Saturday, March 29, 2008

Finding love in reading

NY Times has a funny article on dating amongst the bibliophiles and how saying too little or too much about a book can break relationships amongst those whose first love is reading ! Dating bibliophiles seems like a very tricky business, for you could be dropped for not knowing Pushkin, or for adoring Howard Roark!
But perhaps talking about books on first dates has some practical application in India, specially with at least 70% of our marriages still being arranged. If you have to gauge a person by an hour of conversation, it may be quite revealing to ask him a few of his favorite books.

Alternatively, it could be very useful if the person blogs. Recently a friend of mine who went for one of those awkward first meetings, found to his pleasant surprise that the girl had been reading his blog in the past few days, and there was already some sort of a common platform between them. She knew at least some perspectives of him, and he knew that she could relate to what he had written. This link helped them to use that small amount of time more constructively, and they are now engaged.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Into the wild

I love travel, and there is, in my opinion, nothing better than a regular tryst with nature. Yet, to me, taking off on a journey seems like a tough thing to do each time. I spend a few hours packing neatly my shampoos and creams, counting the number of dresses I might need, throwing in an extra couple just in case. I debate on the right kind of shoes to take, and wonder if I have kept the necessary medicines. And even with all this preparation, if my trip extends only by a couple of days, my head goes into a swirl and it takes me a while to regain my assurance.

So, when I see this guy who carelessly slings a bag, and sets out to travel to Alaska for an indefinite time, I feel jealous. I feel jealous when he burns his money and I call him stupid. I feel jealous when he sets out Kayaking without a license and rows up to Mexico city, and I wonder what is he over-reacting to. I envy his easy relationships with people he meets on the road and scorn at his easy abandon. And when he finally reaches his Magic Bus in the middle of a snow-covered landscape, I just expect him to start running back home. But all this jealousy only goes to say how much I wanted to be where Alex Supertramp was.

For all its hollywood flavor, it is a lovely movie to watch. Made especially beautiful with the soundtrack from Eddie Vedder.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Eichmann in Jerusalem

I am glad that online bookstores have finally found their way to India. Despite the numerous instances of canceled orders or 'Out of stock' messages that you encounter when dealing with them, they do offer you a chance to get your hands on a few books that remain elusive. Eichmann in Jerusalem was one of those books which I had been hunting for since a long time, and even though published by Penguin, which is a publisher most widely found in India - I had been unable to locate a copy anywhere. (Another book that remains elusive is Nadine Gordimer's collection of stories: Why haven't you written, again published by Penguin and nowhere to be seen/heard of/mentioned.)

I received my copy of this report by Hannah Arendt very unexpectedly from Rediff some time back - unexpected because Rediff had canceled three of my previous orders for some not-so-elusive books after holding on to them (the orders) for about 2 weeks each, so I scarcely expected them to honor this one. I am glad they did - reading the book was worth all the effort I expended in hunting for it.

The book is an account of Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem for his role in the holocaust, and is exactly the way a journalistic account should be - based on facts, raising the relevant questions and unbiased. Hannah Arendt neither accepts Eichmann or any Nazi criminal as a psychopath or homicidal maniac, nor does she absolve them of their role in 'Ha Shoah', on the pretext of being mere cogs in the wheel, for the cog stands as a human in the court of justice . She is, like most people, horrified at the extent to which this criminal 'never realized what he was doing', for his complete thoughtlessness, his apathy towards the moral choice available to him, his banality. She thus stripped these Macbeths, as they are perceived by society at large, to reveal a criminal who is simply a switch in the system, a very compliant switch, quite satisfied with going on and off on command. What she tries to point out is that it is the switch or the banal criminal that is more dangerous than the lunatic, for he is a common, repeatable phenomenon.

This report found itself amidst widespread controversy (something that every un-fearing journalist is likely to encounter at least once in his/her profession). For one, she tried too hard to understand things from Eichmann's perspective, often rationalizing some of his actions, and described him in monochromes of a plainness which most people convinced of Eichmann's acute antisemitism disagreed with. She also questioned Israel's right in holding the trial and to make matters worse, pointed out some of its own laws that were not different from the Nuremberg Laws in essence. What sparked most criticism, however, was her expansion on the role of Jewish Organizations during the Shoah and her remarks on the possibility of far fewer deaths in absence of the Jewish collaboration with the Nazi's in the destruction of their own people.

Some of the criticism seems undeserved - as she did agree with the court's verdict and praised it for delivering justice, and she did believe that despite all rationalizations, Eichmann made a choice to participate and deserved punishment for that. However, you are forced to wonder if her banal, stupid Eichmann is not too much at loggerheads with the other staunch 'anti-semitic expert on the Jewish Question' that the world knows, and whether she did refuse to see the complete reality.

There are times when the report looks too stretched and you feel you are reading the same sentences you had perhaps read in a chapter before. That however does not take away their essence and sometimes even serves to reinforce points. It is those points which make you think of the holocaust in terms outside of sheer horror and disgust and fight the immediate instinct to shut your eyes in face of the Assembled exterminations.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fathers and Sons

Somehow, have not spent much time on this blog for a few days - mainly because of work, and also because my blogging time window was devoured by the two posts I wrote on my travel blog. I have not really read much in the last few days (Inching away with Eichmann in Jerusalem, which is quite full of information and ideas that it gets exhaustive), and my mind is too blank for thought!
I read Turgenev sometime back, with his most illustrious Fathers and Sons - I had read this book partly years ago as a school-kid, and school kids are not the best judges of books I must say.

In this reading I was quite impressed with the book. It is a little bit of a relief to read the love stories from these old Russian writers, even if most of their loves are tragic and pathetic and marred by a vague discontent (which is perhaps a most fitting treatment of this virtue). But at least they talk of love, which seems to be a kind of disease many illustrious author are keen to shy away from. I found this work from Turgenev to be essentially a love story too, though it played a wider canvas by slighting that romanticism, often being ashamed of it too like the modern writer, but eventually surrendering to emotion.

It is a riveting work, ever engaging and spreading out the futility of both a complete rejection and a thoughtless liberalism. With dexterity, Turgenev is able to mock an allegiance to either school, even though it appears that his sympathy lies with the old order, because he gives it a more human color as compared to the almost ridiculous shade granted to the new order in form of Bazarov and a half hearted Arkady. Personally, though I would be more biased towards nihilism than towards the well-manicured ostentatious existence of Pavel Petrovich, I thank God that these are not my only two choices!Adopting Nihilism is like adopting despondence for life, and really, I look terrible with a frown or any sort of perpetually serious expression. :) I would rather be a skeptic.

Though I hate to put a gender color to any work, I did feel that this work was almost exclusively a male work. The women were all in plain shades - either timid and superstitious devotees like Bazarov's mother, or calculating and capricious like Anna Odintsov. Turgenev refused to give them any hues which he awarded the men who were allowed to experience different emotions - feel strong or foolish, get bored or fight ridiculous duels. But then, the work is called "Fathers and Sons" - and makes no claims to feminism.
I plan to follow up this one with Dead Souls soon - striving for a completion of the 'Modern Russian literature' course with my recent reading of Dostoevsky.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Another wasted wait

I fail to understand the hysteria around it - a mere assortment of madmen!