On Charlie Hebdo

(This was first written as review of Charlie Hebdo’s controversial cartoons on Goodreads on May 6 – I haven’t edited out the parts talk to Gooodreads people. It was 1* of 5* because Goodreads didn’t allow 0 stars) Okay, I have spent a lot of time in making this review stoic but still I can’t help the ramblings that are to follow. I think I stand to lose a lot of friends ere. I’m a skeptic very heavy leaning towards atheism and an outspoken one at that – I love the works that are critical of religious beliefs and practices. Two of my best treasured books are ‘The God Delusion’ and ‘The Satanic Verses’. In fact last time I went to cinema was to watch a movie that makes fun of practices of different religions. I do think that religions bring terrorism – all the major religions do, including Hinduism and Christianity. It is high time we accept it. If religious authorities want to take credit when a person takes name of god while doing charities they must also accept blame when the same person takes name of god while killing someone. Also, no one it isn’t the west only

The Tragedy of being too good – a review of ‘The Idiot’

(Review by Sidharth Vardhanof Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel ‘The Idiot’First written on April 25, 2015’) An ideal idiot Most of my favorite characters are either pure evil or complex anti-hero type; the stereotype Mr. Goody-two-shoes has never appealed to me; however Prince Myshkin, the idiot in the novel, is now going to be an exception. He has suffered from idiocy due to epilepsy (FD too suffered from epilepsy attacks) all his childhood and early youth – and thus gets the technical title of ‘Idiot’. Perhaps it was due to this idiocy that he has not adopted the so-called common sense – the ‘normal’ way of looking at the world which is formed by slow corruption of our sense of compassion on pretext of what is called self-defense in a cruel world. Myshkin is full of compassion – which is very clear from stories he tells (the stories you tell, tell a lot about yourself.) His goodness (unlike Evegeine’s calculated goodness and Ptitson who allows himself only small evils) makes him indifferent to harm being done to himself if it means happiness of someone else. If you try to insult or hurt him; he would feel sorry for circumstances that made you do

A Thing of Beauty – a review of ‘Swann’s way’

(A review of The Swann’s Way’, Part 1 of ‘In Search of Lost Time’a novel by Marcel Proust ) As a habitual reader, you probably have had at least one friend who will tell you that he/she sees no point in reading all those books. You might have struggled trying to explain to this friend the delights of reading – may be you had lectured him/her on how a particular book is incredible, enlightened him/ her about all the things that make it marvelous – only to discover that you can’t get the person excited. At the time we may judge such person for lack of imagination, but with time we realize that our explanations were not perfect. That is problem with beauty – no matter how analytical and detailed we get, something remains behind – we can’t describe what makes it beautiful to us; can’t capture it into words. And so, how will one describe the beauty of Proust’s prose, especially when there is not much of the story? One might say that his descriptions – of flowers, places roads, clothes, music, paintings, emotions, trees, servants etc. are beautiful; he captures emotions or experiences – even momentary, fleeing ones

The Dream of a Ridiculous Man – Dostoyevsky’s Christmas Carol

(A review by Sidharth VardhanOf ‘The Dream of a Ridiculous Man’First written on November 30, 2015) “Only perhaps in our children, in their earliest years, one might find, some remote faint reflection of this beauty.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Dream of a Ridiculous Man) Do you remember losing that treasured innocence that we were born with? that old childish ‘innocence’ (there might be a better word to describe it, but my vocabulary is poor) – the nausea of which we live with for rest of our lives? We know, or at least we think we know, that it can’t be helped, and we would consider someone a weakling, a divine fool or ridiculous if he or she retained that innocence beyond a certain age. We even laugh at our own foolishness of old days: “They hardly remembered what they had lost, in fact, refused to believe that they had ever been happy and innocent. They even laughed at the possibility of this happiness in the past, and called it a dream.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Dream of a Ridiculous Man) Yet, we look at children, ever cheerful, and feel sorry for the loss they are bound to suffer one time or another in their

Ambedkar’s legacy

Rajnath Singh‘s statement “Because of the rampant misuse of the word (secularism), there  have been instances of tension in the society” was the second most hilarious thing I have  heard this week. The biggest misuse in recent times has been of words ‘Hinduism’ and quote ‘Bhartiya Sanskriti’ (the phrase never stops being funny) – we all know who is misusing them. Rajnath Singh also holds credits for the third most hilarious statement – that BR Ambedkar had never thought of putting the term ‘secularism’ in the Preamble as it was “in-built in the Indian system”. I mean, if it was in-built, the amendment only made it more explicit – far easier to understand. Right? Why is so much concerned about it? To think that this guy is our Minister of Home affairs! The statement topping the list of hilarious statements of the week was, of course, when N. Modi announced a ‘debate’ on increased incidences of intolerance. I mean what is supposed to mean by word ‘debate’ – is he denying any increase in incidences? Or, whether or not his government will take any actions? Ask him any questions and his answers are obscure party slogans; you will never see

Zeno had no conscience

(review of Zeno’s conscience, a novel by Italo Svevo First written on April 22, 2015) The comparison to James Joyce and Franz Kafka frequently made is a kind of throw off – Joyce was author’s tutor alright but both Kafka and Joyce is supposed to be difficult-to-read authors. Italo Svevo presents no such problem; it is actually one of most humorous book I have read in some time. Zeno’s Conscience is a straight forward story – correction, confessions of a man not in any way special. He has his issues – is an extreme smoker, jealous, pervert, infidel, indecisive, hypochondriac, failure in business, egoistic etc; but he doesn’t impress us anywhere. His life story is just too ordinary. Italo Svevo The book begins with a preface from his psychologist who has chosen to publish this confession to revenge on Zeno because later had stopped taking this therapy just when it had started showing results. Now, Zeno was in his very right to stop the therapy and psychologists code of conduct doesn’t allow him/her to publish his/her patient’s private information without later’s approval – the doctor could have lost his practice because of this revenge. This is one thing hard to

Stepping into madman’s shoes

(Review of ‘The Sound and the Fury’ , a novel by William Faulkner First read on August 24, 2015 ) “Caddy smelled like trees.” William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury) Hritik Roshan in a still from movie Guzarish There is a bollywood movie Gujarish about an ex-magician who meets an accident and is now suffering paralysis from neck down for several years. Finally he requests an amendment in law to make Euthanasia legal, so that he could kill himself. In one scene when he is asked if he wishes to say something before the verdict is given; he says he wishes to show a magic trick to the court. When it is allowed, his assistant brings in a box. The magician asks the lawyer of the state to volunteer, judge orders the lawyer to do so. The magician requests the lawyer to sit in the box and his assistant locks the door upon him. A few moments pass – as people expect magician to do something. He just sit calmly, till the lawyer starts screaming from inside the box. The magician starts talking about some random subject(weather) and thus further frightening the lawyer. After a couple of minutes,the magician

Morally Dead

(Review of Dead Soulsa novel by Nikolai GogolFirst written on September 28, 2015) Serfs in Russia were often referred to as souls which provides for literal meaning to the story. The symbolic meaning of title is easy to guess – people whose conscience is dead (in the story, they are mostly landlords) The first part reads as a light satire on Russian landlords and society. The tone is of gentle humor and conversational nature (often referring to ‘reader’ and ‘author’) and makes a fast read. Almost all landlords in the book are caricatures of their personality type – and so there are sentimentalists, stupid old widows, spendthrift bullies who are prone to lying, misers, intellectual without common sense, beautiful damsels just out of school with golden hair and cheek dimples and so on. Nikolai Gogol often leaves off telling-story to talk about a particular subject (servants, women, government offices, highways, horses, Russia etc) but mostly it is something humorous. Although it fails Bechdel test, it makes up for that by giving enough space to servants … And not to forget horses. Anti-hero It is when Nikolai Gogol finally started analyzing his hero, Chichikov that the book earned the fourth star.

Funny Noise

(Review of ‘Dead Noise’, a novel by Don DeLilloFirst written on November 23, 2015) Let us start with an analytical question – How many question-marks per page do you think an average novel has? The book made me curious. Anna Kareina has 1800 odd question marks in about 1300 pages; i.e., about one and half ‘?’ per page- same rate as that of ‘If on a Winter Night’s soldier’ while in Arabian Nights it is approximately 1.3 question marks per page. Proust’s Swann Song had a little less than one question mark per page. In case of White Noise, it was over 1200 question marks in about 300 pages. That is 4 question marks per page, more than doubled the rate in Anna Kareina, the highest contender here. And it shows, and shows enough for me to put in my mind the silly curiosity. I kept on wandering why there are so many questions. Is this a novel that asks unanswerable questions? Or is it some new literary technique to bring out existential issues? Or some kind of joke or satire? Or some kind of annoying habit that author thinks is cool? Has anyone else felt like throwing nuclear bomb

The Left-overs

(Review by Sidharth Vardhan of Death and the King’s Horseman: A Play by Wole Soyinka ) “Not I became the answering-nameOf the restless bird, that little oneWhom Death found nesting in the leavesWhen whisper of his coming ranBefore him on the wind.Not I has long abandoned home.This same dawn I heard him twitter in the gods’ abode.Ah, companions of this living worldWhat a thing this is, that even thoseWe call immortal Should fear to die. ” Wole Soyinka (Death and King’s Horeseman) It is based on a true incident and has in its roots, a Yoruba tradition that death of a chief must be followed by ritual suicide of the chief’s horseman because horseman’s spirit is essential for helping the chief’s spirit to ascend to other world (or it shall wander the Earth and harm people.) I think this explains the title. The king is dead and, Elsin, his horse-man is more than willing to kill himself. He feels duty bound to it – and would rather die than have his honor questioned: “Life has an end. A life that will outliveFame and friendship begs another name.What elder takes his tongue to his plate,Licks it clean of every crumb? He will encounterSilence