Thursday, May 23, 2013

Area of Darkness - some thoughts on our hygiene

'An Area of Darkness'  may not one of those greatest books that the enviable intellect of  VS Naipaul have ever produced, but It's still an interesting read to  those who enjoy Sir Vidia's style of writing and his infamous approach to non-fiction in exploring and exposing uncomfortable truths.

  Book talks about his first visit to India in early 1960's and  it was published in 1964. Lets see what Wikipedia has to say about the book;

"A deeply pessimistic work, An Area of Darkness conveys the acute sense of disillusionment which the author experiences on his first visit to his ancestral land. True to his style, the narration is anecdotal and descriptive.The book was immediately banned in India for its negative portrayal of India and its people"

As precise as the above passage read, it was the result of this deep disappointment which the country of his origin, 'India' created in a Trinidad brought up,  intellectually arrogant, 29 year old man of 1960's that the book was resulted.

Now why the title  'Area of Darkness'?

"To me as a child the India that had produced so many of the persons and things around me was featureless, and I thought of the time when the transference was made as a period of darkness, darkness which also extended to the land, as darkness surrounds a hut at the evening, though there a little way around the hut there is still light. The light was the area of my experience, in time and place. And even now, though time has widened, though space has contracted, and I have traveled lucidly over that area which was to me the area of darkness,something of darkness remains, in those attitudes,those way of thinking and seeing, which are no longer mine."

 Naipaul's ancestors where belonged to a class of upper cast Brahmins, from the state of Uttar pradesh of northern India who migrated to Trinidad, and its interesting to see what he has to say about this.

 "My Grandfather had made a difficult and courageous journey.It must have brought him into collision with startling sights , even like the sea, several hundred miles from his village; yet I cannot help feeling that as soon as he had left his village he ceased to see. "

"He had abandoned India.. and He denied Trinidad. Yet he walked on solid earth . Nothing beyond his village stirred him; nothing had forced him out of himself; he carried his village with him. A few reassuring relationships  a strip of land, and he could satisfyingly re-create  an eastern Uttar Pradesh village in central Trinidad as if in the vastness of India." 

This shows his frustration as child in growing up with a kind of cultural 'darkness' lurking around him in everything he did. No wonder he accuses his grand father for it. He still secretly longed to see his homeland. But, what awaited him in India was shocking, filth, corruption and never ending miseries. He disliked almost everything that he saw and the book, 'Area of darkness' was born.
Parents of Naipaul

He covers all most all area of 'Corruption' in India in those days; with out leaving other disturbing areas like ,  racism,  regional conflicts and apartheid.

He recollects a scene where a 'Sardar' friend of his (A man belonged to Sikh community in Punjab) beating up a man who was sitting opposite to them in a restaurant, shouting;

'This bloody dravidian is staring at me' 
and to Sardar's surprise, the man cries back.
'Sardarji, dont beat me; I am not a south Indian, I am a punjabi like you'

Naipaul admits that he was so scared, and ran away from that restaurant in total shock and disbelief immediately after this incident.

In another instance, he quotes Mahatma Gandhi on an Incident where some delegates of congress defecated on the veranda of assembly itself, failing to see there were toilets available for that purpose; and goes in length , about our Sanitation standards in typical form of his;

"Indians defecate everywhere. They defecate, mostly beside the railway tracks. But they also defecate on the beaches; they defecate on the hills; they defecate on the river banks; they defecate on the streets; they never look for cover"

Its a cruel observation;but its also the most honest of all observations ever made by any one related to it.

By this, we should leave Naipaul for now, and focus on this particular issue of our society.

At least 65 years have passed after India got freedom. A good 62 years have passed after India became a least a good 50 years have passed after Naipaul made his cruel observation on our sanitation standards. Many governments, Many Political parties, Many different leaders enjoyed the power in all these years. Now lets see where India stands in terms of Sanitation and public hygiene.

The following extract is from a BBC report on Indian Census of 2012.

Nearly half of India's 1.2 billion people have no toilet at home, but more people own a mobile phone, according to the latest census data.Only 46.9% of the 246.6 million households have lavatories while 49.8% defecate in the open. The remaining 3.2% use public toilets.

About 77% of homes in the eastern state of Jharkhand have no toilet facilities, while the figure is 76.6% for Orissa and 75.8% in Bihar. All three are among India's poorest states with huge populations which live on less than a dollar a day.

"Open defecation continues to be a big concern for the country as almost half of the population do it," Registrar General and Census Commissioner C Chandramouli said while releasing the latest data.
"Cultural and traditional reasons and a lack of education are the prime reasons for this unhygienic practice. We have to do a lot in these fronts," he said.

Now Isn't it bit shocking to see nearly half of Indians in 2013 going to open fields to defecate ? . Which other country in the world can claim such a honor?  Now lets see an interesting chart on various Indian states on sanitation standards.

This probably explains why I have never seen any one doing it in open field in all my years I spent in Kerala. The same could not be said about all other three states of south India where I stayed for years or frequently travels to; where the chart is speaking in volumes on the north side of India. Bangalore is the IT capital of India, and also home to at least ten million people.You still see people sitting in open ('Open' is a myth in most of the city, as all you can see is huge apartment blocks) fields in day light to address the nature's call with out being intimidated by the passer by's or people who shout at them from the adjacent apartments.This  extremely disgusting scene is very common at least to the people who live in apartments which are adjacent to the railway lines. Who have to be blamed? Not those who do this but the authorities who are supposed to build toilet facilities and educate to them about it. In corruption India stands tall among fellow nations and I believe India is officially ranked number 5 in the list of most corrupted countries of Asia in recent studies; where Philippines lead the list. But considering the population that we got, the overall effect of corruption is much bigger.

  'Cultural and traditional reasons' as mentioned by Census commissioner also play a big role in our sanitation issues. For example, it was reported that, even though the government built free lavatories in houses of  rural areas of Karnataka, people refused to use it for the intended purpose; and all those lavatories were soon transformed into the storerooms to keep grains that they produced.

Now lets come back to the Book;
'Area of Darkness' was not written for the typical, emotionally attached, conservative 'Indians' who would stand straight and  sing 'Sare Jahan Se Acha; Hindustan Hamara' (Our India is the best in the world)  with out  batting their eye even once.

I love my country too, but same time, I believe such honest works on our country make us think about the reality of the situation that we often underplay comfortably. For that reason I liked this book. And who knows one day, we could  even reach bit closer to 'the best in the world' stanza of that patriotic song, in its true sense?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Saga of Gaomi

Celebrated Noble Laurette of China, Mo Yan's  1996 novel, 'Big breasts and wide hips' is a saga of a blacksmith's family named 'Shangguan' in a small town named  'North east Township of Gaomi'. The novel talks about a mother of nine, Shangguan Lu who bore eight daughters and one son to at least 5 different men as she was married to an impotent. She and all her strong minded daughters are being involved directly or indirectly to different struggles that china faced from 1930's to 1990; right from Japanese Invasion, Cultural revolution, Civil war,  Rightist struggles in communist china to even the new found capitalism in the modern china. They are all victimized, subjected to different set of cruelty through out these struggles.When mother and her all bold daughters fights for survival, the only son of her's is extremely incapable and totally spoiled even to understand what was going on. apparently he was the one who is the narrator of the novel.

This was my first read of Mo Yan and also my first read on any book that was classified as 'Hallusionary Realism'. I thoroughly enjoyed the books of magic realism like Yuan Rulfo's Mexian classic Pedro Paramo, Nobel Laurette Gabriel Garcia Marquis's works like 'One hundred years of solitude' and naturally I wanted to read the modern masters of this craft.  Mo Yan is extremely skillful in writing, Cruel, always reluctant to use polished, beautiful prose; a documentary styled, 'as it is' type of narration. But, he has a story to tell and he knows how to do it. 

 I liked it most, I didn't like it somewhere, but, I believe  it definitely worth reading especially if someone is interested in china and its culture.And Its easy to note that, he is so cruelly honest when writing about his country.

It seems like Mo Yan, the celebrated writer of 'Hallussionary Realism' has already something hallusionary  about his childhood. He says, he used to talk to himself a lot even when he was grown up and his parents were extremely anxious about this behavioral aberration. He had to promise his mother that he would not do that in future, something which he could not keep. But this resulted in choosing the pen name Mo yan which means 'dont speak'. A man who was brought up in one of the poorest counties in china, who had very little formal education, spent his childhood in extreme poverty in the famine hit china . A man who belonged to the
generation of Chinese writers who were subjected to censorship in the hand of communists, where everyone was afraid of being branded as 'rightists'. When In Soviet Russia intellectuals were sent to Siberia to spend the rest of the life fighting to survive, in china it seems like they were sent to fields to take care of the cattle or  even to carry the manure in group farms for survival. Mo yan describes , he was forced to write a pro-communist short story to establish himself as a writer but still failed to do so as the authorities rejected classifying it as less revolutionary.

 He openly admits in his early days, he wanted his writing to have nothing to do with society but to make some money so that he could eat good food. As more and more he read western and other foreign literature's he developed a serious influence at least from some of them,  and its obvious to see traces of Gabriel Garcia Marques  in his works.  Take this novel  for instance ; if Marques spoke about the mystical village 'Macondo  and  the influential family of Buendía's in his most celebrated work, 'One hundred years of solitude' for Mo yan, its 'North east township of Gaomi' and he talks about the black smith family of 'Shangguan' extending generations.

Mo Yan's writing has good flow and initially the book seemed to be un-putdownable but in later stages,
his unusual penchant for cheap melodramas spoiled the class of the book. As in some silly movie script, long lost Brother and sister re-join somewhere in an unusual work place and introduce to each other, as ' I was sold to a Russian when I was young, and I believe I was your 7th sister'  or, like a Sidney Sheldon novel, you often see 'out of blue' rag to rich and rich to rag transformations. Another example of silly melodrama is one of the sisters who was sold to a brothel thirty years back, coming back to home with some good money  saying, 'I slept with ten thousand men to save this' and dies in her mother's hands.

Main character and also the narrator of the novel, Shangguan Jintong was shown to be breast fed for most of the early years of his life and even at the age of 42 he is breast fed by a 52 year old woman. Novel describes in detail about his unusual fetish for breasts.He even makes love to a corpse and arrested for necrophilia and murder. He is being ridiculed, and harassed by different sects of society, from women to men, children to adults, leftist authorities to Rightist gorillas. Both communists and bourgeoisie subject him to luxury and harassment in different phases.He seems to represent the 'common Chinese man'  who's scared to react  and I think this character  fits in perfectly to the plot. The magical character, 'Birdman Han' reminded me of the wizard of 'macendo' but again its a very own mo yan thing, even though influence of Marquez can be seen many characters in this book.

Moyan' Big breast and wide hips  is a very complex work of political satire and one of the big rightist work ever especially against china. His imagination and his ability to create stories is amazing. The canvas of north east township of gaomi is big enough to portray the untold history of modern china. Famine, Jap attack. Chinese Women, 'Bound feet' to Martial Arts, Power and misery of communist regime, emergence of Bourgeoisie in later years, state controlled suppression of intellectuality and expressionism. Considering all this I am sure, this work would be appealing  to most non-Chinese readers like me. Mo yan's  depiction of Poverty and exploitation of the poor and hungry by the people of power were extremely skillful unbearably painful. It was heart breaking to read, the narration of the  rape of 'Qiao Qisha', the seventh sister of Jintong before his own eyes. I have not read anything more cruel before.

As i am just one book old in Mo yan's world, and may be this school of literature  is new to me. I am not fit enough to criticize him by one book. But I should say,  Nobel comity has always shown interest in rightist writers of communist countries  from Solzhenitsyn, of Soviet Era.

Mo yan has seen it all in china, he  sarcastically pukes on Chinese communism and end of the day, he is a good writer. But 'did he deserve a Nobel'. is what critics argue on.

Now lets see, how Mo Yan speaks about his own style.

'I am a writer with no theoretical training; but I possess a fertile imagination, thanks in part to china's popular traditions, which I am intent on continuing. I may be ignorant of high-flown literary concepts but I do know how to spin a bewitching tale, something I learned as a child from my grand father, grand mother; and variety of village story tellers. Critics who base their views of literature on scientific theories of one sort of other don't think much of me. But lets see them write a story that captures a reader's imagination'


Friday, May 10, 2013

chhota bheem and the throne of bali

        Poor imagination, sick story line, absolute ignorance of the children psychology,  a totally filthy story with goriest and poorest of all the characters ever created in the history of animation. To add to this, some typical old-Bollywood style slapstick's,melodrama, and group dances;and all of these were created on the screen with absolute primitive of the animation techniques.  One would never stop cursing for that two forgettable hours those were spent in extreme agony watching those sick characters performing on the screen, especially when some one's ill-fated enough to subject his or her  little one to all such unsuitable visuals.

Being an avid fan an of Animated movies, I think I have what it takes to criticize this movie.  I have watched almost all of Walt Disney's creations right from the very old, Snowhite and seven dwarfs (1937) and always admired their works.Almost hundred years has passed and its pathetic to see where the 'Indian animated movie' (definitely not about the  Indian's animation skills; they do pretty well for their foreign clients)  stands in terms of story line, characterization, and above all animation itself.  Trust me, I haven't had  expected a 'Miyasaki' perfection to a movie like this one. But, as its a movie that was released in theaters,there was nothing wrong in expecting something,which could come close the word 'OK'.

 'Chotta Bheem and the throne of Bali' is one of the sickest animation  movies ever created in the history of animation.  Its not the theme or story line that make a movie unsuitable for children its the treatment that matters. For example. Miyasaki's Spirited away, Henry Selick's Coraline, Walt disney's own, Monster's Inc; all dealt with Monster/devil/black magic stories,  but they were all 'class' ;thanks to the beauty of their characters and the overall treatment;  and alas, they were all  suitable for children.

Creators of Chotta Bheem possess nothing but the greed for quick money and as their character Chotta Bheem has already established in India as a super brand, they assume the best way is to do that, is to make something quick,  add some Bollywood style songs to it, market it hard with cute looking posters and cheat the parent of the Indian children shamelessly. Their merchandise is already doing great in the market in form of water bottles, school bags and what not. Thanks to our second largest population in the world, new found buying power of IT employees in metro cities, anything sell in our country.

'Chota Bheem' as a character was afresh when introduced; all those 'Village', 'Laddu', simple costumes all worked well initially. But, as the team went dry with lack of ideas,  they started churning out idiotic 'wrote-in-a-minute' stories for children who were glued to the TV Set waiting for their favorite character to appear on the screen. But for TV, they still can be accepted. People don't pay for it, and there is something called 'remote controller' to move away from all those stupid, repeated scenes again and again. But, a movie in a theater is a different story, People shell out their hard earned money for couple of hours of good time for their beloved children and they shouldn't feel looted.

Its a shame; and its robbery; Mr Rajeev Chilaka  (a Product of Osmania University of Hyderabad) should consider movie making in 'Telugu' for spice loving folks of his, and leave the innocent children alone.

I just cant help wondering;  What could be the up coming titles of Chotta Bheem? 'Chotta Bheem and the gangs of wasseypur', or 'Chotta Bheem and the shoot out at Lokhandwala'?