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.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Poem I Should Not Have Written



At the Traffic Jam

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I remember the old thrill of driving my cab
Years ago as I drove breakneck
And now, long before the road could end
The cab has slowed and halted abrupt.


A long and lonely journey it has been
In the wilderness of indecent rejections
Aha! The glorious end is just in sight--
But how do I trundle up to that?


The past, no longer it makes me feel
Great, insipid like an old chewing gum
But how on earth it feels to reach the end?
Dreams made to happen and credo vindicated?


There is no way, not an inch ahead
The asphalt lost in the thicket of wheels
And the future would melt in waiting.
And get mingled with tut-tuts and sweat.


Encore! Carry on man and go ahead
The real thing awaits you at the end
The call is ardent but my guts scrambled
Who can help me in this lonely passage?


The sun in the sky roves all alone
and on and on for myriad aeons
Tired of working hard? No, never he would
But how do I do that for you?


I'm a man, just good enough for a single ride
A Styrofoam cup to die with a single kiss
Before discarded into the garbage dump
So, tell me, my deliverer, how do I linger on?


Oh, the present is painful, full of demands
Demands that compel me to confess and conform
To love and adjust where I should hate
My saviour, can't you make it tick quicker?


The cab lies in the middle of nowhere
The reverse blocked and the front occupied
Only the sky above is free, but out of bounds
Or, is it time I travelled upward?


I wonder who'd audit my balance sheet
Lacklustre, banal and would benefit none
I can't afford the seasoned auditor
To slog through my registers humdrum.

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By
A. N. Nanda
Muzaffarpur
26-10-2008
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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Great Outsourcing Fiasco

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Outsourcing is not an entirely modern concept. In the past there were attempts, small-scale though, to apply the strategy of outsourcing at a time when situations demanded really creative solutions. But then they were not always with result. I know at least one such story.

The king was well into the thirteenth year of his marriage and his wife had so far failed to conceive. In fact none of his ninety-nine queens living in the heavily guarded harem could achieve the feat. It was a kind of national crisis. Herbs and massages had no effect. Animal sacrifices and week-long expiatory worships yielded no result. Talisman and spells lost all their power. The loyal males of the kingdom unsuccessfully practised abstinence just to transfer their power to the king. And there prevailed an all-pervading gloom. All the king's men in his internal think-tank were at their wit's end. Not a solution acceptable and in conformity with scriptures could strike them.

Then the prime minister who had the reputation of solving the most ticklish problems of the statecraft was called in. Now he would be applying himself to a household issue of the royal family. Normally it was not his domain of activity for the chamberlain was in charge of this, but then the prime minister should now live up to the confidence reposed on him by no less than the king himself.

'Oh the most virile male of fourteen worlds, there's a solution in sight…' the prime minister pompously declared this addressing the king. It was but natural that the king felt intensely curious. He was like a mongoose in the wilderness in search of something magical.

'Tell me, my able prime minister, what can be done to get a son for this lineage of moon ruling this earth ever since the creation of this universe?' the king exhorted.

'Er…this is rather a difficult solution…has to be done in perfect secrecy. After all the glory of the king is the most celebrated thing on earth,' the prime minister was clearly in quandary as to how to utter the solution in his mind.

So the minister revealed his unusual prescription in the interest of the state: there should be somebody to finish the task of procreation that His Majesty king had started thirteen years ago. The person who would be helping the king selflessly would himself be awarded a death sentence after accomplishment of the job, say in the same courtyard where he would be meeting the queen at night. In a way, his blood will cleanse whatever little perversion that would be permitted in the interest of the state. 'After all he deserved an award…for doing the royal duty of co-habiting the queen, didn't he?' the prime minister had perorated by asking a rhetorical question.

The trusted emissaries of the king went far and wide to search out a young man that would accomplish the royal assignment with finesse. They went to gurukuls and ashrams, the gymnasiums and religious conferences, communes and hamlets and finally brought a young man from a bathing ghat that they considered to possess all the qualities the royal advisors enumerated. He was a tall fellow with broad shoulders, with a head full of luxuriant yet dishevelled hair, with eyes long and limpid, with features sharp and noticeable, with tone that boomed a lilt of rusticity…. He walked with confidence but not haughtily, stood in a posture that demonstrated his happiness in being selected for the mammoth task of saving the kingdom.

The king had only a glance of the young man and not more than that. This drowned him in the pool of envy, but then again he became happy visualizing the misfortune that awaited the able fellow. Rather he felt pity on the youth.

The queen had felt weird feelings as she was being made ready for the night. She had no prior sense of how things were going to shape for her, for she had seen herself all through her thirteen years of lacklustre conjugal life in the role of a queen. But now? What should she do to persuade her demure self for the inevitable exercise of political compulsion?

Then a different feeling came over her. It was one of thrill and creative fulfillment, nay a kind of anticipation for a tryst with new. The man she was going to meet was completely unaware of her strength and weakness. She could present her the way she liked-she could be a demure girl or an experienced female or a woman given to experiment and pleasure. In any case, she would be getting a feedback from somebody new and unbiased-how she looked and how she appealed; how she conducted herself and how she reacted to his stimuli. She was going to start something without the burden of past commitments, past impressions…it would be a new and it would be clean…clean like autumn sky. She would get something unadulterated, unpolluted by the immodesty of royal riches.

But all these would last for a night…and burst like a bubble at the first light of the dawn. She had an involuntary twitch in her body. She was sorry for the youth that would lose everything and she was not sure if he had been made known of this impending catastrophe.

The sun set and the evening wore on. The royal palace was ready to welcome the guest of a night, the saviour of the kingdom. In time the queen went into the room where the youth was staying. And what did she see? A robust human with a pleasant anticipation was standing to welcome a royal person. As she entered the room, he knelt down on the floor with his head bowed and hands spread, as though he was offering himself for hara-kiri, nay he was declaring his loyalty onto death.

Whispers intensified. The measured formality soon gave way to mutual appreciation and then to joyful intimacy. The youth, blissfully unaware of his impending fate at the crack of the dawn, went ahead with all sincerity a royal service demanded. It was a moment of discovery for the queen. She was flabbergasted to find herself so imaginative, so effective that tears rolled down her cheeks. She could not check her emotion. She felt like the poorest of poor on the earth; she had nothing more than tears to offer her paramour of a night.

'Man, won't you take a small suggestion of mine?' she asked the question and her humility made her sound angelic.

'You're the queen and I'm your servant. I don't forget this. You can order me to kill myself before you. Yes, you can order me,' the youth assured.

The queen planted loads of kisses on his head for minutes on end. Her throat had no words but eyes had tears…a lot of tears of happiness. Oh yes, she had reached the decision she badly wanted to make all her life. For the first time in life she felt how a woman should feel. A woman should exert. Aha! A woman should save a soul…she refused to be a reason for destruction.

The day dawned in the kingdom and it was yet another day of impotence.

The queen had left behind her everything--the kingdom and prosperity, the name and authority…and ultimately the frustrations and servitude. Now she was happy to be doing everything that was needed to prolong her happiness.
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By
A. N. Nanda
Muzaffarpur
16-10-2008
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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Namesake": In a Melancholy Setting



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I cannot say it's a proper book review for it just seeks to record the impression I got reading the book. In a way, it's my desire to retain at least something out of the book I've read that made me scribble this. This can leave a live track of my reading activity which is not one of the things I can claim to be able to do easily. But then again, reading has not done me any harm...not so far. There's always a special feeling living with the characters out of the book I take time to finish.

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Proper names are non-connotative—so tell the text books of Deductive Logic. One can be named as “Twinkle” and then grow up to be visually impaired. A place named Springtown may be a rainless craggy landscape. That is not all. There is another trouble in trying to associate names with the qualities the individuals may connote, for the naming conventions pay scant regard to uniqueness. As a basic requirement, names should ordinarily establish something to enable distinguishing an individual from another. But that rarely happens, for names alone are not enough to meet the goal. There can be two persons with one name…and one person with two names—a “bhalonam” and another “daknam”. So, names refusing to mean anything, don’t we expect too much from them? Don’t we play around with them as we invent meaningful nicknames and aliases, titles and avatars, brand names and icons and so on and so forth?


Jhumpa Lahiri’s immensely readable novel “The Namesake” [ISBN 978-0-00-7525891-x; Harper Collins 2007, Paperback; pages-291] more than exploits this nuance. The offspring have a natural urge to brand everything done by their parents as unreasonable, old-fashioned, non-functional and hence to be rejected. This is true not only for the dwelling units or the pianos they inherit but also for the names they receive from their parents. Names are rather the burden the progeny are called upon to carry on throughout their life unless they decide to change them subsequently.


Does a change in name necessarily bring change in everything dreaded and disliked? In everything that brings scorn of peers, disparagement in profession, and rejection in love and diffidence in every walk of life? Most certainly not. It’s not something only for Jhumpa Lahiri to tell. People who have changed their names are there to vouch for it.


Ashoke and Ashima, an expat couple, live the lives of ordinary migrants in the US trying their best to make their acceptance into the American society as smooth as possible. They abide by the law of the land, learn to love and adopt independence as they conduct themselves, and take up jobs that bring them more respect than money. While doing so they also try to keep in tact their identity as the two Bengali souls eking out their lives in a foreign land. They eventually get their American citizenship, but continue to mix and party with their Bengali friends from the diaspora during pujos and on other ceremonial occasions. They too make frequent trips to Calcutta to refresh their links.


They get their children, a boy at first and a girl thereafter and the brood grows up amidst the American counterparts. Adopting their habits with astounding ease and zest, the youngsters love to treat themselves more as the two American kids than the descendants of an expat couple, the second generation Indian-Americans. When their parents make trips to Calcutta and take them along, the frequency of such trans-continental travels make their children resent at times.


While the first issue is born, Ashoke awaits a letter from his grandma that would tell him the name of the boy, for it is the privilege of the old lady out there in India to invent names for the newcomers to the brood. But the elusive letter does not reach and it is time to leave the hospital with the boy named and certified. The US is a land where everything needs to be certified from the day one so that things move as envisaged. So, Ashoke decides to name his first child after Nikolai Gogol, a nineteenth-century Russian author whose writings he liked the most. There is a back story here with a vital bearing on the plot. Years ago, when Ashoke was a young man of twenty-two, he was travelling alone from Jamshedpur to Calcutta and his train had got derailed. This accident left him badly injured. The rescue people from the railways saw him groaning feebly with Nikolai Google’s book in hand and they made the medical help available to him. So, now that he has a name to choose for his son and that too immediately, he chooses ‘Gogol’ and thus a son in the name of Gogol comes to occupy Ashoke’s present to constantly remind him about his past, the harrowing accident he had survived at the age of twenty-two.


Lo, the name is not to the liking of the boy. He smarts under the inanity of it, more so when he comes to know that Nikolai Gogol, the Russian author was a hypochondriac and a deeply paranoid, frustrated man, given to fits of severe depression. Earlier there was an effort on the parts of Ashoke to change the name of his son from Gogol to Nikhil when it was time to enroll him in his kindergarten. But this had not materialized as Gogol the child himself resented it choosing to remain content with his original name. The old Bengali practice of ‘bhalonam-daknam’ is just allowed to lapse in his case.


Gogol and his sister Sonia go the American way asserting their independence at an early age whether they are to choose the subjects in their schools or the friends to date. Let us not forget that dating is something un-Bengali, a kind of taboo, given the fact that Ashoke and Ashima were brought together in their wedlock by way of an arranged marriage. Asserting their American status the children drink, smoke, take drugs occasionally, date not once but so very often, mix not with Bengali children as their parents would have liked them to but with Americans, and do all such things as they believe would strengthen their image as genuine Americans. And finally Gogol changes his name from Gogol to Nikhil, an action that could have been given effect to a decade earlier.


Here name is the symbol and through it Jhumpa Lahiri essentially deals with the basic crisis of identity an expat has to undergo in a new land. It is not that this syndrome of rootlessness ceases as the family-root sinks further deep into another generation. In fact, its complexity is manifest with insuppressible virulence in the second generation. Gogol suffers from the same insecurity and dreads the same lack of acceptance, but they are quite unlike what once his parents had to undergo. At least, it was then open for the parents to revive their links with their old folks at Calcutta. But now that too is denied to Gogol and his sister Sonia. Finally, as her husband Ashoke dies, Ashima does the inevitable: she decides to go back to Calcutta, or rather span her life between Calcutta and the US.


The unique relationship between the father and the son has been dexterously explored here. Despite all his resentments, Gogol loves his father as much as or even more than he can show. It is always silent, way bit dignified. When Ashoke dies, Gogol realizes what it is like to be fatherless…and what a mass of pain his father had hidden in his person as he traversed his way to success in a foreign land. With all his failures in his love front, Gogol is ready to realize the greatness of his father. He remembers the occasion when his father took him along the breakwater at Cape Cod right up to the lighthouse, a point where nothing else was left to cover. This is where Jhumpa Lahiri shows the father with full confidence in the ability of his son to run a long marathon, and a son that is convinced about the prowess of his lame father to traverse beyond the strength of his limping legs. This is one of many occasions I enjoyed the text like the lilting tunes of a soulful song, nay like the ringing rhymes of a lullaby.


Jhumpa Lahiri’s narratives score full marks, especially how she has successfully made a full-length novel out of a simple plot that could have been elaborated into a short story only. All those who have praised the work have started with praising the prose, its simplicity and elegance, its eloquence and journalistic precision, its refinement and emphasis, its grace and clarity…. I have none to disagree with what all has been said earlier, but then again the authoress times her denouement well, at a time when her narratives just begin to feel long-winded. The denouement is rather sudden and a subject like this needs such suddenness of conclusion. Or else, the story would have been a trans-generational epic and as such this would have robbed the effect of immediacy produced by the narratives.


There is one point that made me stop and think for a while but with no answer: Why should a father choose a name for his son so inscrutably so as to remind him about an accident that was near fatal? Aren’t accidents something people would always like to forget? No wonder a son like Gogol has been born to a father like Ashoke! I don’t know if that has been deliberately chosen to infuse the tone of melancholy…maybe it is so. Maybe, the plot demanded it.

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By

A. N. Nanda

Muzaffarpur

09-10-2008

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

A New Day

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Point of View: The Second Person
A New Day
==========================

I have tried writing short stories where the points of view (POV) are either first person or the all-knowing third person, but I am aware that stories are also written in second person. Let me then try one with second person POV.
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Arbitrating in a dispute between two teenagers is a ticklish job in itself. More so if parties involved happen to be very close friends, say a brother-and-sister duo, who you have seen the other day playing Scrabble or antakshari zestfully.

It is evening and you are relaxing. You just receive an SMS from your daughter, 'Dad, help'.

It should be a very disconcerting thing to come over you. Only ten minutes ago you have seen her in her room, happy and talkative, narrating you what happened in her class and how funny her teachers are. And now an SMS, 'Dad, help'?

In no moment you stride those twenty steps across the hall to reach her inside her room. And you find her crying, a bit artificially though, with feelings that feigned a love-rich anger and self-righteousness.

You enquire. The parties are now in the midst of their row--the younger brother and the elder sister--and each claiming in his/her way that justice should be given to him/her first. A quick justice nevertheless.

You've difficulty in grasping much of what they say, let alone memorising them to reproduce in your story. These cable television channels, these e-mails and blogsites have filled the accent of the teenagers with American nuances. When they open their mouth, you hear "dude", "cool", "kinda", "like", "anyways" and such other unutterable slang like "shit" and stuffs. Still you like them talking--this is the way things change, perhaps.

'What's the issue?' you ask your daughter who is in her late teens. She says her brother is messing up her room but you do not see any mess there. Yes, where there are teenagers crumpled beds or a few scattered books or music gizmos cannot be taken as a distressing spectacle of a mess. You have seen more mind-boggling jumbles earlier-in that very room itself.

'No, I haven't done anything to her room,' pleads your son. 'She has only tears to shed...at the drop of a hat.'

You have no clues as to whom to say what. More than one occasion in the recent past, you had seen your daughter hugging her brother, helping him in his homework and tiding up his bookshelf for him. Then you had thought how lucky you were to be the father of such a brood of understanding kids. You just can't blame her. She is so fine and so accommodating!

Nor can you blame your son. Often you have heard him praising your daughter. Girls are girls; you have always felt girls are to be pampered--it is not the job of a doting father alone; brothers, younger or elder have to share that fond responsibility of the family. You have seen your son pestering his sister to train him how to ride, to buy delicious fast food from the shopping mall. You do not think your son could be such a rogue as to make his darling sister unhappy.

But you have a job at hand. You cannot shirk that. You have been invited to adjudicate!

And you decide. Something that comes to you quickly and naturally. You know you are going to be partial: you ask your son to leave his sister's room and proceed to somewhere else. He agrees to it, but reluctantly, or maybe with a grudge against your partiality. You know that-you cannot help doing that domestic indiscretion.

The boy goes everywhere--from the drawing room to the study--and nowhere finds it comfortable enough. Other rooms are not air-conditioned. The room that belongs to your daughter is air-conditioned and the connected room occupied by your son is cooled through the interconnecting door, like a small spillway channel beyond a river dam. Your son comes back to that room, closer to his sister with whom he has not decided yet to mend his fence. He feels sleepy and sleeps his beauty sleep.

The next day. You feel you have not made your conscience clear. You want to do that. When your son is taking his breakfast, you reach there. He wishes you and you wish him back. Then you decide to broach the topic, quite dramatically.

'Son, you know how a drama is different from the real life?'

'A drama is a drama, dad,' he quips, 'and the real life is the real life.'

'Oh no, my dear. It's not so simple. Difference makes a drama, you know. More sound, more light, more stylistic delivery of words--everything is different in drama,' you say that, expanding your philosophical idea a little.

'So, how do they make a difference?' he asks.

'They do make, my son-they do. People like to see the difference and then…'

'Then what?' the obviously confused son asks you.

'Then people believe what they see in drama and in turn start disbelieving what they see in real life--like the spectators of that weird movie "Krish". They even jump off the balcony of the theater to emulate the hero and smash their bones,' you give the example to further your point.

'Oh, now I understand. You're asking me not to visit the risky movie "Krish". But I've already seen that,' your son discloses with a condescending smile on his lips.

'No, I'm not telling you about that. I'm just talking about what happened last night. I've started believing your drama: you brother and sister do not love each other. I really think all those cajoling and convivial togetherness of you both show very often are just insincere, say like drama. Maybe I'm wrong,' you just try to be lucid.

'But dad, "Krish" is a terrific movie. Today I'm going to see it for the second time with my sis.'

You are foxed. It is only morning. Last night you saw your son going to sleep after exhausting himself in his fight. You wonder when this little brat got the time to patch up with his sister.
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By
A. N. Nanda
Bhubaneswar
19-07-2006
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