Thursday, June 8, 2017

Book Review: Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

This is the tale of an introvert. This mini-novel (124 pages long) is written in first person. The author introduces himself and his family of father, mother, uncle, sister and later his wife in the dedicated chapters for each member of the family.

The plot begins with the story of a typical middle-class family who count every penny they spend and the hardships they go through. It takes a slower turn as the novel progresses. As the family’s income begins to improve, their lifestyle also gets better and they move out to a better house from the small house with little privacy where-in author’s mother had to battle with ants on a regular basis.

Author gets married and then things begin to change in their family. Anita, author’s wife asks tougher questions seeking the darker truths of the family. Until then, all of the family members did not question each other’s motives and remained selectively deaf and blind. That had created a bonding in the family. But the daughter-in-law questions the belief system of the family and shows that they were indeed all selfish for their own reasons.

When Anita, wife of the author, is out of town, the family gets together and the casual conversation develops among them and the old bonding feels like coming back into the family in her absence. But the conversations turn into how and why people get killed and how one could easily walk out of that mess without legally binding into it. That indicates morale of family is beginning to compromise.

After that discussion, author becomes uncomfortable. He gets out of the house and goes to a coffee bar which he regularly visits. Sitting there, he contemplates whether his wife will reach home back safely or does she get killed on the way. As that thought comes to him, he gets tensed and breaks the glass he was holding and that will injure him and he sees his own blood.

This is a classic work and gets into the minute details of how our sub-conscious thinks, adjusts and changes with the external factors. The language of this book makes it more interesting than the plot. This book is not meant for the young readers but those in the middle-age would appreciate this as the trauma of the protagonist of this book would be theirs too.

This book was originally written in Kannada but it got widely known after its translation into English. Though I would have preferred to read it in Kannada, I came across the English translation first and it became my last weekend’s read.

Book Review: Veerappan: Chasing the Brigand by Vijay Kumar

This book beats a thriller movie in its speed, narration of events and providing a visualization of the details that went through the years spent in nabbing Veerappan. This is not just the biography of the sandalwood smuggler but that of the author and many more police officials who were part of STF, who had a single mission in their lives that of putting an end to the saga of the bandit.

All of us know the criminal activities Veerappan was involved into and how many people he had killed in the process and his kidnaps for ransom too. But we would not know in detail that he was a master strategist coupled with knacks for detailed tactics that gave him an upper hand in all the confrontations with the police of three states. Every time he had emerged winner in those 20 years span. Though the author thinks Veerappan was lucky, I suppose it was Veerappan’s intelligence, knowledge of territory, ability to quickly identify the dangers and knowing when to flee the battlefield were keys to his success.

After failing to capture him (or shoot him) for two decades, STF adopted different ways. Until then, they were successful in reducing his team’s size and they could only eliminate those who were not as agile as Veerappan but the main target always had managed to slip away, right under their nose. So they changed their tactics and begin to mimic what Veerappan did, like moving in small teams and choosing the advantageous place to meet. Some of the plans failed but one bait finally hooked up the bandit. And Veerappan’s eye was bothering him beyond tolerance. They could bring him out of the forest cover in the pretense of getting his eye operated but that was all planned in detail by STF and the ambulance too was driven by one of them. As the vehicle carried Veerappan and his mates into a pre-decided spot, STF turned on the fire and killed those in the van.

Victor writes the history. Vijay Kumar, author of this book and the head of STF, could do what his predecessors did not see success at, though they came very close several times. So you get to hear the story straight from the person who outsmarted the bandit. Of course, it was a team effort and all of them have their own valid versions. This one could be the best version.

This book is edited well and makes the read very interesting and captures the readers throughout. I took three days, six sittings to read this 250 pages book. My experience was wonderful and better than watching a thriller movie.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Literature Festivals, do they create new readers?

There are so many good things which can happen in a literature festival. I will touch upon them before I proceed to grim factors. First of all, readers to get to see the writers. You will hear their personal stories or their favorite writers and other details which are not documented in the form of books. You get to know of new literary works and their creators or even remembrance of some of the legendary writers. Yes, the discussion would revolve around the subject of literature. At last they, the literature lovers, got a forum to get together.

But beyond a physical meet-up of existing literature lovers, will these Literature festivals attract more people to read literature? Try asking the book-sellers at those festivals, the answer is not that encouraging. Those who were already attracted to literature would definitely buy books at every opportunity. Leaving them behind, are there new readers being created through these festivals? And in what numbers? You see, the writers who conduct panel discussions or read-out sessions are no movies stars. Much of them are introverts and may not feel easy at public speaking. They may not have the physical charm to attract new audience and hook them up into reading. Reading has to be done in solitude and the choice to become a reader is internal. So if the young are not coming in considerable numbers into the field of literature, how long these lit fests would make sense?

You check with the younger generation if they had watched the movie ‘Bahubali 2’. They would quote a dialogue or two from the movie. They would not have missed the IPL series too. And they would read hundreds of messages on their Whatsapp. But reading a book? It does not interest them. Some of them would have had a copy of Chetan Bhagat or Shiva trilogy. But beyond that can they name couple of authors or their interesting works? Don’t ask or get ready to face a strange look.

When the majority of population is not interested, that business line does not make much commercial sense. Let us look at best-selling authors. Books of S L Bhyrappa have been doing well but has he made any serious money from it? Who is the next author in Kannada who can find considerable number of readers? A publisher would tell, selling 10,000 books would make him see some profit. When Karnataka’s population is more than 7 crores, it is just 0.0001% market penetration. A savvy marketer would make more money selling off perishable things than books which last really long.

Those who write for self-expression may not experience pain learning this. But the budding writers who want to make a living out of it would understand first that their probability of seeing success is 0.0001%, may be same chances of winning in a lottery. Better they find a job which pays and limit literature to a hobby.

The literature fests, though they intend to revive the habit of reading and spread its joy, are unlikely to see much success. Publishing may never become a commercially attractive business anytime but keep losing its shine and disappear some day or live a negligible presence. Don’t blame the modern life style for it. Change is part of evolution. But have sympathy for writers who could not learn any other life skill.

A Tale of Two Cities

I am talking of Bangalore and Mysore. I am living in Bangalore for the past two decades and I have visited Mysore more than a dozen times and I find both of them very contrasting. One moves at a breakneck speed and other is slow and peaceful. Not just the cultural variation across these two cities is too drastic and it is the outlook towards life that puts them at opposing ends.

It is money over happiness. Every one of us know that money is important. But how important? If the money making is the prime purpose of life, even at the expense of your health and reduced time with family, you are likely to be a Bangalorean. If you want to strike a balance between money and family and also aim towards peaceful life, Mysore could be your home. If you go by GDP per capita, Bangalore may score well but if you go by happiness measure, Mysoreans would beat Bangalore by a huge margin.

Now let us look at things apart from money. See how the waste is being handled. Bangalore has garbage heaps everywhere. Mysore is titled the cleanest town of India. Now you know why I say Mysore people are healthier.

Look at population density. Bangalore is geographically 4-5 times bigger than Mysore but it has 10x more population. That would mean Bangalore’s population density is 2-3x higher than that of Mysore. And if you look at vehicles per family, Bangalore is no comparison to Mysore. So all these numbers explain why Bangalore is a choked city while Mysore is not. And I don’t have to mention separately about air quality.

Think of water? Mysore has a dam at the outskirts. Bangalore gets its water pumped from as far as 60 km. Think of green cover? Mysore has protected forests at less than an hour drive. In Bangalore, you drive for an hour, you will still be in the middle of traffic, among the cruelest animals of this earth.

In Bangalore, if you have money, you can get food or most kinds of services round the clock as the city refuses to go to bed and aims at making money in the night too. In Mysore, if you did not have dinner before 9 pm, you are likely to go hungry as most of shopkeepers close and go home for a restful sleep. They are not lured by the money the night travelers bring.

These comparisons can go on and on. And probably you are convinced now why these two cities are different. They are meant for different kinds of people. A proper Mysorean would not be able to live in Bangalore for long and he would return as soon he gets an opportunity. And an aggressive Bangalorean would see Mysore as no more than a tourist place. So the cultures of these two cities continue to remain as they are.