Pardesi: The Namesake and Leaving India

Despite the US and UK tightening their grip on immigration, the ‘foreign’ dream will perhaps never go out of fashion for the Indians. Immigration-whether forced or voluntary- explains the history of the Indian diaspora to a large extent. There is a reason embedded in history which explains why Indians are found in such a large number in South Africa or Fiji, where there has often been a lot of violence between the native Fijians and the Indians, and other places.

Literature, whether Indian or otherwise, has brilliantly captured (as it always does) the emotional, nostalgic and human elements involved in the process of immigration that goes beyond the numbers and figures that ministries and studies on this subject routinely throw at us.

Let’s take a quick look at two Indian authored books which provide varying perspectives about the idea of immigration and its implication on the people who embark on that journey:

1)  Title: Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages To Five Continents

Author: Minal Hajratwala

Thoughts: Though it a non-fiction book which chronicles precisely what the title says, Hajratwala has wonderfully spun this tale of her own family’s (both maternal and paternal) forays into the different countries such that the book appears like history book narrating not the stories of great kings and queens, but rather a fateful story of an ordinary Indian family whose destinies were shaped by forces beyond them (such as the emergence of the indentured labour system, the failing art and crafts market in British India, etc). Let not the ‘non-fiction’ tag deter you from immersing yourself into this mesmerizing story because it is skillfully written with a charm and passion that is hard to find in other non fiction books as they tend to be drab and factual. Along the way, you might learn just a little something about the Indian history such as the connections Gandhiji had with South Africa(apart from the fact that he was thrown out of the train) and some such other tidbits which never make into our history textbooks. Minal Hajratwala traces her family history by juxtaposing facts with anecdotes and the former always explain the reasons for her family’s movements and successes across the globe.This helps a lot in understanding as to why Indians in general and her family members in particular migrated when they did.

Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages To Five Continents‘ is truly an engrossing read that will take you on an enchanting journey across half the world while still keeping you grounded in your Indian roots.

2)   Title: The Namesake

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

Thoughts: Jhumpa Lahiri hardly ever gets the fanfare she deserves. Actually, most deserving Indian authors are often lost behind the haze of cliched bestsellers. While we can argue this for an eternity, one thing is clear: that her second book, ‘The Namesake‘ is beauty personified. It is centered around the Gangulis, a Bengali family who move to the US for greener pastures. Ashoke Ganguli, the breadwinner, a student and later a professor and Ashima,(a very apt name for an immigrant as it means one without borders) his wife, have their first son whom they curiously name Gogol, after the not so famous celebrated Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol, which thus further adds to the child’s identity issues: he is caught between his Indian and American identities but his name reflect none of these two as it is of Russian origin. The story gradually progresses with Gogol’s growing up, dealing with identity issues and how his family members, particularly Ashima, deal with being away from home with hardly any relatives surrounding them. The story illuminates the life of the Gangulis as they make their way in an unknown country and gradually come to accept and even love.

The Namesake‘ is a poignant story that tackles issues of homelessness, assimilation, cultural and emotional identities, forging one’s own unique identity in a unique culture, displacement, diaspora, cultural and ideological conflicts, adjustments, generation gaps etc. But Jhumpa Lahiri explores all this with a quite emotional power that will hit you sensitively. There is a delicacy in her writing style that asserts the fragility of human relationships, asserts that they are precarious and can shatter anytime.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is a collection of short stories that also deals with similar issues in the same characteristic style which is sensitive and beautiful. Click here to check out my review for this book.

Do you know of any more books that deal with this issue of immigration? Please feel free to share in the comments below!

What Did You Expect?

No other age excelled in first person narratives than the Victorian Era and who better than Charles Dickens could be ts finest exponent? With ‘David Copperfield’, safely under his belt, he diligently set out to write one of his finest, ‘Great Expectations‘ which is very similar to the former yet also vastly different. Both have the trademark autobiographical touch in the story and follow the conventional chronological order which the later modernists despised so vehemently. Yet ‘Great Expectations‘ while following the life of Pip, also comments on the English life of that time particularly its artificiality.

The novel is about Pip, an orphan who lives with his domineering sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery and her amiable  blacksmith husband, Joe. As a child, Pip coincidentally happened to meet an escaped convict in the marshes. The latter threatened and scared Pip into bringing him victuals which Pip obediently albeit deceitfully(by stealing) brought for the convict the next day. Later on in his youth, he is regularly called on to visit a certain Miss Havisham, who is a rich, old lady stuck in the past. These visits are nothing short of eccentric and humiliating for the young Pip. Humiliating particularly due to Estella’s cruelty of reminding him often of his low class and unworthy status. Consequently, Pip too begins to perceive his situations and his relatives in a poor light, as being unrefined and plain dumb. He desperately wants to get out of such a situation and pretty soon a golden opportunity presents itself before him. Pip comes into a large chunk of wealth and is sent to London to be educated. In short all his great expectations are to come true because in short he becomes a gentleman. The twist is that his benefactor wants to remain anonymous and will only reveal him/herself as and when appropriate. Thus Pip climbs the social ladder under the illusion that his benefactor is indeed a benefactress-Miss Havishman. The revelation of the identity of his benefactor/ess leaves him stupefied in the end and changes his worldviews at that.

I believe that I am a novice to give a prolonged commentary on such a critically acclaimed classic. All I can state is that ‘Great Expectations‘ met all my expectations of reading an engaging Dickens’ novel. The plot is punctuated with the quintessential Dickensian characters-the hypocrite Pumblechook, the warm hearted Joe who is Pip’s best friend, the patient Biddy, bipolar Wemmick, ever the optimist Herbert who is Pip’s closest friend-  and scores of others that make the entire story come alive. Coupled with Dickens’ famous biting humour and satire, ‘Great Expectations‘ is a lighthearted novel that makes you laugh in the most serious scenes and other such unlikely places.

The one fault was the sensationalism of ‘Great Expectations.’ Of course, this was in keeping with the norm of serialization of novels during that time which compelled the writers to keep each episode exciting and melodramatic. Moreover, Dickens himself was strongly influenced by the sensationalist movement that emerged in the 1860s’. These two reasons account for the dramatic tone of the novel. Though legitimate reasons in themselves, it is quite incongruous to read a style that only startles and shocks. In the India of today where sensationalism is a the norm, subtlety is much appreciated. But barring the sensationalist factor of the novel, ‘Great Expectations‘, is wholesome and is sure to entertain, tickle your funny bone and even compel you to examine your own position(as the novel makes Pip examine at every turn of the story) in a class and status obsessed society of today.

Rainy Days Are Here Again: 8 Rainy Poems to Get You In The Monsoon Mood

While the monsoon slowly knocks at our doors, with gusts of wind, thunder and the cool breeze sweeping the moist, humid summer days, here’s a look at some poems to help you unwind as you sit indoors snug in an armchair, looking at the rain lashing on your window [and perhaps secretly happy that you are not out there being soaked! 😉 ]

 

1)      This is how we may all feel when the first rains arrive: grateful, joyful, and happy!

Rain In Summer

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!
How it clatters along the roofs
Like the tramp of hoofs!
How it gushes and struggles out
From the throat of the overflowing spout!
Across the window-pane
It pours and pours;
And swift and wide,
With a muddy tide,
Like a river down the gutter roars
The rain, the welcome rain!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

2)      Hasn’t the rain always been very inspiring? It inspires us to write, sing, dance, think, garden etc.

Breathable Creativity
i love de rain

rain cleans dust
from tired air

charges flat lined
polluted air space
swift rain cleaned

with vibrant
negative ions
rain inspires

breathable creativity

Terrence George Craddock

 

3)      Here’s a beautiful, thought provoking poem which uses rain beautifully as a metaphor:

Rain Song

Your eyes are two palm tree forests in early light,
Or two balconies from which the moonlight recedes
When they smile, your eyes, the vines put forth their leaves,
And lights dance . . . like moons in a river
Rippled by the blade of an oar at break of day;
As if stars were throbbing in the depths of them . . .

And they drown in a mist of sorrow translucent
Like the sea stroked by the hand of nightfall;

The warmth of winter is in it, the shudder of autumn,
And death and birth, darkness and light;
A sobbing flares up to tremble in my soul
And a savage elation embracing the sky,
Frenzy of a child frightened by the moon.

It is as if archways of mist drank the clouds
And drop by drop dissolved in the rain . . .
As if children snickered in the vineyard bowers,

The song of the rain
Rippled the silence of birds in the trees . . .
Drop, drop, the rain
Drip

Dropthe rain

Evening yawned, from low clouds

Heavy tears are streaming still.
It is as if a child before sleep were rambling on
About his mother (a year ago he went to wake her, did not find her,
Then was told, for he kept on asking,
“After tomorrow, she’ll come back again . . .
That she must come back again,

Yet his playmates whisper that she is there
In the hillside, sleeping her death for ever,
Eating the earth around her, drinking the rain;
As if a forlorn fisherman gathering nets
Cursed the waters and fate
And scattered a song at moonset,
Drip, drop, the rain
Drip, drop, the rain
Do you know what sorrow the rain can inspire?

Do you know how gutters weep when it pours down?

Do you know how lost a solitary person feels in the rain?
Endless, like spilt blood, like hungry people, like love,
Like children, like the dead, endless the rain.
Your two eyes take me wandering with the rain,
Lightning’s from across the Gulf sweep the shores of Iraq
With stars and shells,
As if a dawn were about to break from them, But night pulls over them a coverlet of blood. I cry out to the Gulf: “O Gulf,
Giver of pearls, shells and death!”
And the echo replies,
As if lamenting:
“O Gulf,
Giver of shells and death .

I can almost hear Iraq husbanding the thunder,
Storing lightning in the mountains and plains,
So that if the seal were broken by men
The winds would leave in the valley not a trace of Thamud.
I can almost hear the palmtrees drinking the rain,
Hear the villages moaning and emigrants
With oar and sail fighting the Gulf
Winds of storm and thunder, singing
“Rain . . . rain . . .

Drip, drop, the rain . . .
And there is hunger in Iraq,

The harvest time scatters the grain in-it,

That crows and locusts may gobble their fill,
Granaries and stones grind on and on,

Mills turn in the fields, with them men turning . . .
Drip, drop, the rain . . .

Drip
Drop
When came the night for leaving, how many tears we shed,

We made the rain a pretext, not wishing to be blamed
Drip, drop, the rain

Drip, drop, the rain

Since we had been children, the sky

Would be clouded in wintertime,

And down would pour the rain,
And every year when earth turned green the hunger struck us.
Not a year has passed without hunger in Iraq.
Rain . . .
Drip, drop, the rain . . .
Drip, drop . . .
In every drop of rain
A red or yellow color buds from the seeds of flowers.
Every tear wept by the hungry and naked people
And every spilt drop of slaves’ blood
Is a smile aimed at a new dawn,
A nipple turning rosy in an infant’s lips
In the young world of tomorrow, bringer of life.

Drip…..
Drop….. the rain . . .In the rain.
Iraq will blossom one day ‘

I cry out to the Gulf: “O Gulf,
Giver of pearls, shells and death!”

The echo replies
As if lamenting:
‘O Gulf,
Giver of shells and death.”
And across the sands from among its lavish gifts
The Gulf scatters fuming froth and shells
And the skeletons of miserable drowned emigrants

Who drank death forever
From the depths of the Gulf, from the ground of its silence,
And in Iraq a thousand serpents drink the nectar
From a flower the Euphrates has nourished with dew.

I hear the echo
Ringing in the Gulf:
“Rain . . .
Drip, drop, the rain . . .
Drip, drop.”

In every drop of rain
A red or yellow color buds from the seeds of flowers.
Every tear wept by the hungry and naked people
And every spilt drop of slaves’ blood
Is a smile aimed at a new dawn,
A nipple turning rosy in an infant’s lips
In the young world of tomorrow, bringer of life.

And still the rain pours down.

Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab

Click here to know more about this neglected yet hugely talented poet.

4)      Here’s one humorous poem that is sure to get a smile on your face if the rains dampen your spirit:

A Kiss in the Rain

One stormy morn I chanced to meet
A lassie in the town;
Her locks were like the ripened wheat,
Her laughing eyes were brown.
I watched her as she tripped along
Till madness filled my brain,
And then–and then–I know ’twas wrong–
I kissed her in the rain!

With rain-drops shining on her cheek,
Like dew-drops on a rose,
The little lassie strove to speak
My boldness to oppose;
She strove in vain, and quivering
Her fingers stole in mine;
And then the birds began to sing,
The sun began to shine.

Oh, let the clouds grow dark above,
My heart is light below;
‘Tis always summer when we love,
However winds may blow;
And I’m as proud as any prince,
All honors I disdain:
She says I am her rain beau since
I kissed her in the rain.

Samuel Minturn Peck

To read some more such funny poems, click here!

5)      Ah, a drop of rain can truly invigorate Mother Nature. And who best to depict this than Emily Dickinson (known for her short lyrics on God, nature and religion)?

Summer Shower

A drop fell on the apple tree,
Another on the roof;
A half a dozen kissed the eaves,
And made the gables laugh.

A few went out to help the brook,
That went to help the sea.
Myself conjectured, Were they pearls,
What necklaces could be!

The dust replaced in hoisted roads,
The birds jocoser sung;
The sunshine threw his hat away,
The orchards spangles hung.

The breezes brought dejected lutes,
And bathed them in the glee;
The East put out a single flag,
And signed the fete away.

Emily Dickinson

 

6)      Alas! For most of us city dwellers such natural rain washed pleasures are a rarity! We can’t behold them and so we find the beauty of the rains in our drab concrete jungle:

Rainy Nights

I like the town on rainy nights
When everything is wet –
When all the town has magic lights
And streets of shining jet!

When all the rain about the town
Is like a looking-glass,
And all the lights are upside-down
Below me as I pass.

In all the pools are velvet skies,
And down the dazzling street
A fairy city gleams and lies
In beauty at my feet.
Irene Thompson

 

 

7)      Whatever the environment: natural or urban, storm or drizzle; in the end we all love the rain!

April Rain Song

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.

Langston Hughes

 

8)      And here’s one for when you feel saddened by the rain’s departure. Just know that it will come again next year because (rephrasing Shelley) ‘If Summer comes, can Rain be far behind?’

After the Rain

Resurgent greens and stronger hues
combined within the colours in-between
will spring again, the reddish brown
has nearly gone and all the silver
greys erased in darker shades
that shine with slickly natured stains
after the gentle, gentle rain.

Clouded skies unite and demonize
the dry and dusty plight of days of brutal
beating sun and scathing wind,
the thin veneer is quickly peeled
and puddle-swamped in bloodied muddled
swirls of coloured slushy earth
that tinge the tracks of heavy wheels.

The welcome cold at first conceals its
damp and chilling steel, and in the icy
shades of night the frigid bite ignites
less welcome sentiments until the wrap
of insulation seals the warming heat,
sanctifies the stolid feet and frigid toes
with subtle sweep of warming blood.

And in the morning when the sun returns
to claim the earth the mist surprises, rising
unabashed and clean again to grace the
nascent waiting skies after the rain.

Ivan Donn Carswell

References:

1) http://www.poemsabout.com/rain/page-14/

2) http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/ivan_donn_carswell/poems/23081.html

3) http://www.mothergoosecaboose.com/rainpoems.html

4) http://www.jehat.com/Jehaat/en/Poets/BaderShakir.htm

5) Emily Dickinson: Selected Poems, Dover Thrift Edition, New York, 1990.

6) The Poem Tree: Book 7, Edited by Dean Gasper, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1998.

7) The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, Selections by Jack Prelutsky, Random House, New York, 1983.

‘Leuk(derma)’ing Bad

Step into the world of leukoderma and understand it complexity, problem and the various Indian superstitions revolving around it. Before you groan and go away, let me tell you that this isn’t a book a la ‘Emperor Of Maladies'(though I am told it is a fascinating book) but rather a fictional story of the struggles that a woman suffering leukoderma faces. ‘Mahashweta‘ by Sudha Murthy, from the synopsis at the back and the glittering praise from well established newspapers, promises to be a unique read that delves into the suffering of a disease that afflicts many but doesn’t find its way in the stories. Unfortunately, the novel fails to live up to those promises for which there are many reasons to which we will get back to later on.

Mahashweta‘ is aptly dedicated to women suffering from leukoderma and urges them to fight and not be oppressed by their disease. The story begins on a congratulatory note with the birth of a girl child which is a means to establish the single status of Dr. Anand-the successful, handsome and rich doctor- who helped give birth to the baby girl. Later while at his work, Anand is coaxed into buying a Rs. 1000 ticker for a play he has no idea about by the ‘incomparable’ Anupama. The play is a love story between Mahashweta and Pundalik and is part of the book ‘Kadambari’ written by Bhana Bhatta. Anupama plays the heroine and as expected Dr. Anand is mesmerized by her beauty and acting skills. After a few irrelevant incidents, they both get married(how predictable!) despite the difference in their economic status. It is only after marriage that Anupama develops a white patch and it begins to spread despite her clandestine treatment. When  her mother-in-law realises this, all hell breaks loose. She accuses Anupama of having tricked her son into marrying him and begins to consider her inauspicious because of leukoderma. She eventually returns to her father’s house, disgraced. Her evil stepmother’s taunts and ill treatment just worsens the situation. To top it all, Dr. Anand- being a doctor at least should know that leukoderma is nothing but a disease and not something that turns a person inauspicious-also does not support Anupama and abandons her when she needed him the most. Anupama, however, does not let the circumstances get the better of her. She bravely decides to go to Mumbai, away from her callous family and in-laws, to eke out a living and carve a place of her own free from any pain, stigma and stereotypes. She is quite successful is achieving her dreams and standing proudly on her own two feet.

Mahashweta‘ is a conventional story of the suffering bravely overcoming their difficult trials and tribulations. The only redeeming aspect of the story comes at the end when Anupama decides to remain her own master and be economically independent rather than being bound by someone else’s rules and regulations. Other than this, the novel as a whole is marred by a fragmented narrative, dollops of stereotypes, amateurish writing, no smooth narration and a very soap operatic treatment of the entire story. In fact, I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that ‘Mahashweta‘ is a soap opera in prose style as it has all the prerequisites of one-the constant preoccupation with marriage, the evil mother-in-law and sister-in-law twist, the evil stepmother convention, the too good to be true daughter-in-law who suffers silently, the narrow minded and religious focus of the story at time and the list is endless.

While Sudha Murthy does take up a relatively lesser known disease to tell her story, she does not break any new ground on it as the entire novel is steeped in too many stereotypes particularly about girls and marriage. For eg, on the first page itself, the nurse who assisted in the birth of the girl ponders over how the female child is stronger at birth than the male but later on becomes the one who suffers. The nurse attributes this as being ‘a fact of life’ which is not really true because being feminine or masculine is not a fact of life but rather a cultural construct. The system of patriarchy conditions women to expect suffering in their life. Anything that is exploited or oppressed is associated with the female sex. For eg. it is ‘mother’ earth and never ‘father’ earth. The novel is replete with such redundant stereotypes. Murthy may have wished to challenge them but she does not do a good job as she merely states them with no attempts at challenging them much like any commonplace Indian soap opera.

Moreover,her writing does not have the emotional depth that is perhaps required in such a sensitive story. Most of her attempts at philosophy(through Anupama) are also blunt and shallow.

Although, ‘Mahashweta‘ educates the reader about leukoderma and the debilitating superstitions that even ‘educated’ Indians follow, the novel becomes a drag to read. It reveals the hypocrisy of the Indian society in their attitudes to leukoderma but does not do so in a profound, erudite and  personal manner.

Final Verdict: It is best to skip ‘Mahashweta‘ altogether. If you really want to know more about leukoderma, then contact you nearest dermatologist. Or if you don’t have the time, then just click here to know more!