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Friday, April 15, 2005


Long and happy years spent on the shore of a studied avoidance of most authors Indian, and of that dreadful expat material churned out by folks who have frittered away their their lives somewhere between St.Stephens, Oxbridge and the States/Europe. It’s time to bite the bullet (Ed- itself a decent book by Ajit Haksar) , and wade into untested waters

Of course, I had cut my teeth on his tepid prose on the tsunami—a troika on his experiences with the survivors, terribly banal and steeped in mediocrity. At the some time, I had some glowing tributes on his other fictional stuff. Yet I glowered !

Decided to crossword this book, was intrigued by his use of a singular incident to build what was yet another non-fictional read for me.

“Dancing in Cambodia” is based on an account of the Royals of the land –King Sisowath visiting Paris along with a posse of dancers. and his cortege. After a hurried recapitulation of the event itself, the ease with which Parisians were bewitched by Royalty ( Ed—and you thought after Marie Antoinette… ) Ghosh then moves the narrative to link to what perhaps should have been his theme, survivors and their tales. He speaks to and of a number of persons, who in some way embody the intertwining of the stories. His character study of Chea, a famous dancer and more importantly, Pol Pot’s close relative, who was taken to the Palace is revealing. Significantly, Ghosh spends a great del of time mulling over the ideological and intellectual metamorphosis of Pol Pot from an inconsequential nerd to a chilling mass-murderer. Much of this appears to stem from influences during his studies in Paris, under the tutelage of one of Sisowath’s Ministers in Paris.
Ghosh is also evocative in his dealing with survivors in a land clinically devastated by Saloth Sar ( the relatives that Ghosh meets allude to Pol Pot by this name and have no inkling of the diabolical vengeance against the middle class that he has wreaked ), referring to them as “rag-pickers, piecing their families together…”

“Stories in Stones” is about the symbolism of Angkor Wat in the collective consciousness of Cambodia, and how it is omnipresent in its unremitting imagery in all walks of public life, except religion. Also that although most associate the monument with hoary splendour, it is actually its modern allusions that the natives adore.

“At Large in Burma” uses Aung San Suu Kyi who is personally known to the author ( that wretched Oxford connection) as a focal point of the narrative that touches upon the enigmatic Asian country’s insularity and it s consequences on subaltern experiences. Ghosh intimately examines the essence of the armed struggle, against a truculent SLORC ( the military-led junta) and its personifiers. He also elaborates on the Indians whose lives have been touched by living in Burma, his own ancestors had roots there, and their levels of integration and amity with the natives. The most interesting part was about the Karennis, a minority near the Thai border, their futility in inveighing for a separate nation state, and lived as such, against feared opposition. Their definition of putative freedom also touches a chord. Also, his averring that Suu Kyi was more dynamic , more lively under house arrest than when she was freed,and that her optimism is increasingly stoppered by a more realistic resignation, is a departure from my understanding so far.

Ghosh thus tries to proffer an understanding into the terribly intricate webs of South Asian polity and populace, by holding up lives of everyday denizens as a beacon of enlightenment and hope. He also hence surfaces some views on the psychology of violence, and almost ironically, a pointer to the emergence and sustenance of a united nation. It seems to carry the ungainly and unwieldy baggage of a writer striving to be politically-correct

A 6 on 10 !


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