Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Ekkos Clan - An elaborate review by Atanu Neyogi

Atanu, my friend, has been writing to me over the past few days, as and when he has been reading my book too. Though he has promised to post a consolidated review on my wall, I couldn't resist from publishing all his communication in the form of a blog. I'm sure he will edit out few things when he writes the final review, but whatever he has written is worth a read. It's perhaps the most elaborate discussion on my book.

Got your novel and started reading. Nice prose, unadorned but precise, letting the strength of narrative carry it along.
This is going to be a bit uncomfortable as the Bangladesh part (evidently based on stories you have heard) resembles too much of what I heard about my own family.
A fallen aristocracy has a sense of poisonous self-pitying perspective of the world which swings between superiority and inferiority complex. I have seen that so much growing up in a clan of displaced, long-suffering but self-entitled Vaidyas over the years I had learnt to treat those childhood stories as an inherited nostalgia for an imagined past. I am guessing your novel is going to make some old scars a bit raw.
Now to read on to Kubha, I am anticipating some deep historical unveiling...
Instead of writing one big review at the end, I have thought it would be better if I let you know the minor comments as I read along and then have a summary later. You may or may not find them very useful.
We seem to share some common interest: music, linguistics. I grew up listening to a lot of Western classical, a love that remains with me though nowadays most my my classical listening is focused on post-tonal music: Schoenberg, Berg, Ligeti, Saariaho, Stockhausen... However Jazz is what I listen most and I found your description of Kratu's attempt at mastering non-diatonic chords on guitar at the beginning of the Pur-Bhed chapter to be funnily accurate. However these non-diatonic intervals do appear in a lot of tonal classical music...Debussy, Ravel,... and of course in Bach (who foresees so much of the possibilities). Anyway, some critical comments:
a. You need a better Editor. In Chapter 3 at one place talking about the three-node melodies the text says "Do, Re, Pa" instead of "Do, Re, So" . It was a slip of pen (not uncommon to multi-liguists) from your part that should have been caught in editing.
b. If I may, whereas your writing about Kratu's first meeting with Afsar is impressive and masterful, the Tits chapter was maudlin and unsure at the same time. When you are trying to convey a cluster of complex interconnected feelings, which is rendered more unfathomable to outsiders by a very uniquely local form of inter-family dynamics that colors Kratu and Tista's perception of each other, trying to explain them at get-go is not a good strategy. We, your readers, should feel intrigued and mystified and not over-informed. Also, if I may, the whole "Tits" joke is a little juvenile. It may all be very true and yes funny, but a little on the overwrought side of the humor. The sexual humor can be a very potent weapon in a writer's arsenal, so it is best used sparingly.
c. You are at your best when you are writing about Kubha and her stories, and also writing about things that emanate from those stories or are connected to, even in anticipation. For everything else the quality drops a bit, not significantly but noticeably enough. Something you may want to think about for your next novel.
Sudipto, so finally finished the novel. Thought a little bit about the most efficient way to convey my perspectives that you might find on the right side of originality. I am sure the obvious scopes for improvements have already been elucidated by your myriad fans and well-wishers.
First of all, a very very enjoyable read. Using the narrative thrust of a thriller to engage the readers' intellect on the subtler and more erudite core of the story is a time-worn tactic, but it doesn't always work. Yours did. Excellently done. There are some minor implausibility problems -- not a matter of what can happen in real life, anything can happen in real life, but a matter of being able to convince the readers fully, there is just too many happy coincidences a la Tinitn -- but those do not derail the story. It is an issue of coloration, the bursts of improvisation on an otherwise tightly coiled story didn't always pay off. Again, those are minor flaws that can be overlooked.
Essentially, as is often the case, the strength of the novel is also the source of its weakness. The strength of the novel is its authentic and genuine passion and engagement with a certain historical worldview, and a sense of spatial-temporal unity and continuity of human civilization which is a quintessentially Indian philosophical trait.
However, that authenticity can preclude irony, and doubt, and subterfuges of mind and the treacheries of time. There is a humor in your novel which is very Bengali, and its truly lovable and funny in those moments (though tad bit on the side of the precious, but that maybe simply my harsher predisposition), and there is a great intelligence and erudition of subject matter. But to truly lift this novel out of its genre-specifiicty it needed darker shades of humor and an intelligence that turns on itself. It needed self-doubts, it needed irony, and it needed a sense of displacement from its core to catch the readers on their moments of smug knowingness. Great art leaves one puzzled and invigorated at the same time.
A great example you would find, in a different kind of story about historical continuity, is Eco's masterful "Foucault's Pendulum".
Really looking forward to your next work. And thanks so much for indulging my comments. Hopefully at least some of those you found useful.
BTW, would you be okay if I post a concise review of your work on my timeline? It would be a summarized version of what I had written above, but erring on the side of praise.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Hasee To Phasee: the film that arouses the 'mad' in you

Just saw Hasee to Phasee. A very fresh movie directed by Vinil Mathew and produced by the likes of Karan Johar, Vikramaditya Motwani, Anurag Kashyap and others. 

If the name Vinil Mathew doesn't ring a bell, let me let you all that he's the guy behind some of the most amazing ads in the recent times - the Shubharambh series of ads of Cadbury, the Surf excel ads where kids dirty their clothes. (More of his ads can be seen at this site

If you remember the ads, a common theme that emerges out slowly is the madness, the small things that we often overlook, things that appear kiddish, unsophisticated, things that make the difference between being boring versus ridiculous, coming to which I've to quote a line of Marilyn Monroe's - madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring. (Sorry Sharmin Ali for plagiarizing this quotation you've used in your book and which I've been quoting almost everywhere since I've read your book)

This movie is not for you, if you don't like madness. Parineeti's character is total mad. She's shown to be a chemical engineer from IIT (perhaps the best ever portrayal of an IITian in Hindi movies) who leaves her home to pursue her dream research for which her father declines to give any money. She gets into drugs, does crazy things in China to fund herself, returns to India to arrange (read steal) 1 million bucks, and she's also romantic, falls in love in a very unusual way, brings some order in the life of a guy who has failed almost everywhere, but who never fails to dream, think big, aspire for more, never loses hope even after his girlfriend of seven years has broken up with him every month, in his own words, like bank EMIs.

This simple movie harps on a very important thing we all overlook. Don't kill the madness in you. And if you are not mad, God save you.

I've always felt that it's madness which fuels creativity, both is arts or business or spirituality or any other sphere. This particular movie may be a over simplified depiction of the madness I'm talking about. I'm not sure what exactly the writer and the director intended to depict or convey, but for me it did resonate with my thought of madness.

Steve Job was a mad, whatever the world may call him or remember by. So was Dhirubhai Ambani, when he thought of having a company of his own like Shell, where he worked in middle east in a lowly job. Having started his entrepreneurial journey with supply crankshafts to local cycle manufacturers in the Punjab, it was just madness when Sunil Mittal thought of creating a company like SingTel and the world knows the rest about Airtel. Though may not be put in the same league, but Swami Vivekananda was no doubt mad when he figured out that not a single person was available to represent Hinduism at the Parliament of Religion in Chicago in 1893 and he himself embarked on a journey alone to the US to address the sisters and brothers of America on behalf of the "most ancient order of monks in the world.... mother of religions.... and  millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects". Mahatma Gandhi would have been mad too when he saw the sufferings of India. Ditto with a young prince of Kapilavastu after seeing people suffering from various problems. He eventually attained enlightenment and became the Buddha. But at the core was a madness, a pagalpan.

Any act of madness evokes suspicion from other people who can't be mad. Madness is not always on the right track. Often madness leads to destruction, but ignoring madness for that would be like throwing the baby along with the bath water. We often fail to attain something big because we can't be mad, because we don't have the guts to be mad. 

I feel it's essential to realize the madness in you, arouse the mad in you.

Go and watch, be mad.

Things to look for: 
  • Parineeta and Siddhart's roles, for sure. Both are just fabulous.
  • Great dialogues.
  • The relation between Parineeti and her father. This was a very subtle aspect of the entire movie and may be ignored totally. "She is so much like me," says her father toward the end of the movie. "I could have stayed back in Surat and runa  small sari shop. But I came to Bombay..." It's very important to see how the movie ends with such a positive note, the father almost accepting all the weird things his daughter did. Perhaps he was the only person in the family who had been mad too.
  • The overall positive way the main protagonists look at everything in the world. It's a very matured behavior which we seldom see in Hindi movies.