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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

BUYING A FISHING ROD FOR MY GRANDFATHER

This collection of six short stories from the famed mandarin Gao Xingjian was my first step in exploring works I had studiedly ignored claiming racial or social distance.
Each story is suffused with a mellowed narration of disjointed experiences, placed in a setting that only incompletely captures the moment in its entirety, leaving the vertiginous description to the reader’s imagination.

The Temple” begins with a cavorting couple on a honeymoon, and their chancing upon a decrepit temple by hillside. The duo grow increasingly restive as the tone of the tale turns sombre and bleak against a backdrop of longing, loss and lament ”The Cramp” is a Dahl-ian caper of a young male swimmer who is on the verge of drowning, and escapes after a near-death experience. “ The Park” has two anonymous acquaintances who speak hauntingly of the past seated in a lonely park even as someone audibly weeps nearby. “The Accident” chronicles a road accident where a man with a baby on a cycle drives into a bus, and is killed instantly. The police arrive, the blood is washed away and life continues.
The title story is a moving revisiting of a neighbourhood that has changed beyond recognition and of a way of life that time has passed by.

All the stories are rather narrow in breadth and sweep, deliberately so and refrain from blandishments and aggrandizement. While there are understandable limitations upon this form, Gao is able to unearth evocativeness and a wistful sense at a fading memory, without lapsing into tawdry sentiment.
I would still think that I need to read more of the author to be able to do justice of his celebrated craft.

A 6.5 on 10 ! If I am to err, may it be on the conservative side.

SHOW BUSINESS

For a long time, I believed that tinseltown was the last refuge of a scoundrel, the Varanasi of the dregs of society, and so on. Shashi Tharoor was cine-obsessed enough to make the backwaters of Bollywood as the setting for this novel. His protagonist is Ashok Banjara, a thinly disguised Big B take off, with the attendant trophy/doormat wife, doomed affair, estranged sibling relations and thwarted political ambition.

Ashok overcomes a painfully slow start in films, inches his way up the rank and file using his Government minister father’s influences till he inexplicably emerges as Numero Uno. His salacious overtures are frowned at, admonished and then ignored by his wife who gives up a blossoming career to set up home for the Demi-God. Matters get increasingly convoluted as a weary father, sneering brother and a friendless existence take their toll.

The plot, form, structure and characters are well-etched out, the argot is spot-on, the customary parody, wit and satire are firmly in place and even the narration is presented in the style of a formula film. So far, so good !

But one can never get away from the supercilious pen that creates all this, the underlying cynical confidence and the arch arrogance that hovers over the expansive threads of make-believe that Tharoor weaves. His message is garbled, overdrawn and labyrinthine and he sacrifices process for content, not for the first time.

I think the long years spent away from India, strutting and preening, spouting bilge to an adoring public have finally got to him.

A 6.5 on 10 !


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