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, May 15, 2008

More Than Just a Fiction

For today I'll be content with posting just a book review. It's really difficult here in Bihar to get connectivity. Somehow I could get a chance now for uploading this post. Glory thou be god!

["The Bridges of Madison Square" by Robert James Waller, A Mandarin Paperback 1993; ISBN 0749316780]

A farmer’s wife enduring her life of insipidity in a small town of Iowa suddenly bumps into somebody special, a person with all the charms of life that have ever eluded her for years. She does ‘not scout around for any adventure’ yet gets completely besotted with him. Now her dream unfolds with all the colours of rainbow as she watches him coming closer. Everything of him throws the charm around--the way he talks, the sensitivity he displays, the empathy that alleviates her unexpressed regrets, the bucolic blithe he enjoys away from the bustle of modernity. Then comes the intimacy…and then the love. It is a love at first sight, a passion that permeates into every untouched corner of the soul--beautifully, with fiery spontaneity.

And finally comes the moment to decide—the moment demands only a decision and, that too, a decision for the rest of the life. Yes, ‘In the universe of ambiguity, this kind of certainty comes only once, and never again, no matter how many lifetimes you live.’

But the lady falters. She has her family to live for. And she knows what are in store for them once she steps out of her home. So she makes the ultimate sacrifice by saying a ‘no’, a reluctant ‘no’. The man of charm leaves, only after a short sojourn with intensive lovemaking and emotional fulfillment. He takes with him a lifetime’s memory to cherish. He leaves behind the darling of his heart to ruminate and relive the sweet moments of freedom and frolic. The passion lingers on.

That is all in the storyline of Robert James Waller’s ‘ The Bridges of Madison County’. But then the book has more than this bare storyline that is only too common and too devoid of welcome twists. It is a story with rhythmic flow, told but not exaggerated, and the writer’s effort in refining is anything but obvious. It unfolds at a pace that is comfortable, without allowing moments of sweetness to melt just like that, without consequence.

There is something very interesting about the plot: the offspring come to take the love story of their parent from the depth of privacy to limelight. That happens to be the uncommon aspect of the story. From the point of view of offspring, such extra-marital love affair of their late parent could just be an object of shame, but Waller has entrusted them with the task. However, he seems to explain it as he proceeds. The children realize how their mother sacrificed her love for the sake of her children, for her family. The daughter has the following words to say her brother: ‘Oh, Michael, Michael, think of them all those years, wanting each other so desperately. She gave him up for us and for Dad. And Robert Kincaid stayed away out of respect for her feelings about us. Michael, I can hardly deal with the thought of it. We treat our marriages so casually, and we are a part of the reason that an incredible love affair ended the way it did.’

A love of this profundity needs exceptionally high-spirited souls to eventuate; depending only on settings and situations to bring about the desired effect may not ultimately work. So, the characters need to be well explored. And here the lover Robert Kincaid, and the beloved Francesca are to exhibit all the qualities necessary for enacting an out-of-this-world love affair. Has Waller succeeded in this? The answer, in my reckoning, could be ‘yes’, or ‘to a large extent’.

Robert Kincaid is a photographer for the National Geographic who works not merely for money; the ultimate satisfaction of his artistic craving is at the uppermost of his mind. With a bohemian attitude to his profession, he is not in good books of the editorial board, yet he manages to continue there as he is willing to do such projects as are left aside by others. He has had a stint in the US Army; a brief married life that did not work owing to his long absence from home. He understands music, poetry and conducts himself as per the demands of his sentimental self. Modern life is too organized to leave room for freedom; so we find Robert with a truck that is badly out of tune, cameras that have been thoroughly overused, clothes that are not strictly according to the dictates of fashion-makers and so forth. Yet he is a sensitive nature-lover, a vegetarian with moderate drinking habits, and a generous friend. He is ‘the leopard-like creature who rode in on the tail of a comet’, ‘one of the last cowboys’, ‘a wanderer’.

Francesca is a quiet homely lady who has learnt the ways to keep the conjugal affair well with in the limits of social decency. She is not happy about the rapid deterioration of physical and sentimental attraction between the couple themselves and yet has never searched avenues of fulfillment. Even when Kincaid comes in her life with all the dreams she has longed for, she just hesitates to run away with him. Despite everything, she decides one day to go beyond the limits of conjugal life; it is, in fact, a courageous step on her part. She evinced courage, but only to this extent and nothing beyond.

Waller leaves the character of Richard, the husband of Francesca, out of his scheme of highlighting the principals. He is just a husband, a dominating one in the family, yet knows what he has failed to bestow on his wife. In her last letter addressed to her children, Francesca recounts how broad-hearted Richard was. While in death bed, he says, ‘“Francesca, I know you had your own dreams, too. I’m sorry I couldn’t give them to you.”’

Finally there is a question to answer: Is the story a real one? The author claims it is. He had written this on the requests of the children of the woman in love; he had journeyed across the places of events; there were extensive researches into the matter. To quote: ‘In spite of the investigative effort, gaps remain. I have added a little of my own imagination in those instances, but only when I could make reasoned judgemens flowing from the intimate familiarity with Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid I gained through my research. I am confident that I have come very close to what actually happened.’

Against such assertions by the author, there is perhaps no scope to treat it imaginary. But then again the publisher categorizes the book as a ‘Fiction’. So, can we treat is a biography? Or a work in cross-genre?
A. N. Nanda


Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Bearish Dawn


Bears have many things in common with the humans, even the way they organise their conjugal fights and settle them. A story can be based on their mannerism: you change the name you have a story of humans! No wonder we have Panchatantra, ever so enchanting, ever so educative.


Man exercising supremacy over woman by hook or by crook is an old story; women trying to fight out this injustice is rather a modern development. It is the right thing to have happened for civilised living, nay for the survival of humankind.

My story is all about that—the gender inequality. It is bestial, straight from the animal kingdom.

I heard it from a person who had herself witnessed this, its every twist and turn that were enacted before her own eyes. So, let’s call it a true story.

It was roughly an hour before the first blush of morning, the coolest and the best part of a summer night that brought beauty sleep to one and all. Only oldies were readying to start their day so early leaving another night of insomnia behind. And what about bears? They were nocturnal and enterprising, and more so as the trees were now laden with delicious ripe mangoes.

So, at that salubrious hour of a summer dawn my storyteller woke up to the rustle of the dried leaves and looked through the window. And what a dinky little scene it was! There was a she-bear, happily perched on a stone and sucking at a ripe mango. She had taken a position like a human, supporting her hulk on her hind legs and handling the fruit with her forelegs! While relishing her fruit, she was in communication with somebody sitting at the top branch of the mango tree, probably guiding him where to go to pluck the sweet fruits. The language was bearish and the intonation frightful.

Mango tree was not climber-friendly, quite brittle at that, and the animal knew how to proceed. He was not risking his step right up to the end of the branch; he was rather content with shaking the tree with all his might. Result: all the ripe mangoes were falling onto the ground.

That day the she-bear did not behave her best. Standing on her hind legs, she just snorted her happy grunts and as she snorted happily, she took one mango after the other in happy relish.

The bear at the top of the tree knew what his partner was up to. She was greedy and incorrigibly so, but then he knew their partnership had, despite all odds, stood the test of time. A little adjustment here and a scuffle there—that was the way they had conducted themselves through the thick and thins of their wild existence. He was ready to remedy the aberrations, sometimes by persuasion but mostly by administering the doses of discipline.

Aha! What was that my storyteller was going to witness?

Now the bear fellow climbed down the tree, in a masculine huff and determined, took a club lying nearby, and came charging to his partner moving on his hind legs. He was furiously growling his bearish swearing as he started thrashing his partner mercilessly. The poor she-bear was really at the receiving end and she had almost accepted her guilt. Crying bitterly she was pleading for mercy and thus the scuffle reached a high pitch.

People gathered around the fence. They were half sleepy and half curious. It was a bearish scuffle, no less than a human crisis, and it appeared as if all those gathered there were only too willing for fashioning a settlement between the bear partners. But the question remained: who would coax them to silence.

The bears were not bothered that the day had already dawned; they were not afraid of the combined might of the people assembled. Their only concern was to behave as per the bearish norm.

In time, the bear mellowed down. He ate a couple of mangoes and then hugged his partner. Now they had settled their differences. It was time to leave for their wild abode.

A. N. Nanda