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Thursday, May 26, 2005

ELIZABETH COSTELLO

A book by Coetzee after my self-inflicted break. This latest book is a bit of a conundrum—it chronicles and shapes the thoughts and associations of a well-known authoress, on the brink of deserved retirement, along with her son. The eponymous authoress is invited for a series of performing-flea like lectures and discourses all over the world where her lack of marketability, persona and inner thoughts grapple with the inadequacies of articulation and cogent conclusion.

The book references the material that she uses to talk to her blasé and indifferent assembles audiences about, presents what was must surely be Coetzee’s take on various issues, and struggles with her visible inability to influence those around her, including her own family. Not much mention of her past, even as an indicator to her present opinions.
Topics such as the importance of humanities, the arguments against non-vegetarianism, contemporary African writing and its roots and explanations, Christian faith are dealt with intricately. Most stances adopted are more polarized than catholic and invite critique and reason from her audiences and readers alike. This comes across as a work that is somewhat Deconstructionist, and mulls over certain structural frailties of our understanding of academia, fiction and experience-sets.

An unusual narrative for a book, probing what must be familiar territory for Coetzee—he won several prizes himself, had perhaps been a reluctant raconteur to unwilling listeners. A series of acceptance speeches, Guest Lectures and the like constitute the material. A good touch in making the character less than forceful; unfocussed and vacillating, described as tired too. Another nicety was the non-existent’ The House on Eccles Street” , based as a counterpoint to the Ulysses saga, which Costello is supposed to have been lauded for.

A 7 on 10 !

THE LONG STRIDER

How Thomas Coryate Walked from England to India in the year 1613 is the subtitle and this is an accurate description of the theme of this book written by Dom Moraes and Sarayu Srivatsa.

Master Thomas Coryate ( pronounced cor-yet) was an adventurous and unfettered runt living with his widowed mother in Somerset, and had acquired a putative ability to traverse great distances, and had even been a moderately successful published author of the seventeenth century. His being a dwarf only heightened his creative forces as he lusted for knowledge borne out of first-hand experiences in diverse geographies and undertakes arduous journeys with the sole intent of benefiting and sharing. He conceived an unthought-of plan to walk to India from Somerset ( navigating the seas , of course) through deserts, mountains and Afghanistan. He aimed to meet with Emperor Jahangir, Thomas Roe and get them to finance another walking expedition to China. His encounters were scary, noteworthy and unique; he braved scorn, penury, physical travails and vilification en route and also at Source and Destination.
The book is a historical reconstruction of his escapades by the authors who endeavour to walk in his very footsteps in India, overcoming disillusionment and despondence at the patina of memories that Coryate left behind four centuries ago. It was also Dom’s last book as he battles cancer while retracing Coryate in Bombay, Jodhpur, Ajmer, Agra and then finally Surat, where Coryate is buried.

Vivid descriptions of an era that can only be reaasembled—the exotica and the enigma that is India is captured without condescension or concoction, the labyrinth of images that characterize Jahangir and Roe is brought out, as are the ideas and expression sof the “common man”, as are tales of eunuchs, sati, harem lore, and political intrigue. A more than valuable of Indian topography too. Very readable and engaging—facile prose !

A 7.5 on 10 !

BLACK MARGINS

My first introduction to the life and works of Sa’adat Hasan Manto, a feted essayist and short-story writer of Kashmiri extraction who left, phlegmatically for Pakistan post Partition. I had heard a lot about him, primarily, the semiotic penumbra of Toba Tek Singh, and his irascibility, and his unwillingness to suffer fools gladly.

Again, I can only hint at my seething rage at not being able to read in any language other than E or H. The stories center primarily around the marginalized, the trivialized and the oft-neglected sections of our populace, and his purported propensity to sensationalize, and rake up subdued issues have merited comparisons to D H Lawrence and even a O Henry. His cerebral and platonic associations with Ismat Chugtai are also covered in this collection of short stories – Swraj ke Liye, Kali Shalwar, Banjh, Phande, Toba Tek Singh, Tetwal ka Kutta, Khol do, Kali Hashiye, Letter to Uncle Sam and pices on his own writing self and another on Ismat Chugtai.

His writing is scabrous, piercing, unpretentious and lively. Finely honed sensibilities, an incapacity for orthodoxy and dogma, and compassion for the dregs of society characterize Manto. A very well-written introduction by Asaduddin enables the reader to get a better feel for the piquancy of this much-misunderstood man.

A 7.75 on 10 !

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