No significant update. Just removing dead links.

Ages ago, the Intellectual Whores website (now a 404) had given me some solace; but not much hope though. The masterfully written Ladder Theory explains why things are so screwed up; but, yeah, but, so we (whores?) don’t lose hope, there are the ever so entertaining whore avoidance tips. Now, after all these years, I finally manage to read Woody Allen’s short story, The Whore of Mensa.
-End of Aside-

It made me reminisce my own guilty trips to establishments of that sort. I remember how the Penguin Classics shelves at New India Book Depot in Connaught Place had seduced me. I had no hope. But that was just once though. Not the case with Fact and Fiction Booksellers in PVR Priya though. I got lured there many times; oh so many times. I went there for the smell. But no, it’s not easy; I absolutely cannot stand dust. But these people have somehow managed to make the smell pleasurable – the right mix of old dust, new page texture, looming shelves, cozy corners of wood, and maybe they subtly spray bibiliodisiac all over the place. I wonder what will be my stopword this time? How about ‘stop’? But before all that, I helplessly writhe and reach out for Simone. I know I have not been able to do her the last time, but hopefully this time…hopefully.

Then, there are the concubines at home. I have left them spread haphazardly on my bed, under it, on the cold steel shelf, on the hard floor, everywhere. And all these are the more prized ones: I could call each one my own Khartoum. I go back to them everyday, I caress their initial pages now and then, but only a few I have managed to take in fully. Well, some day – some day, there will be that grand marathon session. Or some day – some day, there will be that long session where I will reaffirm my intellectual youth by using them with all the rigour that they deserve. Or some day – some day, I will just take them all one by one, till I collapse.

I love them though.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

It’s somewhat sad that the Autobiography of Malcolm X is also meant to be a specific political and social message, as well as serve as a brilliant account of the life of a thoughtful and brave leader. X thought he would be dead by the time the book came out, and was also probably a little concerned about what he wanted his reluctant critics to think about him: so that they would take his message seriously. So, instead of celebrating change for change’s sake, X decided to underplay it, to an extent that if don’t watch out for it, the book will seem more like a testament to the angst and the rage of the African American in mid-nineteenth century. It is that, I don’t deny it; but it’s also an account of a man’s life – a life of change: change in reverence of concepts, in thoughts, in mind-sets, in lifestyle, and more so, a change in life itself.

Malcolm X went from being a shoe-shiner, to a hustler peddling drugs in the Harlem ghettos, to armed robbery in Boston’s Roxbury area, to prison (where he had all his education – not the kind which prisons typically dish out), to being a minister in a temple, to being the most ardent mouth-piece for a socio-religious movement, to revelation in Mecca, to being the charismatic leader of African-Americans, to a martyr.

We see these transitions through X’s eyes; and this has to be attributed to the writing skills of Alex Haley, who ghostwrote the Autobiography. But what hit me more was that though the changes are what the book is about, X’s thoughts preceding his committing to any change is never discussed. Some changes, he had no hand in them; some others, he went through them while knowing that they would alter the very nature of his built up case, cause, and life. He clearly explains why he changed, but he never touches upon what he went through before these changes. The uncertainty of any major self-orchestrated life change is what I would have loved to see X muse upon…….Every such change in my life, however miniscule it might be, makes me wonder…..

Apart from that one complaint, there is also a shocking lack of supreme skepticism about religion in the book. Someone as sharp, as obviously intelligent, and as widely read, embracing a new religion to the extent of being ready to die for it – makes me conclude that the driving forces must have been of an order of magnitude that I cannot even imagine. Maybe in a larger context of history, it will all make sense. A must read.

ps: Most house burglars get thwarted by dim lights of bathrooms.

Hardy Boys

From Tic-Tac-Terror (by a Franklin W. Dixon) to Lolita (Nabokov), I’ve collected more books than I have read. But I have read some.

It started off with Hardy Boys; and I remember Fenton Hardy’s case always being connected in some way to the Boys’ case. So, during each book, I used to watch out for clues that would link the boys’ case with anything that their father was doing at that time (mostly in some other part of the country; just to add to the grandeur of the plot). At one point somewhere during 6th or 7th standard, just to ensure that I could prove to a few friends in school what I had read, I started maintaining a list which had the name of the book, plot, and ‘gangleader’ written in neat columnar format. A sample line would be like this:

Spoilers ahead:

Tic-Tac-Terror: Moustached guy, emerald disapperance, defection of Igor the international agent, HAVOC – the terror group, and the secret government agency called Burton O Bradley: Gangleader = George Gamma.

Spoilers end.

After hunting down books in remote libraries near home (Indian Institute of World Culture, Desiree Circulating Library, etc.), I was almost done with the ‘adventure books,’ and was then introduced to the more serious ‘Case Files,’ of which I sampled a few here and there. I even bought two of those. These were more sinister, and had more fantastic plots, and unrealism was taken to new heights. But for some reason, I don’t remember having liked any Hardy Boys book at all. I cannot remember the plotlines of any of their books now; unlike the Three Investigators’ books.

Akka insisted that I move on to the cooler underdogs: The Three Investigators. I remember the plot lines from at least a few of their books, like the Stuttering Parrot, the Talking Skull, etc. I even convinced myself that I was good enough to be Jupiter Jones himself, made a Pete Crenshaw out of Sudarshan, and Gautham had to become Bob Andrews, and we went over to the Gavi Gangadareshwara temple to investigate any mystery that we might encounter. Our motto, of course, was: “We Investigate Anything.” I will spare you the details of the gadgets we had made for ourselves, for self protection, of course.

Nancy Drew came and went unnoticed somewhere in between, and I could never lay my hands on those Nancy Drew Hardy Boys combined books as well.

Recently, I picked up a few Three Investigators and Hardy Boys books to (finally) start my own collection, and went through a few of them. A few things have changed: the awe-factor of seeing Akka finish these books in a couple of hours flat has disappeared now, being replaced with an appreciation of how simple and easy to read these books are. I never forgot the meaning of words like “sleuth,” “cahoots,” and “red herring.” Maybe the sleuths were in cahoots with the gangleader, or was that a red-herring? I wonder…..

These did open the concept of the Novel to me, and it’s a pity (and an irony) that I haven’t read Kadambari yet.

O Discipline, Where Art Thou?

I read Lapierre and Collins’s “Freedom at Midnight” and am incredibly moved, even sobbing many times during the book, and make a promise to myself that I’ll learn more about India, and esp. the Partition. So, I pick up Sucheta Mahajan’s “India and Partition: the Erosion of Colonial Power in India,” and start it with great enthusiasm. At around the 20th page, when going forward with any reasonably degree of continuity requires looking up citations, making notes, and higher levels of concentration, I switch to some pulp fiction.

I love Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men” and “Network”, and when I spot his book – “Making Movies,” on the book stand, I pick it up greedily. I kind of fancy myself as a movie maker in the making, and this book is a must-read for all amateurs. I finish a third of it, and when Lumet starts talking about camera positions, lenses, lighting, and subtler aspects of screenplays, I start watching “12 Angry Men” again. I like re-runs.

As is usual with many a new concept, Samba mentions Prisoner’s Dilemma in one of our conversations, and I am into Game Theory from that moment. People are explaining human behaviour using formal theory! This, like many before have come and gone for me, has to be it. The truth must be hidden somewhere in these games. I read up on Nash Equilibrium, Repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma, and other popular Game Theory material online, and buy a standard text book to get deeper into it. After reading the table of contents, preface, acknowledgments, and introduction, I lend the book to a friend.

Hofstadter, “Dancing Wu Li Masters,” “Society of Mind,” “Siddharatha,” Sartre, Probability, “Crime and Punishment,” “Naked Ape,” and among many others, surprisingly, even Lolita has gone through this phase with me. That sentence construction kind of absolves me from any blame; but I know better. I got back and finished Lolita, but the rest of them await. It’s just a matter of ‘when,’ and of course, not a matter of ‘if-ever.’

Shantaram, A romantic take on everything

I love this book because:

  • Its set almost entirely in Bombay. Salaam Bombay.
  • It gives a very heart-felt view of India, Indians, and everything Indian.
  • It reminds me a lot of Godfather (the book). It also reminded me of my first read of Godfather, which, sadly, happened only once.
  • It also reminded me of Harold Robbins’s Never Love a Stranger. There is something about the first person narrative that Nabokov abuses in Lolita to trick the reader, but Roberts uses with elan. I have rarely liked a first person narrative more than this.
  • I love sweeping sagas.
  • I loved the trivia: on knife fighting, on the Automatic Kalashnikov assault rifles, the inner workings of the Bombay Underworld, the Afghan War, Colaba, gritty slum life in Bombay, and a whole lot more.
  • The terrific one liners. There are so many of them, a few brilliant, a few corny, and a few unbelievably true.
  • Made me introspect on aspects of my life which I had buried for a long time.
  • Brought tears to my eyes more than once.
  • Is a gripping page-turner. 900+ pages in 3 days?!?
  • Celebrates the human spirit.
  • The romantic in me is happy and content; the cynic in me smiling.

Shantaram will be one of my favorite books for a long time to come.