Thursday, June 28, 2012

“...character isn’t destiny anymore.”

I finally finished reading Salman Rushdie’s much controversial work, ‘The Satanic Verses’. I must go on record to say that it is one of the densest texts I have read with such rich imagery, a plethora of references relating the present to the history to mythology, and an abundance of subtext. 

Even if you haven’t read the book, I am sure you have heard enough of it, though it was written and published more than 20 years ago. The reason it is banned in many countries, including India, was ofcourse the most compelling motive for me to get my hands on it. 

Having read Midnight’s Children, I was prepared for the characteristic Rushdie, complete with magical realism, frame narrative and the allegories. In terms of sheer literary technique, it cannot be doubted that The Satanic Verses proves Rushdie’s virtuosity and catapults him to the highest league of writers that have been and will ever be.  

There are umpteen references on the WWW, including Wikipedia, as to what the book is about, what are the blasphemous references, and what has been the take of various peoples and countries over the decades. So, I won’t delve into that.

My personal take is that an organized thwarting of any work is not correct in a free, civilized society. Let people write, paint and say what they what, and you decide whether you want to read, see or hear it. Why should you give that power of choice to state machinery?

In the case of The Satanic Verses, from the very title to some key chunk of the text is quite obviously blasphemous. There is no denying that some conservative groups must have found it genuinely offensive but then there is no claim made that this is a religious text. It should be evaluated for its literary worth. Anyways, each one to his and her own but what I feel is that a lot of people are missing on the other larger and very poignant points that Rushdie makes in his novel. In all this hullaballoo, the main text and motive seem to have been lost on the masses. And that is a real tragedy for The Satanic Verses.

Rushdie so evocatively weaves words together to bring out the serious danger the society faces due to closed and absolutist belief systems (call it, religion, if you may); the identity crisis that is brought not only by physical immigration but an alienation from within even though you may be “close” to your roots; how we conform and compromise as we live through the years, and how the reality of all of it strikes at the time of death. 

“…… mingling with the remnants of the plane, equally fragmented, equally absurd, there floated the debris of the soul, broken memories, sloughed-off selves, severed mother-tongues, violated privacies, untranslatable jokes, extinguished futures, lost loves, the forgotten meaning of hollow, booming words, land, belonging home.”

One can’t help feel but awe at the way in which Rushdie begins the book, with an existential question, “How does newness come into the world? How is it born?” And then a sort-of-resolution at the closing, “If the old refused to die, the new could not be born”.

The schizophrenic character of the good, the salvaged being of the bad, and the complete subversion of “essentials” provides, throughout the novel, an interesting interchanging play of good and bad, write and wrong, farishta and shaitan – that surely is the overarching binding (and winning) theme.

Finally, the aspect of the novel that reached out to me most forcefully was how Rushdie brings in the universal angst and skepticism of “today”. There is a famous Greek saying, “Character is destiny”. And we all would like to believe that. And it should be true if we were living in utopia. However, we all have learnt directly and indirectly that life isn’t fair and ideal; and Rushdie beautifully sums it up in this paragraph from The Satanic Verses:

“In this century history stopped paying attention to the old psychological orientation of reality. I mean, these days, character isn’t destiny anymore. Economics is destiny. Ideology is destiny. Bombs are destiny. What does a famine, a gas chamber, a grenade care how you lived your life? Crisis comes, death comes, and your pathetic individual self doesn’t have a thing to do with it, only to suffer the effect”.

[Image Source: Google Images]

Friday, June 22, 2012

Prose from more than a decade ago...

My parents were upto some spying (I guess, err, they call it cleaning) in my room back home and came across two articles that I had written for a newspaper (The Times of India) in senior school. I wondered what all junk must still be buried after so many years in all those cupboards and shelves I guarded as a teenager :D. 

Anyways, dad was quick to scan both the pieces and send them across to me. He thinks it would be a good experience to relive my thoughts from when I was 16 :). Actually it was fun to read what I had written all those years ago. Sharing the pieces here...

This one reads a little sissy in parts. Infact, I don't even remember why I'd even attempted to write this! Mom faintly recalls that maybe there was some writing competition on a given topic and the winning pieces were published. I hope that is the true story...nevertheless, you can have a good laugh at my expense!

The next piece is somewhat better. I don't know if you guys remember but around the turn of the millennium, there was a lot of media coverage on how maybe the coming generations are not as good as the previous in terms of responsibility and maturity. I remember writing quite an elaborate piece, which ofcourse was edited to its following published version. Queen's 'We Will Rock You' was a huge hit during our growing up years!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Math Monster

The subject I most dreaded in school was easily Mathematics. Not that I failed in it miserably or always did pathetic but I ALWAYS felt miserable and pathetic about it. 

Attending a math class, studying for it or giving an exam, I remember having excruciating headaches, numbness and a general aversion. I have not grown out of that hatred (if I can use such a strong word) even now.

What better evidence of that but the fact that I still get nightmares about my preparedness. The one I had last night triggered this post. 
I was on the 20th floor of a glass building with rows of chic white desks and chairs. The invigilator distributed the exam papers and I could barely hear her instructions or decipher the  writing on the paper. I finally got to the point of proving  the simple quadratic formula (a+b)^2 and I was again and again getting 'c' in my solution. 
I got up in a sweat in the middle of the night, and thanked god that I'd never be in a situation like that ever again and promised to myself that I will not crib about any problems in life as long as the mathematical ones did not exist!

I have got maths nightmares - (crisp pages from RS Agarwal, PK Jain and what not staring at me - my fellow CBSE mates will identify with these names!) - before important deliveries at work, meetings etc., even personal dilemmas or milestones, and, believe me, the magnitude of all of them pales in comparison to the nightmare itself. Maybe that's god's way of telling me that I have gotten past worse things in life :D.

I have always tried to analyze this fear of mine and I realize that I do not understand the subject. I find absolutely no logic or action-reaction correlation in almost all aspects of maths - ofcourse when you leave aside the obvious functions of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Rest to me all is humbug. My apologies. 

Take quadratics and trigonometry - now who is interested in adding alphabets and not numbers. Never in my life after Class XII (discounting the MBA Entrance CAT preparation) have I had to deal with 'a's' and 'b's' and cos 's and tan's. 

Set Theory was a saving grace - It was, well, you know, logical. I loved the Venn diagrams and always got those questions right - sadly it was never in syllabus after Grade VI :(. 

Probability - my math tuition teacher swears he lost half his hair making me understand the logic that if there are 50 students in a class and only one can become the lead, the probability for a student to become a lead is 1/50 and not half, as I would try to convince him (Using the simple principle either I become or I don't - so only two options). 

And then life became totally senseless and arbitrary after Integration and Differentiation entered the picture. That's when I totally gave up on Maths and finding my way around it. Those symbols, derivations - the universe was meaningless after all. I found solace in Shakespeare and Wordsworth instead. 

So, do you have any number peeves?

[Image Source: Google Images]

Monday, June 4, 2012

Flashback: The Dessert Menu Before 100 F

So, long before summer had set in, and much before my self inflicted hiatus, there were days when warmth was romantic, the sun didn't shine down with so much vengeance, and one had a wonderful appetite to eat and be merry! Compare that to now. The only two things I feel like eating are watermelons and ice lollies! 

I chanced upon my neglected point and shoot, and realized that there were quite a few culinary adventures that I had not shared here. Will do it in parts, I guess. 

Here's a toast to the good times (read: winter) that were...

Pinni (Atta/Whole Wheat) Ladoos
This was the third variety of ladoos I tried after the unsuccessful rava ladoos and the very successful besan ladoos. And I was more than happy with the results. Followed the simple recipe here, and the goodies were over before we knew!

I tried the instant recipe by Tarla Dalal, and I'd say the results were partially satisfactory. The jalebis didn't turn out to be as firm as I 'd like them to. Also, shaping them in the kadhai/wok was a herculean task too. I couldn't figure out how to close the loop, so I did end up with quite an endless strings of jalebi that I smartly rolled together after frying to give the required semblance - don't ask me the mess that the sugar syrup created. Not sure if I have given up on this delicacy yet though - practice is what I need - hopefully next winter!

Carrot Cake
I love the simplicity of dry cakes. You can bake them in bulk and then enjoy for weeks together with fresh cream, whipped cream, syrup or just a glass of plain cold milk. Tried this easy recipe and trust me you can never go wrong with dry cakes!

Chocolate Cream Cookies
Yours Truly went out and out adventurous with the herald of the new year. Found this very yummy looking recipe here, and made my first set of cream cookies ever! I did follow the recipe to the T, however, was not very happy with my cream - it was a tad bit runny. I refrigerated it for much longer than specified in the instructions and even kept the cookies in the fridge for storage as I was scared the cream might just "melt" away. Was not a super hit but I had put way too much hard work into it to dismiss it as "okay" :).

Lemon Pie Bars
This is a must try recipe. It looks only slightly complicated with the dough and the crust et al. But in practice, it's really easy and if you like the tangy lemon flavor in tarts, this is just the recipe for you. The one small mistake I made was that I made my crust a little too thick but that was all. Gorged on this for all meals in the day!

Black Forest Cake
This was our anniversary special and boy, the hard work it took. All worth the effort though. Here's the recipe. Followed it word for word. Didn't find the kirschwasser (german cherry brandy) at the local store - I used cherry flavored Vodka and the result was super awesome (and more potent maybe :D). I baked the cake a day before and yet couldn't slice it evenly - the top layer was thicker than the other two. Apart from that, it has to be the most delicious and fancy cake I have ever baked (and successfully, may I add).

And here's a cross section view...(you'll notice the thicker top layer :()

Signing off on that sweet and creamy note!


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