Thursday, December 19, 2013

What happens in Goa, stays in Goa.....

........ except for the books!

It is always very difficult for me NOT to buy books while travelling. And more so at a literature festival where there are stacks of books on display beckoning innocent book lovers like me to buy one and then another one and then one more. Which is what happened in Goa where we (which includes a bunch of super talented people) happened to be in the first week of December for the Goa Arts & Literary Festival (read about us at GALF here).

And the beaches do really look like this in Goa, minus the hippie couple.

A postcard from the works of Mario Miranda.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Outsider & Sadequain - Happy Birthday Albert Camus!

Death, execution, and religion are the dominating themes as Meursault comes to term with the consequences of his action. He is an outsider at his mother’s funeral, at his trial and remains one till the end. 

These were my thoughts when I first read The Outsider (read complete review here). And these feelings are beautifully captured in the illustrations by Sadequain which I stumbled upon while browsing through a copy of the book, Mystic Expressions by Sadequain, published by the Sadequain Foundation.  These lithographic illustrations were made by the artist in 1964, four years after the death of the author. 

The Scene of the Crime

Meursault's girlfriend, Marie, as visualized by the artist. 

Today marks the 100th birth anniversary of Albert Camus and to celebrate his birth month I'm going to be reading his book, The Myth of Sisyphus, which is considered a 'brilliant explanation of the central idea of absurdity which was developed artistically in The Outsider'. 

Quite an existentialist celebration!

Note: All images were taken by me from the book 'Mystic Expressions by Sadequain'. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Covered in dust and waiting to be rescued!

"The book was thick and black and covered with dust". (Possession – A.S.Byatt)

The above description holds true for my blog, except that you can’t see the layers of dust on the internet. 

The layers of dust that settle down between the pages of a book that lies dormant, waiting to be read and handled.

"Its boards were bowed and creaking; it had been maltreated in its own time. Its spine was missing, or rather protruded from amongst the leaves like a bulky marker. It was bandaged about and about with dirty white tape, tied in a neat bow". (Possession - A.S.Byatt)

[Beanbag tales is going to complete its fourth year on the blogosphere in November. A good time to reflect and analyze if its actually been worth the effort. You can read about its creation in 2009 here].

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Secret Compartment in a Writer's brain...

"In a radio interview in 1970, Roald Dahl described the utmost sensual delight he got when he went up to his hut, closed the door and sat down in his chair.

You become a different person, you are no longer an ordinary fellow who walks around and looks after his children and eats meals and does silly things, you go into a completely different world. I personally draw all the curtains in the room, so that I don't see out the window and put on a little light which shines on my board. Everything else in your life disappears and you look at your bit of paper and get completely lost in what you're doing. You do become another person for s moment. Time disappears completely. You may start at nine in the morning and the next time you look at your watch, when you're getting hungry, it can be lunchtime. And you've absolutely no idea that three of four hours have gone by. So when you meet a musician or a writer, you shouldn't be surprised that they look exactly like ordinary people, because in that part of their lives they are...All the best artists that I've known, like Hemingway and Steinbeck and EB White and Thurber, behave very normally in their private lives...They are ordinary people who have a secret compartment somewhere in their brain which they can switch on when they become quite alone and go to work."

Tomorrow, 13th September, is Roald Dahl's birthday. And the celebrations are going to go on all this month on the beanbag. 

Source: Storyteller - The Life of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock
Picture: Google Images

Monday, May 13, 2013

Greene in Thailand

"I doubt if one ever ceases to love, but one can cease to be in love as easily as one can outgrow an author one admired as a boy".

Holiday or otherwise, Greene always makes for a GREAT read.

Friday, March 8, 2013

This Woman's Day is all about Aunts

In literature, aunts are the most unappreciated and yet, some of the most memorable characters. More often they are villains who try and create problems for the protagonists in every possible manner. At the same time, there are aunts who change the lives of their nieces and nephews with their own courage, ingenuity and spirit of adventure.

Among the books I’ve read (which is a pitiful number) the most adventurous of the lot is, without a doubt, Aunt Augusta, Henry Pulling’s crazy aunt and the woman of Graham Greene’s entertaining novel, Travels with my Aunt. This 75 year old woman has the spirit of a 20 year old and is not just young at heart but also in possession of great wit. Her adventures take Henry from the serenity of his home (and his dahlias, which are his one great obsession of retired life) to Paris, Turkey, and finally to Paraguay. Suitcases stuffed with money, gold ingot hidden in a quaint candle stand, investments made for fugitive friends, stories of lovers, Scotland Yard and the CIA feature in Henry’s mundane life, all thanks to his Aunt Augusta. It is not difficult to fall in love with Aunt Augusta’s vitality, zest for life, love of travel and her eccentricities (and to wish for her too).

Another aunt who comes to the rescue of her niece is Fatima Phuppo, the very confident, sari-clad, bold aunt who takes a stand for Zeba in Shazaf Fatima Haider’s debut novel, How It Happened. She is the perfect example of a modern, successful woman who is not afraid to express her viewpoint even if it entails taking a stand in front of her domineering mother (and Zeba's dadi). Fatima Phuppo is a character we should all aspire to be, whether as an aunt or as a woman.

But there is no lack of aunts who aren’t afraid to express their views. They call at all hours, expect their instructions to be followed to the T and scare the living daylights of their nephews. One such tyrant aunt is no other than Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha. ‘The one who eats broken bottles and turns into a werewolf at the time of the full moon…’, or ‘..the one who kills rats with her teeth and devours her young…’. Of course Aunt Agatha doesn't do any of these things. She may be a bully but she’s no vampire.

Bellatrix Lestrange, on the other hand, is an aunt to put fear in the hearts of all and sundry, what to talk of nephews. Aunt Petunia pales in comparison to her. At least she tried to keep Harry safe (even if it was only out of fear) while Lestrange was ever ready to sacrifice her own nephew if it meant earning brownie points with the Dark Lord. And it’s not just in her evil ways that Bellatrix towers above Aunt Petunia (hint: weird hair-do).

And while on the subject of aunts, I cannot complete my tribute without mentioning the two evil aunts of poor little James; Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. Even though their reign of evil was short (they meet their end quite early), they caused enough misery to force James to move into a giant peach.

Aunts in literature often play a small yet pivotal role in the story line. Sometimes they try to exert their influence on their nephews. Who can forget the stern and haughty Lady Catherine de Bourgh who tried to stop Mr. Darcy from marrying Elizabeth (and failed miserably). There are some aunts, though, who can both exercise influence and get their way too. Bertie Wooster, I’m afraid is the poor nephew who, on the bidding of his Aunt Dahlia (yes, he has two aunts) actually stole the silver cow creamer from the antique collection of Sir Watkyn Basset. That he managed to get away with it is another story for another time. 

This woman's day I shall pay a tribute to the crazy, evil, stern, and strange aunts. Of literature, of course!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Hijra with a Cleft lip

Tonight, while out doing some quick shopping at Zamzama, a hijra (transsexual) walked up to me asking for money. I quickly walked into a shop to avoid him. When I walked out a few minutes later, the hijra was still there and on spotting me came forward again. I walked towards another shop and kept saying no to all his requests. Before stepping into the shop, I turned around and said to him: 'You are able bodied. Why don't you find some work instead of begging like this'.

The horror of my statement hit me within minutes. I went through my purse, took out a fifty rupee note and decided to give it to him. But when I stepped out of the shop, the hijra had left.

I still haven't been able to forget the expression on his face. I don't remember many details of his appearance except that he was quite decent, unlike the ones who are begging at the Teen Talwar signal. He had a cleft lip which he had tried to cover up as much as possible with white powder. 

Have I become so indifferent to my surroundings that I told him off with instructions to find a job? I mean, in all seriousness, who will give this person a job? Me? You? I understand that handing out money to them is not a solution. Maybe even the hijra I met today might have just blown the money on booze or drugs. But maybe, just maybe, he might have bought some food for himself and some friends. 

It is easy for us to walk away from them in shopping areas or turn a deaf ear when they tap on our car windows at traffic signals. But the truth is that they are as much a part of this society and this city as we are and as humans, they have an equal right to live. Just because we were born normal and in a good household doesn't make us better or superior. And even though doling out money is not, like I said, a solution; I will be on the lookout for this hijra tomorrow evening.   

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Circle of Death

I've written a post on the DWL blog in the 'Write for Justice' section on the very tragic incident of Abbas Town. Karachi, the city of lights, is dark and gloomy now. Read the article here

Friday, February 15, 2013

Love in a teacup

Splendid is the tea my love makes,
Though making it, he hours takes.
Strong, black tea; a perfect pick up,
He pours, each morning, in my colorful cup.
It's not just tea dears, it's love he pours,
And the hot beverage becomes plaisir d' amour!

At Pie in the Sky for a late Valentine snack

[This post is a part of the celebration of love and literature all this month on the beanbag. Why? Read here].

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Anna's Forbidden Love - Part 2

I just couldn't resist displaying these beautiful illustrations from the 1946 edition of Anna Karenina published by The Living Library Series. From top left: Anna & Vronsky dance at the ball while a shocked Kitty looks on, Anna & Vronsky courting each other in public, the distraught lovers, and Anna walks to her death (bottom right).

[This post is a part of the celebration of love and literature all this month on the beanbag. Why? Read here].

Anna's Forbidden Love

Tolstoy was forty four years old when he started writing Anna Karenina, the subject of which had been in his mind since the inquest on a young woman who threw herself under a train near the station a few miles from Tolstoy’s home. A few years earlier he had finished War and Peace and with Anna Karenina (the more perfect work) the psychological novel of the nineteenth century reaches its high-water mark. (Source: Introduction by Rosemary Edmonds, 1969 Penguins Classic Edition).

It is considered to be the greatest novel ever written. First published in book form in 1877, this novel has endured the test of time. But what is it about this book which has made it stay around for 136 years? Why is the story of an extra-marital affair of the wife of a Russian aristocrat with a young military officer still enthralling us? What makes Anna Karenina's story everlasting?

Love is a fundamental need of man and woman alike and it is, almost, the major theme of this novel. Anna wants to love and be loved. And it is this need for love, true love, which resonates with readers even now.

On the surface the story seems quite simple. Anna is in a rather conventional marriage with Karenin, a man much older than her. They have a son who is the center of Anna’s universe. Leaving her son behind in Moscow for a few days to help her brother, Stiva, with a domestic issue, is very difficult for her but go she must. Dolly, Stiva’s wife, had discovered his affair with the children’s governess and refused to live under the same roof as he. Anna travels to Saint Petersburg to save her brother’s marriage and fate plants the seeds for the destruction of her own. A chance meeting with Vronsky at a ball during her stay changes Anna’s life forever. They both fall madly in love and Anna leaves her husband, her beloved son and her home for her lover. But all doesn't end well for Anna, torn as she is between passion, jealousy and longing.

Even though Anna Karenina is famous, among most readers, for the extramarital affair of Anna and Vronsky, that is not the only theme of this novel. Parallel to Anna’s story is that of the simple, hardworking and less passionate Levin. Through him, it seems, the author is speaking to us because the ideas of Levin were Tolstoy’s ideas. Levin is both similar to and opposite of Anna. While she gives in to her heart and throws reason to the wind, Levin tries to keep his passion abated.

So why have I selected this book to represent love in literature? Anna Karenina is not heartbreaking or gut-wrenching like Wuthering Heights or Love Story.  Yes, it is tragic and melancholy. It makes one realize how little space there is in the world for men and women who feel and dream without the influences of society. Anna and Levin were similar in this way. Anna gave up everything for her lover, even her respect and position in society, adopting a devil may care attitude. The exhilaration of her love, initially, blinded her to the reality of her actions. Once she realized that she was a trapped woman and will always be looked down upon by others, she started doubting her lover. Jealousy consumed her, so much so that she ended up on the rail tracks.

Anna tried to find happiness in love. So did Levin. But happiness deluded them. Fate chose the more tragic end for Anna and Vronsky’s love. Was Tolstoy trying to pass a judgment here? Maybe he was. But Anna Karenina is far from being a lesson in morality. It is about a woman desperately seeking love in a world which was, is and will remain hostile and judgmental towards all who find happiness in love.  

Illustration of Anna & Vronsky is from the October 1946 edition of Anna Karenina published by The Living Library series. 

[This post is a part of the celebration of love and literature all this month on the beanbag. Why? Read here].

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Spongebob loves Marilyn!

February is rather an important month for love and literature.

Love is obvious but why literature? The KLF (Karachi Literature Festival) is scheduled from the 15th-17th of February. And this year, for the very first time, there will be a literature festival in Lahore also or the LLF (Lahore Literature Festival). So February is the month of loving and reading or reading and loving, whichever you prefer. 

To celebrate the two, all this month, I'm going to discuss some soppy, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, tragic and funny love in literature. You can join me too. If you have a blog then please free to put a link of any post you've written about a love story in the comments. Otherwise send me your piece with your details and I'll post it on my blog. 

Love and literature on the beanbag all this month. This should be fun!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Manto - a victim of LOC

The NAPA Repertory Company was in India this week to perform their play, MANTORAMA, at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav Festival, an annual event at the National School of Drama, New Delhi. 

Four hours before the performance, which was sold out (all 500 seats), the NAPA troupe was informed that their play will not go on as scheduled. 

So much has been going on in Pakistan at the moment that the incident at the LOC (line of control)and India's reaction to it has not made waves here. In India though, the case is different. Their media has blown this issue to such gigantic proportions that all bilateral relations between the two countries have come to a halt. We already know about the hockey players and the women's cricket team. But the arts and cultural activities, too, have come under attack. And it was this very reason that the NAPA Repertory was refused permission to stage their play.

It seems that the Indian media and Government conveniently used the LOC incident to sweep their own problems, especially the inefficiency of the Government to handle the grotesque rape case, under the carpet.

This whole episode seems like a chapter from Manto's stories or his life itself. During his lifetime he was persecuted for his stories. And even after his death, he remains the center of conflicts between the two countries. 

Poster: NAPA Repertory Theatre Official Page (Facebook)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Literary treasures of the past

From the pages of the Urdu literary magazine Seep (oyster shell), an illustration by Jamil Naqsh. This is from Issue no. 39,  April & May 1979. 

On the final eve of December last year...

...I jotted down notes to myself on a piece of ordinary lined paper.
The tone of each note varied. Some were admonishing, others forgiving. It was very difficult to write a few because they spelt guilt no matter what the words.
I didn’t stop writing till I had poured out all my unfulfilled dreams, my regrets, my sorrow and my helplessness.
Then I took this piece of ordinary lined paper and tore it, once, twice, thrice and then over and over again till there was nothing left.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

End the Silence

I am a Muslim.

But are you Shia or Sunni?

Does it matter?

Whenever I was asked this question in school, I tried to give a neutral answer. But some curious classmates won’t take a neutral answer. And then they asked the most bizarre questions. Do you sacrifice children during the month of Muharram? Or the red sherbet you sell outside Imambargahs, is it the blood of little boys and girls? I would laugh at these questions and tell them that the sherbet was certainly good old Rooh Afza and the only creatures we sacrificed in the name of religion were goats/cows/lambs etc., just like Sunni people on Bari Eid.

It doesn’t seem so any longer. Our sacrifice, in the name of religion, is not just limited to Eid-ul-Azha.

While thousands are protesting on Alamdar Road in Quetta beside their dead, the rest of us are going on with our lives. Imagine, for one horrific second, yourself standing in the cold beside the body of a loved one. It is something you will refuse to imagine. The old men in Quetta, fathers standing against the bodies of their young sons, never imagined it too.

They are Muslims.

They are Shia.

They are also Pakistanis.

And it seems that they are paying a price for all the above.

If we don’t raise our voice for them today, it shall be us tomorrow, regardless of our religion or beliefs.

Raise your voice against this injustice today, now. That is what matters most!