Archive for January 4th, 2009

Pradeep Sebastian discovers Bolano!

January 4, 2009

In the latest Hindu literary review edition he tells about a book of short stories that he read:

As I began reading about Bolano, his life and literary philosophy cast a deep spell on me. I rushed to get a copy last month (which would also be last year) of The Savage Detectives but the bookstores were out of it, and 2666, they informed me, would arrive only in 2009. Instead they handed me his short stories, Last Evenings on Earth, and I grabbed it.

It’s the first book of short stories in a very long time that I found fascinating enough to read story after story. Most short stories even by writers I like I read selectively. Here, with Bolano, the next story only seemed to be just as — if not more — promising. I can tell you why straight away: they held deep personal appeal. They are all stories about obscure writers, unfinished work, poets as revolutionaries and shadowy literary characters. The style is first person, even autobiographical, and they work as story-essays, if there could be such a thing as stories told as essays! They combine personal history with political engagement. They also work as precise and startling portraits mostly of either imagined writers (who actually resemble famous Latin American writers), or poets who are friends of the narrator. One story, “A Literary Adventure”, is as good as anything Borges wrote — and perhaps more interesting. I find the work of Roberto Bolano — full of doomed but brave writers, lost youth, militant left politics, and utopian ambition — strangely inspiring and moving. His manifesto calling writers to follow Rimbaud and hit the road — hit life, that is, — is an endearing legacy. Writing matters.

I’ll be looking for copies of Bolano during my next visit to the bookshop or the library.

Memories of home!

January 4, 2009

The pictures, associations and the memories that the word” home” brings to my mind are our ancestral house — as it was when we were growing up — the banyan and ficus trees, the village temple, the not-so-distant hillock, the rainy days as seen from the pyol, the raising of dense, bluish smoke from the country tiled houses at five in the evening after the heavy rains followed by a clear sky during the monsoon season giving the entire place an unnatural glow, and, of course, the heat in the summer when nothing moved from about twelve or one in the afternoon till about three! This is in spite of my not having stayed for more than a couple of weeks there in the past fifteen years or so, and, in spite of the fact that but for the physical structure the place, the people and the culture does not seem all that familiar to me anymore! And, homes are places like that — places that exisit in ones mind with such clarity that the reality gets blurred under their influence. In the latest issue of Outlook, there are several piece on this theme; the ones by Mukul Kesavan and Mark Tully, I found to be the best among the offerings.

While we are on the topic, the essay by A R Venkatachalapathy’s in his book In those days there was no coffee in which he has several interesting things to say about the way the hometowns were remembered in some of the early Tamil autobiographies (which essay, I accidentally read at about the same time as these two) is also a nice read; in fact, I had a feeling that had excerpts from Chalapathy’s essay be published in Outlook to serve as an introduction to these pieces, it would have made e collection complete and satisfying.

A tribute to MNS

January 4, 2009

It is no secret that I am a great fan of MNS and his writings; see here and here for example. So, I was very happy to see Ram Guha’s latest piece in the Telegraph in which he pays his tributes to the man and his works. Among the several interesting things that Guha has to say, I found this one very insightful:

On looking back at his life and career, I think that another reason that Srinivas wrote so insightfully about modern India was that he was always, in some sense, an outsider. He was born and raised in Mysore, where he was a Tamil living among Kannadigas. He then took a PhD in Bombay, where he was a Kannada speaker among Maharashtrians and Gujaratis. He later did another doctorate at Oxford, where he was a brown among whites, an Indian among Englishmen. After his return to India, he taught at universities in Baroda and Delhi, where he would have been seen as a south Indian among north Indians. In between his degree and his jobs he undertook long spells of fieldwork in southern Karnataka, where he was a townsman among rural folk. In all these situations, because he could not take the culture or language for granted, he captured aspects of its working that eluded the unselfconscious and unthinking insider.

Take a look!