The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Naipaul's "Beyond Belief"--a Complete Reading Experience

A slow reader like me is always prone to regress, postpone and abandon reading a book halfway through, and it is necessarily no reflection on the quality of the book. Now I’m with a book of V. S. Naipaul, “Beyond Belief” which increases the studiousness in my appearance as I move with the book in hand in my travels. So far I have finished only its first section entitled “The Flight of the N-250” that consists of 140 pages. The section traces the changes in the socio-religious space of Indonesia from a glorious Hindu-Buddhist past to a tenuously balanced present when science is made to subserve religion and literature has to toe the line of religious compatibility.

Naipaul’s book is a travelogue, not an ordinary specimen of the genre but a profoundly crafted literature. The section I recently finished reading for the second time gave me a kind of mixed feeling: a proud feeling in discovering the branches of the Indian past beyond the seas and a feeling of historical degeneration and nostalgia. Indonesia used to be a place for Hindus and Buddhists and the relics of the past are still there despite the conscious effort of the followers of the “revealed” religion to cleanse the face of the earth according to their tenets. Adat must go to uphold sharia and kitab. In the words of Mr Naipaul:

“The cruelty of Islamic fundamentalism is that it allows only to one people—the Arabs, the original people of the Prophet—a past, and sacred places, pilgrimages and earth reverences. These sacred Arab places have to be the sacred places of all the converted peoples. Converted peoples have to strip themselves of their past; of converted peoples nothing is required but the purest faith (if such a thing can be arrived at), Islam, submission. It is the most uncompromising kind of imperialism.”

The first chapter starts with the description of a success of Indonesian aeronautics—the building and test flying of N-250 on the seventeenth day of August in the year 1997. How the whole thing is touted as the harbinger of industrial revolution in Indonesia, the technological self-reliance and so on and so forth—Naipaul gives his tongue-in-cheek narrations. It was told, but along the irony way. “Islam is ennobled by the success of N-250”, “It wasn’t absolutely certain how the designing and building of aeroplanes with imported components could lead to a general technological and scientific breakthrough…”, “Imaddudin gave un-Islamic and modern-sounding names to his Islamic ventures”—these and many more instances of ironical references to the half-hearted technological ventures make the chapter an interesting reading.

Through and through, the remarkable undertone in this chapter is one of irony. One could discern that, almost without effort. If Naipaul has to narrate about an intelligent character, he would say the admirers of that personality believe that he is a prodigy. While giving a reason why a Muslim does not embrace socialism easily, he says that the particular religion teaches all the good things for which Socialism is known and hence socialism is not necessary for a Muslim! ‘Praying in office is like virtues on display, like office trophies or diploma,’ that is what Naipul has to quip about the provision of prayer paraphernalia at the modern workplaces. “Accelerated evolution” is the alternative of “revolution”, “In crowded yards at night I saw boys sitting in the darkness and before open books and pretending to read”—there are many such expressions that convey much deeper meaning in the context than the words are ordinarily capable of doing that. Even when an Oklahoman gets converted to Islam, Naipaul makes a subtle point that the fellow does that not for any specific attraction for the faith but for making him qualified for marrying a Muslim girl. The Oklahoman retains his sense of difference: he is a westerner, not an Indonesian, even after his conversion.

Then Naipaul goes deeper to show how exactly the Indonesian society has a cultural pluralism. He takes an example of an educated lady coming of a tribe of the uplands in West Sumatra. She is educated, well-placed, and religious; yet she has not gone away from her tribal system of beliefs. She is a proud member of her matrilineal clan that had made the first clearing of the forest in the ancient past and had entered into a special agreement with the spirits of the jungle. Even to this day the spirits are to be propitiated by offering meat during family festivities. Her tribe still possesses the unique ability of calling rain and it is because of this specialty, they have to take additional precautions at the time of organizing a function at their premises.

Naipaul, in his bid to emphasise such pluralism in the converted society, goes to a catholic. His name is Linus and he is a poet who is presently undergoing the pangs of poverty but has not gone away from his Indonesian root, for it gives him inspiration to write, like the poverty he is enduring inspires him to go creative. He is a frequent visitor to Gamelon, the shadow play on the Ramayana themes; he has not left the idyllic village setting amidst rice fields and thickets of evergreen surroundings; he takes care of his mentally differently abled sister with a quiet grace; he collects daggers with mystic significance abut them—and he is the beneficiary of a strange psychic phenomenon: Buddha’s spirit comes to write words of wisdom on the palm of his friend which his other woman friend can read!

Then Naipaul goes to trace the impact of modern business and technology on people who have made up to it. He has taken examples of the publishers of two women magazines and a software professional. They are the religious fellows in their way, but it is not the religion alone which is the focus of their attention. Business is about making money—whether going emotional or controversial on the pages of the women’s magazines to attract readers or co-operating with an influential man to push software projects, it is money that is at the back of all their efforts. A software entrepreneur is without friend, a lot delayed in finding a match for him, believes in ghost and still prays five times a day. The ambivalence has been so well portrayed that the readers are left free to make their interpretations whether the fellow is really religious in the Muslim sense of the term! Similarly, the women’s magazines do not think it anything irreligious if they are to carry fashion features on their pages to portray a white-clad big sort going on pilgrimage.

It is really remarkable to depict such a variety of characters and settings and to go into them for digging so much a detail when what one is writing is just a travelogue. Naipaul does it with élan. Especially when he has to say something delicate leaving the tone of irony, he makes it clear. There could be no misunderstanding about that. The chapter “Below the Lava” is par excellence. Linus’s mentally disabled sister questions: “Why am I not married?” brings forth the element of pathos openly. Linus goes on to sale a portion of his land and it is shown as if he is selling it to help his neighbour. But the underlying poverty of a family of a struggling poet, handicapped girl, an old working mother says the meaning, loud and clear: the fellow is selling his asset to manage, to tide over his penury. Nothing is said so clearly, but it is amply understood in the context.

I’m yet to finish the book, yet whatever I’ve gone through so far is a complete feeling. In my schooldays we used to read a lot about the brave merchants of my state Orissa going to Java, Borneo and Sumatra for their maritime trade. This is taken to a glorious chapter of Orissan History. Similarly, the beloved leader of Orissa Mr Biju Pattanaik had once rescued the president of Indonesia in an act of daredevilry by flying a plane to the president’s place and rescuing him. This is only a present history. The legendary figure Mr Biju Pattanaik was awarded the highest award of that country “Bhumiputra”. So there is a background why this section of Mr Naipaul’s book should captivate me so much. Even before finishing the book I started writing about what I felt reading the first eight chapters out of it. It’s a sort of complete experience for me.
A. N. Nanda
Visit my other blog for my book publishing experience.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Lord Shiva: the Auspicious

Today I had an occasion to visit a temple, the temple of Lord Shiva. Yes, Shiva is among the gods in the holy trinity and he is in charge of destruction. He is the one that is behind everything auspicious, the god of animals, the presiding deity of the cremation ground, one who is surrounded by snakes and bull….

I’m not a frequent temple-goer nor into anything seriously spiritual, at best an occasional visitant at the abode of god. No wonder I see things more than the assembly of idols show me in their flower-laden resplendence. Sometimes I gripe about the cleanliness of the area spattered with betel spits and the attitude of one-upmanship in priests at some other; sometimes I get overwhelmed seeing the exuberance of devotion in fellow temple-goers and quiet desperation in some others. Even there are occasions I have critically marked the choice of flashy dress in others or their ostentatious generosity. In a word, I’ve never considered myself a proper religious man…but still, I go to temple occasionally.

Today I had been to the temple of Lord Shiva, the god of destruction and of everything auspicious. And I happened to find there a gathering of small children, aged in the range of four to fourteen. They were fourteen of them and they had come there to eat the tasty offering to god. Yes the offering should be tasty with ripe bananas mashed in perched rice soaked, with liberal use of ghee and molasses. The children were waiting patiently and seeing them I was reminded of my childhood days. I marked something about children that never changes: the eagerness in anticipation, the competition to get one’s share before anybody else, the chirping voice of pleasure and…

What, only three girl children in the assembly of fourteen? Yes, it’s sad but true. Everybody wants male child these days; the females are to die in the hands of unscrupulous surgeons, even before they are born. It’s visibly prominent now, even in idyllic villages. They have hundred reasons to justify what they’re doing or what they have done: dowry expenses are heavy if you’ve daughter; family line is maintained by sons; male children are the old age insurance, and blah, blah.

I know primitive tribes are getting decimated because they don’t have women. Woman—our daughters are mothers of our grand children. One such example of motherlessness is the Ongees of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. There may be many more examples in the books of Anthropology. But are we prepared to learn from these examples?

I remembered I was in a temple—the temple of Lord Shiva: he is the god of destruction and of everything auspicious. He deserves my obeisance.
A. N. Nanda
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Monday, March 12, 2007

One Hundred This Side and One Hundred That


I had a chance to accompany my sons(they're the twins!) up to their exam venue today. They were happy to have me as their chaperon and I could sense the special reason that made them so happy: their mom would not accompany them to remind every third minute if they had kept their pens ready, admission cards in place; if they remembered the dos and don’ts for a candidate in the exam hall; if they remembered that they would have to check their answers thoroughly…

The candidates that assembled before the gates waiting for the bell to ring and gates to open were exceptionally jovial, bereft of an iota of on-the-eve-of-exam-tension. I was reminded of my days in the high school. Oh, it was such a horrible phase and exams were dreaded like a ghost or an impending calamity. I know now the courses of studies have been made far tougher than they used to be in our times. I also know everybody these days expects a score in the range of ninety plus and parents are real stickler of discipline.

But despite everything the students are so fearless before their exam! Remarkable, really it is so.

There I found their teachers busy, going from one group to the other with words of encouragement, and I understood to some extent what held their students upbeat. These days teachers not only teach their students; they also know how to give appropriate psychological strokes to their students before they are to enter the labyrinth of questions—long questions, short questions, bit questions, tricky questions, scoring ones, trivial ones….

‘So, Ajay, you’re scoring 98, aren’t you?’

‘Yes, ma’am, by all means.’

‘What about you, Sunidhi—are you making me happy, as usual? You know I’ll beat the examiner to pulp, if he/she gives you anything less than 99, you know.’

Sunidhi blushed—for the statement of her teacher was quite correct in the face of her previous class scores—but her friend was there to pick up his cue. ‘No doubt about this, ma’am, you can do so, easily.’

The teacher, in a hurry to meet as many groups as possible before the bell rang and her students streamed into their exam halls leaving her outside, missed the joke. She was a little on the weightier side and there could be no doubt in her students’ mind that she could beat any unfair evaluator to pulp.

So much for the mental toughness of the children of these days. I could find something else really alarming: an overwhelming percentage of students—boys and girls alike—are carrying weight about them, rather overweight. Fortunately my sons are not one among them.

Observing them a little close, I had a few questions in my mind. Do they really eat so much? We as children used to eat much but we were not so pudgy. Have they, then, shunned playing? Do the teachers keep mum watching their students start bulging out of their desks? What do their moms feed them? Only ice creams and pizzas? Pints of Coke and packs of fried chicken?

Finally, will a boy of 100 kg be happy if he scores 100 in maths?
A. N. Nanda

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Translation in my repertoire

I had posted a few poems in my earlier blog (now defunct), translating them from their originals that are written in Oriya. The poet, Mr Gouri Shankar Kar, a colleague of mine at Bhubaneswar, is a prolific literary talent. He has so far three books of poem collections to his credit and all his poems are immensely readable and poetically profound. Doing translation was the first experience of mine and while doing this I could realise that writing poem is much easier than translating them from language to language. Besides, I could realise how ill-equipped I am to recreate the muse of a different poet with authenticity. But at the end of the day, I could deliver. The poet Mr Kar also endorsed them.
Treaty (1)
A poem in Oriya by Shri Gouri Shankar Kar
Translated by A. N. Nanda
* * * * * * * * *
War, the inevitable
Ready with the treaty, aren’t you?

No matter nobody is aware

of its consequence
War is just a situation
Like death, the ever-present.
Here Time is in action
And Time is in uniform.
You and I are just at mercy
Of the terms of the treaty
Thrust upon, the unwelcome.

War—Don’t ask why
Useless, its cause and remedy
Maybe it’s for a territory
minuscule as a point of needle.
It lays eggs at the battleground
And bursts elsewhere at the nest of a cuckoo
The son of the gun
Gnaws at its convenience.

War for woman
War against theft,
War is for religion
and war is for wealth;
War for son and war for wife
War for sex and war for avarice

War is for everything
Even war is for a war
Long-drawn and never-ending.

So long world has
Days and nights
War will exist
And war will persist.
War is just inevitable

Ready with the treaty,
aren’t you?
Date of translation

Treaty (2)
A poem in Oriya by Shri Gouri Shankar Kar
Translated by A. N. Nanda
* * * * * * * * *
The storm inside
Turbulent like the eternal
bloat of the roaring sea,
Here goes the bellicose mind
Unsettled and feverish.

War is a mentality,
The primeval polarization
Between gods and demons,
The holy Trinity of Brahma
Vishnu and Shiva,
All are its reflections.

War—don’t ask why
It just breaks out.
For, a cause trivial
As your inability to smile or play
May land you there,
History gets chronicled
Teary and sanguinary
By the pen, self-propelled and all-knowing.

To quell, to subjugate
No matter if it's self-inflicted
The smouldering fire
of ego and self-aggrandisement
is ablaze for aeons,
For no victory or for no debacle
This war is to be faught as such.

The war is inevitable
Ready with the treaty, aren’t you?
Date of translation 08/07/2006

A. N. Nanda


Friday, March 02, 2007

The Palm Sham


As a child I had seen quite a few palm trees (Palmyra Palm) being felled. And I used to enjoy the scene—the bustle of the adults, involving the operation; the sweet taste of the crisp pullulating stalks, extracted out of the crown of the felled tree and distributed to us at the spot; the nests of the tailor-birds brought aground along with the tree, whetting my curiosities about the empty nests, the smashed eggs, the fledgling birds. That felling a tree could be disastrous for the survival of the mankind was not a concept taught to us so early in our childhood as is being done these days. For us a palm tree represented something tall and if we could not reach its top, jolly well its top should come to us, aground. Yes, that meant a sense of victory; a vicarious joy to see something so haughty vanquished and brought to its knees.

Then I grew up amidst trees and bushes. Smaller ones like guava, for instance, had their branches starting low on its stems. We had in our backyard one such tree that was so very climber-friendly. With branches to serve as the foothold and branches as the banisters, there was absolutely no problem for us when we went atop.

But a palm tree is no guava. With no branch anywhere sprouting out of its trunk, it was so much unfriendly, so self-contained. I hated it, for I could not venture clambering it. Mango, guava, tamarind, banyan and even a coconut—all were negotiable, but not a palm. So unclimbable it was! Its prickly fibres exposed at the trunk were so much dreadful I had scratched my chest many a time, just for trying.

Sometimes, I used to wonder how dexterously the climbers could go clambering, reach the top, and cut its fronds! They were real heroes, as brave as Hanuman, the monkey God! Of course they used to take the help of a rope designed to bind them loosely around their waist together with the tree trunk and that served as their safety stay-cum-backrest. It was like sitting on an invisible chair, suspended in the sky! Besides, they used to have a foot loop that kept their feet together and prevented them from sliding down. Those were the safety equipment, perfected over centuries of innovations and the climbers hand their skills out to their younger generations for their living.

But I was not born to a parent who knew anything of that skill. So climbing could not come to me as a family trade. Whatever I would do would be just amateurish. Once in a while I tried to climb a date palm (Phoenix), for it is such a tree as has no branches like a palm yet offers its innumerable pruned stubs of old leaf bases where one can put his legs while climbing up. As though one goes upstairs negotiating a flight of steps. Date palm is known for its crown full of petiolar spines, quite frightening to anybody who does not want to shed blood yet wishes to feel the thrill of climbing. I was one of those and no wonder I could not reach its beautiful crown.

So what does a palm tree mean to me? A reminder of a thing I couldn’t do in my life? An entity, tall and towering that sends me into inferiority complex?



A. N. Nanda