What is 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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Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
has had a biography written about him by none other than the English
journalist/writer Patrick French. The New York Times Book Review says
, "French's authorized biography of Mr. Naipaul. It's a handsome
volume, jacketed in silver and black, with a disarming cover
photograph of Mr. Naipaul stooping, with a gap-toothed grin, to tie a
Flip Mr. French's book over, however, and you confront this
Voldemortian clump of words from Mr. Naipaul's old nemesis, Mr.
Theroux: "It seems I didn't know half of all the horrors." Cue the
scary organ music.
Well, the reader thinks, here we go: Mr. French's 550-page biography
will be a long string of bummers, a forced march through the life of a
startlingly original writer with an ugly, remote personality.
The good news is that Mr. French, a young British journalist, is
certainly unafraid to face unpleasant facts about his subject. But the
better news about "The World Is What It Is" is this: it's one of the
sprightliest, most gripping, most intellectually curious and, well,
funniest biographies of a living writer (Mr. Naipaul is 76) to come
along in years."
From the Boston Globe Review --
"When he went to Oxford from the Caribbean in 1950, at age 17, V. S.
Naipaul was a British subject of Indian descent who resided in the
West Indies, specifically Trinidad, an "accidental occidental Indian
from the most amusing island that ever dotted the sea," as one wit put
The question of identity is as crucial to Naipaul's books as it was to
the man himself. He wanted to be called not a West Indian, but "a
Trinidadian of Hindu descent." His small size (5 feet 6), dark skin,
and island profile made this brilliant writer a touchy,
class-conscious character all of his life.
To say that Vidia Naipaul was merely complicated seems an
understatement. In his authorized biography "The World Is What It Is,"
Patrick French shows us a man at once "angry, acute, open,
self-pitying, funny, sarcastic, tearful." It is high testament to
French - as well as to the acceding Naipaul - that the writer insisted
on being as impeccably objective as possible and that he chose to
"expose the subject with ruthless clarity."
An asthmatic, Naipaul was the pampered oldest son in a successful
family of girls and one younger brother. He wanted to be wealthy. He
wanted to succeed. "I like luxury," he said. "I take to it easily, and
feel it is mine by right." This ambitious fellow, who would eventually
receive a knighthood, become a multimillionaire, and win the Nobel
Prize for Literature, knew early that he was meant for larger things,
and as French puts it, he certainly "did not want to be classified
alongside people who climbed off banana boats wearing zoot-suits and
wanted jobs in factories."
An admitted snob, Naipaul was at odds not only with the Third World
but with pop entertainment, pop politics, pop lifestyles. "He detested
hippies, yippies, beatniks, free school, flower power, Black Power,
flag burning, hair growing, sit-ins, be-ins, teach-ins and love-ins,"
states French. He bewailed the attention the Beatles received,
angering many readers of the Saturday Evening Post when in an essay,
"What's Wrong With Being a Snob?," he lamented that "entertainers from
the slums [have] replaced the Queen as a cause for national pride."
Moreover, Naipaul was famously frugal. He did his own accounts and
bookkeeping (with his first wife's help) and was more than happy when
possible to take advantage of offers for extended stays in various
friends' houses or flats to save money."
The New York Times Review is at this link --
The Boston Globe Review is at this link--
The First Chapter of the biography is available at this link --
Monday, November 10, 2008
Booker Prize and is getting rave reviews from the press.
"At its heart, Amitav Ghosh's epic novel, Sea of Poppies, is a book
about seeking freedom and renewal in breathtaking, daring ways.
Written in a polyglot language of 19th-century sailors — where Hindi
and English mixed freely — the novel tells the stories of a disparate
group of seafarers aboard a former slave ship that has been
retrofitted for the opium trade and its human cargo," says NPR.
The New York Times review says--
"At the start of "Sea of Poppies," Amitav Ghosh presents two indelible
visions: a tall-masted ship 400 miles from the Indian coast and a
voluptuous agricultural crop, a profusion of flowers capable of
warping the world. The crop, the livelihood of a woman named Deeti and
her neighbors, is opium poppies. The ship is named the Ibis, and at
first it seems a pipe dream, a figment of Deeti's imagination. But
during the course of this novel, the first installment in his
projected Ibis trilogy, Mr. Ghosh turns the ship into something
robustly, bawdily and indelibly real.
Deeti's family is one of many that supply produce to a British-run
opium factory in Ghazipur in colonial India. It is 1838, a pivotal
year in the annals of the opium trade, when Mr. Ghosh's story so
vividly begins. Poppy farming is considered a perfectly legitimate
line of agricultural work, especially by the businessmen who find it
so profitable. And the Ibis, which will become a rowdy and imposing
vessel as this novel gets under way, transports both drugs and
outcasts to far-flung corners of the world.
Originally a slave ship making raids in West Africa, the Ibis is not a
prized vessel. Even in a new, improved incarnation, it is "a
hell-afloat with pinch-gut pay," in the words of a crew member named
Zachary Reid, a freed slave's son from Baltimore. Yet this ship
becomes home to Mr. Ghosh's sparkling array of eccentrics, blowhards,
runaway lovers and people seeking new leases on life. One of its most
memorable passengers is a raja, seen at the height of power and
privilege as the book begins. Later, humiliated and exiled, he sails
aboard the Ibis past the fief he once ruled.
And although none of these people know it, their ship appears to be
headed toward the fight that will be central to Mr. Ghosh's extended
story: the Opium Wars, waged between Britain and China over the
British East India Company's monopolistic drug trade. "Sea of Poppies"
is pointed toward that conflict, in a series perhaps headed for the
thick of the fray. This opening book concentrates affectionately on
its oddly matched characters, explaining who is aboard the Ibis and
the curious, roundabout way in which each has wound up adrift in this
The tale told engagingly by "Sea of Poppies" is hardly a
straightforward one. Beyond the clever circuitousness of Mr. Ghosh's
narrative there is also a language barrier to be surmounted. "Sea of
Poppies" is written in thick, polyglot jargon that is made more or
less self-explanatory by its context but still gives the book a
mischievous linguistic fascination. For instance: "Wasn't a man in
town who could put on a burra-khana like he did. Sheeshmull blazing
with shammers and candles. Paltans of bearers and khidmutgars.
Demijohns of French loll-shrub and carboys of iced simkin. And the
karibat!" Many such passages also have a cryptically obscene ring.
"Sea of Poppies" comes equipped with a lexicon of sorts, an addendum
that Mr. Ghosh calls "The Ibis Chrestomathy." If you need to pause to
contemplate what chrestomathy means (one dictionary definition: "a
selection of literary selections, especially in a foreign language, as
an aid to learning"), it won't be the only time "Sea of Poppies" slows
you down. Mr. Ghosh uses this lexicon to provide elaborate
amplifications of his favorite (though by no means all of the book's)
turns of phrase and to connect those words with the characters who use
Listen to the NPR story at--
Read the NYT review at--
Saturday, November 8, 2008
PAinters, writers and other artists push the limits, but what are the
limits, and where are they defined?
Somini Sengupta writes in the New York Times, " Maqbool Fida Husain,
India's most famous painter, is afraid to go home.
Mr. Husain is a Muslim who is fond of painting Hindu goddesses,
sometimes portraying them nude. That obsession has earned him the ire
of a small but organized cadre of Hindu nationalists. They have
attacked galleries that exhibit his work, accused him in court of
"promoting enmity" among faiths and, on one occasion, offered an $11
million reward for his head.
In September, the country's highest court offered him an unexpected
reprieve, dismissing one of the cases against him with the blunt
reminder that Hindu iconography, including ancient temples, is replete
with nudity. Still, the artist, 93 and increasingly frail, is not
taking any chances. For two years, he has lived here in self-imposed
exile, amid opulently sterile skyscrapers. He intends to remain, at
least for now. "They can put me in a jungle," Mr. Husain said gamely.
"Still, I can create."
Freedom of expression has frequently, and by some accounts,
increasingly, come under fire in India, as the country tries to
balance the dictates of its secular democracy with the easily inflamed
religious and ethnic passions of its multitudes.
The result is a strange anomaly in a nation known for its vibrant,
freewheeling political culture. The government is compelled to ensure
respect for India's diversity and at the same time prevent one group
from pouncing on another for a perceived offense. Ramachandra Guha, a
historian, calls it "perhaps the fundamental challenge of governance
The rise of an intense brand of identity politics, with India's many
communities mobilizing for political power, has intensified the
problem. An accusation that a piece of art or writing is offensive is
an easy way to whip up the sentiments of a particular caste, faith or
tribe, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, an Indian political scientist, points out.
He calls it "offense mongering."
Read the full article at--
Friday, November 7, 2008
Aravind Adiga in the New York Times reads thus --
"Balram Halwai, the narrator of Aravind Adiga's first novel, "The
White Tiger," is a modern Indian hero. In a country inebriated by its
newfound economic prowess, he is a successful entrepreneur, a
self-made man who has risen on the back of India's much-vaunted
technology industry. In a nation proudly shedding a history of poverty
and underdevelopment, he represents, as he himself says, "tomorrow."
Balram's triumphal narrative, framed somewhat inexplicably as a letter
to the visiting Chinese premier, unfurls over seven days and nights in
Bangalore.It's a rather more complicated story than Balram initially
lets on. Before moving to Bangalore, he was a driver for the
weak-willed son of a feudal landlord. One rainy day in Delhi, he
crushed the skull of his employer and stole a bag containing a large
amount of money, capital that financed his Bangalore taxi business.
That business — ferrying technology workers to and from their jobs —
depends, in turn, on keeping the police happy with the occasional
As a parable of the new India, then, Balram's tale has a distinctly
macabre twist. He is not (or not only) an entrepreneur but a roguish
criminal with a remarkable capacity for self-justification. Likewise,
the background against which he operates is not just a resurgent
economy and nation but a landscape of corruption, inequality and
poverty. In some of the book's more convincing passages, Balram
describes his family's life in "the Darkness," a region deep in the
heartland marked by medieval hardship, where brutal landlords hold
sway, children are pulled out of school into indentured servitude and
elections are routinely bought and sold.
This grim world is far removed from the glossy images of Bollywood
stars and technology entrepreneurs that have been displacing earlier
(and equally clichéd) Indian stereotypes featuring yoga and
spirituality. It is not a world that rich urban Indians like to see."
Read the full review at--
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Date:02/11/2008 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/lr/2008/11/02/stories/2008110250070200.htm
Novel as discovery
Creating authentic worlds: Padma Viswanathan.
Remember the days when grandma used to start her tales of yore, “in my day…” Nine out of 10 people would have rolled their eyes and gently slipped out before grandma realised that no one was listening to her. But the one who stayed back to listen may have actually cottoned on to something that led somewhere.
Meet Padma Viswanathan, a Canadian-born Indian origin playwright and author, who transformed her grandmother’s stories into an extraordinary first novel, The Toss of a Lemon. Set in the heart of a traditional Tamil Brahmin household at the turn of the 19th century, the book documents the effects of the momentous changes of that time on one family.
Viswanthan has quite a few short stories and plays to her credit. Now add a 600+ pages novel to that list. Asked what she felt like writing the first scene of her first play, Viswanathan says, “It’s hard to describe, but it felt as though this was something I firmly, intuitively, knew how to do. As soon as I wrote it, I knew there was nothing else, in theatre or otherwise, that I would be able to do as well.” Given that books “had always been paramount in my life”, she sees writing as a way of giving back, of communicating her learning experiences from books.
A life of its own
Though this one took her 10 years, she didn’t anticipate such a big book. “I don’t think I would have had the courage to begin if I had known it would be so long,” she says. Beginning with writing episodes or chapters as they occurred, “and trying to figure out what the narrative arc might be given what was emerging,” she even considered a trilogy. Then took it to the chopping board; when it first reached the publisher it was around 900 pages. Back to the chopping board for the final product. “In the process of writing The Toss of a Lemon, I learned, in a way, how to write.”
Asked about which writers were looking over her shoulder while she worked, she mentions Salman Rushdie and Ann Marie MacDonald. “It was Rushdie’s novels that I thought about most as I was writing, though Canadian writer Ann Marie MacDonald’s Fall On Your Knees also hovered. My prose doesn’t sound anything like Rushdie’s, but I was inspired by the particularity of his voice to find my own. ”
For someone who grew up abroad, Viswanathan has managed to recreate an almost-extinct Tamil Brahmin household that has nothing to do with today’s NRI Tam-Bram software culture. “Thirty years ago many of our relatives still lived in households in villages much like the ones I describe in my book. Increasingly, they have moved to the cities and even overseas, but I continued to visit them and, when I was doing research for the book, I stayed with the few relatives who still live in a way that resembles the Brahmin way of life of a 100 years ago.”
Without being a diatribe, the focus on the daily minutiae of Brahmin rituals does drive home the injustice of the caste system without the author’s voice intruding or telling the reader so. “My intention was to implicate the reader, to make them feel how seductive the caste system is… and so give a sense of why it persists, even today, if in mutated forms. The book is the product of a lifetime of observing and thinking about this culture and of my stumbling efforts to show respect by conforming to the rules while staying with relatives, even while loudly voicing my objections!”
Some others obviously don’t think so. One Netizen says, “One expects The Toss of a Lemon to seize the issue of caste relations in its teeth, because there is simply so much to say about the recognition of caste injustice in Tamil Nadu… However, Viswanathan… glides over the larger issues of the day, quite a feat in 600 odd pages.” Put this one to her and the author asks if she should “have made some declaration: ‘In case you don’t know, the caste system is unfair and cruel and we must all work to dismantle it’. It’s a novel; not a political speech.” Negative reactions don’t faze her. “There will be those who don’t find it to their taste; literature is an idiosyncratic enterprise. I have written the book I needed and wanted to write and I’m very grateful it has found its readers,” she seems satisfied.
Considering that the book is based on stories told by Viswanathan’s grandmother about her own grandmother, one does wonder about reactions within the family. Her grandmother was “deeply, emotionally affected because she so closely identified with the story. At one point in my book, the children who are being raised by their grandmother, Sivakami, are taken back by their father who, after a week, sends them right back again. Although this incident never happened in “real life”, it brought back to my grandmother the feelings of rejection and neglect she had suffered as a child. She is very proud of the book (and its writer), and is now revelling in its success.”
Speaking of family, how was her intention to be a writer received by her parents? At first, “they thought it was the most recent in a series of declared professional ambitions that had changed every year since I was 10! They started taking it a little more seriously when my play was produced and I started getting some awards and prizes, but they were still, understandably, troubled by the long, lean years of financial uncertainty. Now, they feel my gamble was worthwhile.” The process of publication itself, she says, was “bizarrely easy”. The book went to Toronto-based agent Bruce Westwood courtesy another Canadian writer Shyam Selvadurai. From Canada to the U.S. and it has moved on since: to Spain, Italy, Holland, Brazil and Australia.
Taking care of the basics
And what of inputs from her writer husband? Apart from reading the manuscript and giving suggestions, his role was a generally supportive one. Echoing other working couples, Viswanathan says, “The concerns of artists are often practical ones: income, childcare, a place to work.” Unless these are taken care off, she says, one won’t have the “peace of mind” to “enter the realms of imagination”. “So we work hard to take care of these things for one another. Our parents have also helped a lot… ”
With the first novel flying high, she’s working on her next project for Random House Canada. Losing Farther, Losing Faster focuses on the dilemma of a devotee whose guru (both being Indian) has been accused of a sexual misdeed. The novel centres on how Seth comes to terms with his faith given these accusations. From the end of the 19th century to the 21st century is a fast move indeed.
Monday, October 6, 2008
sits there quietly, eyes lowered, almost as if trying not to be
noticed. And if it should somehow attract your attention, it says
quickly, in a brave little self-deprecating voice alive to all the
possibilities of disappointment: "I'm not a novel, you know. Not even
a short one. If that's what you're looking for, you don't want me."
Rarely has one form so dominated another. And we understand, we nod
our heads knowingly: here in America, size is power. The novel is the
Wal-Mart, the Incredible Hulk, the jumbo jet of literature. The novel
is insatiable — it wants to devour the world. What's left for the poor
short story to do? It can cultivate its garden, practice meditation,
water the geraniums in the window box. It can take a course in
creative nonfiction. It can do whatever it likes, so long as it
doesn't forget its place — so long as it keeps quiet and stays out of
the way. "Hoo ha!" cries the novel. "Here ah come!" The short story is
always ducking for cover. The novel buys up the land, cuts down the
trees, puts up the condos. The short story scampers across a lawn,
squeezes under a fence," thus begins this short and beautiful essay by
Steven Millhauser in The New York Times.
Read the complete essay at --
Sunday, October 5, 2008
"Happily Ever After" storyline in recent years, there's still plenty
of money to be made in the business of books," claims Forbes listing
the 10 best paid authors.
J.K. Rowling tops the list with an earning this year of $300 million,
followed by James Patterson ($50 million), Stephen King ($45 million),
Tom Clancy ($35 million), Danielle Steele ($30 million). "Others on
the list: Nicholas Sparks, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, Dean Koontz
and, thanks to a little Oprah magic, Ken Follett," says Forbes.
See the full article and list at--
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Salman Rushdie is the author of nine previous novels, including Midnight's Children (which was awarded the Booker Prize in 1981 and, in 1993, was judged to be the "Booker of Bookers," the best novel to have won that prize in its first twenty-five years) and The Satanic Verses (winner of the Whitbread Prize for Best Novel). He is also the author of a book of stories, East, West, and three works of nonfiction---Imaginary Homelands, The Jaguar Smile, and The Wizard of Oz. He is co-editor of Mirrorwork, an anthology of contemporary Indian writing.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
The Kama Sutra does not fail to create interest, each time it is
interpreted. The newest interpretation by James McConnachie titled
"The Story of Kama Sutra" is receiving rave reviews for it's precision
"McConnachie has written an altogether first-rate work of intellectual
history for ordinary readers. Throughout he reminds us that The
Kamasutra is a repository of both ancient Indian culture and of modern
sexual daydreams (most of the postures being either uncomfortable or
impossible). In the end, though, The Kamasutra itself recognizes that
the ultimate transports lie beyond the teachings of art: "When the
wheel of sexual ecstasy is in full motion,/there is no textbook at
all, and no order," says the Washington Post review.
"Years ago, a bunch of us were sitting around drinking when I heard a
friend murmur two sentences I have never forgotten. "You know, guys,
sex is the greatest thing in the world." He paused and we were all
about to nod in agreement. He was, after all, a noted and
knowledgeable ladies' man. Unexpectedly, though, he then added, with
infinite wistfulness: "But it's just not that great."
There, in that gulf between the reality and the dream, lies the domain
of pornography, the sex industry and the masturbatory fantasy -- of
Viagra and the midlife crisis. Our Western myths of love are seldom
about fulfillment; they are all about yearning. In Plato's Symposium
we are told that the gods divided the original ball-like human beings
in two, and that we consequently spend our lives searching for the
other half who will complete us. So-called romantic love, which first
blossomed in 12th-century France, revels in passion delayed, forbidden
or otherwise thwarted. Its real theme is desire.
But for the Western imagination, the East has long represented an
escape from this pervasive sexual unhappiness. Baudelaire spoke of
tropic realms of "luxe, calme et volupté"; Hawaii and Tahiti once
beckoned as Edens of innocent voluptuousness. From the 18th century
on, the Orient, in general, seemed a perfumed garden, offering the
tender attentions of geishas, bare-breasted island girls and pretty
boys. Here, amid erotic graciousness, the darkness of sin was unknown.
And yet, even this scented, sensual wonderland turned out to have its
guide, its bible: The Kamasutra, sometimes subtitled "The Hindu Art of
Love," says the Post adding that, "McConnachie reminds us that the
original text of The Kamasutra wasn't enhanced by illustrations, and
only in modern times have editions used Indian temple sculpture or
Persian-style miniatures to depict innumerable and unlikely
interlacements. Similarly, the original Kamasutra has nothing to do
with the practices of Tantrism -- the latter's religious adepts
performed their sex-magic without feeling desire. The book does,
however, briefly allude to male homosexual practices and closes by
offering unlikely recipes for restoring sexual vigor, ensuring
fidelity or ending an affair."
Read the full review at --
"The oldest living person, Mrs. Ghaini is a member of the nomadic
tribe the Raj Gond, displaced a century ago from their positions as
personal traditional healers and doctors to the local Indian king and
queen. She counts approximately 100 grandchildren, over 150
great-grandchildren and dozens of great-great-grandchildren. No
official record exists of her birth, but she recalls events that
impacted her family that can be traced to the late 1800's and best
estimates places her birth around 1873, which makes her older than the
oldest official living person, who is 115 in the USA. Whatever her
exact age is, there is no dispute that she ranks among the
super-centenarians of the world, a feat still achieved by very few.
Ghaini Lal Signh Jamkar has been recognized by the Government of India
with an award to her very long service and knowledge of Ayurvedic
Medicine, and she easily rattles off the curative properties of over
1,000 native plants. She has guided over a thousand births, and helped
cure hundreds including local royalty of various ailments using her
secret herbal remedies.
Although illiterate, she is excited about having her Life being
featured o n a computer for the world wide web to read, and says
"You'll have to read it to me, but I have seen both good days and bad
days, and I don't have further expectations from life. I just want to
see my children and future generations flourish well and I want to see
my children do well in life and see them happy and comfortable. I hope
telling my Stories of our people to the world will help bring them
prosperity and a long life too."
Story of My Life's professional writers, or "Storytellers" are
interviewing and writing about fascinating life stories of people,
whether they be inspirational, humorous, unbelievable, heartbreaking
or even simply ridiculous. "In the hands of a good writer, every
person has a great story to tell," says Kristen Kuhns, co-founder of
the Story of My Life site and spear-heading the new Storyteller
Read Storyteller featurd life stories at --
Read the full article at --
Monday, June 2, 2008
for Mr. Biswas" is also very famous for making controversial
statements and finding himself embroiled in controversies. This time
it is a little different. His later novels, Half a Life and Magic
Seeds are garnering criticism from Derek Walcott.
The UK based publication, "The Telegraph" says in an article, "The St
Lucian writer composed a poem, which he read it at a literary festival
in Jamaica, that mocked his contemporary as a mongoose. According to
the New Statesman, Walcott told an audience at the Calabash Literary
Festival: "I'm going to be nasty," before reading The Mongoose, which
opens with the lines: "I have been bitten. I must avoid infection. Or
else I'll be as dead as Naipaul's fiction." The poem attacks Naipaul's
later novels Half a Life and Magic Seeds, with the words: "The plots
are forced, the prose sedate and silly. The anti-hero is a prick named
The rest of the article is makes for interesting reading and goes like this --
"Walcott expresses disbelief that this Naipaul can be the same author
who wrote A House for Mr Biswas, which won the Nobel prize.
The septuagenarians have been at odds for years, with Walcott once
calling Naipaul, who lives in Wiltshire, "VS Nightfall" in verse.
In the poem there is a coded reference to Naipaul's essay on Walcott,
published in 2007, which praised Walcott.
Many took it to be a back-handed compliment, as he enthused about the
poet's writing in the 1940s, implying that he had not written anything
as good since.
Walcott, whose latest book White Egrets will be released soon, has
expressed his anger at what he sees as Naipaul's rejection of his
Caribbean heritage in order to gain acceptance from the British
In particular, he is outraged that Naipaul, whose ancestors were
Indian labourers who moved to Trinidad in the 19th century, thanked
Britain and India in his Nobel acceptance speech, but not the country
of his birth.
The poem's title refers to an animal that was imported from India
under the British empire. As Walcott puts it: "The mongoose takes its
orders from the Raj."
Both writers have refused to comment on the poem. However, Patrick
French, Naipaul's biographer, said: "Knowing Naipaul, he'll say
nothing and then at some point he will lash out. He said to me once,
'I settle all my accounts.'"
This article can be accessed at--
is worrisome that the readers don't express their's and instead target
the writers that they disagree with. Salman Rushdie went into hiding,
and now it is Tasleema Nasrin who is ill and in hiding from radical
Indian muslims who have been issuing death threats to her.
The latest on her from a local Swedish paper, "Under fire Bangladeshi
writer Taslima Nasreen has been offered a safe haven in the Swedish
town of Uppsala. Nasreen fled to Sweden in March following death
threats from radical Indian Muslims and has now moved to the
university town amid high security, newspaper Upsala Nya Tidning
reports. Officials in Uppsala have pledged to cover the 45-year-old
author's accommodation and living expenses for the next two years.
Nasreen is living alone and is in poor health having been hospitalized
in March for emergency treatment."
The newspaper also reports that, "Liberal Party member of parliament
and Uppsala resident Cecilia Wikström has long had contact with
Nasreen. "I know Taslima Nasreen as a very unique individual. Maybe
that's what happens if you have a price on your head," Wikström told
Upsala Nya Tidning. Wikström has successfully lobbied for her party
to help make Uppsala a safe haven for writers. The town's governing
council has now put the idea into action and has agreed to pay for a
one bedroom apartment for the next two years. The writer will also
receive a monthly allowance of 5,000 kronor ($800).
Nasreen fled Bangladesh in 1994 to live in exile, in Sweden among
other countries, after radical Muslims accused her of blasphemy over
her novel "Lajja" -- or "Shame" -- which depicts the life of a Hindu
family persecuted by Muslims in Bangladesh. She has lived in exile
since then, in the United States and Europe, where she holds a Swedish
Read the full article at --
Sunday, June 1, 2008
attached eraser 150 years ago, he certainly didn't anticipate its
having to compete one day with BlackBerrys and online crossword
puzzles," says an article in the Chicago Tribune titled "Lowly pencil
still the write tool", "But the eraser pencil has exhibited remarkable
staying power amid the rise of the typewriter, the ballpoint pen, the
personal computer and all manner of modern hand-held messaging devices
over its century-and-a-half existence. In fact, the U.S. is the single
largest market for wood-encased pencils today, most of which now come
from China. Even the more expensive mechanical pencil has not replaced
what is for many writers and note-takers a tried and true basic. It
has seen a steady increase in production over the last decade,
according to figures from the Writing Instrument Manufacturers
Association. "There's a historic preference for the pencil in the
U.S.," said Charles Berolzheimer, 47-year-old heir to the Berol pencil
brand. "Maybe partly because there's a tactile sensation to making a
mark on paper with it." His family has manufactured pencils or their
raw materials for six generations, and today he is the president of
California Cedar Products Co., which exports the state's high quality
incense cedar to manufacturers abroad."
One of it's strengths its ease of use, according to this article,
"Pencils have also remained popular because of their reliability and
ease of use. "It becomes a part of you, an extension of your hand,"
said Henry Petroski, professor of civil engineering and history at
Duke University. His book, "The Pencil: A History of Design and
Circumstance," is widely seen as the definitive work on the subject.
"People also twirl the pencil as something to do with their hands
while thinking or listening," he said."
Read the full article at--
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Bronte's are historical authors, Mills and Boon has been serving out
romantic tales to those that seek romantic escapism. These are not to
be read as examples of the best prose, but as stories to escape into
while the world around you bears a different truth.
In an article titled "Mills & Boon - a literary love affair" in UK
based publication The Independent says, "Love them or loathe them, a
Mills & Boon book is sold in the UK every three seconds. As over a
century of publishing is celebrated in a new exhibition about the
Author Charlotte Cripps looks back at this literary love affair and
writes, "What is secret of a good romantic read? "There is no secret.
I still worry about each book I submit; you never know whether it has
hit the spot until your editor has read it," she admits. "The Mills &
Boon books are short. The emotional intensity and sexual heat you have
to generate between two characters is challenging. There is always a
conflict in the romance which I try to resolve in my writing. The male
character generally has to travel the longest journey in the story.
First he usually has to realise that he does loves the woman. Secondly
he then may have to realise that in order to be with her he may have
to change. This point for me is very romantic because they both make
the decision to value the relationship more than their prejudices,
fears, or barriers put up to protect themselves from the pain of
experiencing the past."
Read the full article at --
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Bhopal gas tragedy, has been adjudged this year's best book in Europe
and South Asia by the Commonwealth. Canada's Lawrence Hill won the top
Commonwealth Writers' Prize for her The Book of Negroes, a novel about
forgotten story of 18th Century Africans. Hill has been named the
winner of the best book award. Bangladesh's Tahmima Anam bagged the
award for best first book for A Golden Age, a fictionalised account of
her country's war for independence in 1971," reports the Hindustan
Times, "The Commonwealth Writers' Prize, an increasingly valued and
sought after award for fiction, is presented annually by the
Commonwealth Foundation. The Prize aims to reward the best
Commonwealth fiction written in English, by both established and new
writers, and to take their works to a global audience, thereby
increasing appreciation of and building understanding between
cultures. It is sponsored and organised by the Commonwealth Foundation
with the support of the Macquarie Group Foundation."
Other winners from South Asia in past were, in 1994 - Vikram Seth, for
A Suitable Boy and in 1996 - Rohinton Mistry, for A Fine Balance.
First Book winners from South Asia were in 2005 - Chimamanda Ngozi
Adichie, for Purple Hibiscus and in 1996 - Vikram Chandra, for Red
Earth, Pouring Rain.
"The Commonwealth Writers' Prize covers the Commonwealth regions of
Africa, Europe and South Asia, The Caribbean and Canada, and South
East Asia and the South Pacific. Entries are first assessed by four
regional panels of judges and the selection of the overall winner is
made by a distinguished pan-Commonwealth panel. In each of the four
regions of the Commonwealth two prizes of £1,000 are awarded: one for
the Best Book and one for the Best First Book. The resulting eight
regional winners' books are then judged by the pan-Commonwealth panel.
Authors win £10,000 for the overall Best Book and £5,000 for the Best
First Book. Writers and judges come together in a final literary
programme in a different Commonwealth country each year," says
According to Wikipedia, "Each year the final programme of the Prize
takes place in a different country. It also rotates around the
different Commonwealth regions. The final programme comprises the
judging for the overall Prize by the pan-Commonwealth panel and a
series of readings and other public events by the regional
prize-winning writers, who are all invited to attend."
Read the Hindustan Times article at--
The Commonwealth Foundation website is at--
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
According to a press release issued by the Man Booker Prize, "The Best
of the Booker, a one-off celebratory award to mark the 40th
anniversary of the Booker Prize, announces its shortlist today (12 May
The Times Of India reports that, "Salman Rushdie is the favourite to
win the Best of the Booker Prize after his novel Midnight's Children
was shortlisted on Monday for the "greatest of the greatest" award."
The six shortlisted books, chosen from the list of 41 Booker Prize and
Man Booker Prize winners, are:
Pat Barker's The Ghost Road (1995, Viking; paperback Penguin)
Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda (1988, Faber & Faber; paperback Faber)
JM Coetzee's Disgrace (1999, Secker & Warburg; paperback Vintage)
JG Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur (1973, Weidenfeld & Nicolson,
Nadine Gordimer's The Conservationist (1974, Cape; paperback Bloomsbury)
Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981, Cape; paperback Vintage)
"The shortlist was selected by a panel of judges - the biographer,
novelist and critic Victoria Glendinning, (Chair); writer and
broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, and John Mullan, Professor of English
at University College, London," says the Booker Prize Press Release.
According to them, "The only time that a celebratory award has
previously been created for 'the Booker' was in 1993 - the 25th
anniversary - when Salman Rushdie won the Booker of Bookers with
Midnight's Children. Now 15 years on, William Hill has offered Rushdie
6/4 odds as the favourite to win again. Second favourite is Pat
Barker at 3/1, followed by Peter Carey (4/1) and JM Coetzee at 5/1,
Nadine Gordimer (8/1) and JG Farrell (10/1)."
The public can vote for the best booker prize winner at --
The full press release can be viewed at--
The Times of India article is at--
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Thursday, May 8, 2008
"Roddy Doyle, Esther Freud, David Hare and Ahdaf Soueif will this week
launch the first international literary festival in the occupied
Palestinian territories. Seventeen Irish, British, American, Indian
and Arab authors will visit four West Bank cities for the inaugural
Palestinian Festival of Literature, subtitled: "The power of culture
and the culture of power." Soueif, one of the festival's organisers,
said they had invited "authors who we really liked, and who showed a
concern for the world in general".
Others taking part include the Scottish writer Andrew O'Hagan and
Pankaj Mishra, who is Indian, as well as the British-Sudanese writer
Jamal Mahjoub, and the American-Palestinian poet Suheir Hammad. They
will work with Palestinian writers at events in Ramallah, Jerusalem,
Jenin and Bethlehem."
Read the full article at --
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Life in America, for Feroza, begins with a horrifying experience at the airport soon after she lands. Her uncle Manek, who is a student at MIT helps her get settled and convinces her to go to school in America. He also teaches Feroza, her first valuable lesson, “The first lesson you learn in America is you don’t get something for nothing.” Feroza and Manek’s escapades in New York and Boston are comic yet touching.
Her life as a student in Twin Falls, Idaho, is no different from that of any foreign student who arrives in America, from a mollycoddled mode of life. She struggles to find her way and yet manages to settle into school. Along the way she also makes friends of all kinds and learns all about relationships, good and bad.
Manek meanwhile, goes back to Pakistan to get married to a nice Parsi girl. During this visit to Pakistan he reveals his secret to his family, “America is Paradise,” he says, and that’s what keeps him going. As long as one has figured out how to function within the system, then the going will be great in America he assures his family, putting aside their fears of immoral behavior and other apprehensions. After his wedding he comes back to Cambridge to finish his Ph.D.
Meanwhile Feroza and her best friend Jo, visit Jo’s family in Denver. Fascinated by life in a large city, they decide to transfer to the University of Denver, to study Hotel Management. This move is followed by Feroza’s first visit home, and this time her family is stunned to see a confident and glowing Feroza who knows her mind, refuses to get married and wants a career and more importantly wants the ability to stand on her own two feet.
Only her grandmother Khutlibai sees a little more than the others, “ Her gaze lingered on Feroza’s vibrant face, and her shrewd eyes were luminous with pride and love. She saw life and intelligence shining in her face, but there was too much life there, she thought with a trace of unease, too much intelligence -- more than might be good for her granddaughter.”
While on the plane, on her way back to America, she finds that her family has gifted her $700, and Feroza is thrilled to use this cash to buy her first (second-hand) car. As fate would have it, the person from whom she is destined to buy the car is also destined to be the first love of her life. A blond haired blue-eyed David Press, is a man who is equally taken by Feroza’s beautiful features and shyness. A relationship blooms, and blossoms.
Soon a letter arrives at the Ginwalla’s home from Feroza, introducing David and a possible wedding with him. A shocked family immediately dispatches Feroza’s mother Zareen to Denver to foil the romance. Zareen feels lonely and helpless in a new country that she has lost her daughter to. “ I should have listened. I should have never let you go so far away. Look what it’s done to you -- you’ve become and American Brat,” she tells her daughter passionately, her daughter who stands to be excommunicated from the Parsi community for marrying outside of their tight knit group.
What stands out most in this novel is the relationship of the protagonist to both her religion and her upbringing, which clearly make her the person she is. Much as Feroza is fiercely independent and knows her own mind, her rearing and spirituality help guide her and pull her reins when she is going to fast for her own comfort.
This is a hilarious, prolific and deeply enlightening tale of a girl who experiences her new country only as an immigrant can, and comes of age on her own terms. To those who don’t know about the Parsi community, this is a great primer. Sidhwa’s vibrant writing and her lively characters go hand in hand in making this one of her most poignant and entertaining works yet.
Friday, April 4, 2008
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Indian American parents have always struggled to balance their children’s education and experience between a western lifestyle and a traditional Indian upbringing. While they want the children to get along with their American peers and do well socially, there is also that need to ensure that these kids understand their heritage and culture. This not only enriches their experience but it also gives them a much-needed feeling of security and identity. What better way to do this than with books and stories that have protagonists that share a similar culture, skin color, language and tradition.
Even five years ago, a search for these kinds of books would have only returned a handful of titles. Why this sudden surge in books for South Asian children?
Lois McAuliffe, the Director of Children’s Services at the Ashland Public Library, in Ashland, MA, says that anytime an immigrant population grows there is a corresponding growth in the need for books for that population. She believes that, “People who come to the States from India and China in particular tend to be very well educated and have high expectations for their children. The parents read a lot themselves and stress reading in their homes.”
Uma Krishnaswami, a New Mexico based former child writer, who has been writing children’s books since 1992 believes that it is a matter of demographics, “We've simply reached a significant number, and now second-generation South Asians are having children and looking for books that reflect who they are.”
“I speculate that the South Asian children's market has always been there but has been off the radar for publishers in this country until recently. The realization that this market exists is probably responsible for the current interest in it. I would like to think that part of the reason is also a growing realization that there is much about South Asian culture, history and current affairs that is interesting and important in today's increasingly small world,” says Vandana Singh, Massachusetts based author of “Younguncle Comes to Town” and a professor of Physics.
Interestingly, like Singh, some of these books by Indian American authors and parents, were products of their search for books for their own children. Books that they felt that their children could relate to. Enakshi Choudhri is author of “Naina’s Adventures”. She says that her idea for writing a children’s book really came from her experiences in raising her daughter.
“When my daughter was about two and a half, I started scouring libraries for books with protagonists who resembled her. After some effort, I managed to procure a children’s book with a Chinese-American protagonist at our local library. Ishani, my daughter, was delighted to see that the child in the book had black hair just like her and called her father Baba just like she did. It became her favorite book for a while,” says Choudhuri.
Choudhuri like many Indian American parents, contemplated upon the process of identity development in immigrant children. “I know it’s hard to believe, but children start noticing differences in color of skin, hair and other constructs very early on in life.”
She relates the incident that spurred these reflections, “My daughter was barely two and a half years old when another child in her Montessori school asked her why her skin was brown and not white. At that age, the child was not making any negative or positive associations with skin color but was observing the difference and was curious about it.”
Choudhuri, a Ph. D in Counselor Education, believes that these are the beginnings of identity development in children, “Such observations then encourage a child to develop associations around certain constructs and the nature of these associations, whether they are positive or negative, is highly dependent upon the input he or she receives from the people in his or her environment or the media.”
“Today, more than ever before, the media has a strong impact on a child’s sense of self. Reading books or watching TV programs or playing with toys utilizing strong immigrant protagonists helps the immigrant child develop a positive self-identity. Most children like to see themselves in the books they read. In a way, it affirms their identities,” says Choudhuri.
These books handle diverse subjects, subtly yet precisely. Uma Krishnaswami has written about the Monsoon season in India, a clumsy Indian child who learns yoga to bring balance to her life, a little Indian boy who is waiting at home while his adopted sister arrives from India, a little girl who finds comfort in a new home with the help of the Hindu god Hanuman, a chachaji who is the personification of the troubled partition between India and Pakistan and many others.
Besides these contemporary themes there are the mythological stories that have come down generations, like the stories of Krishna, stories of Ganesha, tales from the Panchatantra, stories about festivals like Diwali, Stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharath. Many of these stories, like The Butter Thief and The Gopal stories are written in a simple style with minimal violence and gore for not just the south Asian American children but for anyone who might be interested in knowing more about world religion and culture.
Fantasy themes like the story of “In Search of The Thunder Dragon,” written by Sophie and Romio Shrestha besides being a visual treat, beautifully weaves a mystical story in with elements of Tibetan Buddhism and Bhutanese culture and legends. “Naina’s Adventures” by Enakshi Choudhuri, is the story of a little girl who travels to India while it is nighttime in the US to visit her grandparents, aboard a mysterious flying train. She must return before it is morning in America and before her parents wake up and find her missing. Here she learns why it is night in one part of the world while the other part is just waking up.
A writer writing about a familiar subject is one thing. However an intriguing fact is that many authors of these South Asian themed books are written and illustrated by non-Indians. However, all these books, the stories and illustrations are simple, educational, entertaining, colorful and artistic. Barefoot Press has published several books about India, by authors who are both of South Asian origin and otherwise. Mandala Publishing, is another such organization which publishes several mythological stories about Krishna and other Hindu gods.
Amy Novesky is one such author, of “The Elephant Prince”, a story about Ganesha who traveled to India shortly before she started writing, “It was a life-changing experience in many ways. I was awe-inspired by how far away and ancient it felt there -- like going back in time. And, despite all the incredible physical poverty I saw, the people were so colorful and regal, curious and friendly,” she says. After returning, I was drawn to Indian mythology and was intrigued by the gods and goddesses, particularly by the elephant-headed god Ganesh. I wanted to know why he had the head of an elephant. And from there I fell in love with his mother, Parvati, and in her quest to have a child. That was something deeply personal and universal that I could relate to,” says Novesky.
For her the most challenging thing was getting “The Elephant Prince” right, for sure. She says, “It was not easy to retell an ancient Indian story -- and to write about gods and goddesses, no less. I questioned many times (and still do) my right to retell such a story. I've never thought of it as my story or my book. It has been very humbling, in the best way.”
To Novesky the most rewarding thing has been how welcoming the Indian American community has been to the book and to her. She says, “Writing this book has been my way of giving back to the people who inspired me on my visit to India, and particularly to the children I met, whom I will never forget. I hope to return to India one day and put books directly into their hands.”
Why then are publishers getting into this market? Is it lucrative for them?
Dana Goldberg, an editor at the Childrens Book Press, which has published some of Uma Krishnaswami’s works, believes that the mainstream publishing industry has been very slow to realize that people of color make up a huge portion of our population and they want books for their children that reflect their contemporary experience, as well as their heritage and history.
“I think it was only a matter of time before publishers started to do some research and realized that, strictly in marketing terms, the South Asian population in the US is well educated and buys books, and was being completely underserved by the industry (that is to say, there were very few books out there aimed at the SA community, if any!),” says Goldberg. “For us, the decision was based more on our mission of creating social change and promoting equity and cross-cultural understanding between all children, and on the fact that we had been hearing from parents and teachers and librarians that there really was a lack of culturally authentic books for South Asian children,” she adds.
“We're always looking to see which communities are being underserved by the publishing industry, and then we try to fill that void. We had identified a lack of picture books available for the South Asian community that featured South Asian children as protagonists and which were also written and illustrated by South Asians.... But as a really small nonprofit press, it takes a lot of research and somewhat of a leap of faith when we start publishing for a new market segment. South Asian books were on our short list of new markets to move into for the reason described above, and then, serendipitously, Uma Krishnaswami's manuscript came in (for Chachaji's Cup). We knew right away that this story was very special, and that she was incredibly talented, and that we had to publish it. We've received wonderful community feedback about Krishnaswami's two books,” says Goldberg.
Barefoot Books is another publishing house that endeavors to educate the world about different cultures and traditions. Among others, their two books “The Elephant Dance” and “Indian Tales’ open a window into life in India.
Novesky believes that the children's market has always looked to different cultures for inspiration, particularly in folktales and mythologies. “As our towns and cities become more and more culturally diverse, there is a need for such books to accommodate children from all over the world. On another note, I suspect the growing yoga culture in our country has led people to seek out South Asian stories that they can share with their children,” she says.
There are music clases, dance classes, language classes, and exposure to friends from the same culture; so children do get some understanding of their cultural heritage. Then are these books reinforcing what they already know? Is there still a need to educate South Asian and non-SA kids about things "South Asian" - culture, traditions, lifestyle, using these books as tools?
“If ‘educate’ is another word for rendering South Asia and South Asians familiar and their culture, traditions and lifestyle being accepted and integrated into the mosaic that most modern nations are evolving towards, then yes, I believe that there is a need to educate all kids in countries with South Asians immigrants about things “South Asian”. Further, if such an ‘education’ allows kids of South Asian origin to develop a secure foundation upon which they can build their rightful place in a modern nation’s identity, without losing a sense of their roots and their cultural heritage then I am all for it,” says Choudhuri.
Krishnaswami who has another perspective says, “I think there is a need to tell "our" stories, to add them to the larger conversation of children's stories. I think it's less about education than joining our voices to other voices out there. Any time you write a story with a "message" in mind the story falls flat. But the characters that I write about are the ones whose stories get into my head and won't go away until I tell them. Of course when I write those stories I do try to bust the stereotypes because my characters are individuals, with all the quirks and flaws of individuals. I want them to be seen that way, not as representative of any group. Anything I could possibly say about being from India would only represent my particular experience.”
“For the same reason there's a need for all children to be educated and exposed to cultures and traditions other than their own -- it makes our world a better place,” emphasizes Goldberg. The cultures, traditions, and lifestyles of the various South Asian communities merit celebrating as much as any other cultural group that lives and thrives in the US. South Asian kids deserve to see themselves and their cultures reflected and validated in the pages of books, and non-South Asian kids also benefit from access to those same books, which act as a window into another cultural world that they can learn from.”
McAuliffe believes that it is always a good idea to educate children about people from different countries and backgrounds, and it is especially important in a community that has a number of immigrants. She believes that children are naturally curious about someone who is “different” and we should be satisfying their curiosity in a positive and supportive way.
So what makes these books successful? Novesky says, “A beautifully written story, compelling characters, a true voice. But, sadly, oftentimes that's not enough. It takes an extraordinary commitment, on the part of the author, illustrator, publisher, bookseller, librarian, to get good books into the hands of readers. Success might mean an award, or two. But an award-winning book is not necessarily a monetary success.
The secret of Singh’s success is that she has never outgrown being a child. “I still read children's fiction, and there is within me a perfectly intact eleven-year-old who reminds me to view the world we live in with wonder. Looking at the world through the eyes of a child is not only refreshing for us jaded grown-ups but also essential. That is why I take children's literature seriously, as literature, and subject it to the same high standards as any other kind of writing,” says Singh. “I'm also inspired by my daughter, who is now twelve and has honed me as a writer by ruthlessly demanding original stories from me since she was a baby,” she adds.
Krishnaswami believes that there is no recipe for any successful childrens book. “I do think the story needs to be strong, the characters engaging, the voice convincing. Children are honest readers and they have no compunctions about closing books they find tedious, she says.
McAuliffe believes that books that offer something different, whether it’s a twist on a familiar story or filling a particular niche (for example: peanut allergies or having a parent who is stationed in Iraq) can prove successful. In her opinion the most important quality of a successful children’s book is superb writing and illustrations. “If the book has a brief text then every word needs to be carefully chosen. If it is a longer book the language should be rich with descriptive imagery,” says McAuliffe.
All this makes one wonder how the Indian American immigrants of yesteryears dealt with the identity crises. Choudhuri thinks that there was a time when new South Asian immigrants had no choice but to mold themselves to fit the norms of American society. “As they struggled to make their way in a society that was largely unfamiliar with their cultures, and was often times unforgiving of the socio-cultural and religious differences that these immigrants embodied, they would adapt or change their names, attempt to lose their accents and their language and retreat largely to the background of the national discourse and identity,” says Choudhuri.
“Today, there is less of a need to do that as modern nations are realizing the positives that these immigrants bring to their societies and are more accepting of their differences. Today’s South Asian immigrant does not have to totally lose his or her heritage to integrate into another society. They can be bicultural and multilingual and can traverse their different worlds without inviting overt ridicule or condemnation,” she adds.
Goldberg concurs, “For the same reason there's a need for all children to be educated and exposed to cultures and traditions other than their own -- it makes our world a better place. The cultures, traditions, and lifestyles of the various South Asian communities merit celebrating as much as any other cultural group that lives and thrives in the US. South Asian kids deserve to see themselves and their cultures reflected and validated in the pages of books, and non-South Asian kids also benefit from access to those same book, which act as a window into another cultural world that they can learn from.”
It is obvious that for most of these writers this type of writing is very personal. Novesky finds it creative and full of possibility. “I love the physical object that is a book, especially in a world that is becoming increasingly digital and revolving in the ether. I love writing them and I love reading them, especially with my son,” she says.
When Krishnaswami first started writing over 15 years ago, retold story collections were still being published quite widely in the children's market. “That's what I wrote for the first few years. The Broken Tusk, published in 1996, is the only one of those that is still in print. There was little original fiction being written then with South Asian characters. Was it hard? Yes, but I didn't know any better.
Compared to then, Krishnaswami deems that the landscape is now easier in some ways it's much more competitive. “Editors will read work with odd or quirky or unusual contexts now, where they may have balked earlier, but they're also very picky about what they'll publish. Bottom line, it has to sell. And many more houses now simply won't accept unsolicited work, or work that isn't sent in by a literary agent,” she says.
Like Krishnaswami and the others say, the market does keep changing. She feels that some of this is grounded in demographics--who's buying books and for what age range? Some of it is in response to ups and down in institutional purchasing by libraries and schools. And some of it is because new ways of writing, new ways of seeing the world, are being reflected in books for children. She articulates that, “The immigrant adjustment story seems old now, for example, but perhaps it will return in some new form. Writers have to be willing to challenge themselves, to grow their craft and keep their work fresh.”
This article by Visi Tilak was published in the magazine, "The Indian American."
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
The basic plot very simply is the story of the five Pandava brothers who go up against their 100 Kaurava cousins to win back their kingdom of Hastinapur, with the divine intervention of one of the most popular reincarnations of Lord Vishnu, Krishna. Along the way Lord Krishna recites the 700- verse Bhagavad Gita which is often described as “a concise guide to Hindu Philosophy”.
Though she was destined to change the course of history, even as she arose from the sacred fire and smoke, Draupadi, one of the main characters in this tale and the wife of the five Pandava brothers, is traditionally left playing a supporting character role. What Chitra Divakaruni has done in her latest novel “Palace of Illusions” is to skillfully narrate this story from Draupadi’s point of view, and more significantly a woman’s perspective.
“When I was fourteen, I gathered up enough courage to ask Krishna if he thought that a princess afflicted with a skin so dark that people termed it blue was capable of changing history. He smiled. That was how he often answered my questions, with an enigmatic smile that forced me to do my own thinking. But this time he must have sensed my confused distress, for he added a few words. A problem becomes a problem only if you believe it to be so. And often others see you as you see yourself.”
With this lyrical interpretation of the Mahabharath, she transports us back to a time that is part history, semi myth, and altogether enchanting. From princess Draupadi’s magical birth, to her rebellious girlhood and the portentous forecast made by a sorceress, to her swayamvar, which would win her, her five powerful husbands, the Mahabharath is a fantastic story which takes us through one of the most devastating wars of all times.
“As you see, the sorceress said, “women contribute to the worlds problems in a hundred insidious ways. And you, who will be more powerful than most, could wreak greater havoc if you aren’t careful. I’ve taught you some better alternatives - if only you can keep them in mind and not get swept away by passion.”
After living in a small grass hut with her husbands, who are in exile at the time of her wedding, and then moving into one of the most magnificent and sought after palaces ever built, Draupadi and the Pandavas are then forced back into exile after Yudhishthir, the oldest of the five brothers loses everything in a game of dice.
Panchaali, a name that has been given to Draupadi after her wedding, is humiliated in a court where the Kaurava brothers disrobe her. Panchaali’s wrath is instrumental in bringing about the Mahabharath war where a great many lives are lost and families and cities are obliterated.
“Vyasa writes: “As the two flames coursed along the sky, oceans began to dry up and mountains to crumble. Men and beasts screamed their terror, for the fabric of the world was about to be ripped apart. Watching from the edge of the tale, I was forced to intervene, though that is not my preference. I stepped out between the flames and raised my hands. By the power of my penances, for a moment the astras were rendered immobile. I chided the two warriors for forgetting themselves and their responsibilities toward the earth-goddess. I demanded that they recall their weapons.”
The war is interpreted from Darupadi’s perspective as well. This unusual version throws light upon the women of royalty and their role during the war, which is often overlooked.
Draupadi’s character also has many shortcomings including her short temper, a manipulative sentiment, and a haughty temperament. A surprise element is her attraction for a mysterious enemy prince, whose identity is revealed later on in the story.
Traditionally many perceive Draupadi’s character as one of a villainess, but Chitra Divakaruni has deliberately and masterfully crafted Draupadi’s character as one that deserves tremendous empathy and compassion.
Divakaruni, with her expressive prose, has succeeded in rewriting this story of the enmity between two sets of cousins, into the story of a woman who changed history.
Sub-plots and new characters are sometimes left hanging, and could have used more storytelling to flow better from one scene to the other. It almost seems like the author was worried about the number of pages in the novel, and cut short some of the more important stories in this saga. In this particular case, more would have been better than less.
A strength of this novel, is the profound thinking that is woven into the main story. “Duryodhan’s last words to Yudhishthir echoed in my ears: I’m going to heaven to enjoy all it’s pleasures with my friends. You’ll rule a kingdom peopled with widows and orphans and wake each morning to the grief of loss. Who’s the real winner, then, and who the loser?”
Advise arising directly from the presence of Krishna and the Bhagavad Gita add value and depth to this setting, and are interwoven cleverly into the dialogs and scenes. “When Arjun asked why man found himself driven to wrongdoing in spite of good intentions, Krishna replied, Because of anger and desire, our two direst enemies.”
The Palace of Illusions is a gripping, entertaining, invigorating and stimulating novel, one that transcends genres. This is one of Divakaruni’s best works yet.
Reviewed by Visi Tilak