Monday, June 29, 2009

Four Weeks' Reading

A motley collection of writing, most of it pleasing, some of it a let-down, a bit of indignation, a lot of satisfaction- the last four weeks of reading.

Miguel Street by V S Naipaul strings together snapshots of people in Port-of-Spain, their vocations and hardships, the current of life that runs through their struggles to make ends meet, the amusements and the simple joys that keep them going through endless days and nights. Ambitions and hopes more often than not come to naught, women fall prey to prostitution and men succumb to drink, but finally one young man breaks free from the imperceptible jinx and leaves his cloistered world to make it big outside. Never depressing, the book is a breezy, evocative read, and I'd say it's a good way to begin an author you're reading for the first time.

A Damsel in Distress is vintage Wodehouse. Maud's troubles with her busybody brother and her aristocratic aunt and the subsequent confusion are hilarious. Wodehouse takes you on a thrilling ride through country streets, castles and Piccadilly; if only all the Mauds of the world had a PGW to rescue them from the predicaments they manage to put themselves into! On second thought, do these Mauds exist, or do I need to make another expression of gratitude to the Master of Humour? The mere glimpse of a Wodehouse book and the anticipation of decent humour, devoid of any traces of slapstick comedy, can get you through bleak nights and tiresome hours at work.

The autobiography season opens again. Something of Myself, Rudyard Kipling's sketch of his life, is a decent insight into his life and the awe-inspiring literary circles he moved in- with contemporaries of that mettle, anybody would have needed an immense amount of talent to make himself known, and Kipling, of course, was a man of no mean skills. One of my favourite books from my school years is Stalky & Co., and it was interesting to read about the experiences in Kipling's life that shaped the story. As a writer, I shall always admire Kipling for his gifts, but I cannot quite say the same about his ideas. Very colonial and superior in his outlook, his writing reflects a demeaning opinion of the 'subjects' of British rule; a fault that I detested in Frances Hodgson Burnett as well. Faults we have many, but it does arouse your indignation when you find your people being looked upon as the rightfully designated slaves of a mighty Empire; where religions that advocate unknown methods are dismissed as pagan and worthless, native customs that are incomprehensible to the unaccustomed mind are only worthy of ridicule.

Continuing with religion, the last book I read was Catalina. To be honest, I'd expected much more from Maugham in terms of the story as well as the language, and it was a bit of a let-down. The undercurrent of humour and satire couldn't be missed, of course, and the politics of religion (which, of course, applies to every religious order in the world) was disarming- how can people who profess welfare and faith act more to advance their own interests than in those of the millions who follow without discretion every word of theirs? They are only human, agreed, but the levels they can actually stoop to are astounding. The book opens in the troubled times of the Inquisition with sixteen-year-old Catalina's vision of the Virgin, and her miraculous recovery from her infirmity. Maugham sees through the masquerades and the pretence and weaves a delightful story with some marvellously depicted, extremely human characters in Dona Beatriz, Bishop Blasco and Don Manuel, but somewhere towards the end, it just seems to lose its way and comes to a rather disappointing end. The language often seems repetitive, and some words are used too frequently for comfort- as if his vocabulary had suddenly deserted him. Maugham has done much better in his more famous works, and I am just glad I'm done with the disenchantment before moving on to the books that he is really known for.

Anita Desai, sadly, I abandoned. Clear Light of Day didn't inspire me enough, and after a few pages where I felt like I was bobbing on the still shores of a lake without making much headway, I decided to give up.

I've begun on another autobiography, and it is extremely promising- how could it be otherwise, with a life as colourful and controversial as Boris Becker's!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Men, Women and Caprice

One thing I particularly enjoy about my job (or perhaps the thing that I enjoy) is stumbling upon various kinds of men and women. While you're about your regular job, trying to convince frantic users as the cut-off for payment is approaching that their trades are indeed on the way, processing and healthy, unlocking accounts for users, some of whom have the propensity to manage to lose their passwords once a week, things can at times get monotonous- sometimes frustration rears its ugly head and creeps in, if people are too pushy and show no patience.

To liven things up a bit, we tend to have little casual chats at times- with the users or our own team. The most implausible things come up for discussion, and when you never know how the person at the other end might react, it calls for a few risks. The most cool and distant-sounding person can turn out to be very friendly and considerate, when you catch him at the right time.

Hilarious confusions result from names. I usually try to decipher the origin of a person from the name. Intriguing names come up- Swiss, Polish, English, Scottish, Irish, Italian- apart from Indian. How well I remember a particular Italian user I had to speak to, who promptly reminded me of Valentino Rossi with his heavily accented English! Sometimes, while discussing issues regarding a user within the team, the conversations begin with- "Tell me this first, is it a he or a she?"

Surnames- my favourite subject. I have lost count of the number of remarkable surnames I have come across in these nine months. Of these, Sandwith is my favourite, for the amount of confusion it caused. The poor unsuspecting user was constantly referred to as 'Sandwich' within the team, until some discerning eyes pointed out the vast difference between the letters 't' and 'c'. The name, however, stuck. When I, with my incorrigible curiosity, mentioned its unusual nature to him (with not a little trepidation, for I had no clue how he'd react), he was good-humoured enough to tell me about it.

Sports is definitely a popular subject on chat. I remember extremely well how I was first given the news of England's fall at the hands of the Dutch- a user's chat window popped up without preamble- 'Holland beat England'. What jubilation broke out that night- it formed the substance of most private chats that night.

Treats are often announced on public chat. This is the indication of birthdays being celebrated- and the birthday of a person I'd encountered just once earlier on the occasion of some testing a few weeks ago led me to a bit of contemplation on Friday. I found out it was his birthday and wished him. I asked him if he'd be partying all weekend. His reply took me off guard for a moment- he was hoping the real party would begin after Pakistan lifted the T20 WC. I couldn't being myself to say, "I hope so, too"- because I didn't, and I probably never will feel that way, but hostility seemed ridiculous. For his sake, for the happiness of one person I barely knew, I wished, in some absurd manner, that his dream would come true. Contradicting ideas clashed in my head, and I still do not know what I want. I have never met anyone from Pakistan earlier, and this surprising encounter left me quite dumbfounded, and with mixed emotions. (And yes, now I will have to congratulate you, I.F.!)

What would this world be without people?! A new week, full of promise, approaches.

Monday, June 15, 2009


The summer breeze is on my nape, split into countless streams by the fan that turns at full speed behind me. Warm air, pretending to drive away the heat, but only fanning it. Heat from the eart, the remnants of the strong summer sun, trapped in a bubble that won't burst.

The streets were sunny this morning. The quaint buildings of Tiong Bahru, the well-kept apartment buildings, the mall, the people spilling from it, the bent old lady at the bus stop, the grey pigeons in the shadow of the railway tracks- everyone and everything soaked in the languid sunshine, the joy and the pleasantries of summer floating through the clear afternoon sky.

A book by me, the night waning into dawn, an exam done and dusted (a purely non-technical certification- the techies have not broken through my walls yet), blackcurrant juice- what more, barring perhaps a power cut, do I need to make me feel like I am in the middle of school summer vacations? Quite a bit. The scent of jasmine and grass borne over the breeze, the calls to prayer from the mosque, the coffee, crisp fresh sheets on my bed fragrant with detergent- how I miss these! Scrabble, mango juice, butterscotch ice cream (now ice cream doesn't go with seasons, but what is summer without it), holiday homework postponed to the last possible moment, the unenthusiastic countdown to the number of days before school starts again- Pandora, why did you ever open the box?

Summer isn't just a season. It is an experience, one that replays itself countless times through childhood without your asking, and suddenly hardens its heart and hides behind impenetrable curtains as the years go by. Summer and childhood are inextricably linked together, and no effort at untangling the two can ever pull them apart. Complain as I will about the heat, summer will always be a season I shall look forward to, if only for the memories it carries with it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The past invariably seeps into the present. Or catches up with it. Or defines the future (maybe pretends to do so.)

Even so-

Give me the first six years of a child's life and you can have the rest. - Something of Myself (Rudyard Kipling)

Perhaps not. I am equally greedy for the present, and I shall contemplate on the future. This moment, right now, is the confluence of the three.

Friday, June 05, 2009


Any suggestions for a good sports book, something on the lines of Wodehouse, funny and moving at once, English perhaps, something that will leave an imprint on my mind and that I'll want to read again?