Tuesday, 17 February 2015

BOOK REVIEW : DISGRACE by J.M.COETZEE

DECEPTIVE :(a) intended to make         someone believe something that is not true
                     :(b) likely to make someone believe something that is not true
This word has a negative flavour but I somehow really like this word and love to use it in my vocabulary. Though whether I am deceptive or not is another topic completely :))
I was introduced to this word at the age of 13-14. The story behind this introduction goes something like this:
I had just turned a teen when the oldest of my cousins (from my maternal side) got married. When this didi (elder sister) of mine had come to Guwahati for the first time after her marriage, we would not leave her alone at all. We would follow her around all the time and keep asking her about her life in Delhi in a new household. It was all so fascinating for us, especially any mention of her husband, our first Jijaji( brother in law)!!! Everyone would tease her that she's very lucky to have found such a simple guy as her soulmate. Her answer for some reason is etched in my memory and is my first brush with the word "deceptive".. Didi had answered that Jijaji was as simple as a bamboo which though seems straight, is full of knots from the inside. She further added that looks are deceptive and we should not go by looks alone!!!
This word and especially this phrase caught my fancy and till date I enjoy using it!!!
I am sure all of you are at your wits end wondering why this off the track story and its relation to my post..
Hmmmmm.. No mystery here.. Please bear with me for some more lines...
After my debacle with The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk , I was determined to only read books whose page limit does not go beyond 300-350. While checking online, this book Disgrace by J.M.Coetzee  fitted the requirement to the T. It is a thin book of a total 220 pages. OK, now people, I am not that weird that I would just buy a book based on its length. The author the esteemed J.M.Coetzee, is the winner of the 1999 Booker Prize and the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2003, which was another convincing reason to go for this book.
Now this story is what I would truly call a deceptive one. The story seems to be a very simple one with a straightforward storyline. The book begins by introducing the readers to David Lurie, professor of English who teaches romantic literature in a technical college in Cape Town. He is twice divorced and is very dissatisfied with his work. He is 'disgraced' when he forcibly seduces a young student of his, Melanie. When he refuses to honestly and truthfully accept his mistake, he is forced to resign from his teaching post. After being dismissed from the teaching job he goes off to live with his daughter Lucy, who lives on a farm in the countryside. Though the father and daughter are not close to each other, the initial few days are spent smoothly and peacefully. But this camaraderie does not last long as David and Lucy become victims of a hideous crime wherein not only are they looted, physically assaulted, Lucy is even raped by the assailants, which she considers as a 'disgrace'.
This sudden twist and the subsequent handling of the story and the reaction of the main characters left me both surprised and shocked. Surprised at the simplicity of narrative which resulted in a powerful fiction and shocked at the impact it had on my psyche. I was not able to shake off the heavy feeling which lay over me for days after I finished the story. I was just not able to come in terms with the way Lucy behaves post the brutal rape. Its like she has chosen the role of a martyr. It is the role she has adopted for herself, the price she has decided she has to pay for being a white woman living in the South African countryside.
This is an extremely complex book, with a lot going on. At its core, it's about gender politics, treatment of animals at the hands of humans and race, specifically about race relations in modern-day South Africa. So what is the disgrace that the title refers to??? David's disgrace at the beginning of the book, being caught in an affair with a student? The disgrace Lucy feels from the rape? The disgraceful behavior of the rapists and of Petrus, who is protecting them and may possibly have instigated the whole incident in the first place?
Wow.. This was some real heavy stuff... This was why I wrote at the begining, of this story being a deceptive one. I was totally taken for a ride in believing that its going to be a easy read of 200+pages. Boy!! Was I in for a surprise... You have to give it to Coetzee to write so magnificently and highlight the grave issues relevant in an apartheid post South Africa.  He writes a  tight story which does not let you escape from the uneasiness on being faced with our own internal prejudices and personal demons. Very uncomfortable and literally shook me to the core. No wonder I was soo low since the past one week.
Lastly awesome book to read but only if you have a strong stomach!!!!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

BOOK REVIEW : Sunlight On A Broken Column by Attia Hosain

"Pre- independent unified India and the struggle for independence" , are topics on which innumerable stories have been written and that too from all possible perspectives. This book " Sunlight On A Broken Column" by Attia Hosain is also set during the Raj days, prior to our independence. So, now the inevitable, " What's so special about this one??  What sets it apart from other innumerable fiction stories in the backdrop of India's struggle for independence??"  The answer is clich├ęd but true and simple : ITS DIFFERENT!!!
Attia Hosain weaves a beautiful, intricate story about an influential Muslim family with characters having an uneven blend of black, white and grey shades in their temperament, their personalities making them very real and easy to identify with. While reading this book I found myself on a roller coaster ride experiencing a myriad of emotions ranging from a claustrophobic feeling of restriction, indecisiveness, rebellion, the feeling of excitement and goose bumps-on-your-skin on meeting "the right one" , of anger, of resentment, of helplessness. But the predominant feeling which lasted even after I was done with the book was a deep deep sense of longing for the years gone by, for the hometown left behind, for the friends who were once my lifeline but are no more there with me because of varied reasons: change of place, change of interests, change in mindset, change in priorities, a melancholy loss for those dear ones who left half way in this journey called life for heavenly abode. This book, especially the last few pages in the story made me ache  for my roots, for my childhood, for the moments left behind, for the time so so lost from my hands forever that I had  almost started crying.. And not the ladylike soft sobs but those huge loud cries with hiccups and running nose, all combined together..
I actually told Niraj after finishing this book, " How I wish I could go back in time, if, only for a day!!" , and the look he gave me were a thousand answers in itself!!
Laila, the main protagonist is the orphaned daughter of a distinguished Muslim family of Talukdars. Keeping her father's last wishes in mind, Laila is given western education but she observes purdah like her aunts and cousins at home. She is being brought up in an ultra conservative setup but all this changes when BabaJan, her grandfather passes away and she goes to live with her uncle Hamid who though claims to be liberal, is infact very dominating and controlling. Laila gets exposed to the outer world through her new friends when she starts going to university.  Here she comes across young men and women who are anti- government (British government) and are actively involved in the Independence movement which is slowly gaining momentum. But Laila, herself is not able to commit herself either as pro British or anti- British as she finds herself continually fighting ( within herself)  for her own independence against societal rules and dogmas. She is finally able to break the shackles of tradition and honour and duty when she goes against her family to marry Ameer, who though a Muslim is not a part of their social strata. Laila imagines a life of " happily ever after" with Ameer but life, as we know loves to shock us and put us in unusual situations when we least expect any change! And so it happens with Laila. Her life as she had always known takes a complete turn in the height of India's fight for freedom, partition of India into Pakistan and India and the need to ascertain one's rightful place whether as a Muslim in India or uprooting oneself and going to Pakistan to build a new life and a new nation.
This is a story which is almost like a memoir based on Hosain's personal experiences, growing up in an influential albeit a conservative muslim household prior to independence.
The story tends to be a bit depressing at times and it is also a tad bit slow in some portions but overall its worth a read. Reading this book takes you back to a time which our grandparents talk fondly about, it talks about customs and traditions which are rarely seen today and talks of love which was , is and always will be the feeling which makes us strong emotionally and mentally and gives us wings to fly to our rightful abode!!!