Gunahon Ka Devta (Spoiler Alert)

My rating: 5/5

Gunahon ka Devta is the most popular work of Dharmvir Bharti. And it’s easy to see why it is so popular. It’s a love story. And one of the epic one, the shine of whose brilliance isn’t going to go for ages in Hindi Literature to come.6974733-M

It’s the story of a boy and a girl, who grew up together since early childhood, and share a bond of trust, friendship, and pure and innocent love. The boy is a simple, hardworking and an honest person, who has intellectual ambitions. However he is ideal to a fault, adhering to a (pseudo)intellectual conception of love which rejects any physical fulfilment of that love as the negation of its spiritual loftiness.

The blind devotion of Sudha submits to Chander’s aggressively spiritual ideal of love, and they are separated. From this point onwards the real test of Chander’s spiritual ideal begins as he meets Pammi, the mature and materialistic girl, experiences the power of physical intimacy and it’s ability to distort the ethical and moral fabric, and suffer on account of his unfulfilled love for Sudha. Chander’s Dostoyevskian journey into the endless recesses of his mind’s darker sides, Sudha’s sacrificing herself on the altar of marriage, everything comes to a feverish climax when Sudha dies in childbirth. Too late, he realizes the defeat of his lofty spiritual ideal.

The book’s immense popularity, especially among the young generation of that era is entirely deserved. The subject matter is perennial favorite, the prose magical. The first half of the novel, which goes in more or less a positive vein, is exhilarating and refreshingly lyrical. It’s almost a perfect love story between the innocent, bubbly, full-of-life Sudha and simple, intellectual, honest, and serious-to-a-fault Chander. The story takes on a serious turn at about halfway with Chander’s creating an inevitable, irrevocable turning point in the lives of both of them.

The intensity of the book after that is too much to take. The psychological torture that Chander goes through, and makes you go through, compares to Raskolnikov or a Nietzsche. The downward spiral towards madness continues till the end when the death finally catches up with one of them, and hits Chander the hardest. Sudha dies in childbirth, her last hysterical moments a searing pain.

With this final thunder, the storm of Chander’s mind finally dies, leaving a charred landscape behind, and a life to keep living on.

Gunahon ka Devta and Suraj ka Saatvan Ghoda are two of Dharmvir Bharti’s most famous and acclaimed words. While Suraj ka Saatvan Ghoda, an experimental work, is favored by critics(not undeservedly so), Gunahon ka Devta is certainly the toast of the masses. And you won’t doubt it for a single minute after you read it. One of my all-time favorite works.

Shatranj Ke Khiladi

My rating: 3/5

Shatranj Ke Khiladi is one of the most famous stories by Premchand, or I should say, Chess_playersarguably the most famous story along with ‘Do bailon ki kahani’. And years ago, when I read a lot of short stories by Premchand from the Mansarovar series, including ‘Do Bailon ki Kahani’, I missed this story somehow. The hype surrounded it has been all the greater for the movie made on it by Satyajit Ray.

So when I sat down to read it, the first and biggest surprise was its size. It was a mere 17 pages. I expect some 30-40 at least. Maybe my bad. It didn’t take long to read the whole thing, about half an hour. The experience was anti-climactic.

I think the whole problem I have with the story is encapsulated in its short length. In my opinion, with the epic historical background of the story, two feudal lords playing the lordly game of chess, and losing their lands and subsequently the empire(which they were part of) and killing each other over the very game in a Macbeth-ian end, he could have made much more out of it. Premchand, the master storyteller, could have created an even more beautiful masterpiece if he had handled it more leisurely. It looked more like what I’d write, wasting a beautiful idea in a hurry to finish the piece.

It looked more like the synopsis than the story itself. In that sense, it was disappointing to see the story rush itself to finish before I could sit back and enjoy the evolution of the drama.

P.S. – The photo is the poster cover of the movie by Satyajit Ray based on the story.

South of the Border, West of the Sun

A short novel by Haruki Murakami. I had been planning not to read any Murakami for some time after completing the formidable and brain-frying ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’. But south-of-the-border-west-of-the-sunsomehow, I ended up picking this book after uselessly going through my bookshelf.

This book has many similarities with other Murakami books. And since the main theme here is love, I connected the book to Norwegian Wood. This is Norwegian Wood’s inferior sister, not meaning the word ‘inferior’ in any particular derogatory sense, but stating a fact.  The qualities(or lack of qualities) which I liked about South of the Border, West of the Sun, but which make it more ordinary and not-so-great, are the simplicity and directness of prose. True, rich natural symbolism is still here in places, but there is a clarity to the prose. A fog of mystery and greatness which enveloped Norwegian Wood’s prose is not here. It is a much simpler book, which I what I wanted in the ongoing condition. So, I am not complaining at all.

The story is about a man, and three women he encounters in his life at three different stages, how his relations with each of them develop(and end in two of the cases), depending on and affecting his evolution as a person. The novel, therefore, stays loyal to the central of almost all of Murakami’s works, the exploration of self and the meaning of life through the exploration of emotions, love, sex and death.

While I have no issues against the writing style in this novel, I love it as usual, the one thing, and it’s not a minor one, which makes this book ‘good-but-forgettable’ is the lack of a really really interesting plot. The plot is good, and apparently no better or worse than that of Norwegian Wood, but something is not very right about it, something is missing. I think the plot is not utilized properly. All the possibilities in the plot are not explored fully. Only the most important things are given centre-stage. So, in a way, the plot of South of the Border and that of Norwegian Wood are like two pictures, first one with low pixel quality and other one with high pixel quality. At one glance, you don’t spot the difference in sharpness between the two, but once you zoom in a bit(that is, read the book closely), you can see the first one getting all blurred while the second one retaining the sharpness. I think that would be an apt description of what I felt about this book.

Yet, all said and done, I enjoyed reading it thoroughly. There are some heartstrings which have waited for years to be touched by just the right choice of emotive, introspective prose, and Murakami touches those heartstrings just perfectly.

2012 in Retrospect

2012 was a good, but an ironic year in terms of books. It was my most prolific year up till now in terms of books read, it was a year when I was finally able to rein in my abrupt and erratic reading habits to a certain degree of regularity. But it was also the year, I wrote the least about books. Although it can also be said, that I blogged much less in 2012 than 2011 on the whole, but whatever amount of blogging I did, reviewing and writing about books consisted only a measly amount of that, that is to say, only first three months and half a dozen posts. So, while I ended the

One Hundred Years of Solitude
One Hundred Years of Solitude

year on a happy note, feeling good about the books I read, returning to the blog was a bit saddening as I haven’t touched it for more than 9 months. Anyways, I don’t intend to remain sad for a long time, as I have returned to the blog again and intend to write about books, at least much more than previous year, though I wouldn’t go so far as to make any presumptuous statements😀.

I read 32 books in 2012. First half of my year was quite dismal, and I was reading very poorly and distractedly. I was completely fallow for a period of 3 months, April-June, while precisely at that time another year ago, I was reading most intensely. The listlessness and indolence was so great, while I tried unsuccessfully to tackle War and Peace, that for some time I thought I had lost my reading habit and passion forever and from now on I would only drag myself onward forcibly. Thankfully, I could finally force myself to change all that after the first half of the year, and turn it into the best year I ever had with book🙂 The number of classics(by ratio) I read this year was lower than 2011, when I was in a very purist mindset. This year, lagging behind miserably in terms of number of books and motivation, I resorted to reading many small books(I’m quite tempted to use the word, ‘filler’, which I guess would be appropriate for some of the books I read) instead of tackling heavyweights. This was also the reason, I wandered towards smaller, non-classical, and occasionally, non-fiction, personal-development styled books. Due to this, this years books had a very fair distribution from best to worst.

Steppenwolf
Steppenwolf

The most awesome books I read this year were:

STEPPENWOLF – I read this towards the end of October, during the winter vacation in one of my reading sprees, when completely alone in Kanpur. Instantly added to my classics, this book established the genius of Hermann Hesse to me. This book is a violent beauty, a perfection so shocking and animistic that you can’t appreciate the book without shuddering at its ominous, foreboding meaning. And if you shuddered, and stopped frequently to give your mind a breather from the violence on the pages, while reading the book in the dead of night, you’ve enjoyed the book🙂

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE – The last book I read in the year, and the one book which definitely should have been the last. This book is a stroke of genius of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I will write more about it in a separate review which I’m thinking to write about it. This book has more layers to it than I understood while reading it, something which I’m getting to understand only now when I think intermittently about it. It’s magical realism at its best, but it’s also much more than that.

SKETCHES FROM A HUNTER’S ALBUM – This one transported me back the old Russia of 1850s, Russia of my childhood. Turgenev is different from both Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, yet their equal in stature, a true master of prose. Sketches depict life of peasants and landlords in pre-1850(before serfdom was abolished)Russia, from the eyes of a nobleman hunter, always on the move, as he passes through all forms of life, observing with equanimity and keenness, all sorts of cruelty, wretchedness, and quirks and foibles of people around him.

Sketches from a Hunter's Album
Sketches from a Hunter’s Album

His love of nature is equally obvious and as beautifully shown here as his trenchant observation (and occasional commentary) of the life of his times. Which also means the book might not be an easy read if you are not a nature-lover, as these are sketches, not a centralized story. Written in a poetic, unhurried and beautiful style. There are no all-encompassing moral/geographical canvases of Tolstoy, or violent psychological inquests of Dostoyevsky, only the hunter’s eyes, his gun and his dog, the people he meet, the lives he encounters, and nature. (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28458.Sketches_from_a_Hunter_s_Album)

And now for the worst. Now there were some sub-standard motivational and self-development celestine_prophecybooks I read which irritated me a lot at many points, but there was only one book which could meet up to my stringent criteria of ‘worst’ – THE CELESTINE PROPHECY by James Redfield. This book is so stupid, so dumb, so childishly conceived and written that it’s a appalling mystery to me why some people swear by this book. One of the biggest disasters of the mystical/spiritual genre, which, despite being an atheist, I hold some interest in.

Riding on the crest of book-reading nowadays, I’m positive and ambitious towards reading more forcefully and regularly this year. Also, almost as importantly, I’ll try to review as many books as possible this year, and more than that, write about books in general, all my thoughts and feelings which keep coming up randomly in my mind, but never worked on enough to take the shape of words.

Wishing a happy reading year of 2013 to you all🙂

Reading Woes and Zarathustra Calling

After finishing The Great Gatsby, I was again at a loss, as to what to read now. I see this is becoming a major problem with me again. In between I had achieved some sort of stability, a continuum, a balance, which last a majority of the last year, starting with May, where I knew which book to read next, which authors to read, where I was fixated with Russian literature and especially Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Choosing the next novel was not a problem back then.

Post-December period has not been of that kind. Choosing is much more difficult. The prolificity of January was due to my fixation on completing the autobiographical trilogy of Maxim Gorky and an extremely interesting book on physicists. February was fallow. Reading is sparse in March too. Now again, I was at a loss for many days after completing The Great Gatsby, as to which one to pick. Had paperback editions of Ulysses, The Portrait of Artist as a Young Man(I already have had a disastrous attempt to read this), Mrs. Dalloway, To The Lighthouse, and Lolita. Now Joyce and Woolf are too much for my worked-out brain right now, and I don’t want to spend whatever forces I have juggling through Nabokov‘s verse-prose. So I steered cleared of all of them.

And in a sudden fit of conclusiveness, I have started reading Thus Spake Zarathustra. Yes, I do not know what came over me. It was a documentary I saw of Nietzsche in February I think. It was strangly chilling. So is the first few pages I have read. It’s going to be a sombre experience. What with the Gregorian Chants ringing all round the clock on YouTube, I definitely have the knack of creating the perfect atmosphere and mindset.

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, hailed as the most definite realization of the ideal of the American Novel, is the most famous of F. Scott Fitzgerald books and tops the pantheon of English classics along with very few others.

But my impression of the book was not so over-the-top, not so fanatically praising. I read the book, admittedly not in the best of my moods. But I gave sufficient time to it and was not in a hurry at all, given the short length of the book. But it failed strike me as one of the greatest works of 20th century. Maybe it was due to the genre of Fitzgerald which I don’t hold in very high esteem(I also don’t hold the life he lived in very high esteem either).

I’m not sure how to go about it, so I’ll try to explain point-wise the things that I didn’t like about The Great Gatsby, those due to which, in my opinion, it’s not such a great classic, as it is made out to be:

  1. The novel’s dry narrative. The detachment of narrator almost borders on indifference(until in the very last pages). This makes the narrative dry, hot and lifeless the way Fitzgerald has described New York summers, and the conversations of the characters even more lifeless and boring. Although there are some passages of pure genius, the virtuosity of a true literary master.
  2. Extending from the previous conversation, many characters are so vague/unlikeable/superfluous/what-not. Take Myrtle’s character. I don’t sense a single drop of romance, or lets forget romance, a single drop pf pure sensual lust between Tom and Myrtle. I can’t see why Tom had to go into an extramarital affair with Myrtle if that is not shown with full intensity in the novel. What were his reason? Myrtle’s reasons were quite obvious. The drunken party Tom and Myrtle had with some of the friends looked simply dead to me, where everybody was only a vague blur, and Tom breaks his own mistress’s nose. Rather than partying, it all seemed to me as if they had gathered to forget their miserable existence in liquor. Considering this was exactly the thing Fitzgerald wanted to show, I will talk about it in another point to come. Also take the character of Jordan Baker. I don’t even felt this character properly alive. She was so dreary and mechanical and fickle. I know the counter-argument would be that it was the way Fitzgerald wanted her to portray, but in such a case what’s the use of it, a character who has probably been numbed by her anarchist and nihilist ideas and the plush, rich and meaningless life she lived, completely devoid of feeling, a plane surface, devoid of even the smallest ripple, and who was aloof and had no influence of any kind in the development of the story.
  3. Lack of description of many important sequences. The meeting of Daisy and Gatsby was described in detail, but there still seemed to be some gaps in the sequence. Most importantly Gatsby’s death was not described at all. He was shown going into the pool, and that’s it. The next sentence describes Wilson shooting himself. There is even no sentence describing Wilson shooting Gatsby. I discerned it a few sentences later.
  4. I liked Fitzgerald’s economic use of words in the novel, but at times it tended to obscure the course of the story and the plot itself.
  5. Gatsby’s transition from obsession to hopelessness and resignation is not properly shown.
  6. The symbolism of Doctor T. J. Eckleberg’s eyes is highly confusing. I guess here maybe I’m mistaken. But in some sentences, Eckleberg is shown in person, interacting with Tom or Gatsby(I can’t remember exactly). In some only there is a description of his wide blue eyes, which I didn’t understand at all. Only later I got it when the relation of those eyes was made with the original cover of the novel(in Wikipedia). But at the time of reading the book, the symbolism was confounding and puzzling, and didn’t add to the scene, the dreariness, emptiness and the ambiance at all, but rather confused it.
  7. Last and most subjective point. The one which I was referring to in point 2. I didn’t like the basic premise of the novel, the doomed love story of a rich, obsessive man to a rich, morally and consciously blank woman who ultimately rejects this man for her husband, an equally morally and consciously blank man, with whom she’s having a disastrous marriage. Daisy was the most reprehensible character in the novel(followed closely by Jordan and Tom). It’s really very difficult to appreciate a love story of such a woman, notwithstanding the enormous talent of the author. It may be said, and it is true, that the novel showed the dark side of the Jazz Age. But it makes all the more difficult, especially when such emphasis is laid in the initial pages, on the ‘pure’, almost angelic, beauty of Daisy.

I liked the character of Nick Carraway, and also of Jay Gatsby. But on the whole the rotten characters and the dreary atmosphere only added to the unease and dreariness. And of course, by listing the things I didn’t like, I don’t mean to say that it was not a good novel. But that it was not that great a novel it was made out to be(and I’ve always suspected Americans of exaggerating their literary history, for me Europe’s classical literature is far far richer than them).

Other than that, I’ll leave it to the readers to form their own opinion.

 

 

Music of the Primes

I am a die-hard history fan, since my childhood. Initially it was history of civilization, middle ages etc, then in college years I was enraptured by war history, literary history and the history of music. And now, coming to the end of my college years I’ve also been bitten by the bug of scientific history. It started in my 3rd year when I read an extremely interesting and excellent book on greatest physicists of all time. That was a very heavy and large book, but amazing. I wish I had that book, it was borrowed from library. Also I started the amazing biography of Richard Feynman by James Gleick but left midway. Too much stuff about a cranky scientist left me partially paralyzed mentally😀.

The first book I read this year was The Passion for Discovery by Peter Freund. That was one hell of an amazing book. I had wanted to write a review on that but didn’t and now I don’t remember all the details. It had some interesting and not-so-palatable stuff about lives of some select 20th century scientists. The last one I completed was Music of the Primes by Marcus du Sautoy.

As the name suggests, the book is about mathematical discoveries and explorations on the subject of prime numbers. Starting with David Hilbert‘s famous 1900 lecture and his 21 problems, Marcus gives us a sneak peak of the Riemann Hypothesis, the Holy Grail of the number theory, the basis of this book. Then he gives a tantalizing view of the grandeur of the great Unsolved Problem of mathematics, and takes us directly back to the time of Euclid. Thus ends the teaser and the story begins. It tells of the discovery of the unique nature of prime numbers and Euclid’s proof that prime number are infinitely many. Fast forwarding through the dark ages and the mostly unproductive (in terms of mathematics) medieval ages, we go directly to the great Leonhard Euler. He who had conquered the mathematical world single-handed and expanded greatly all the then existing landscapes of the mathematical realm, came to the strange waters of the prime numbers, who in Grecian times, were proved to be infinite. But try as he might, he couldn’t fathom the divine order, as he perceived it to be, in the mindless chaos of the prime numbers, scattered without any possible order or design across the number line. From here the great quest of finding prime numbers started, the quest which changed form and means across the advancing decades and centuries, the quest which hasn’t settled yet.

Leonhard Euler

After Euler came Carl Friedrich Gauss, the Prince of Mathematicians. The Prince took a lateral shift of thought and instead of finding the exact formula for determining exactly the location of the prime numbers on the number line, he sought out to find the probability of finding prime numbers in a certain region. Thus the groundwork for Riemann Hypothesis was started. Gauss and his friend Mersenne did a lot work in this field. Then came Bernhard Riemann, the perfectionist. Taking Gauss’s idea further, with the help of the power of imaginary numbers invented(is this the right word?) by Augustin-Louis Cauchy, he and his mentor Dirichlet, took the quest to a whole new level, a level which nobody knew at that time would prove to be the ultimate summit of number theory. Along with the significant contributions made by him and Dirichlet, Riemann developed the Riemann Hypothesis by himself. And therein lies the greatest mystery of it all. He died without ever giving the proof of his hypothesis. As a perfectionist, he had refrained from venturing upon the proofs even giving much emphasis on the hypothesis before he had it all figured out. But he died, without ever revealing his cards.

Carl Friedrich Gauss

Slowly, as more and more mathematicians ventured in the Riemann’s world and found the secrets of the hypothesis locked behind a rock-solid door with no key, their interest was piqued. More and more prime numbers were calculated, widening the horizon, but nobody could decipher the hidden music behind the primes’ random behavior, and the secret seemed to be hidden in the Riemann Hypothesis. Hadamard, Seigel who rescued Riemann’s unpublished manuscripts and notes from destruction, Harald Bohr, the famous Cambridge duo of Hardy-Littlewood. As more and more steps were taken towards the summit, the more insurmountable the summit seemed to be. By the end of the classical era, when the above-mentioned mathematicians had passed their prime, twilight seemed to be on the horizon with Kurt Gödel‘s apocalyptic pronouncement upon the sacred infallibility of the mathematical world with his two incompleteness theorems. But the world was saved from post-Gödel despair as a new generation of mathematicians headed by Alan Turing, Atle Selberg and others arrived on the scene, armed with new ideas, new vision and infused a new life in the problem surrounded with pessimism. Thus started 20th century’s second courageous attempt to climb Mount Riemann. Computers play an important part, taking us to prime numbers large enough to defy the conventions of the universe.

Bernhard Riemann

Gauss’s Prime Number Theorem was proved with a much simpler, elemental method, corrections were made on several of Gauss’s results and this provided a fresh perspective on Riemann Hypothesis. Coupled with this was a striking resemblance between chaos of prime numbers and chaos of the quantum world, which proved Riemann Hypothesis wasn’t just some high-falutin’ dreams and hallucinations of crazy mathematical gentlemen.

Marcus du Sautoy keeps in the mind the historical background, the political landscape which invariably colors the life of everyone, including mathematicians. He shows how, after the French Revolution, Paris rose as the mathematical capital of the world with establishment of Ecoles and prominence of Laplace, Lagrange, Legendre, and Cauchy. In the final years of his life, Gauss settled in Göttingen, teaching in The University of Göttingen, a small town in Germany. As Riemann and Dirichlet arrived in Göttingen and dazzled the world with their pure, abstract mathematics and foray into prime numbers, The University of Göttingen became the Mecca of Mathematicians. The unofficial title was established till pre-War years as David Hilbert, one of the greatest mathematicians of 20th century, also chose Göttingen for his work. After the ravages of the two World Wars, Europe was devastated, Germany more so than any other country, and the small American town of Princeton, with its Institute for Advanced Studies attracting scientists and mathematicians all over the world, became the Jerusalem of science and mathematics.

Now, in the 21st century, we can safely say that the world is now a global village.

A very nice book by Marcus du Sautoy.

Book Rating: 3.4/5.0