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.
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.