittle-tattle time – time to check in on the scuttlebutt…
A new and upcoming book by Chitra Divakaruni, with a historical twist, very different from her previous works. While the movie version of her book, Mistress of Spices is being released in the U.K. she is busy rewriting the great epic - Mahabharata with a twist and a feminist perspective. That should be an intriguing read!!!
Expected to be published in early 2008, is “Zoom: The Race to Fuel the Car of the Future” by Iain Carson and Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran, both correspondents of the magazine - The Economist. The book will focus on forthcoming innovations in automobiles and energy, explaining how Toyota's rise to the top of the global car industry will transform Detroit, affect Big Oil and lead to the creation of clean cars. Vaitheeswaran is the author of the recent book on energy, Power to the People (FSG).
For those of you, who like me, have been wondering whatever happened to award winning writer of “Video”, Meera Nair, she is thriving and well and busy teaching fiction at NYU. The murmurs are that she is also working on a new novel set in Kerala in the 50's, when the world's first democratically elected communist government comes into office. Another award winning book in the works?
Jhumpa Lahiri’s fiction is resurfacing again. She is working on another collection of short stories. Her agent tells me that it will be published sometime in 2007, probably the fall. Her new short story in the May 8th 2006 issue of The New Yorker magazine came as a pleasant surprise to many. As I was reading the New Yorker I suddenly ran into her byline. No one could be happier. Titled “Once In A Lifetime” it starts like this – “I had seen you before, too many times to count, but a farewell that my family threw for yours, at our house in Inman Square, is when I begin to recall your presence in my life.” A fantastic quick read you must not miss.
Wondering what the current drift is looking like? Wondering what is on the market right now? Read on…
Along with India becoming an economic world power, the reach of India based writers is also extending farther and wider than ever before. Besides there are the Indian American writers who are continuing to write about and fictionalizing contemporary Indian American life and experiences as it gets more and more complex and entwined with western society. Then of course is the steady flow from those non-fiction authorities like Amartya Sen who analyze issues and draw interesting conclusions. Amy Lowell, an American poet of the imagist school, who posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926, best describes the Indian American works in the market, “All books are either dreams or swords, You can cut, or you can drug, with words.”
It’s time to forget and forgive those who plagiarize, bootleg and package and disrespect the god of writing – unintentionally or not, you know whom I am talking about. It’s time to hope that she is coping well and I for one am convinced that she will be back with a vengeance. Whether Malgudi or Madna, Swami or August, lets focus on those skilful wordsmiths who strive to make our reading a pleasurable and satisfying experience.

…Mystery behind astrology, or is it the other way around…

A woman detective Sonia Samarth, her cat Nidhi, and her assistant Jatin, a small detective agency in Pune – Stellar Investigations, all add up to some very interesting mystery reading. What makes Manjiri Prabhu’s works interesting however, and takes it away from just being another mystery novel, is that Sonia Samarth is also an astrologer and uses her knowledge of astrology to solve mysteries.
Creations of Manjiri Prabhu are very light and a great quick-read and it’s no surprise her second novel is being published in July 2006, perfect as a summer holiday book. Manjiri Prabhu, whose first mystery “The Cosmic Clues” was published in October 2004, is an animal welfare activist. She lives and writes from Pune, India.
In her second mystery, “The Astral Alibi”, Sonia Samarth sets out solving yet another collection of mysteries and crimes in the city of Pune. As she gets entangled in solving mysteries, she peruses the horoscopes of the suspects and victims and uses her celestial knowledge to find out factors and occurrences about characters that even they do not know sometimes. Prabhu’s book reflects life in contemporary India and also has some pleasant touches of humor and romance. However, there is something missing in Prabhu’s books, that oomph behind a mystery that’s leaves you biting your nails and dying to know what’s happening in the next page…

The Revival of August…

The sudden interest in the Indian way of life has resulted in several Indian writers works being republished in the US of late. Upamanyu Chatterjee’s, semi-autobiographical novel “English, August – An Indian Story” was republished by the New York Review of Books in April 2006. An introduction by Akhil Sharma precedes the novel, which is about a young IAS officer, Agastya Sen, who is sent to Madna, a fictitious city on his first assignment.
Compared to a sloth, Agastya, better known as August, comes from a very elite society and is thrown into the world of civil servants, a legacy of the British Raj, right after his graduation. He spends his time indulging in senseless absurdities and discovering the languid life of the civil servants in Madna, one of the hottest towns in India. Chatterjee, a civil servant himself, could not be more diagnostic of the life of IAS officers.
What stands out about this novel, was that it was written at a time when India’s generation X was looking for its own voice, and they found it in Chatterjee’s novel. Writer, Suketu Mehta, describes Chatterjee’s book perfectly when he says, “ It is the “Indianest” novel in English that I know of. Utterly uncompromised, wildly funny, and a revelation of everyday life in Modern India.” How true.

…Remembering R.K. Narayan (October 10, 1906- May 13, 2001)

R. K. Narayan’s works are being republished by Everyman’s Library. On May 13th 2006, as the literary world remembers R.K. Narayan, during the fifth anniversary of his death, many more readers in this world will be reading, more likely re-reading, his works. Swami and his Friends, The Bachelor of Arts, The Dark Room, The English Teacher, Mr. Sampath – The Printer of Malgudi, The Financial Expert, Waiting for the Mahatma, are those that have been published in two volumes.
In 1934, Graham Greene came across R. K. Narayan's manuscript, Swami and his Friends. He was impressed and since then started helping him publish his works in Britain. When Graham Greene asked Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan to shorten his name, he must have wisely foreseen R.K. Narayan’s brilliance and popularity.
One of the greatest Indian writers to dazzle the literary world with his unique voice, gentle humor and simple writing style, R.K. Narayan’s south Indian town of Malgudi is stranger to none. He can truly be credited with bringing the culture and traditions and life of Southern India to the rest of the world.
Son of a headmaster and the youngest of eight children, R.K. Narayan was born in Madras in 1906 and educated in Mysore. His life and writings were influenced by personal tragedies and through each of them he emerged a better writer. A prolific Veena artiste and a disciple of the great Veena artiste, Doraiswami Iyengar, he turned to music as solace during his periods of darkness. Somerset Maugham, and E.M. Forster were among R.K. Narayan’s contemporaries and friends. Malgudi Days one of R.K. Narayan’s collections of short stories, perhaps among his best works, was also made into a television serial.
(Possible Inset) R. K. Narayan's Published Works
• 1935: Swami And Friends
• 1937: Bachelor Of Arts
• 1938: The Dark Room
• 1939: Mysore
• 1945: The English Teacher
• 1947: An Astrologer's Day, And Other Stories
• 1949: Mr. Sampath - The Printer Of Malgudi
• 1952: The Financial Expert
• 1953: Grateful To Life And Death
• 1955: Waiting For The Mahatma
• 1956: Lawley Road, And Other Stories
• 1958: The Guide
• 1960: Next Sunday : Sketches And Essays
• 1961: The Man-Eater Of Malgudi
• 1964: My Dateless Diary: An American Journey
• 1965: Gods, Demons, And Others
• 1967: The Vendor Of Sweets
• 1970: A Horse And Two Goats, Stories
• 1972: The Ramayana; A Shortened Modern Prose Version
• 1974: My Days
• 1974: Reluctant Guru
• 1976: The Painter Of Signs
• 1978: The Mahabharata: A Shortened Modern Prose Version
• 1980: The Emerald Route
• 1982: Malgudi Days
• 1983: A Tiger For Malgudi
• 1985: Under The Banyan Tree And Other Stories
• 1986: Talkative Man
• 1988: A Writer's Nightmare: Selected Essays
• 1989: A Story-Teller's World: Stories, Essays, Sketches
• 1990: The World Of Nagaraj
• 1992: Malgudi Landscapes: The Best Of R.K. Narayan
• 1993: The Grandmother's Tale: Three Novellas
• 1993: Salt & Sawdust: Stories And Table Talk

Monday, May 8, 2006

Jhumpa Lahiri's Short Story in The New Yorker

by Jhumpa Lahiri

I had seen you before, too many times to count, but a farewell that my family threw for yours, at our house in Inman Square, is when I begin to recall your presence in my life. Your parents had decided to leave Cambridge, not for Atlanta or Arizona, as some other Bengalis had, but to move all the way back to India, abandoning the struggle that my parents and their friends had embarked upon. It was 1974. I was six years old. You were nine. What I remember most clearly are the hours before the party, which my mother spent preparing for everyone to arrive: the furniture was polished, the paper plates and napkins set out on the table, the rooms filled with the smell of lamb curry and pullao and the L’Air du Temps my mother used for special occasions, spraying it first on herself, then on me, a firm squirt that temporarily darkened whatever I was wearing. I was dressed that evening in an outfit that my grandmother had sent from Calcutta: white pajamas with tapered legs and a waist wide enough to gird two of me side by side, a turquoise kurta, and a black velvet vest embroidered with plastic pearls. The three pieces had been arrayed on my parents’ bed while I was in the bath, and I had stood shivering, my fingertips puckered and white, as my mother threaded a length of thick drawstring through the giant waist of the pajamas with a safety pin, gathering up the stiff material bit by bit and then knotting the drawstring tightly at my stomach. The inseam of the pajamas was stamped with purple letters within a circle, the seal of the textile company. I remember fretting about this fact, wanting to wear something else, but my mother assured me that the seal would come out in the wash, adding that, because of the length of the kurta, no one would notice it, anyway.
My mother had more pressing concerns. In addition to the quality and quantity of the food, she was worried about the weather: snow was predicted for later that evening, and this was a time when my parents and their friends didn’t own cars. Most of the guests, including you, lived less than a fifteen-minute walk away, either in the neighborhoods behind Harvard and M.I.T. or just across the Mass Avenue Bridge. But some were farther, coming by bus or the T from Malden or Medford or Waltham. “I suppose Dr. Choudhuri can drive people home,” she said of your father as she untangled my hair. Your parents were slightly older—seasoned immigrants, as mine were not. They had left India in 1962, before the laws welcoming foreign students changed. While my father and the other men were still taking exams, your father already had a Ph.D., and he drove a car, a silver Saab with bucket seats, to his job at an engineering firm in Andover. I had been driven home in that car many nights, after parties had gone late and I had fallen asleep in some strange bed or other.

Our mothers had met when mine was pregnant. She didn’t know it yet; she was feeling dizzy and had sat down on a bench in a small park. Your mother was perched on a swing, gently swaying back and forth as you soared above her, when she noticed a young Bengali woman in a sari, wearing vermillion in her hair. “Are you feeling all right?” your mother asked in the polite form. She told you to get off the swing, and then she and you escorted my mother home. It was during that walk that your mother suggested that perhaps mine was expecting. They became instant friends, spending their days together while our fathers were at work. They talked about the lives they had left behind in Calcutta: your mother’s beautiful home in Jodhpur Park, with hibiscus and rosebushes blooming on the rooftop, and my mother’s modest flat in Maniktala, above a grimy Punjabi restaurant, where seven people existed in three small rooms. In Calcutta they would probably have had little occasion to meet. Your mother had gone to a convent school and was the daughter of one of Calcutta’s most prominent lawyers, a pipe-smoking Anglophile and a member of the Saturday Club. My mother’s father was a clerk in the General Post Office, and she had neither eaten at a table nor sat on a commode before coming to America. Those differences were irrelevant in Cambridge, where they were both equally alone. Here they shopped together for groceries, and complained about their husbands, and cooked at either our stove or yours, dividing up the dishes for our respective families when they were done. They knitted together, switching projects when one of them got bored. When I was born, your parents were the only friends to visit the hospital. I was fed in your old high chair, pushed along the streets in your old pram.
During the party it started snowing, as predicted, stragglers arriving with wet, white-caked coats that we had to hang from the shower-curtain rod. For years, my mother talked about how, when the party ended, your father made countless trips to drive people home, taking one couple as far as Braintree, claiming that it was no trouble, that this was his last opportunity to drive the car, anyway. In the days before you left, your parents came by again, to bring over pots and pans, small appliances, blankets and sheets, half-used bags of flour and sugar, bottles of shampoo. We continued to refer to these things as your mother’s. “Get me Parul’s frying pan,” my mother would say. Or, “I think we need to turn the setting down on Parul’s toaster.” Your mother also brought over shopping bags filled with clothes that she thought I might be able to use, that had once belonged to you. My mother put the bags away and took them with us when we moved, a few years later, from Inman Square to a house in Sharon, incorporating the clothes into my wardrobe as I grew into them. Mainly they were winter items, things you would no longer need in India. There were thick T-shirts and turtlenecks in navy and brown. I found these clothes ugly and tried to avoid them, but my mother refused to replace them. And so I was forced to wear your sweaters, your rubber boots on rainy days. One winter I had to wear your coat, which I hated so much that it caused me to hate you as a result. It was blue-black with an orange lining and a scratchy grayish-brown trim around the hood. I never got used to having to hook the zipper on the right side, to looking so different from the other girls in my class with their puffy pink and purple jackets. When I asked my parents if I could have a new coat they said no. A coat was a coat, they said. I wanted desperately to get rid of it. I wanted it to be lost. I wished that one of the boys in my class, many of whom owned identical coats, would accidentally pick it up in the narrow alcove where we rushed to put on our things at the end of the day. But my mother had gone so far as to iron a label inside the coat with my name on it, an idea she’d got from her subscription to Good Housekeeping.

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