Isaac Bashevis Singer Collected Short Stories

The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis SingerThe Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer by Isaac Bashevis Singer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Isac Bashevis Singer Collected Short stories there are such Gems.
There are three broad themes in this collection, three broad stages of Singer’s life himself.

1. Stories on the Jewish Heritage
There are stories which are more like Rabbi folklore as collection of stories which are centered around the theme of Sin, belief and the idea of redemption.
There is just bunch of people talking and telling stories directly typically a Rabbi or Hasidim. These are direct lyrical and include elements of magical elements in them. They are free flowing and capture the Jewish life in Poland.
Stories like the Passion, The Gentleman from Cracow , The last daemon, Moon and Madness etc.

2. Stories set in Poland
There are stories in Poland which are from Singer life as young man in Warsaw his understanding of the Jewish life and his impulses facing modernity.
Stories like the Three Encounters. There is a boyish yearning for the lost life.
There are also tremendous gems like The Spinoza of the Market street and The little shoe makers of Frampool which are amazingly lyrical Jewish life and the modern life.

3. Stories post the holocaust.
These stories are just show the life torn apart by holocaust but never over sentimental in any way. Especially stories are so subtle it just magnifies the impact. Stories like Bus, Job, Cabalist in the East Broadway etc.

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Gandhi’s Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony

Gandhi's Philosophy and the Quest for HarmonyGandhi’s Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony by Anthony J. Parel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book Anthony J Parel builds a fundamental philosophical background on the basis of which various ideas of Gandhi can be best understood. Gandhi has been seen in multiple directions, as an exponent of non-violent civil disobedience (sathyagraha) against the British, one who constantly changed his life style like things he wore to what he ate. He was someone who had multiple identities. This book the author tries to understand this complexity of his life and actions using the ancient Purushartha system . Purushartha an ancient Indian thought which attributes four fundamental inspirations or foundation of life for each human being namely Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha.

Dharma – Its the duty and ethics of any human being.
Artha – Its the money one has to earn through his work.
Kama – Its the part of life associated with pleasure including sexual, aesthetic and related to arts.
Moksa – The part of life through which one attains his salvation.

Any meaningful life should essentially contain all the above purusharthas. All of them should work in harmony for proper life. The author argument is that Gandhi reinvigorated on the fundamental Purushartha system to make it the philosophy driving his life.

Gandhi did multiple innovations to the fundamental system,

1. Over a period of time in India, Moksha took center stage in the philosophical discourse in India.
This tilted the balance against Artha and Dharma resulting in stagnation. This was the discourse even during Gandhi’s time especially on the part of people who wanted to attain Moksha. Life in politics and economics was considered an impediment in the pursuit of Moksha. Infact when Gandhi sent his initial letter containing questions to Raychand Bhai, he was advised not to meddle with the politics of Natal Indians if he really wanted to attain Moksha. Gandhi never could reconcile with the ascetic tradition of renunciation. He fundamentally wanted to bridge this gap between Dharma and Artha on one side and Moksha on the other. For him politics would be completely corrupted if its bereft of spirituality. In a similar vein pursuit of artha without any concern for other Purusharthas would only result in idle consumerism.
Gandhi brought spirituality to the core of worldly pursuit such as Artha and reconciled the pursuit of Moksha with Artha.

2. The dharma of the older cannon was based on the caste system. Unlike many of the conventional Modernists Gandhi thought that initially that the caste system is required. He was initially suggestive that the original system was right but it could have got corrupted over the period of time. But as he evolved he categorically rejected the caste system and called for his complete abolition. In place of the old cannon Gandhi promulgated the dharma of civic nation. Gandhi was not an anarchist as argued by many, in many ways he accepted the idea of modern state albeit a non violent state. But he accepted the nation should have any army to protect against external aggression, he dejected many of his pacifists friends in this regard. But he felt that any law abiding individual should be ready to resort to sathyagraha against the state if unjust things are imposed on him. He was also categorically different in the sense he stressed the importance of duty with rights.

3. Gandhi’s moksha was fundamentally different than the conventional contemplative mode of moksha. He was a man of action, so his path was that of the Karma Yoga which was the chapter in Gita that moved him most. He was also deeply moved by the idea of Saranagathi or complete surrender to attain moksha. He mixed the Karma yoga of action and bhakthi yoga inspired from his Vaishnava theist root.

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Rajaji – Rajmohan Gandhi

Rajaji, a LifeRajaji, a Life by Rajmohan Gandhi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rajaji is one of the personalities who is constantly portrayed as a villain in many of the biopics on other people like the Film on Periyar. One thing everyone in Tamilnadu knows, he was a castiest bhraminical leader who wanted to bring education system based on Varna system.

There is no defender for him in the current scheme of things, by opposing Nehru post independence he cut his links with the Congress. He was bhraminical so never liked by Dravidian politics.

So I had very little opinion or idea about this man’s life. This biography captures the essence of the life of this great man. What stood out of Rajaji,

1. Independent
He is amazingly independent on his thoughts and ideas and till his death was revered as the greatest statesman. Even with the congress he dissented during the independence movement.
He famously opposed the Quit India movement citing the dangers Fascism offers to the independent world. This was suicidal for any leader at that time, and he antagonized the congress cadres base. But he stood by his conviction , as like he did many issues in his long cherished life. He was ready to battle it all alone if required, like the struggle against the License Permit Quota Raj(a line he coined), against the personality worship of Nehru. In these fights of course he did mistakes like aligning with the DMK when he started the Swantantra Party to oppose the Congress.
But he was not the one bogged down by public opinion, and it made him unpopular, loved and hated at the same time.

2. Religious Yet Broad Minded,
We have a template in the liberal circles like any one who espouses the Hindu scriptures like Gita, or one who is a practicing hindu has to be a bigot who supports say things like Untouchability and caste system. Same happened to Rajaji and his bhraminical background not helped in matters.
But in reality he was the first to oppose untouchabilty in tamilnadu. He made his life mission to open Indian temples to untouchable. He famously defended a case on an untouchable entering the Thiruchanoor temple. His ashram inmates comprised of people from different caste backgrounds. He totally believed in the horrors of caste system and untouchability but he didn’t have the standard liberal. So he had to suffer like any independent thinker has to.
So he wrote major works on Gita, Ramayana and his writings were important to the formation of modern tamil prose.

Rajaji’s strength was his witty and memorable one liners with which he won many arguments.
He was one of the most successful lawyers of tamilnadu when he decided to quit the profession to participate in the independence movement. He was one of the finest parliamentarians India produced, and he provided a demonstration of his witty tongue in these debates.

Able Administrator
He was part of the lost breed of administrator who wanted to do the right think not always the popular one. A life long supporter of prohibition of liquor, he changed the lives of poor people through his activities regarding prohibition and khadi. Take for instance the much criticized education policy. The idea was clear and simple, he wanted to increase the admission in schools, with the current financial constraints it was not possible to open more schools neither to increase the teachers. Hence he suggested the school time for children will be reduced to 3 hours and the schools can cater to two batches of students in one day. He also suggested in the remaining time the children can learn their family work. This snowballed into a controversy which was totally uncalled for, and was forced to resign his post. He was adamant to such an extent is surprising but he felt it was the right thing to do.

Funny aspect about Rajaji is introduced as the one with a weak frame in the beginning .
He comes about as one who is often sick and tired wanting to retire. But curiously he outlived all of the major leaders of independence Gandhi, Patel, Azad, Rajendra Prasad, Nehru .
In a way he was active in stages of life from the time British Raj was in full force, the independence movement, to around 3 decades in independent India. This made him involved with so much of issues in a wide ranging arc. He was like the conscious keeper of India for three decades post independence.

This book is a phenomenal learning on his life.

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Nine Live

Nine LivesNine Lives by William Dalrymple
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have seen the books of William Dalrymple stacked in many book shops.
But somehow never felt so keen to read his books. Always had a thought that this might be one of those books that Western writers come up with about India in a manner that never impresses me.
I was pleasantly proved wrong by this book Nine Lives. Its a travelogue on the live of nine people as the title suggest. It captures the unchanging aspects of Indian life amidst the ever changing modern life. These lives are frozen in a time completely different to the prevailing modernist epoch.
It is just a great strength of our country that we accept so much different lives to flourish and there is no single prescribed path that our tradition mandates. Here are the things that worked for me in this book ,

1. The book is sincere in what it tries to capture, I never felt any tone of condescension to the lives it is capturing which is usually the case. The accounts are thoroughly researched , each life account begins with an incident, captures the historic root of the life and then uncovers the person in a manner we start to feel them real.

2. The lives capture the essence of our tradition, it includes a Jain nun who in her renunciation and sacrifices tries to attain moksha in the other world , to the Bauls of Bengal whose moksha lies in the song and dance and everyday beauty of the life at hands.

3. The conversations that the author has with the characters are one of the high points of the book. Be it the sthapathi in Swamimalai who speaks about the god taking over the artist in the act of sculpture. Or the conversation with the Sufi Saint on the teaching of Sufi Islam and his message of tolerance and peace. They capture the essence of the book and are really poetic.

4. The lives are also conflicting in a way with the epoch of the current times. Everyone who has choose this life are a rebel and in a way are facing the pressure of the times. This is captured well.

5. It captures the underlying humanity of India.

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Dostoevsky – Brothers Karamazov

There are certain questions that surface in Dostoevsky’s works. Fundamental to it is “Does Truth and goodness have any intellectual basis to it”. Is it through intellect does one arrive at goodness or through faith one arrive at it. With the idea of atheism and nihilism that swept through the end of 19th century all our Europe, it is natural that Dostoevsky was deeply moved and affected by this question. With the decadence of the organised church on one side and rampant poverty stricken industrial revolution on the other side, Dostoevsky constantly searched for a spiritual basis to live. It is this brilliant debate that is captured in the book Brothers Karamazov with great detail. The major characters in the novel capture this essence with their different natures.

The father Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, a self confessed buffoon who has no sense of morality lives the lowest life of filth and decadence a human being can think about. As observed by the elder Zossima he continues to lie to himself and is constantly playing the buffoon. It is the murder of this man and the ensuing investigation that we understand the other sons of him.

Eldest of the Karamazov brothers is Dimitry who is born of the first marriage of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov to Adelaida. Dimitry is sensual like his father and involved in multitude of relationships. He is earnest compared to his father , compared to Fyodor he still has honesty left in him. He is constantly in need of money, insults people especially he drags Ilyusha’s father from a tavern. But he still repents wants to be a better human being unlike his father who is always pretentious always.

Ivan the second of the brothers is intellectual , doubting and a loner seems to be a great mind tormented by doubt. This is one of the fundamental issues that Dostoevsky handles, the Ivan is an intellectual who is bordering on atheism he questions the idea of Christ giving free will to human beings in the chapter “The Grand Inquistor“. He had to suffer a tremendous amount of guilt and torture at the end as he feels he is wrongly the reason for the murder of his father. It is his intellect that has sinned. You can see similar thread in Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment.

On one side you see the sensualist Dimitry the other side you have the Rational atheist Ivan. Their sufferings and the torture they suffer seems to be the central point of the novel.

The youngest of the brothers is Aloysha the central hero of the novel as per the narrator. He is pure and pristine and rarely seems to judge anyone , practices the idea of forgiveness etc. But I think there is a curious aspect of Aloysha that is worth noting. He is so anxious in many occasions he himself seems to be in doubt over forgiveness, love and immortality the very ideas he seems to be preaching. He is still evolving over the novel. Especially when there is a family meting with the elder he is so nervous about things might go wrong. As the elder says in interacting with the lady “Love in reality is lot of hard work and labor”. That seems to have been said to Aloysha. He is waiting for a miracle to happen to believe and attain the faith. But it is through faith that one arrives at miracle.

The central point of the novel is the killing of Fyodor Karamazov , Dimitry is charged with the murder. There is an underlying mystery surrounding the novel. All the central characters are doubted with the murder , like Dimitry , Ivan and Smerdyakov (illegetimate son of Fyodor). Every one suffers due to the murder, Ivan feels tremendous guilt over influencing Smerdyakov over his atheism which he fears might have lead to the murder.

The suffering brings in tremendous faith and love in Ivan and Dimitry. It shows the greatness of Love and belief over doubt to Aloysha. This is the central theme of this work.










The Magic Mountain — Thomas Mann 

Writer Jeyamohan in one of his enlightning lectures on the art and form of the novel, answering question on novels on Hospital had two mentioned two notable ones, Cancer Ward and The Magic Mountain.
I had bought these novels long back and kept it without reading for a long time. Recently I read “The Magic Mountain” by Thomas Mann one of the greatest novels of twentieth century. The novel is the experience and life of Hans Castorp, young German Engineer who in a travel to Berghof (Tuberculosis Sanatorium) in the Swiss Alps for three weeks vacation, eventually lives for Seven years in there. (On a Personal note I wanted to quit IT after one month in bangalore and now I am here for seven years).
Berghof is a Sanatorium treating patients affected with Tuberculosis in the Swiss Alps , people who stay there for years together some curing and some terrible ill that they die is surrounded by snowy Alps. Hans Castorp visits Berghof to see his Cousin Joachim who is undergoing treatment for Tuberculosis for almost an year now. Mann brilliantly captures the difference in approach of people who are healthy for whom time and life is ongoing and compares with the monotonous nature of time at the Sanatorium. This is an enduring theme the difference in perception of time, the impact of sickness and disease in our perception of time and life. Castorp on seeing Joachim, explains to him that he plans to stay for three weeks. Joachim suggests to Castorp that three weeks is no time out here in this place. Castorp on his arrival is intriuged by the place, the thinness of the air , the caustic humour of Director Behrens, the life style of the Sanatorium the endless meal people seem to be eating, the rest cure after the dinner etc. After three weeks Castorp himself is diagnoised with moist spots and admitted as a patient. By this time Castorp falls to this sedentary life of no activity, he is gradually aclimitised to nonaclimitisation. He has two vivid encounters one is with fellow patient Clavdia Chauchat who famously irritates Castorp everyday by the banging of doors during the meal times, but eventually they develop a secret relationship of glances and love that can only be understood in the backdrop of sickness and weirdness of the place. Castorp also develops a relationship with another sick patient Herr Setembrini a liberal democrat , a man of progess and enlightnment whos interest range from Scientific enlightnment and Free Masonry.
Castorp as his stay keeps extended at some time looses all interest in returning to the flat lands. His whole life now becomes gradually interwined with the life in Berghof. He stops communicating, he even continues to stay well after Joachim leaves the place in revolt against his prolonged stay insisted by Director Behrens. One starts to wonder what really is sickness, how come Castorp life undergoes such change in the Sanatorium.
Castorp completely cut off from active life deviates and wastes time in meaningless pursuits his empathy with dying patients, his love relationship with Clavdia, his endless debates with Settermbrini and Naphtha, at sometime in the novel I started identifying with Castorp, if you compare the modern life as the life in the Sanatorium. This novel actually starts becoming something different, it starts becoming into a parody of modern life, its acceptance of status quo, its meaninglessness, its myriad different difflections and distractions.
This novel also questions the core idea of sickness, what is it to be sick, what if a whole soceity becomes sick as the European Society before the First World War. What are the impacts that sickness has on human psyche, how does sickness impacts norms and relationships such as love. The basic human emotions becomes highly convoluted and complicated in the backdrop of sickness. Take the case of Castorp its highly difficult to understand the reluctance of Castorp to leave the Sanatorium, what makes him , what is the true sickness in him ?

உதிரும் கனவுகள் – காடு நாவல் 

பல முறை படித்த நாவல் காடு . ஒருஒரு முறையும் புதிதாய் திறந்து கொள்ளும் ஒரு செவ்வியல் ஆக்கம்.
இந்த நாவாலை பற்றி  இணையத்தில் எழுதியவர்  பலரும் காட்டில் வாழ்ந்த அனுபவத்தை அளித்ததாக எழுதி உள்ளனர் . நுட்பமான இயற்க்கை விவரணைகள் பற்றி எழுதி உள்ளனர் .நூல் பெரும்பாலும் முதல் காதலின் சித்திரமாக அறிமுகப்படுத்த பட்டுள்ளது . ஆனால் இந்த நாவலை  மற்றும் ஒரு தளத்திலும் வாசிக்க முடியும் என்று நினைக்கிறேன் . 

இதை கிரியிடம் இருந்து பிற்ப்பாடு அழிந்து போன ஒரு விதத்தில் அவனே அழித்து கொண்ட ஒரு ஆன்மீக நுண்ணுணர்வின் சித்திரம் என்று வாசிக்கலாம்.இந்த நாவல் தொடங்கும் இடம் மிகவும் நுட்பமானது கிரி தன்னுடைய கடைசி காலத்தில் அவன் தன் இளமை காலத்தில் பணியாற்றிய காட்டு பகுதி தற்போது முற்றிலும் அன்னியமாகி, மலம் சூழ்ந்து, வீடுகள் கட்டப் பட்டு, அழிந்து போய் இருப்பதை பார்கிறான்.

இதை  ஒருவன் தன்னுடைய வாழ்வின் கடைசியில்  இளமையின் பகற்கனவுகளை மீண்டும் நினைத்து பார்கிறான்  பொருள் கொள்ளலாம். அவை முற்றிலும் அழிவதில்லை அவை அந்த மிலாவின் தடம் போல் காய்ந்து மண் நிறைந்து மறைந்து கிடக்கின்றன . அந்த நினைவின் தொடரில் இருந்து அவன் வாழ்க்கை தொடங்குகிறது. 

இந்த நாவலில் கிரி காணும் காடு, அவனுள் ஒளிரும் கவிதையின் வரிகள் என அனைத்துமே அவனை  சராசரி வாழ்வில் இருந்து உயர்த்த கூடிய ஒரு ஆன்மீக விசை என்று வரையறை செய்யலாம் . மாறாக அவன் தாய் , மாமி மீதான காமம் , இவை அவனை சராசரி தளத்திற்கு இழுக்ககூடிய விசை . இவை இரண்டும் அவனுள் உக்கிரமாக போராடி கொள்கின்றன . 

நீலி மீது இருக்கும் காதல் முற்றிலும் பித்து நிலையில் நிகழ  கூடியதாகவே உள்ளது.கிரி நீலியை தன் தாயுடன் ஒப்பிட்டு பார்க்கும் தருணம் நமக்கு ஒன்று உணர்த்துகிறது , கிரி உள்ளூர இந்த பித்து நிலை என்றும் நீடிக்காது என்பதை உணர்ந்தே உள்ளான் என்று படுகிறது . பல நூறு பாவனைகள் மூலமாக அவன் அதை நோக்கி நகர்கிறான் .  அவன் ஆழ்மனம் காணும் அந்த கொடிய கனவு அதையே நமக்கு தெரிவிக்கிறது.  
அவன் மாமியுடன் அந்த அறையில் இருக்கும் போது , ஒரு காஞ்சீர மரத்தை பற்றி கொண்டு அதில் இருக்கும் ஆணியை பிடித்து தொங்குகிறான் .  இந்த ஆணி குட்டப்பன் வன நீலியை அடைக்க சொன்ன கதையில் வருவது . அப்போது அவனுள் ஏதோ ஒன்று அவன் அந்த பிடியில் இருந்து  விழ வேண்டும் என்று விரும்புவதை கவனிக்கிறான்.
அந்த விசை எது மலை உச்சியின் மௌனத்தை கண்ட பிற்ப்பாடும் நெருசல் சந்துகளில் மனிதனை பிடித்து தள்ளும் விசை எது ? காட்டின் தூய்மையை சுவாசித்த பிறகு சாக்கடை பொந்துகளில் வாழவைக்கும் விசை.

கிரியின் அச்சம் என்று அதை சொல்லலாம் .வெட்ட வெளியை கண்டு , அஞ்சி தன் கூட்டில் ஒடுங்கி கொள்ளும் மனிதனின் இருத்தலின் அச்சம் . கிரி தன் அன்னையின் பிடியில் இருந்து வெளிவர விரும்பாதவனாகவே உள்ளான் . பெரும்பாலும் மிகவும் ஆதிக்கமான தாய் பெற்ற மகன்களில் இந்த சிக்கல் இருப்பதை பார்க்கலாம் . கிரி, சிறகு முளைத்தப் பிற்பாடு கூட பறக்க அச்சம் கொண்டவன் . விஷ காய்ச்சல் வந்து பலர் இறக்கும் இடத்தில் அவன் கொள்ளும் அச்சம் , இதை அவன் திருமணம் ஆன அடுத்த நாள் கிரியின் அக்கா குறிப்பிடுகிறாள் . அவனால் தன் கனவுகளை ஆசைகளை அடையவே முடிவதில்லை . அதை அடைவதற்கு கொள்ள வேண்டிய வைராகியம் அவனிடத்தில் இல்லை . 

அவன் வாழ்வின் பிர்ப்பகுதியில் அவன் அடைந்த வீழ்ச்சி , அவன் தன்னையே பழி வாங்கி கொள்ளும் பாவனையுடன் இந்த கழிவிரக்கம் நோக்கி நகர்ந்து கொள்கிறான் போல. ஒரு ஒரு நொடியையும் தற்கொலை செய்து கொள்பவனை போல , தன்னை வதைத்து கொண்டு கீழ் இறங்கி வேறு யாரையோ பழி வாங்குபவன் போல்.
அவன் வாழ்க்கையில் பறக்க முடிந்தது ஒரு நொடி மட்டுமே ,அந்த நினைவுகளை மட்டும் சுமந்து தன் கனத்த சிறகுகளை சுமந்து இந்த உலகில் நடக்கிறான். அவன் சிறகுகள் அந்த கணங்களை அவன் எத்தனை மறக்க நினைத்தாலும் அவனுக்கு நினைவு படுத்தி கொண்டே உள்ளது . 

இந்த சிக்கல் குட்டபனுக்கோ , ஐயருக்கோ இல்லை. அய்யர் மொத்தமாக நாட்டை துறந்தவர் , குட்டப்பன் இரண்டின் சமநிலை அறிந்து ஆடுபவன். பாவம் கிரி !

இந்த நாவல் முடியும் இடம் , அவன் வீழ்ச்சியின் முதல் படி  , தொடங்கும் இடம் அதன் முழு தோற்ற்றம்.