Friday, July 27, 2007


After Roth, reading about the Mycogen sector of the Galactic empire (Ref.: Foundation Series, Issac Asimov), deepened my doubts in 'faith'

There is something about faith that puzzles me extremely. Why does faith need to be so dogmatic and binding? One would assume that the thought of a benevolent super-power should set you free. It would make you respect the life that he has given, and live it with greater vitality, rather than tie it down in rituals.
Why are we so insecure about faith that we need to reinforce it and feel offended when a person flouts confirmity? Can the Pope seriously believe that his religion is so shallow that reading Harry Potter would influence children away from it? Can Parsi's think that their religion can only be conserved by marrying in their own community? And does Hinduism stand on the pedestal of a long shattered and forgotten temple? Is it not faithlessness that people do not believe in the strength of their Gods or deem him a martinet?
I agree that rational is irrelavant to faith, but are rules the replacement of rationality?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Goodbye, Columbus and the dilemma of faith

After seeing his books on the reading list of some people whose reading tastes I hold in good esteem, I finally picked up my first book from venerable Philip Roth. Incidentally, Goodbye Columbus was also the author's first book and earned him significant respect and a National Award.The book is a collection of a novella and 5 other short stories- all of them dealing with the lives of Jewish people in modern America.

The book is named after the novella, which is a love story of sorts, taut with the pulls of class distinction and the couples' different ways of life. The young couple, from accross this class divide, struggle to have a normal courtship, but a power tussle continues to strain their relations. The relationship is further pressured by the conservative Jewish sentiments. Perhaps if I had never watched hindi movies with the same cliched theme, I might have been able to appreciate the story better. But it turns out that I have grown up on such movies like an average Indian, and find nothing remarkable in Mr. Roth's tale.

However, the five stories that follow almost make-up for the interest that the novella could not generate.Roth has outlined the confusion of a Jew in a modern society very well, sometimes by exaggeration. Particularly noteworthy stories were "The Conversion of the Jews," "Defender of the Faith," and "Eli, the Fanatic." Mr. Roth was widely criticised by the Jewish community who did not find the portrayal of certain Jewish characters in the book very appealing, especially in his story "Defender of faith", where a trio of devout jew draftees in the army exploit a Jewish sergeant on religious grounds.

Though Roth's stories talk about the cultural identity of Jews, I think the dilemma that he poses is one faced by people from many different faiths. Irrespective of the ethnic identity, people feel threatened to lose it in the face of a seemingly unifying world. In such cases, they feel compelled to hold on to this identity with exaggerated vigour. For example, Indians living abroad feel a greater necessity to celebrate Indian festivals and gather together on such occassions, while these days may go unnoticed by many young people living in India. As the world
tilts towards unipolarity, it is not surprising to find the springing up of so many religious fanatics.

At the same time there are many who have adopted religious/cultural indifference and are contend to be a part of a neutral modern race. However, often even these people foster a feeling of guilt/remorse and sometime when they come accross devout followers of their faith (like the drill sergeant of Roth's story), the guilt forces them to either unjustly favour these people or turn unusually unfair to them. An impartial treatment under such encounters is often not possible. Perhaps religious and cultural conditioning from birth plays an important part in keeping the faith alive, even if dormant.

What keeps people from following an assimiliated faith and a unified religion? After all The ideas in the religions are not so distinct from each other. Perhaps it is the same threat as faced by two merging companies - one of them always rules the other.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

When the world goes 'Pottery'

Everyone is talking about it. With only 11 days to go before the new and the last Harry Potter book is released, the excitement around the book is at its pinnacle. Bookstores are not only advertising and taking bookings for the new book , they have also stacked up their bookshelves with all the earlier books of the series to capitalize on the widespread interest and the hype . And they appear to be selling like hot cakes. The book reached the top spot on both the and Barnes and Noble bestseller lists just a few hours after the date of publication was announced on 1 February 2007. (Wikipedia)
People are re-reading the series in preparation of the finale. Whether the finale is grand or not is yet to be seen. The Potter dedicated websites are super-active, discussing all possible endings under the sun - the key questions obviously being: 1)Will Potter die? 2)Which side does Snape lean? A zealous community has in fact published a book of its own about its theories on how JK Rowling is going to end her tryst with a magical world. Even Wikipedia has a comprehensive link on the new book and interestingly, they have had to debar unregistered and even new users from editing the content because of the threat of vandalism.

Harry Potter is no doubt an interesting read and even though it was originally positioned for children, adults have taken to it with equal and perhaps greater vigour. In fact, the last two books with their encompassing darkness hardly seem fit for a young reader category. And I wonder if the kids are as excited about this release as the rest of the world is.

It is hard to decipher exactly what is so arresting in the book. The absolute fantasy was what got me started in the first place, and I think later it was the curiosity that kept me reaching out for the next one. (Though really, I never felt like spending money on any of those versions - I think what they offer is far less than what they ask for). But, I feel that since Goblet of Fire, none of the sequels have been too great.

One thing that the series can claim is however a skyrocketing publicity since the 4th book. From ardent fans to angry detractors (including the pope who thinks that Rowling is promoting neo-paganism by illustrating magic to children), people have talked about it a great deal. It has been amongst the highest sold as well as the most pirated books online. The publishers have taken extra precaution to keep the last part well under wraps, though there are some who claim that they have been successful in getting the e-version by hacking the computers of Bloomsbury (Potters publishers) employees. Many ardent fans have however discounted these claims and refuse to take the hacker's story. According to this hacker... I better not spoil the fun and leave you to decide whether you want to read any spoilers or not.

Happy Reading!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Unbearable Lightness of being

This movie figured in the recommended Adaptations on the Book Forum, and from more than one source. And since I had been a devoted reader of Kundera once, I thought it necessary to get my hands on this one.

Frankly, when the movie began, I feared the worst - which was the overbearance of the sexual theme of the book. After all, one of the lightnesses that Kundera dwelled upon in the book was the lightness of sexual relationships - the overwrought cliche of 'Love is different from sex'. And any director making a movie of Kundera's work would have to restrain hard to not color the adaptation with steamy graphics. Philip Kaufman did not use that restraint. At points, the movie sketched out the sexual scenes in great detail, and though it has been long since I read the book, I definitely don't remember sex getting more than its due attention in the text (though it appears that Kundera is averse to writing a book without giving the physical aspect of relationships a good celebration)

The book is about the fleetingness and insignificance of life. The central character, Tomas, carries on with his life in a very light manner - fleeting from one relationship to other. He also lightly writes an article against the communists, even though he does not attach too much significance to the political happenings around. Since the story is set in Prague in the late 60's at the time of Prague Spring (Wikipedia link), this article has consequences for him when the Russians invade the country and he is left jobless.
Another character, Sabina, Tomas' friend (what he calls 'erotic' friend), also lives her life in this fleeting lightness, refusing to make a permanent home and running away at the sight of a knot that could possibly tie her down.

The antithesis of the two friends is Tereza - a simple minded girl (played by Juliette Binoche in the movie) whom Tomas marries. She is unable either to accept Tomas' open life nor willing to have a promiscuous life of her own. She also takes her profession seriously, appalled when asked to photograph cacti for the gardening section of the newspaper.

The tension between these three characters is nicely captured both in the pen and in the camera. Daniel Day Louis is brilliant as the Tomas who is a bit of a scoundrel. He looks so different from the Newland Archer of Age of Innocence, that I had trouble recognizing him as the same guy. And Juliette Binoche has looked amazingly fresh and lovely - almost childlike at times - a perfect next-door girl.

There are a couple of very well done scenes in the film. One is that of Sabina walking out of a gathering of Czechs in exile, and the other is the last one where Thomas and Teresa drive off in a beautiful countryside, with the look of perfect bliss on their faces.

It is indeed one of the best adapatations I have seen, capturing the thought and the emotions of the writer so well. Or rather generating almost the same feelings as the book did.