Tuesday, August 30, 2005

My Language Is Mine: Ya In Sing Mata Kaji and All*

Merdeka greetings to Malaysians everywhere.
Selepas mendapat ilham daripada seorang kawan, saya akan berbahasa Malaysia sempena Hari Kebangsaan. Merdeka adalah suatu perkataan yang membawa pelbagai makna dan konotasi bagi setiap rakyat Malaysia. Tetapi adakah ia hanya memori suatu imej hitam putih Tuanku Abdul Rahman dari zaman yang telah lalu? Atau adakah Merdeka itu suatu hari dalam kalender untuk bercuti? Mungkinkah ia suatu hari untuk perarakan, fiesta dan ucapan dari ahli politik? Merdeka boleh membawa pelbagai makna. Ia adalah detik kelahiran suatu negara yang sekian lama digengam oleh imperialis. Ia menandakan masa untuk setiap rakyat bangkit dan membina sebuah negara. Tetapi jika Merdeka itu hanya kenangan semata-mata untuk kita semua, pengorbanan generasi yang lalu menjadi tidak bermakna.
Ini kerana Merdeka memerlukan introspektif dari setiap rakyat. Kita harus bertanya sudahkan kita mencapai kemerdekaan rohani? Sekian lama selepas Merdeka, negara kita telah mencapai pelbagai kejayaan fizikal. Pembangunan yang dialami telah menjadikan Malaysia sebuah negara yang begitu moden dalam sekelip mata. Tetapi pembangunan rohani dan jasmani menjadi suatu tanda tanya. Persoalan ini tiada kaitan dengan tahap moral. Persoalan ini adalah mengenai jiwa Malaysia. Saya takut ia sudah mula dinodai dengan wang ringgit dan kemajuan fizikal. Ini tidak salah tetapi harus ada hadnya. Pada pandangan saya, sebuah negara tanpa jiwa adalah sebuah negara yang miskin.
Di manakah seni kita? Karyawan kita? Bahasa kita? Saya masih menuggu untuk Sasterawan Malaysia yang akan menjadi pujaan dunia. Yang akan menunjukkan kepada dunia kekayaan sastera negara kita. Apabila saya mendapat tahu bahawa banyak puisi dan syair tradisional kita yang asli disimpan di muzium di United Kingdom dan bukan negara kita, saya merasa sedih. Dan marah.
XXXXX
Mengenai bahasa. Saya tidak pernah merasai bahawa bahasa Malaysia bukan bahasa saya. Apabila saya mendapat pangkat 'A' di peringkat STPM bagi BM, rakan-rakan saya semuanya hairan. Tetapi bagi saya, ini adalah reaksi yang ganjil. Mengapakah BM itu harus saya anggap sebagai bahasa asing? Adakah kerana bahasa ibunda saya lain?
Bagi saya, bahasa ini adalah bahasa saya. Ia adalah kepunyaan setiap rakyat Malaysia.
My Language is Mine.
*Any Malaysian worth his/her sambal will tell you that Ya In Sing Mata Kaji is a famous line from a movie made by the legendary filmaker, P.Ramlee. It doesnt really mean anything, really.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Razz MaTash


Since there has been a bit of a buzz about The Harmony Silk Factory, I feel that I need to put in my 2 sen worth. Sure, I am glad that a Malaysian writer has reached Booker stature. The caveat is that I am just the average reader, not a professional critic. Yes, I am opiniated but don't expect anyone to agree with me.
So, is Tash Aw the token Asian/African writer in this years Booker long list?

Make no mistake. Tash Aw can write and Harmony Silk Factory is an assured debut. Set in the lush tin-rich Kinta valley, it is the story of a Chinaman called Johnny Lim, squat features, dirt-poor, Communist sympathiser but great salesman. He marries Snow Soong, the daughter of a tycoon, TK Soong. That's about the only thing that is clear I think. Nothing else is black and white. Aw explores every shade of grey in his characters. This makes an interesting, if sometimes confusing read. Yes, yes shades of Ishiguro here. I think the influence is palpable.
A good book for me is one that leaves me with a snapshot of images. And Harmony has many of that. When Johnny Lim hurts the white-guy boss at the dredging mine and the court scene subsequent with Charlie Gopalan, the local lawyer helping him out. When the broken boat drifts away slowly on the way to the Seven Maiden Islands. When Snow and Kunichika meet in the sun dappled garden. These are nice imageries.
I also like that Tash Aw never italicised colloquial words nor is there an obligatory glossary of terms of local language. I really, really think that this is the strongest point of the book. That the author wanted to tell a story, not pander to the Western reader.
The little adventures within the main adventure of honeymooning in Seven Maiden Islands made an interesting read. Though it is so strange to go on honeymoon with so many people. But how will I know, maybe people in Malaya circa 1941 did just that? I also can't help but pick out a few historical inaccuracies which the Mat Salleh reader is wont to miss. The first thing of course is the little fact that 'Malaysia' didn’t exist circa 1940. How can the book then be an account of a Malaysian Chinese family? Also, Snow’s father, TK Soong is said to have studied in University Malaya(UM). UM only existed in 1949 with the merger of King Edward V11 College of Medicine and Raffles College. How could TK Soong have gone to UM, got married and have his daughter Snow Soong go on her honeymoon in 1941?
I am also not sure about the Hang Jebat anecdote. Hange Jebat was a great warrior in the Melaka Sultanate (circa 1511). I only remember him as the sexy one who stood up to the Sultan and fought his friend, the infinitely famously Hang Tuah. Did Jebat fight the Portugese invasion of the Sultanate as alleged in the book? I am not very sure. I could be wrong on this one.

I wonder if the journey to the Seven Maiden Island a metaphor for the journey into the psyche of Johnny Lim or some other character in the book? Or the relationship of Johnny and Snow? I don't know. I suppose it is to reflect all the different layers of the characters but still don't get it. But again, I am no professional reviewer so it could be me. I also didn't like Snow Soong. I tried so hard to emphatize with the only major female character. She turned out to be vapid and devoid of any real emotion. I couldn't care less what happened to her and was hoping that the ridiculous diary of hers will get lost/stolen/destroyed. You see, the writer uses different voices to explore Johnny's character and what really happened. First, is the voice of Jasper, his son. This is told in a crisp narrative and the most engaging one. After that, Snow Soong's diaries appear. This is when I started losing focus. Then, cames the aged Peter Wormwood, friend of Johnny, with his version of the story, by which time I really couldn't care less anymore.
Then again, like I said, it could be me. Being all cranky with so much work over this bank holiday weekend.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Ha Ha Ha

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Fleeting Week

The weekend is over.

While the sense of time (and summer) fleeting by hovered in the background, the weekend was filled with music, lazy afternoons and the rush of warm friendship. Long, languid evenings filled with stories from days long gone by and easy chatter. Good friendship is really the best form of therapy.

Monday beckons.

I know that most of you are going to hate me for saying this but I love Mondays. I love the spanking, shining possibilities of a brand new week. A week to be filled with love, laughter and work. The weekend I use as a receptacle to hold all week day stress. The best weekends are ones that are quiet. Time to unwind, have late breakfast over The Times, walk unhurriedly along the grocery aisle and basically energize for the coming week.

So come Monday, I am all ready to conquer the world.

But try talking to me on Wednesday. That's when those mid-week doldrums have seeped into every pore and I am frantically ranting about the misery of routine. And dreaming of the weekend again for time to exhale.

I tell you mate, it's Wednesday that's the problem, not Monday.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Recent Conversations

Self and Guy at Department

‘I am trying to learn Spanish’.
‘That’s good’.
‘I am sure you speak a few Asian languages’.
‘Not as many as I would like to’.
‘What can you speak?’
‘Well, among others, I can speak the National Language of Malaysia’.
‘And that’s…Portuguese, right?’


Self and Former Classmate

‘Wah, I heard you study some more one, ah?’
‘Yeah’.
‘Why you not fed up study all de time?’
‘Dunno, lah’.
‘No money onelah. Work some more better, I tell you’.
‘I suppose’.
‘I tell you what. Now I open bisnes. You be my London
pardner okay or not?’


Self and Aunt

'So, when is baby coming along?’ (wriggling index finger and shaking head)
‘Ehm…ehm…’(forced smile)
‘Not good to tie up your tubes like this’ (lowers head with admoishing sounds)
‘Ehm…ehm…’(looking very interested on wallpaper)
‘When I was your age I had 2 running around’ (self-righteous nod)
‘Ehm…ehm..’ (looking very interested on cushion cover pattern)
‘You are getting too old. Where are you going to get the
the energy to run around with them?’ ( admonishing sounds)
‘Ehm…ehm…’

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Loving Mangal Pandey

Movie: Mangal Pandey-The Rising
Cast : Aamir Khan, Toby Stephens, Rani Mukherjee

When Indian Sepoy Mangal Pandey (Aamir Khan) asks his friend Captain William Gordan (Toby Stephens) ‘Who is the Company?’ Gordan takes a moment to think. Then he tells him, you know, from the Indian mythology, you have the evil Ravana? Well, the company is many Ravanas put together.

These are one of the many questions that gnaw Mangal Pandey, the ordinary Sepoy serving the British East India company. The Rising attempts to capture the fire that kindled the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The role played by Mangal Pandey in the Indian Mutiny is still subject to controversy among historians but in the movie, Pandey is placed as the impetus for the rising. Hence the eponymous title for the movie. It has roots in Pandey’s gradual unease with his role as a loyal soldier. Firing at innocent villagers makes him feel like a pawn in the game played by the Company. The usage of cartridges laced with beef and pig fat which the soldiers must bite to load their guns are immediate reasons that make Pandey’s Hindu sensitivities rage. But, as he later tells Gordon, it is ultimately his need to fight for his own and the country’s dignity that stirs him. The crying need to be treated as equal amongst men. It is not a matter of my life, he remarks. India is already rising.

The movie has managed to effectively capture 1857 India with great care for the set and costumes. It works especially well in showcasing the psyche of the downtrodden Indian with a sense of humour and pathos. Strong performance all round by a stellar cast. Aamir Khan doesn’t let down. He shifts from a young man forging friendship, enjoying wrestling and liquor to a restless, angry fireball with ease. Toby Stephens, playing the Company officer William Gordon who befriends Mangal also delivers his conflicted, torn-by-conscience-and-duty role brilliantly.

The movie provides a snapshot of the rapacity that drove the British East India company. Chartered in 1600, it is the progeny of the modern transnational corporation. It is also a prime example of an early corporate violator of human rights. It is staggering to imagine that a company minted its own currency, maintained its own army and exercised legal jurisdiction within the regions where it did business. The question posed by Mangal on who is the company is an important one. How can a trading company rule countries? Yet, when we think of the modern transnational companies violating the Ogoni tribe in Nigeria, running sweatshops in Cambodia and destroying the environment, one wonders who is ruling still.

Sometimes, we forget the early fight for human dignity. A movie like The Rising reminds us. I particularly liked the part where Mangal speaks up against the royal emissaries who want to join forces with the sepoys. He accuses the Indian kings of gambling away the country and how the people must now fight for the country’s honour. It will be the country of the people hence.
Rani Mukherjee's character Heera shows how women were traded like chattels, to be used and abused by the company soldiers. Her role is small but she has what can be called one of the most biting lines in the movie. When Mangal harshly dismisses her and other prostitutes and tells them to go and sell their bodies to the English soldiers, she snaps back. The prostitutes only sell their bodies but the soldiers sell their souls, she says. Mangal’s eyes wince in pain. The truth that he knows deep within is articulated for the first time.

The music by A.R.Rahman left me spellbound. I loooveedd it. Especially the meditative Mangala…Mangala…..

XXXXXX
I am also reminded of dear old Samad Miah, father of twins, husband of Alsana, friend of Archibold Jones from one of my favourite novels, Zadie Smith's White Teeth when watching the exploits of Mangal Pandey. Samad Miah, of Willesden Green, North London, had a strong conviction, nay he knew deep down, that he, Samad Miah was desecendent of Mangal Pandey. This believe, that the great Mangal Pandey's blood coursed his veins, was one of the enduring character trait that I truly like about Samad Miah.
The first time we took the tube to Willesden, I scoured the place looking for him.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Sneaky Reading

I couldn't wait for Christmas. I sneaked and read The Gift of the Magi again.

The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.
Now, I am feeling all warm and fuzzy again.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Review: Raincoat

Last night, M and I caught Raincoat on DVD. I know that this movie came out aeons ago to some acclaim but we missed it due to a variety of reasons. Loosely based on O’Henry’s short story, The Gift of the Magi (incidentally, a story that will warm your spirit on a cold winter day), the movie is directed with sensitivity by Rituparno Ghosh and stars Ajay Devgan and Aishwarya Rai. There's not much of anyone else in it though (M is already groaning, oh no, one of those artsy fartsy movies. I am hooked the minute the folksy background music seeps in).

Raincoat speaks of old loves, broken promises and missed chances. Calcutta (should I say Kolkatta?), shrouded in smoky rain, brings the old lovers, Manoj and Neeru, together. Manoj’s life of misfortune drags him to the bowels of the city. Hovering in the fringes of chilling reality is Neeru.

Ajay Devgan’s simpering Manoj lurches into the movie right from the first scene. The interminable rain fills the mind, unleashing imprisoned memories and eviscerating inner decay. Then, Aishwarya’s Neeru emerges from the darkness. Manoj takes in her darting, wounded eyes and aged face. The place is her crumbling home. It is musty and cluttered – a nest of cobwebbed dreams. He is a broken man, no job, no money and no immediate future. She is someone else’s wife. Meeting again after many years stirs memories and cloistered skeletons. Pride, and a convoluted sense of dignity, snakes its way. Amidst all that is left unsaid. After all, how many of us are going to be truthful about our mundane present lives when meeting an old lover? You lick your wounds, glaze your eyes and say, almost shrilly, how perfect it all is now.

Perhaps, Manoj and Neeru can never not love each other. The rain is a pivotal character in the movie, not just a landscape or metaphor. It unleashes old wounds and pries open the mistakes and regrets. Of the old love you left behind. For the deep feelings that once consumed your spirit. It is the rain that washes away both Manoj and Neeru’s rusted emotions. Rituparno Ghosh weaves a lovely study of human nature. We are selfish, stubborn and resentful of criticism. Yet, above all this, we love and are loved back. This is our gift. And tragedy.

The haunting background music lingers in the mind. It wells up within, building a crescendo of sadness and finally, releases an aching void. Utterly beautiful. Ajay Devgan has improved his craft and Manoj is the result of an actor at his prime. Manoj merges into the crowd and has no distinguishing features. The heritage of sadness weighs on him, both emotionally and physically. As he breaks down and cries in the dark bathroom, the downtrodden Manoj is shifting and pathetic.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Aishwarya. She should stick to the regular masala fair. Stop deluding herself that she can carry a heavy movie like this. It would have been a much better movie if Neeru was played by a better actress.
XXXXX
Rani Mukherjee perhaps. After having watched her in Veer Zaraa and Black (which I will try to review soon, at least to gush about Amitabh Bachan), I think Rani can do no wrong.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Story So Far

It has been 10 months since I registered for the PhD. 10 months of being a full-time student.

What have I been doing? Frittering time away, secretly watching Countdown, Richard & Judy and CSI in the evenings, cooking up strange new dishes that have ended in the bin and not the plate and parking self at museums and galleries instead of desk. That's what.

It's not been easy. There have been so many nights that I have cried and told M that I want to quit. Pronto. I can't take the ordeal of looking at obscure cases reported in 1875 anymore.

Yet, on somedays, when I do stumble on an angle which I think I can take or find the most interesting literature in my area, I feel light and happy again. I remember the joys of research and why I had wanted to embark on this journey in the first place. Just think. I can make a difference in scholarship. That is such an honour.

Earlier this evening, I met the lovely H down the corridor and told her much her words have helped me on dark days. She had told us that ‘the PhD will be the most intellectually satisfying journey you will ever have’.
‘Thank you’, I tell her.
‘Thank you for giving me these words-they are my source of strength, sometimes the only reason I can think of to continue, to forge ahead’.

These are the words that have become my survival mantra.

No.5: Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour's Book

Some observations about tube travel

1. Commuting without reading material in hand often makes me feel inadequate. I always feel that the people around me are arching their eyebrow and saying 'Ah look, a bimbo'.

2. This notwithstanding, I think most commuters enjoy the moments of aloneness. I like the disconnectedness - no mobile phones when underground and people around you in their own oblivion. Long commutes are great to take stock, do emotional audits and plan the day ahead.

3. During rush hour, always stand along the aisle. So, you are the closest to the next available seat. This is a technique which a non-Londoner will never know.

4. People sitting next to me do often remark that I have a great book in hand and that they had enjoyed reading it. There is a camaraderie among the reading commuters this way.

5. My pet peeve however are those who always find other people's book/reading material more interesting. I often find the person sitting next to me peering into my book, not just checking what I am reading but actually, ehm, reading it. Now, at such a moment, I can just hope that the bloke next to me doesn't have smelly breath.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Remembering The Wonder Years

I got this from Lindsey and it reminded me how much I miss my favourite TV show, The Wonder Years. For those of you who never had the chance to follow this heartwarming series, it is about the central character, the adult Kevin, reminscing his younger days in a small suburb in the States. A bittersweet tale of growing up, Kevin narrates his story with tenderness and sense of homour. The dysfunctional family, not-very-bright brother Wayne and sister Karen. The nerd best friend Paul. And the beautiful girl next door, Winnie. We watch them all change over time.

(The closing monologue to the television show, "The Wonder Years")

Once upon a time there was a girl I knew, who lived across the street.
Brown hair, brown eyes.

When she smiled, I smiled.
When she cried, I cried.

Every single thing that ever happened to me that mattered,
in some way had to do with her.

That day Winnie and I promised each other that no matter what, that
we'd always be together. It was a promise full of passion and truth and wisdom.
It was the kind of promise that can only come from the hearts of the very young

The next day Winnie and I came home. Back to where we'd started.
It was the 4th of July in that little suburban town.
Somehow though, things were different. Our past was here, but our future was somewhere else. And we both knew, sooner or later, we had to go.

It was the last July I ever spent in that town.
The next year, after graduation, I was on my way.

So was Paul. He went to Harvard, of course. Studied law.
He's still allergic to everything

As for my father, well... we patched things up.
Hey, we're family. For better or worse.
One for all... and all for one.

Karen's son was born in that September.
I gotta say, I think he looks like me. Poor kid.

Mom, she did well: business woman, board chairman,
grandmother... cooker of mashed potatoes.

The Wayner stayed on in furniture. Wood seemed to suit him.
In fact he took over the factory two years later...
when dad passed away.

Winnie left the next summer to study art history in Paris.

Still we never forgot our promise.

We wrote to each other once a week for the next eight years.

I was there to meet her, when she came home...
...with my wife and my first son, eight months old.

Like I said, things never turn out exactly the way you planned.

Growing up happens in a heartbeat.

One day you're in diapers; next day you're gone.

But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul.

I remember a place... a town... a house like a lot of other houses...
A yard like a lot of other yards... on a street like a lot of other streets.

And the thing is... after all these years, I still look back... with wonder.

[Fade to black]


Growing up happens in a heartbeat.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Of Shady Dealings and Victorian Spirits

Sue Trinder’s fiendish escapades in Sarah Waters Fingersmith is keeping me engrossed this weekend. It has a Dickensian appeal that brings alive 19th Century London with vivid colours and shady undertones. All grimy and dark passions. Lovely.

Talking about 19th Century. M and I just found out that our flat was built in 1845 or so! Amazing. It’s one of those Victorian buildings that’s been partitioned of into smaller portions. I had of course imagined all along that the whole place was once upon a time a magnificent mansion with carriages and servants, fine ladies in elegant jewels and all the quaint Jane Austen touches. Of course, sometimes when I stay up to do my work till very late, my skin tingles with thoughts of some Victorian spirit hovering in the corner.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Happiness is A Daily Decision

It is so easy to lapse into depression. To let self degenerate in a morass of self-pity and think that the whole world is crumbling. That is really the easiest thing.

It's when I see people still smiling and finding faith in their lowest hour that I truly feel a jolt in my spine. The people of Bombay city, my heart goes out to you.

XXXX

Yesterday, 6,600 policemen prowled the London tubes. It was Thursday. I wasn't sure but I thought that the carriages were emptier than usual. Eyes darted oh-so-casually to the person sitting on the next seat. Feet shuffled. When I reached Liverpool Street, for the first time, I felt my heart twist. Clenching my knuckles, a nervous habit, I sat frozen. It may have been the most irrational thing, but for a few minutes, I just thought what if.

Finally, when I reached my stop, I gasped for air, winked at the policeman and went on my way, dissolving into routine.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

My Tribute to Libraries

When queuing at a supermarket line, I always notice various plastic cards gleaming when people brandish their purses. Credit cards, debit cards and all other plastic tools created for ease of purchase. My purse showcases another variety of cards-library cards.

Libraries always have a calming effect on me. There is something so reverential about the rows and rows of books lining up before your eyes and stretching away. Older libraries especially have a familiar bookish smell, one that quickly fills my spirit with quiet contentment. On ceaseless, truly depressing days, those days when my heart freezes over, when even a spot of retail therapy doesn’t work, I find myself looking for a library or bookshop. You see, then I can lose myself in other people’s minds. While being gruff and monosyllabic.

I do get terribly crossed when books are not in their correct shelves. I find it very insulting to see that a book has not been categorized properly. It’s like living forever in somebody else’s house, I tell the librarian in despair. How will you feel?

Even as a child, I had an affinity for libraries. Whenever we had a free period in school, I being the geek that I was, would head of to the library to find a new read. It wasn’t a big school and the library was small. By the end of primary school, I had read most of the books there.

For many years, I couldn’t afford to buy much books. I just couldn’t go to a bookshop and pick from a choice. So, libraries became my sanctuary. There wasn’t much of anything else going on in my little town. But I knew I could change the world if I wanted to. I could become anybody I wanted when I read. With books, I truly believed that I could achieve, not just aspire, to paraphrase Oprah Winfrey.

When I was older, I dreamed of falling in love in a library. The idea of having a good looking man reach out for the same book as I was something that fuelled many youthful romantic fantasies. That happened to Latha in Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. Okay, she and Kabir meet in a bookshop but that’s my second favourite place after all (Many years later, I would meet my husband in the most ordinary place but we are in every sense of the word truly happily married, our first meeting notwithstanding).

Anyone who spends a crazy amount of time looking for books in library depositories and still enjoys it must be absolutely mad. Depositories are those dingy places at basements where they store out-dated books, ones that are out of print, out of circulation and out of general interest. When I find Roland Mitchell in A.S.Byatt’s Possessions spending an inordinate time at the basement of the British Library, I truly feel his pangs of anxiety. What treasure will he discover among all the dusty tomes?

My love for libraries was always fuelled by my parents. Whenever there were birthdays or when we did well in school, my sisters and I always got book gifts. We read together and I always shared my stories with them. These are happy memories of my girl-hood. One day, I will share the books that I adored as a child with you. Soon.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Some Days are Blonde Days

Shami Chakrabarthi is everywhere. The Director of civil rights NGO, Liberty, she is articulate, intelligent and an expert in anti-terror laws. She was on TV last weekend urging young, displaced British Asians to rethink their sense of displacement and assuring them that they can enter into a dialogue with the powers-that-be to initiate change.

I personally however can only think that she is so gorgeous. The thing about very intelligent women is that they always floor me when they are beautiful. And always make me wonder about the men they marry. It speaks so well for a man that an intelligent woman chose to marry him.

Now, now. This simply means that I would not have much to say about a man who chooses to marry the likes of Anna Nicole Smith.

Review: The Glass Palace

I have been meaning to read The Glass Palace for a long time now. I finally managed to get hold of it and have not been disappointed. Amitav Ghosh has an acute sense of observation and facility to weave history into a story of love, life and death.
The Glass Palace is a delicately layered, sprawling saga that starts with the fall of the Burmese monarchy and ends in junta-led Myanmar. Trailing the ups and downs of 4 generations, the lush book spans from Rangoon, Madras, Ratnagiri (India), Calcutta to Malaya. The variegated lands provide a dense backdrop. It is on the shadowy main road of Mandalay that the central protagonist, Rajkumar, chances upon the beautiful Dolly as she accompanies the royals into exile. Rajkumar’s story is weaved with the tumultuous rule of the British Raj and the ensuing travails of the locals in all these places. Poignant and honest, the book contemplates the implications of the empire and questions of identity incisively.

As we follow Rajkumar, from a ragged orphan into a timber tycoon, the first generation ravaged by the expanding empire becomes the focus. The subjugation of the Burmese royals marks the beginning of the impending sense of loss, shame and displacement that will be translated to the following generations. Rajkumar symbolizes the tenacious individual, seemingly unaffected by the rapacious empire, building his wealth in oblivion. He realizes his folly at the end, with tragic circumstances.

Dolly on the other hand, cannot cope as well. The ravishing beauty retreats further and further into her shell and finally seeks solace in religion. It is the second generation however, the children of Rajkumar and Dolly as well as their friends, who turn to form the pivotal study. Amongst the colourful cacophony of characters, Ghosh chooses to develop a tale of bewildering passions. Rajkumar’s two sons, Neel and Dinu explore different destinies. Hovering amongst them is the angst and corresponding canker-infested search for a sense of self amidst countries huddling under imperial rule. Love blooms amidst the sombre days, resuscitating a sense of hope. Yet, peace is far away. They wait much longer for freedom. Fear hounds in the background and each clutch on to the other. Not really sure of the right feeling.

These themes are explored further with the Japanese occupation, particularly in Malaya. Promising an eastern brotherly hand, the Japanese turn out to be like any other power crazed pack. Death begins to smell distinct everywhere. Finally, at the end, they are free from the clutches of a ravenous empire but they find that they cannot free themselves from their inner demons. Of what they thought of themselves and what they had eventually become. It is only when they truly reach out to each other and open themselves to love that they purge the inner demons.
Ghosh's best writing may still be coming. Apparently The Hungry Tide which is a newer novel by him is better than this. I will be looking for that book soon.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Clear Light of Dawn

There is something surreal about the first light of dawn. As the cavernous secrets of night lumbers away slowly, a sense of change diffuses the air. An awakening from the dark recesses. Purity saturates with promise of a new beginning. It is the hour of possibilities. Of having a bright canvas stretching, unspent and free. The spiritual communion is in perfect symmetry.

Dawn soon to be swallowed by the stirring life. Lost forever. But an eternal promise. Shining.

This is God’s true gift. A new day. To shed the past and forget. A day to live.

Oh, hello August.


If you could get rid
of yourself just once,
The secret of secrets
Would open to you.
The face of the unknown,
Hidden beyond the universe
Would appear on the
Mirror of your perception
~Rumi

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