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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Monkey in our Neighbourhood


This is a story I wrote some two years ago and posted at my old blog. The blog went defunct as there were far too many technical interruptions from the webmaster. None the less, I had a few nice posts in it which deserve reproduction. I had enjoyed writing this and has the same pleasure reposting it here.

It all happened two years ago, on this very Independence Day. Quite funny but not trivial, its implications took two long years to sink in.

We were on the rooftop of our workplace, hoisting the tri-colour and singing the national anthem. Thereafter, we exchanged the Independence Day greetings among us and waited for the complimentary snacks. There were children, the sons and daughters of my colleagues, and their presence had brought cheers to the atmosphere more than what the celebration itself would have done on its wake. The weather was fine, just like today’s sky, cloudless and sunny. The patriotic songs lilting heart-rending contents from the loudspeakers outside were adding to the patriotic ambiance of the moment.

A ruddy monkey, healthy and high-spirited, was waiting on the roof of the stair. Somebody spotted him and exchanged the language that the friendly fellow could understand. Probably he asked the primate to wait a while and not to leave the place without taking his share of snacks.

He waited there patiently but not unmindfully. He was alone and he was meditative.

In time the snacks arrived. There were packets and they were stacked into a big carton. The distribution started. A cheerful cacophony went around among the children. The supervisor was watching if any outsider would by chance sneak in, and he would not spare a packet more than required for the occasion. Quite mean of him, isn’t it? But it was his duty!

Now was the turn of our friendly primate. The person who was serving went to him with a banana. A mere banana, nothing more!

It was a sort of insult only humans are capable of perpetrating. Treating one different from the other needs a lot of analysis and brainpower, and only the humans possess that faculty in plenty. Those who do not know how to articulate their protests should rank en bloc inferior to their more vocal counterparts. That is the rule of the game!

The monkey was in no mood to digest the insult. He came down the elevated place and decided to assert. In his own way, the monkeyish way.

He went straight to the flag post, near the framed picture of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. It was garlanded by tuberoses and marigold. In front of the frame were a few incense sticks, burning to emit their sweet-smelling aroma. All those sticks were kept jabbed in a few ripe bananas.

The monkey went there and confidently grabbed the fruits, unmindful of the fire in the smouldering sticks. And he got the shock of fire, singeing his lips and burning a strand of his monkeyish beard.

Now came the backlash. The monkey knew how to release his anger. He went straight to the VSAT antenna, held its pole in a fury that appeared more conscious than instinctive. He shook it with all his might over and over again, and did not stop until all its bolts went loose and its unique celestial orientation got disturbed. Thereafter he went away, making a sound which was understood not by its content but by its spirit: he was only swearing at his mean neighbours.

Now should we not be answering the question raised by our lovely primate?

Can we afford to ignore them like this? When monkeys of yester years, say like our friend from the nearby bayan tree, start asking for their rights, should we be denying them like this?

And at what cost?
A. N. Nanda


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Controlled Nostalgia

Liberalization is the buzzword today. Private enterprises have sprung on the ruins of public undertakings and they are just going from strength to strength. Couriers, private airlines, insurance companies, hospitals, universities, cable televisions now abound in private sector spreading their presence to small towns and important rural centres. There is a surfeit of competition everywhere; entry barriers are going away. So, the customers are going to get their things cheaper and better, at their hands' reach with all the frills and assurances.

But are we to believe this half-truth? And unquestionably?

I remember I had bought a scooter some twenty-two years ago, a Bajaj--Hamara Bajaj. That was the time liberalization was just an item in the wish-list; the only item that afforded a different look to our roads was the brand Maruti. Yes, it was Maruti that came to India, not along the wave of the liberalization but by riding the piggyback on the youthful fantasy of a political scion.

So, I was the proud owner of a Bajaj scooter and I took pleasure in attending to its every need like I would have cared for a lovely pet. I embellished with all the frills--a plastic cover to wrap the handle grips; an extra mirror for added safety; an assortment of steel guards around it; an extra lock at the stand and so forth. Come the servicing day I would be ready to go to a place called the authorized service station. Yes, authorized service stations were a cut above, not like the roadside repairers, and they had the certificate of reliability from the mighty creator of the beautiful brand, Hamara Bajaj. I used to be in the queue, eager to be allotted to a particular mechanic and a particular service bay. Then, in time, my turn used to come making me hectic and happy.

Knowing the mechanic who would be servicing my scooter was the beginning of the process: I used to go to him with my most amiable smile, but the mechanic would not be impressed. Hours would just fly by and I would still be waiting for my turn. Finally the most revered mechanic of the authorized service station of the premium brand of scooter in India would come to do me a favour--he would open my scooter with no care or concern. Open he would, part by part into the depth of the engine, and that was all he used to do. Then he would just leave it like that and go to scratch the other vehicle. It was not before an hour that he would return to my scooter. Standing there with great patience, I used to feel as if my heart were cut open and bleeding and the surgeon had left me like that to attend some other personal affair.

In time I came to know the reason of my neglect in the hands of the all-powerful mechanic. It was my foolishness. I was not giving tips to the mechanic whereas others used to. One day I revolted, took the matter to the manager and found to my utter dismay that he was not willing to accept my version. That his mechanics were honest people and that they would not be doing any hanky-panky used to be his considered responses.

Two decades past many things have changed in the meantime. Now my sons own their scooter. They share it between themselves and the brand is not the old Hamara Bajaj; it is rather trendy--a Honda Diu. The young fellows have learnt their riding at an age much younger than I had done, say 13 years younger than me. They are happy about their possession-maybe as happy as I used to be or even more than that-and the way they take care of their scooter reminds me of the intensity of my feeling some twenty-two years ago when I had succeeded getting my scooter after a long wait.

Last week I came to know that they had given their scooter for repair after hitting a stray bull on the road. They had earlier decided not to bother me for the repair and had chosen the authorized service station of Honda Company.

'Your scooter is in the queue and it will be taken up for repair as soon as its turn comes. So come after two days.'

'We have started opening it and repair will be over in a couple of days. So come after two days.'

'Some repair is needed to be done outside and we've given it there. So come after two days and you'll take the delivery.'

'Parts have been requisitioned from our other outlets and come after two days'.

'Blah, blah, blah….'

I observed my children going to the service outlet with a lot of hope and coming back from there frustrated. It just continued for twelve long days. Then I decided to intervene.

As I reached the service outlet of Honda I could easily see through their game. They were after money. By now they had already changed parts that were probably not needed, changed the colour that was not ordered and had entered into some understanding with the insurance fellow. I knew it was time to get angry while I was sure that my words of reprimand were not going to make much difference. They are thick-skinned yet I gave the piece of my mind.

They even made me run for two days and probably enjoyed my getting out of temper. Finally it was time for billing. The bill was a computer printout but the impressions were so faint that it was only next to the illegible. I was reminded of the tickets handed down by the bus conductors. It was no time to argue-all rates were fixed and the software would detect if they charged less.

So what is the new thing called the liberalization? Only a few more brands? And listen what they announce: Customer is the king! And what kind of kingship is that?

So, whither liberalization? Even the scene at the service centre of an MNC two-wheeler brand has not changed!
A. N. Nanda


Monday, April 14, 2008

About Pain

After a prolonged bout of toothache and several sittings with the dentist, I think my suffering has finally come to an end. Or how should I take my hard-earned respite? Toothaches have the nasty tendency of recurrence but why should I now bother about that only to underplay my deliverance?
Toothache pains and we all agree on this. Not a single mortal should have any reason to disagree. But if we ask a dentist, what extra does he have to say?

'Yes, there're people who even don't complain of toothache. Clinically speaking, they should scream of pain when pus forms at the root of the teeth, or when the decay reaches right up to the base of the gum, but they don't.'

The dentists' treatise would explain the above phenomenon something like this: As a sequel to an attack of toothache, there is always some damage at the root of the affected tooth, and when its ability to heal itself disappears, the tooth wobbles and falls out. Sometimes, an acute toothache leads to the snapping of the connection between the sensitive parts of the tooth and the nerves, and this may result in a state of painlessness. The tooth may persist, but it is without pain, without hassles. Brave people they really are--even toothache does not bother them!

Pain leading to such a state of painlessness may not be the case always. Very often, it tends to be persistent, irremediable and chronic. Sometimes we even hear of people committing suicide to get rid of their sufferings. 'God, take me away. I can't bear it any more', 'Oh, if only I had a shotgun to kill myself…the pain is so unbearable'--the utterances are only from the depth of despair.

Not all types of pain can be cured--it's a medically accepted fact. There are many methods tried and tested, like cryotherapy (cold therapy), cognitive behavioral therapy, electrical therapy, immobilization therapy (e.g., casts, braces), injection therapy and nerve blocks, but more often than not problems get misunderstood and hence remain undiagnosed. Sometimes, the doctors even don't give medicines powerful enough to stop the pain because they fear the drugs may create addiction. But they should understand it clearly: Chronic pains no longer remain the symptoms; they are the maladies in themselves. The chronic sufferers know it better. They anyhow procure the drug and swallow them--be it morphine or any sort of opium derivatives.

There are methods prescribed in yogic systems. People try them--some get benefits some do not. Body massage, an age-old method, works but only as long as the massage session lasts. Acupressure may work or in cases it may not. So what is the exact prescription? Nobody ever knows.

Do then distractions relieve pains? Yes, to some extent, if they are really powerful. Take, for instance, the case of a wounded sportsperson or for that matter a wounded soldier. But stoicism ultimately gives in and pain surfaces. And when it does, the sufferer screams, shakes, grunts, shouts, clenches body muscles and gives innumerable involuntary twitches, not to call for any help nor to announce the onset of pain for drawing sympathy but to do something when God has stopped doing anything.

It is a cruel social dictum: Share your pleasure but keep all your pains to yourself. This means one has to wear her mask of cheerfulness, a please-all countenance. It's a double burden--to endure the pain and, at the same time, to hide it from all. Like shedding tears but not letting out a groan, stoically with absolute silence.

Hasn't pain got, after all, a lot of dignity attached to it?
A. N. Nanda


Sunday, April 13, 2008


My last post was quite unlike a blogpost; it was rather long-winded and bookish type. Now to break the monotony, let me have a poem here. This one I wrote almost two years ago and it was lying in my buffer for an honourable disposal. I've no plan of coming up with another collection of poems so soon and I cannot wait with my muse indefinitely. So, my blog is the right place for this. Or what do you think?

A camel can't do it otherwise...

Dreary desert, the waterless
It has to live for years ahead
How can it draw water
From the dizzy depth of a desert well?

Can't it go elsewhere
Leaving its land inconvenient?
A life of drudgery and dependence
Can't it save its last cells?

Life to exist, and not to excel
Lingering on as long as one can
Breathing stale the noxious discards
All its tomorrows will be no different.

How to live the present
And regret the past?
How to welcome the future
That bears no consequence?

The sun doesn't know
It'll grow old very soon
But it goes down the horizon
Moment by moment.

The camel lives to die
The sun comes to go down
It's just the routine
Written for blind enactment.

A camel can't do it otherwise...

A. N. Nanda


Friday, April 11, 2008

The Fountainhead by AYAN RAND

"The Fountainhead" is a novel about people engaged in architectural profession. There are characters who believe in creativity, originality and they are prepared to pay any price to prove that they are different. There are also characters who do not have any creativity about them, nor do they believe in that. But they get their success through manipulation and plagiarism. There is a villain with a made-up aura of intellectualism who believes in the right of masses to pull down anybody who is excessively independent and creative and who thinks freely with scant respect for the tradition handed down to the mankind by history. He also believes in manipulation and practises it with geometrical precision.

Peter Keating is an architect with high ambitions and zero creativity. He succeeds academically, getting a gold medal from the prestigious institution of architecture at Stanton. Howard Roark is a person of opposite temperament-free, creative and forthright. He does not want to tread the beaten track in his subject, not even for writing the answers for passing the exam, and finally gets rusticated from the institute for his rigid stance.

Peter Keating is picked up by a successful architect named Guy Francon as his employee at first and then his partner. To achieve such a phenomenal success in his career, Keating takes the help of deceit and does not hesitate to give a lethal psychological shock to a senior colleague who has been helping him all along.

Howard Roark tries his luck in the ruthless world of architectural profession. He gets a teacher in Henry Cameron who has a name and a history of success behind him but, nothing of that sort exists to this day. Right now, he is treated as the old-fashioned by the market. He warns Roark of the bitterness in his field but nevertheless accepts him as his disciple. Howard struggles on, from working on short commissions to being an employee with Guy Francon where Keating is already a senior executive and then to working in a granite quarry as a simple labourer. His chequered career does not bother him, for he loves his work and does not creep about anything as long as it allows him to work freely.

Here let me say a few words about the relationship between Peter Keating and Howard Roark, who are the students of the same institute doing the same business in the city of New York. While Peter gets a series of successes and does not know how they come to him, Howard Roark does not envy him. Rather on one occasion Roark actually designs a prestigious building for Keating who wins the commission producing that borrowed stuff. This friendly generosity catapults his prestige into a new height. Despite that, Keating is afraid of Roark all the time. He considers himself nothing more than a patch of dirt in front of the personality of Roark and hates him in his heart of hearts. Given chance, Keating comes forward to commiserate, to testify against him in the court of law. Yet Howard Roark does not take it to heart, let alone plan for retaliation.

Guy Francon, with whom Peter Keating works, has a daughter named Dominique. She is ravishingly beautiful, hugely talented, and unabashedly temperamental. She believes in thinking and acting as per her free will and has no concern for people who think ill of her. She works in a newspaper named the "New York Banner" and pens for a regular column which appreciates houses and buildings of New York. Her father, Guy Francon, does not think that his daughter is on the right track, for she is yet to fall in love with anyone. As a father, Francon would be happy to see her settled with a husband and family and an acceptably social temperament. He encourages Peter Keating to court her, but Dominique has scant regard for a person like Keating who is just a mediocre architect.

One day Dominique visits the granite quarry her father owns. She wants to get rid of the accumulated boredom that she feels her life is saddled with. There she finds Howard Roark. An extraordinary man at work, he attracts her attention by his charming physique and his graceful movement of limbs. She continues to gawp at him with unflinching attention. She falls for him and yearns to come closer. Roark comes to know about her inclination but remains silent. Finally Dominique invents a plea to call him to her bedroom by breaking a piece of marble and when he comes there to replace the marble, he rapes her.

The incident does not fill in her any sense of hatred for Roark; rather she welcomes more and more occasions of togetherness. They depart, but Dominique, on her return to New York, comes to know that the ordinary labourer of her father's quarry is none but a talented architect.

Dominique also knows the unprincipled dynamics of the architectural profession where every talent and creativity is just trampled under the feet, where a third-rate copy work robs all the acclaim due to the silent and the talented. She does one thing very interesting: she moves all possible corners, throws all her charm to stop Howard Roark getting a commission. Many a time Howard Roark is just about to clinch a deal, but it is always Dominique who pulls the string to eliminate him from the scene. Then she goes to Roark, triumphant and ready, and offers herself as a willing partner in his bed.

Initially it is not understood as to why Dominique does that sort of weird antics-why she snatches all the commissions from Roark and serves them on a platter to Peter Keating. But soon it stands explained. Dominique does not want Howard Roark punished and vilified for his talent and originality, his honesty and forthrightness. She knows the whole world has come together against an individual who understands his client, and who is true to oneself. She cannot stand the scene of mediocre backbenchers sitting in judgement on Roark.

Two other characters of importance are Toohey and Wynand. Toohey is an intellectual with a firm belief in collectivism and altruism, who hates such people with talent as like to have their way without any help from other sub-standard collaborators. He is a real orator, an accomplished columnist, and a confirmed bachelor, and he works in a newspaper to grab a ready platform for pushing his philosophy. He organises a worker's union there which gains in its nuisance power as time progresses. He organises other lowly achievers in the architectural profession and props them up as an alternative to the existing association of builders in America. He props the most worthless kind of poets and dramatists through the columns of the "New York Banner", the paper he works with and, in the process, earns everybody's gratitude that he can use in future for furthering his schemes of so-called altruism.

Wynand is the tycoon who owns the "Banner". It is his power of manipulation that pushes him to the top of the social ladder with a successful newspaper and a fat bank balance. He is a self-made person who knows all the tricks of silencing and outmanoeuvring the opponents. He invests in all those seemingly unprofitable projects of real estate but, at the end of the day, surprises everybody with the report of extraordinary successes from such hopeless projects. He is a lover of women who come to him to be showered with generous rewards in exchange of their sexual favours, but such relationships rarely thrive a minute more than he can endure. He owns a yacht and goes out to sea for months together for enjoying a quiet life of his own. He chooses his people well so that his newspaper empire works well in his absence.

Another character is Cathy, a homely timid girl of average beauty. She is the niece of the villain-intellectual Toohey. While she is in love with Keating, she does not want to assert it and leaves everything to the decision of Keating. Mr Toohey discourages her through his veiled warnings, saying that a life of spinster would suit her fine and she should do good for the society and follow the path of altruism. Despite his flair for deceit, Keating is seen to be true to Cathy as he chooses her company to release and confess like a faithful lover interested in an enduring relationship, but sadly the plot does not unite them. This leaves a lot of pathos for the readers to plod through.

Howard gets a foothold in the market and starts getting projects to implement. One such commission is to build a temple of human spirit for a rich tycoon. Toohey who is a friend to the tycoon strangely fails to persuade him to change his plan in favour of building a centre for disabled children. Roark gets the full freedom to design the building and complete its construction within a time-frame of one year. The tycoon leaves for a pilgrimage and when he comes back, a building greets him. But that happens to be totally opposite of what he has thought of. Lo, Mr. Toohey, who has not compromised with his loss of face, now instigates the tycoon to sue Howard Roark for delivering something not needed by him. The case continues and all the big names in the architectural world including Peter Keating testify against Howard Roark. Only Dominique testifies in his favour even if that costs her employment with the "Banner". Roark loses the case and pays for the remodelling of the building to house the handicapped children as contemplated by Toohey. A beautiful statute modelled on Dominique is removed from the modified temple.

Peter Keating proposes to marry Cathy but just before that can actually happen, Dominique comes forward with an offer to marry Keating. Surprised and happy, Keating wins everything without knowing a thing how this has been possible all of a sudden. Actually Dominique marries Keating not for love but for the opposite feeling she has all along nurtured against him. Her actual love is with Roark. No wonder the conjugal life of the Keating couple becomes anything but happy.

Toohey tries to trick Wynand into accepting Dominique as one of his women. He sends him a statue that was earlier sculpted with Dominique as the model. It is the same statue that Toohey had salvaged from the temple of human spirit. He succeeds in getting Wynand's nod to send the real Dominique. In fact, Toohey knows that Wynand is a connoisseur of art and sculpture and he chooses this particular gift to ensure that his victim falls into line. At that time the building trade is going trough a slump and Peter Keating is in the real doldrums. He knows Wynand is contemplating to commission a mega project. When Toohey actually throws the idea of sending Dominique for facilitating a commission through her charm and sex power, Keating does not see anything wrong in it. Dominique goes to him and then Wynand arranges a dinner and invites the Keating couple. Eventually he makes Dominique and her husband agree to his proposal that he would take Dominique with him in his yacht for a few months of cruise. This helps a new relationship to emerge and finally Dominique marries Wynand securing an easy divorce from Keating.

Now Dominique becomes Mrs. Wynand. She deliberately plays a second fiddle and does not interfere with Wynand's newspaper where from she had once lost her job for supporting Roark. Toohey is not at all happy with the development and feels insecure. His hatred for Dominique for her independent thinking comes to the fore and he thinks that his competitor has taken a lead over him. He starts conspiring against Wynand. Dominique who knows the viciousness of Toohey once warns Wynand to fire Toohey but the latter just brushes it aside.

Wynand is now happy with the love of Dominique. He wants to possess her more intensely and more exclusively than ever before. A building constructed in the exclusivity of the highland of Connecticut with all facilities but no outside intrusion would do well-Wynand thinks. He invites Roark because all his researches convince him that Roark is the only architect available around who can understand the needs of his client fully and design a building of perfection. He develops intimacy with the architect Roark and opens his heart and life's secrets to him unreservedly.

In time the bungalow becomes ready for occupation. Wynand moves into it with Dominique. It is something they like so much.

In the meanwhile Keating slides in his profession. Even his friend Toohey does not help him. Dominique gone, her father Guy Francon, now retired, does not help him. At that crucial juncture, a government housing project for the poor is launched. All the architects fail to design a building that will meet its cost and utility specifications. Everybody knows who can do that and, more than anybody else, it is Peter Keating who knows it the best. But in the past he had shown him the most ungrateful side of his personality and now he has no guts to approach him. Finally, on the persuasion of his concerned partner, he goes to him. Otherwise, he has none else to do, for the alternative scenario is a state of ennui and disaster.

Peter Keating goes to his friendly competitor Howard Roark. Nay, he is his mentor, his saviour at the moment. The latter agrees to do the design for him on a couple of conditions: first, in implementing the project nobody else should be associated except Keating; and the second, there should be absolutely no deviation from the design.

Then Howard Roark and Wynand go for a long cruise.

When Roark comes back, he finds the most flagrant violation of his conditions. There are other architects in the project employed on the recommendation of Toohey and the alterations they have brought upon the original design are simply outrageous. Peter Keating shows his helpless face.

Roark decides the ultimate: he blows up the building by dynamite. Then he surrenders himself to law. The legal fight continues and Roark fights his own case. There is no pleader to plead his case, to find legal lacunae in the complainant's story. There Roark gives an inspiring speech in favour of the ideals he lives for: the intellectual integrity. Anything made after butchery of intellectual freedom should be eliminated. There should be respect for the intellectual property right so that a nation can progress and the human world should discourage all acts of second-hand manipulation in the name of creativity. Finally the jury okays the stand taken by Roark and sets him free of the charge.

During the thick and thin of the court battle and the organised smear campaign of the press under the active instigation of Toohey and company, Wynand tries to support Howard Roark. He uses his newspaper. There is a backlash. His paper is almost stopped due to strikes when Wynand deals with the disgruntled workmen and the editorial staff with his iron hand. Dominique comes forward with all her experience as an ex-newspaper woman, but before her labour could bear any result, Wynand gives in. He gives a conciliatory statement in his newspaper which, in effect, is a statement against Howard Roark. This irks Dominique and revives all her love for her ex-lover Howard Roark.

Wynand comes to know about the old relationship between Roark and his wife Dominique. He applies for a divorce and the same comes to him easily, thanks to the usual technique the divorce lawyers employ. Now Dominique is freed to go with Howard Roark and Wynand to revive the old glory of his newspaper as the most sensational daily of New York. Guy Francon is happy with the development.

Finally Wynand hires Roark to build the tallest and the most magnificent building in the skyline of New York.

What I liked in it:

(1) This is a wonderful book, voluminous yet engrossing, and much of this has something to do with its style. The whole book is immensely readable. The sentences here are small but full of force, incisiveness and sarcasm. Sometimes, owing to large paragraphs packed with philosophies, it tends to become boring, but a little patience there pays. The reader immediately discovers himself marvelling at a punchline or a statement of stark philosophical truth.

(2) Its plot is a sound one with relationships permutated and twists well placed. Events are made to happen at regular intervals if not in rapid successions. There is nothing very complicated about it though we find on an occasion or two where twists do appear suddenly to turn the plot. For example, Dominique's peculiar behaviour of animosity-intimacy with Roark is more than explained when it is revealed that she does that with a purpose: to keep her lover away from accepting commissions from those who would not understand his creativity.

(3) Here a great philosophical conflict is very deftly dealt with by the help of a simple plot but rich and fully explored characterization. Whether any field of profession is to be left to the mediocre manipulation or to the original, forthright, creative souls is raised throughout the length and breadth of the work. Finally, like every author trying to reward the readers for reading his/her book, she settles down to a happy end. But the issue raised still continues, and at the end of the day, readers cannot help realising that.

(4) Among the fully explored characters are Toohey, the villain-intellectual and Dominique, the temperamentally talented lady. They are not the stereotyped ones, but have newness in them. Every personal whim can be made acceptable to the world if it is presented with a coat of philosophy and it is not necessary that the presenter should sincerely believe in them or follow them. How true! Toohey represents that aspect. Dominique is ravishingly beautiful, but at the same time talented. Here beauty and intellect have been made to go together. She uses her sex appeal as such to reach the higher object of her life: the peace and compatibility. She accepts two divorces but without great self-disgust. She is not the one who would use her sex appeal for other baser things in life, like money, professional success, and societal influence.

A few things I thought I did not like:

(1) Dominique is raped by Howard Roark and eventually their relationship blossoms into one of great love. Does it mean she decides to forgive him? Yes, there are sufficient hints how they are same in their view of life and their love for intellectual integrity. They raise voice against the prevailing rule of mediocrity in their own way. But merely on the basis of compatibility, reader cannot accept the love between these two characters as the normal happening. Ayan Rand should have made Dominique clearly forgive Roark and that would have brought the characters to the domain of perfection.

(2) In the middle of the book, one might feel the progress in the storyline is slow. This is more due to the long-winded conversations than for any defect in the over-all storyline. One gets the complete feeling at the end. The book lives up to the expectation it creates as its plot unfolds.

Finally, it is not a book that has great actions to narrate. There is nothing contemporary if by that word one understands mobile phone, internet, GPS or gizmos. It is about a great philosophy of universal relevance and Ayan Rand shows that philosophy in action. The characters are eminently suitable for acting their roles in the plot and they have not strayed out of their defined roles. This makes it believable. And immensely readable!

A. N. Nanda


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Expiation

Before going to bed, Biswas went to his cowshed to check if everything was ok there. He did not find anything suspicious. Both his cows and a calf were happily chewing the cud. He stroked the one that was currently lactating and patted her calf. He swept the floor for the final round and then left them to relax. He was happy with his animals, for they had all the good qualities domesticated animals should ideally possess.

The next morning he went again inside the shed. He was shocked to find his cow dead. She was the one that used to give him milk these days. She was lying calm and peaceful with her leash around her neck.

'What happened to her?' he mumbled. 'Was it a case of snakebite? A heart attack? Or some other type of fatal body dysfunction?'

But one thing he was sure, he had committed a great sin. A cow dying when she was still on leash constituted a sin. Cow represents the entire pantheon of thirty-three crore gods and goddesses on the earth and her dying so unceremoniously was the sin of the owner.

But every sin has a course of expiation, codified and unassailable. There are pundits who can tell whether a particular death is to be treated a sin or not. They have their knowledge of scriptures and conventions to guide them making this crucial decision.

The pundit asked, 'Can you tell me how the animal died?'

'No. I saw her chewing the cud when I went to the shed last night. I discovered her dead in the morning,' Biswas replied solemnly.

'Can you then guess the reason?' enquired the pundit.

'No, I cannot,' Biswas could not grasp the purpose behind such probing question. Later others told him that the pundit was trying to find a way out to save him from the hassle of expiation.
The pundit decided: it was a clear-cut case that called for expiation. The owner must institute that, if he wanted to avoid going to Hell. Biswas had to agree.

It was a seven days' penance when he had to wear a leash made of rope. He was supposed to remain in the same place where the cow died. But now that rule had been relaxed, he could move about with that thing around his neck. He was not supposed to talk. He was to only moo, like the cow that was dead. Nowadays the rigidity of the rule was not so much as it used to be fifty years ago. Biswas could talk. But he was not to touch anybody and remained very watchful to avoid contact.

His food became very simple, just a vegetarian meal a day with no onion and oil in it. He was to sleep on a straw mat.

It was for him to decide if he was to go for begging. If he wanted people to help him meeting the expenditure in the expiation ceremony, he could do that. Yes-he was to feed a minimum of twelve Brahmins because they represent gods and goddeses, like the holy cow herself. That is why there is Sanskrit hymn that ends:

"Go Brahman hitaya, jagdhitay namonamah"

(Meaning: I salute thee for the welfare of bovine population and Brahmins.)

Moreover, there was need for elaborate worship, during which a liquid consisting of cow dung, cow urine, milk, curd, and ghee would be prepared which Biswas would swig to rid himself of his sin. Then the Brahmins who would be fed would bless him chanting hymns in a chorus. The whole budget was to exceed three thousand rupees.
Biswas went for begging with the leash around his neck. At every door he mooed and the housewives gave him alms. They were generous, but how much rice could he have begged? Norms of begging can not adjust itself against the inflation. At the end of seven days he could accumulate just fifty-kilogram of rice. He sold them for a sum of five hundred rupees. But that was quite piddling. He still needed another two and half thousand.

Finally, Biswas decided the most painful. He sold the other cow that was alive and pregnant. Since she promised to give milk in a month or so, there was no dearth of buyers. Biswas got a sum of three thousand rupees now. It was sufficient to manage the expiation ceremony comfortably.

Lo, he was left with no cow in his shed. He had only a calf to stroke, to take care of, and to talk to. He did not mind his poverty. He was once again a sinless man to rear cow and live peacefully.
A. N. Nanda


Monday, April 07, 2008

Thanks for the Appreciation

IndianBlogs, a content benchmarking portal, maintains a directory of the best blogs of India. The portal has its own criteria of choosing them, and most probably they are based on some kind of analysis of contents. Yes, content is always the king! I, for myself, have taken some extra interest these days in improving the contents of my blog and its present selection as a blog of note is perhaps on account of that. Good! It should encourage me.

Now if anybody searches the net through Google engine with the search words "Best Indian Blog", the search will list this particular page that showcases the names of the best Indian bloggers and it will appear at the top of the page. Opening that link, one can see the list of best bloggers and mine is listed among the "Writers, Authors, Critics, Poets, Literature". So I should expect some more visitors to my blog.

Similar thing happened to my weblog sometime in November 2006 when a website ( chose my blog as the blog of week. I had then posted one snippet on this blog thanking all those behind such selection. I was then really into blogging in a big way; there were even jokes among my posts! Then towards March 2007 I got a little slack in posting contents, since I was then busy in promoting my other blog and my book "The Remix of Orchid". Now I am determined to make this blog "The Unadorned" better.

Finally, I think it will help if I reiterate the nature of my blog. It is a blog that will ramble from topic to topic with anecdotes, vignettes, short stories, poems, translations, jokes. Bravo ramblingnanda! Bravo blogspot!!

A. N. Nanda


Saturday, April 05, 2008

Technically Educated


This is a vignette I wrote a year back and posted on my previous blog(now defunct). Here I have endeavoured to capture the rustic charm, portraying a funny character of the past about whom I had heard in my childhood.


For today's story I'll cull a character from the stable of the past. Quite rustic but clever, unlettered but conversant of worldly wisdom. He was one Bowli, the barber.

Bowli was technically qualified. It was not his manual dexterity in operating the scissors or honing the razors that alone made him technically knowledgeable; rather he was more known for his ability to light a petromax light than for his ancestral calling. Yes, it was so because he and he alone in my village knew to operate the magic device.

One day, his knowledge and pre-eminence was about to be threatened. His adversary was none his age, but the two teen-agers who were studying in high school and had the ability to speak English. They were named Ramu and Kalu, and as a curious and English-knowing duo they were the loved ones in my village. The entire village had high hopes on them-they would be one day the two high functionaries in government, say the District Collectors or something.

Bowli was envious of the duo, or rather afraid of them, for the boys knew English. He was particularly afraid of the swear words in English as he thought they were very painful ones and instant in their effects, say the words like "Bloody", and "stupid". He believed those were even more effective than the curse of a Brahmin or the spell of a witch. He used to take care that he did not incur the wrath of the duo and did not have to listen to those painful swears either.

Bowli got his chance to prove his superiority one day when the boys came to him to learn how to light a petromax.

'Bowli Uncle, we want to learn lighting a petromax. Won't you teach us for once?' Ramu requested. He was full of respect, and he knew all that the self-respecting teacher needed was a little bit of coaxing to come out.

'You're for learning this small thing? Oh, don't do that. There are bigger things to learn from books. Don't waste your time on this, I say,' responded Bowli.

'Actually the thing is, Bowli Uncle, we want to give surprise to our teachers. If only you agree to help us,' Kalu pestered.

Bowli was in no mood to give up his pre-eminence. Every time when an open-air play was enacted in my village, it was Bowli who was respectfully entrusted the charge of the kerosene lamps. They were the petromax lights, small chandelier-like daylights, and so on. It was a very responsible job at that: the pressure in the lights were to be constantly maintained by frequently pumping air into them, or else the lights would not be bright enough and would get extinguished in the middle of the play. He knew how delicately the pins were to be periodically poked into the fuel injection holes to keep it free of blockages; he knew how the mantles were to be tied to the end of the burner assembly so that they did not fall off in the middle; he knew the proper timing to release oil so that it did not flood the mantles before they were hot enough to capture fire and start vaporising the fuel; and son. He knew many more subtle dos and don'ts of handling those gadgets.

"OK, boys. Do one thing. Come in the afternoon ready to learn this. Don't forget to bring a copy and pencil each,' Bowli smirked as he gave his appointment.

Both Ramu and Kalu got a bit foxed to see Bowli smirking. 'What was he up to?' they thought. But then they waited till the afternoon for the session of imbibing technical instructions to start.

It was around four O' clock in the afternoon when the class started. Bowli enquired from the duo if they were ready to take dictation. As the boys confirmed, Bowli started dictating his stuff.

'Before doing anything else, fill the lamp with sufficient oil and clean it nicely. Then pick the burnt-out carbon globules off the wick…'

'But Bowli Uncle, a petromax light does not have a wick. It is only in a lantern that we use wick, isn't it?' Kalu interrupted.

'Be patient, boy. And take down what I say,' Bowli felt rather piqued a bit for the interruption. However he continued.

'Um..What was that I dictated last? Oh yes, if you don't have sufficient oil and you still want to light it then don't bother. You can add a little bit of water to it. Remember, just a bit…. Even you can piss into the fuel tank, you know.'

Now was the turn of Ramu to interrupt.

'Uncle, how do you expect water to burn? And how do we piss into the fuel tank? So nasty.' Looking at Kalu he said, 'Let's go back. This fellow is kidding us.'

The discouraged duo rose to their feet and sped up. Bowli was heard chortling, uttering words of self-appreciation:

'Learning English alone will not make you wise, boys. Look at me how I can manage without it! Bloody, stupid boys!!'
A.N. Nanda


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Poor Old Radhey


Do people really change in time?

I just met a classmate of mine after thirty-four long years. The chance encounter was on the railway station of my hometown, where I had gone to see my relation off. I could not have recognised the fellow had I not been helped by the person I went with.

'Look, your friend is there,' my relation said. Finding me unable to get him, he added, 'It's only your friend Radhey'.

I remembered Radhey. He was my classmate in my sixth and seventh classes. Then he was robust, much stronger than I used to be. Obviously he had started his schooling at an age much older than I did.

There were many small things that I could remember about Radhey. But one specialty about him that instantly came to my mind was his cunning. A small example could be how he used to conduct himself in those gardening classes. Yes, we used to do gardening work in our school--that was a part of the school curriculum those days. I was then a very skinny fellow and my stamina was naturally limited. But when it came to give my contribution, I was not legging behind. Radhey, on the other hand, was capable yet had a different agenda. He would stand and watch me hoeing the flowerbeds and panting for breath. But sometimes he would say, 'Ah, you're too weak for this kind of work. Give me the hoe'. Without waiting for me to give him the tool he would snatch it from me and start working.

Then in a minute, the teacher in charge of the gardening class used to come for inspecting our work. He used to become happy seeing Radhey giving his best.

'Radhey, you're too capable, I must say. Good! Keep it up,' our teacher would comment. Then looking at me he would give a smirk. That implied, 'You're not like Radhey; you're just useless.'

Then the teacher used to leave us and go to another group. No sooner did the teacher leave us than Radhey would leave the hoe. 'Take it and do the rest,' he would direct me.

Not that the game Radhey played was not clear to me then. I remembered how I used to marvel at his smartness. A school bully he was and I was just cautious in all my reactions.

Now the first warning bell rang to indicate the status of the incoming train and I was jolted out of my rumination. Then I asked my relation, 'Let's go and talk to Radhey.' But he was not willing to accompany me. I did not insist either and went to Radhey alone.

It was a cool ten minutes of conversation. Somehow I felt Radhey was not so much outgoing at the beginning, but my cordiality began to make him comfortable. What I gathered about him was not very exciting; rather everything was banal about him. He said that he was a painter of the buildings, a manual worker, and he had been managing his family with difficulty. He could not pursue his study because he saw to it that his sister continued her studies. Her sister was a nurse in a government hospital and then he was going to meet her. He would be taking some financial help from her.

Then I came back to my relation. Before I could enquire, he explained me why he spurned my proposal to come with me. According to him, Radhey had taken advance wage from him but did not come to whitewash his house. Howsoever he reminded, the fellow remained adamant and my relation had to stop reminding him at the end. It was eventually a bad debt so he allowed it to remain like that. As such he was fed up with Radhey and did not want to have relations with him.

I was not fully convinced. In response I said that Radhey should be commended for giving education to his sister and making her eligible for a decent job even though he himself ended up doing the job of a day labourer.

'Tosh! That's not true. On the other hand, Radhey exploits the poor girl bothering her all the time for money. She's a spinster and has no money left with her to think of her own marriage,' quipped my relation.

The train had come in the meantime. In time it left the station.

As I came back to my car and started revving the engine, I still wondered. 'Was it true that my friend Radhey has not changed at all?' At least from the physical appearance he had not--still retaining the feature of the same corpulent, cunning, gunny sack of a person.

'Has he been only maturing all these thirty-four years?' I sighed and put my foot down on the accelerator. Nonetheless I was happy that I could meet my old friend.

A. N. Nanda