Pages

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My new collection of poems is now on Amazon.in/
Please take a look, or buy/

http://www.amazon.in/Pages-Unfinished-Autobiography-Dibyajyoti-Sarma/dp/8192935507/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1414481591&sr=8-2&keywords=dibyajyoti+sarma

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Humbling

I agree with the people who say that Philip Roth deserves a Nobel Prize in Literature. He does. He is a great writer, though, I have not read all his books. A long while back a friend of mine gave me a copy of A Plot Against America, and I think, the book is a masterpiece, the way Roth creates a haunting alternative history of war-time America that if you do not know your history, you’d believe it as fact.

But, after finishing The Humbling, a decided small book, more like a long story or a novella, I am not sure how to react. I enjoyed the first part (the novel is divided into three parts), the despondency and depression of a once great actor and the talks about suicide ring very true. Then we come to the second chapter, called Transformations, where we are provided a kinky inter-generational love affair between the old actor and a 40-year-old lesbian, peppered with their myriad sexual proclivities, including, but not limited to, the appearance of a giant, green strap-on dildo.

I was flabbergasted.

The news is that the book is now being made into a movie, starring Al Pacino. I was concerned. How are they going to show the green dildo on screen? If they don’t what they are going to show, there is nothing else, except few half-baked ideas.

I was not sure if my reaction was right, so I decided to consult other critics. Here they are:

The Humbling/Book Reviews/

Writes William Skidelsky in The Guardian:/ Still, no amount of past achievement should blind one to a writer's present failings and it has to be said that Roth's new novel is, by his standards, dismayingly poor. Roth has always had a tendency to veer off into realms of extravagant silliness; the most egregious example of this was his 1972 novella The Breast, which reworked Kafka's Metamorphosis so that the hero wakes up not as an insect but as a giant mammary gland.

The Humbling belongs in the same dubious company. Brief to a fault at 140 generously spaced pages, it can hardly be called a novel at all; it is more an old man's sexual fantasy dressed up in the garb of literature. There are, of course, redeeming features: an interesting initial conceit, the usual beautifully controlled writing. And the novel asks interesting questions about ageing and what it does to you. But these things aren't nearly enough to make up for the absurdity at its core.
More here/

Writes KATHRYN HARRISON in The New York Times:/ As it unfolds, “The Humbling,” Roth’s 30th book, is not only the familiar pairing of an older man obsessed with his deterioration and a younger woman whose sexuality promises rejuvenation — “Exit Ghost,” “The Dying Animal” — but also a Pygmalion story. “The Transformation,” as the second part of this short novel is titled, presents Axler with a woman to groom — to help her become “a woman he would want.” Pegeen Mike Stapleford, “a girl-boy,” “a child-adult” and the daughter of old acting friends, is 25 years younger than Axler. A lesbian with a trail of wounded lovers raging in her wake, she has more than enough sexual energy to make up for Axler’s eviscerated state.

Having materialized out of nowhere, Pegeen walks in, bandages Axler’s hand after he trips and cuts it and gives him a glass of water, a simple kindness that prompts him to reflect how bereft of such gestures his life has been of late. “How long have you been out here without anyone else?” Pegeen asks. “Long enough to be lonelier than I ever thought I could be,” Axler says. Too despondent to shop or eat, Axler just happens to have all the ingredients necessary for Pegeen to whip up a dinner of spaghetti carbonara. A little Schubert on the stereo, a shared bottle of wine and presto, Pegeen allows him to feel “the strength in her well-muscled arms.” Then she unzips her jeans and has sex with “a man for the first time since college.” Wow. This must happen to a lot of depressed people.

Never mind about electroconvulsive therapy. Pegeen is enough of a shock that Axler immediately forgets his languishing, possibly dead acting career and the excruciating spinal condition that makes it necessary for Pegeen to always be, um, on top, and devotes himself to buying clothes and accessories for his now formerly androgynous lover. Goodbye “sport bras” and “flannel pajamas.” Hello “satin babydolls,” Prada shoes and cashmere sweater sets. Goodbye barbershop bob and hello expensive Manhattan hairstyle, a “look that gave her precisely the right cared-for devil-may-care air of slight dishevelment.” “It was an orgy of spoiling and spending that suited both of them just fine.”
MORE HERE/

The Humbling/ Movie Reviews

Writes The Hollywood Reporter:/ The Humbling started life as Philip Roth’s 30th novel and one of his most poorly received works, dismissed by the critics as little more than the sexual fantasies of an elderly man. Certainly not the most auspicious beginning for a film adaptation, and these unfortunate origins probably have a lot to do with the wildly uneven tone and quality of Barry Levinson’s tragi-comedy about the last roar of a once-great stage actor. Al Pacino, who reunites with the director after their 2010 TV movie You Don’t Know Jack, has warmly saluted the Bard in his own documentary Looking for Richard and runs riot here in the role of the self-absorbed Shakespearean performer. And his love story with a young lesbian woman who gives up women (“a 16-year-long mistake”) to bed him is nothing short of preposterous.

And yet, all this notwithstanding and after an extremely buggy first half, Buck Henry and Michal Zebede’s screenplay finally kicks in and an entertaining film emerges from the rubble. Once Pacino is surrounded by other characters, the comedy comes thick and fast and the material begins to come together in an absurd sort of way. Though the film will not have the easiest time finding an audience, basically favorable critical response in Venice should help spread the word.
More here.

//
Writes Vaariety:/ An actor prepares to face the final curtain of his career in “The Humbling,” director Barry Levinson’s free-form adaptation of Philip Roth’s penultimate novel, about a star of stage and screen beginning to lose the tricks of his trade (and possibly his grasp on reality). In one of those curious quirks of timing, Levinson’s film arrives hot on the heels of another polymorphous movie about an actor in crisis, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s “Birdman,” in whose deservedly large shadow it may be doomed to dwell. But where Inarritu’s exuberant style piece calls to mind the likes of Fosse and Fellini, “The Humbling” feels closer to the intimate theater/film hybrid works of Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn (“My Dinner With Andre,” “Vanya on 42nd Street”) in its lo-fi aesthetics and gently playful sense of art imitating life imitating art. Fronted by a vibrant, deeply committed Al Pacino performance and very fine support from Greta Gerwig, this uneven but captivating film deserves to find its own audience, though doing so will surely prove to be an uphill climb.
More Here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Khadi Papers

It all started with art, really. Barbara Macfarlane is a professional artist who lives and works in the UK. Most of her output is on handmade rag paper sourced from India. Her medium is pigment on paper. Working often on a large scale, she makes the texture of her handmade rag papers play an important part in each image. Contrasted against the intensity of oil paint, the lambent brightness of water colour, the calligraphy of charcoal lines or scratched marks, these artfully deployed expanses of naked paper provide both a unity and luminosity to Macfarlane’s work.

The husband and wife duo, Nigel and Barbara Macfarlane, would purchase the handmade papers for the artwork from the Handmade Paper Institute in Pune, way back in the 1980s. Established in 1940, based on Gandhian principles, and run under the aegis of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission, the institution works towards training and research in handmade papers and also towards promoting the cause.

Not only for their own use, the Macfarlanes soon started buying art papers from the Pune institute and started selling them to artists at the various London art schools and artists in the UK. This is when they met Vasudevan, the manager of the institute, in 1984. A friendship was struck, and this is where it all started.

Today, Khadi Papers, run by Nigel Macfarlane, is an importing and distribution company based in the UK. On the other hand, Khadi Papers India is a proprietary company based in India. Together, they promote Indian handmade paper on the world market.

“It started really through a friendship with Vasudevan,” says Nigel Macfarlane. “In 1994, Vasudevan started Khadi Papers India with financial support from our side and with the guarantee that we would purchase the product. The amazing thing is that this has all been done and achieved on the basis of trust. We have a close relationship with our ‘Indian family’.”

The process is simple. The papers are manufactured by Khadi Papers India in a mill located outside Hubli in Karnataka, and then are shipped to a warehouse in London, from where Khadi Papers distribute the products all around the world. Though the company sells the papers online, it also has established art supply retailers worldwide. The production is around 30 tonnes per annum.
READ THE FULL STORY HERE>

Amchi Mumbai...

I reached Pune on Oct 2, 2014, one year and nine month after I had left the city where I had spend 14 precious years. There was rush of emotions, mostly, the uneasy desire that I should return, return to those familiar streets, and familiar buildings, and to the warmth of the people whom I call friends and who are my chosen family… unfortunately, it was all too short a journey, as I had to hurry to Mumbai, for work. My friends, thank you for the memories…

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Books go viral on Facebook

Like all remotely interesting things that go viral on social networking sites, for the last one month or so, Facebook users are seeing books going viral, especially lists of user’s favourite books. And, for a change, it was a good thing too, given how inane these social networking sites can get. It started as a series of post-and-tag (called the Book Bucket Challenge, as opposed to Ice Bucket Challenge) where one user would post a list of 10 books which purportedly changed his/her life, language no bar, genre no bar, and tag a number of his/her friends, who in turn would post their own lists and tag their other friends. The chain went on and soon everyone joined in, even those who are not necessarily a bookworm.

As lists started to pile up, analysts, include the site itself, entered into the picture and gave their own expert opinions on the trend. For starters, after the US, India was the country where most users took the challenge. And, in case of India, there was hardly any Chetan Bhagat on the lists.

Then Facebook gave us a list of 100 books, not its own, but names culled from the 1,30,000 status updates received by the site. Understandably, JK Rowling’s bestselling Harry Potter series tops the lists, but there were surprises too, like the inclusion of The Bible in No 6, between Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (Please find the complete list below.)

According to Facebook sources, the data was “a de-identified sample of matching ‘10 books’ or ‘ten books’ appearing in the last two weeks of August 2014”. The demographics of those posting were as follows: 63.7% were in the US, followed by 9.3% in India, and 6.3% in the UK. Women outnumbered men 3.1:1. The average age was 37.

Were the lists posted by the users true? The debate is on. There are skeptics who said like everything else on Facebook, the lists too were superficial, a show of fake intellectualism. Recently, The Huffington Post carried an item in response, titled, ‘Stop Lying about your Favourite Books on Facebook’, where the author protests: “No, your favorite book is not The Sound and the Fury. No, you did not finish Infinite Jest. One Hundred Years of Solitude? You read that in 10th grade. I know because I was in that English class with you.” Alexis Kleinman then offers an apologia: “There is nothing wrong with liking popular books. You shouldn’t be ashamed to have read Harry Potter a dozen times… There shouldn’t be a stigma against fun books. If you’re super picky, remember that fluffy books can be gateways into more serious literature, ya prude.”

Among Indian users too, there were too many pretentious list-makers, critics said. This may be the reason why we did not see much of Chetan Bhagat, or Durjoy Datta. One user actually showed her surprise on her update that nobody mentioned Super Commando Dhruva, the iconic Indian superhero. There was no mention of Tinkle, or Champak, or Archies or those Phantom books published by Indrajal Comics in the 1970s-80s, which most of the average user in the age of 37 must have read in childhood.

There were the usual suspects in pretentious names. Haruki Murakami remains a perennial favourite among pretentious Indian readers. And, Ayn Rand and her egomaniac creation Howard Roark still have takers. And, nobody seems to admit to the fact that they like reading Mills and Boons.

Pretentious or not, there were some other titles and authors, which touched a special chord with Indian readers. If Facebook tries to make a list comprising of only Indian entries, perhaps here too Harry Potter would top the list. Such is the adoration for the boy magician. Indian readers also love the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon in Dan Brown’s popular potboilers. Two other favourite authors are Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini and ubiquitous Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist).

While no single India author managed to be named consistently, former president AP J Abdul Kalam’s Ignited Mind seemed to have ignited the minds of many a India readers.

Even two Nobel Prize winners managed to inspire Indian readers. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is a certifiably popular book among the readers while the popularity of Turkish author Orhan Pamuk remains constant, thought his writing is arguably denser than both Murakami and Marquez.

The top 100 books
1. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
3. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
4. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
6. The Holy Bible
7. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
8. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
9. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
10. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
11. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
12. 1984 by George Orwell
13. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
14. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
15. The Stand by Stephen King
16. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
17. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
18. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
19. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
20. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
21. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
22. The Giver by Lois Lowry
23. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
24. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
25. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
26. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
27. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
28. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
29. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
30. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
31. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
32. Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
33. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
34. Animal Farm by George Orwell
35. The Book of Mormon
36. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
37. Dune by Frank Herbert
38. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
39. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
40. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
41. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
42. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
43. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
44. Lamb by Christopher Moore
45. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
46. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
47. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
48. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
49. The Outsiders by SE Hinton
50. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
51. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
52. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
53. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
54. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
55. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
56. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
57. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
58. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
59. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
60. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
61. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
62. Night by Elie Wiesel
63. The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King
64. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
65. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
66. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
67. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
68. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
69. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
70. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
71. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
72. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
73. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
74. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
75. Watership Down by Richard Adams
76. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
77. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
78. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
79. A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin
80. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
81. Charlotte's Web by EB White
82. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
83. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
84. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
85. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
86. The Shack by William P Young
87. Watchmen by Alan Moore
88. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
89. The Odyssey by Homer
90. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
91. The Stranger by Albert Camus
92. Call of the Wild by Jack London
93. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
94. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
95. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
96. Matilda by Roald Dahl
97. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
98. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
99. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
100. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
(Via Facebook Data Science.)


Popular books, cult books

Meanwhile, The Economic Times on its Sunday edition on September 14, 2014, ran a spread on most popular books, authors and cult classics. Here is the breakdown.

Most popular books:
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: The romp about doppelgangers in London and France during the revolution has sold around 200 million copies in the past 150 years

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien: The most widely read fantasy, later made into a blockbuster series of movies, has sold estimated 150 million copies

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery: A simple tale told from the point of view of a child, in words and pictures (where you can debate whether it is snake or a hat), has sold 140 million copies

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling: The first among the seven wildly popular books about a young magician has sold 100 million plus copies

And Then There Were None by Agatha Cristie: You don’t call her mistress of mystery for nothing. All her books are bestsellers and this, her 26th novel, has sold 100 million copies

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien: A prequel to the more famous saga, the adventure of Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit, which started it all, since its publication in 1937

She: A History of Adventure by H Rider Haggard: The story of mysterious, ruthless and immortal Ayesha, she-who-must-not-be-named. The classic lost city adventure set in Africa has sold more than 100 million copies since its publication 1887

Most popular authors:
William Shakespear: Does he need an introduction? Since the Elizabeth Age, the playwright remains a constant source of inspiration, including Bollywood. After the latest adaptation of his Romeo and Juliet, now, Vishal Bhardwaj is adapting Hamlet as Haider.

Agatha Cristie: Not only for her intricate plots, she is also admired for her numerous minutely defined cast of characters and her master detectives, Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple.

Barbara Cartland: The Queen of Romance, who has written more than 700 novels. Ask the girl next to you.

Harold Robbins: Everything about his books ooze of guilty pleasure, include those covers with half-naked women. His tales of sex, glamour and power, told in more than 20 novels has sold 750 million copies

Edin Blyton: Can there be a happy childhood without Famous Five or Secret Seven in it? No wonder Blyton is popular.

Cult Classic:
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: The debutant author creates a powerful anti-war statement in his protagonist Yossarian’s dilemma, at once hilarious and blistering

Catcher on the Rye by JD Salinger: Teen angst, rebelliousness and alienation… still relevant

The Stranger by Albert Camus: The document of existentialism, a staple of higher education syllabi, a probe on how to live

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand: You can blame Rand for her capitalist agenda, but who can resist the charm of Howard Roark?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: A father-daughter story set in the Deep South of racial America, a moving plea for understanding the plight of the fellow human beings.

Most portrayed literary Character in TV and film:
Sherlock Homes, the quick-witted, laconic detective created by Arthur Conan Doyle has been portrayed by different actors on screen 254 times, now being portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC series Sherlock.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sleepy Hollow



“A dead guy, a mental patient, and a time traveller from the Revolution…” “That’s our team…”

And this is the season 1 of Sleepy Hollow, a maddeningly entertaining TV series, if tad over the top.

As you can guess, the story is a rip-off from Washington Irving’s beloved story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, about a headless horseman and a bumbling suitor, Icabod Crane. And this re-imagines the whole thing in our time, and does it better than the Tim Burton movie starring Johnny Depp.

The time is now and apparently, some guy called Moloch, the guardian of the purgatory, wants to occupy our world with the help of the Biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. So, the headless horseman rides again, and so is Icabod, who too comes to life after more than 200 years, thanks to his wife Katrina, who was a witch and now a prisoner in purgatory. Icabod teams up with a plucky police officer in the shape of Nichole Behari, and it is soon revealed that they are the two witnesses of the Bible who must stop the four horsemen. So, the mayhem begins.

The whole premise is absurd, but it is so much fun, especially when Icabod criticizes the modern world and how he subverts the known history, and how the writers of the show include well known myths and legends and twist them to suit their purpose.

It’s brilliant in a very silly way.
The book is out. Out somewhere at a printer's place in Mumbai. Finally, after four agonising years, I am finally free of them, my lines. Another book of poems after 14 years. Can't wait to lay my hands on the actual books... Thank to Mahesh, they look absolutely stunning.

The book is published from small press started by a friend. As I am convinced that people do not buy and read poetry anymore, the book is meant for private circulation. No plans for marketing so far. However, my publisher wants to make it available online. Fingers crossed.

By the way, the book is called, Pages from an Unfinished Autobiography.