Assorted thoughts…

I finished read “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid a few days ago. Okay-ish story, interesting style, but the character seems to lack depth. I am not very convinced about why he decided to turn anti-America. Was it because his girlfriend (was she ever that?) was too enamoured with her dead ex to be truly his girlfriend? Or was it because of the situation back home? Or maybe because he suddenly faced suspicion despite his American demeanour, his wine-drinking ways and his Princeton education? I don’t have the answers. It’s just that the book didn’t manage to touch my heart.

Sticking to the books, I am now reading “P.S. I Love You.” Mushy, depressing and ultra-romantic. Doesn’t quite sit well with my current mood. But, I’ll hold my judgement until I finish the book!

Over the past week, my thoughts have swung rather wildly from philosophy to literature to cinema to pointless pondering. One such pointless pondering involves a bit of introspection. Why do we, as human beings, constantly seeks acceptance and approval from others to simply be ourselves? Yeah! I am talking about myself. Guilty as charged! Ever ready to say sorry just to avoid conflict, wanting to please all and sundry despite being possibly the most unpredictable person on the planet and feeling miserable about not being able to live up to expectations, I understand now that I have hurt myself more than others have hurt me.

Someone told me about 10 days ago that my only flaw of character was that was overly emotional. He said that if I learnt to control my emotions and not allow them to rule over my rather intelligent brain, I would be a better person. I argued at that point that he was wrong, that emotions were good and that they made me human. But 10 days on, I wonder if he was right. Maybe…just maybe, I need to learn to be more practical and pragmatic rather than emotional and impulsive. Maybe I need to feel more confident about myself and tell people to go to hell if they didn’t like me for who I was. Just maybe. And maybe, like he said…there was really nothing wrong with me apart from being hypersensitive and emotional.

I’ve been trying, over the past week to be less emotional. In the past, I have shed tears that I now realize were entirely unnecessary. I realize that those tears, however justified, conveyed that I was weak and made people take me for granted. But today, I make this solemn promise to myself: I refuse to live life by someone else’s expectations. I refuse to be burdened by those ideals that someone else has of a perfect woman. I also refuse to be compared in any way with anyone who is not me, no matter how perfect the person may be! I promise myself that I will just be me!

The Immortals of Meluha – A Review

Despite strong recommendation, I almost passed up this book at Odyssey the other day. You see, I have a problem with book recommendations. The last time I listened to someone, the book turned out to be a waste of my precious 300 rupees! So, I took every book on the list Praveen sent me with a pinch of salt. I picked each up, carefully read the blurb, then a couple of pages and then decided to buy…or not! But my! What a book this one turned out to be! It’s after a very long time that a book has delighted me the way this one has managed to. So much so that I have actually decided to write a review! This is perhaps the first time I am writing a review of a book, since book reviews have always reminded me of that horrible time in school when the librarian would insist we write one for the books we borrowed during the weekly library hour. I hated the chore and invariably copied the blurb down, like everyone else, even if I had actually read the book. But this time, reviewing is straight from the heart.

The story starts at the Mansarovar lake at the foot of Mount Kailash, and depicts Shiva staring thoughtfully at the orange sky. The first few pages, his conversations with his best friend Bhadra, his confusion about the right path, his determination to do his best, whatever that might lead to…all of these immediately appeal to your senses. Actually, the idea of a God being nothing more than a common human with common flaws, is quite delightful. I have spoken of my discomfort with the deification of Ram before, but in this book there is nothing of the perfection that we tend to so commonly associate with a God. If anything, Shiva is a normal man, not even a perfect one. He is an average Indian male with his share of insecurities, his problems, his fears… yes, his love for Sati, his desire to get her, and even his mischievous sense of humour, often laced with a subtle sexuality (oh! the scandal!) and a clear-thinking, rational mind. As a reader, I couldn’t help falling in love with him simply because he is so normal. As someone who is tired of perfection in Gods, this book was a total delight! The first of a trilogy, you don’t see Shiva as the God of Gods. You see him as a man, a passionate lover, a perfect dancer, a fierce warrior, an expert swordsman and a fair and honest human being. In fact, he even has a troubled past: as someone who ran away from a call for help!

The second character that appeals in the book is, undoubtedly, Sati. Forced to be an outcast for no fault of hers, she silently bears her fate with a certain stoicism. But, there is nothing resigned about her demeanour. She struggles to contain her attraction to, and eventually love for Shiva. She fights to retain the delicate balance between passion and duty. She is an extraordinarily beautiful woman, well-read, compassionate, a consummate dancer and an expert warrior in her own right. Anything Shiva can do, Sati can do better! Except, as the legend goes, dance. There is even a reference to the legend with Shiva offering to teach Sati dance.

Then there are the Chandravanshis, painted from the outset as a vile race, ready to consort even with the wretched, sub-human Nagas for victory. The vision we have of them at the end of the book, however, is completely different. They are the very antithesis of the Suryavanshis: their motto being: Shringar, Saundarya, Swatantrata as against Satya, Dharma, Maan of the Suryavanshis. The passion of the Chandravanshis, their temperamental nature, their confidence about their sexuality; all of these contrast sharply with the somewhat prudish, rule-obsessed and extremely disciplined Suryavanshis. Together, they form the Yin and the Yang, the heart and the mind, the masculine and the feminine. Each of the characters, while drawing heavily on mythology, is also a complete human in his/her right. Each has his flaws, his problems, his strength and his weaknesses. And the author stays faithful to the original myth, while still managing to make his characters look believable.

The book is definitely a page-turner, written as it is, in the manner of a thriller. No high-brow stuff, thank you very much. The author sticks to simple English and does not try to cater to an elite audience. This simplicity of narration is perhaps the strength of the book. It managed to catch your attention without descending to the level of pulp fiction. He manages to tackle the complex concepts of divinity and duality, of Dvaita and Advaita in simple terms. Our hero comes across as someone who believes in action rather than in obtuse philosophy, while still appearing extremely intelligent. In fact, in several instances, Shiva ribs the Suryavanshis and their priests, asking if they never talk in simple terms, if they always believe in talking in riddles!

The plot is simple, and the author seems to have made a conscious effort to keep it that way, shedding all the flab that mythological stories inevitably accumulate over the years. There is a sense of coherence in the plot, even for someone who grew up listening to the sanitized, TamBrahm version of Hinduism where every God had to be perfect and where there was no room for vices such as anger, fear, desire, or lust. Also, there is a certain lightness about the tone of narration and you chuckle with a quiet delight when the Chandravanshi king responds to the Suryavanshi request to hand over the terrorists in a letter through an emissary. “Please accept my deep condolences for the dastardly attack on Mount Mandar,” he says. Denying that he has any role to play in the attacks, he offers every help possible to investigate the case and help in bringing the criminals to justice. At this point, you are so sure that the vile Chandravanshis are the terrorists, that you can’t help remember our neighbours’ being charitable and offering to investigate the Mumbai attacks!

If you like Indian mythology, but are not so religious or dogmatic that you would object to humanizing a God, you should probably read this book. At the end of the book, you may not be as devoted a follower of Shiva as you used to be, but you will certainly see in him a friend, a philosopher, a fantastic dancer and perhaps even a man as near to perfection as one is likely to find in a real world! Definitely recommended, even if it is only as light reading.

The son of Ponni

Yesterday was Adi Perukku. I read not one, but two posts on Ponniyin Selvan. Yes, the novel par excellence by Kalki Krishnamurthy is what first came to my mind when I realized it was the 18th day of the Tamil month of Adi. The thought sent me hurtling back a decade.

I had barely finished by Class 12 exams. My father brought home an armload of Tamil books. The Government of Tamil Nadu had decided to subsidize the works of Kalki Krishnamurthy, to commemorate the birth centenary of the writer. And dad, to his credit, decided to expose me to a world of Tamil literature I was entirely unfamiliar with. I could read Tamil about as well as the current crop of Kollywood heroines can speak it. For those of you who know what that means, it’s like George Bush’s general knowledge, zero!

Dad, being dad, had ambitious plans for me. He laid out the three major works by Kalki in front of me and asked me to choose. Ponniyin Selvan, vigorously recommended by dad, mom, grandmother and a whole army of older relatives occupied the pride of place. Alaiyosai, Kalki’s personal favourite, was somewhere at the bottom of the list. Between these two exalted works lay Sivagamiyin Sabatham. Now, asking me to choose between them was like asking a beginner in English to choose between Charles Dickens and Shakespeare. Both are difficult, each more difficult than the other.

I bravely plunged into the world of Ponniyin Selvan, with mom and grandmother’s encouragements. Dad, for his part, was ready to explain the meaning of Tamil words I did not understand. In hindsight, I suspect that he bit off much more than he could chew. He did not bargain to become the official translator of classical Tamil into Madras Baashai for his darling daughter raised on the banks of the Buckingham Canal. Ok. I am exaggerating…but, truly, my knowledge of Tamil was rivaled only by my (in)ability to do math.

Once I began reading the novel, all was forgotten. My walking, talking Madras Baashai interpreter was troubled for exactly three days. The story was engrossing. It was moving forward at a phenomenal speed. I discovered the Pazhuvettaraiyars, the hero Vandhiyathevan, the beautiful Nandini, the shy Madhuranthakan. History came alive in those words. I suddenly wanted to know more about Anirudha Brahmarayar and the Uttiramerur inscriptions. I wanted to know how Kundavai Prattiyar lived, what the Kudandhai astrologer said. I wanted to visit these exotic places. I wanted to study history. I discovered the romance between Vanathi and Arulmozhi Varman. In the process, I developed a crush on the noble Arulmozhi Varman, long dead. Poor man! Wonder how many teenage girls discovered they had a crush on him! A decade later, I wonder if Rajaraja Cholan was really as noble as Kalki’s Arulmozhi Varman. On second thoughts, I’d rather not know.

It took me nearly a month to finish the five-volume three-thousand-page novel. When I was done, I was incorrigibly spoiled. I was in love; in love with history, with the Chola times. I was in love with the art of writing something so breathtakingly beautiful. I had decided. I was going to study history. I haven’t regretted that decision till date. And yes, I am still in love. I still want to see Uttiramerur, Pazhayarai, Uraiyur, Thanjavur and Gangaikonda Cholapuram. This is a love affair that will probably last all my life.

PS: There is an English translation of Ponniyin Selvan. But, if you can read Tamil even passingly, please read it in the original. I can guarantee the story will take you forward, even if you don’t want to go.

Education, business, Kolkata burning and Ms. Nasreen again!

Yesterday, I read a satirical take on the state of education in today’s world. Humorous though it was, it deserves serious thought and discussion. This Rediff satire on the recent decision of the principal of a well-known Mumbai college to enforce a dress code in the middle of examinations is something worth talking about. Moral policing apart, the satire exposes one simple fact: that some colleges exist solely to make money. As the principal in Vadukut’s story puts it so succinctly,

“Must I tell you every day? What do you think we are? A shady outfit merely run to siphon off funds? A platform for political manipulation? Some sort of ragtag institute run by the principal like his personal property?”

“Sir. Why do you even ask such questions and insult me? Of course we are.”

Well…can one make it any more obvious why such private colleges exist? The truth is that very few colleges today fulfil their duties as educational institutions. They are simply run to siphon off funds, or to whiten the black money made by their owners and patrons in other, equally shady business deals. Some of the private colleges assume the role of the moral police, when those who run the institutions are themselves totally immoral. Will this ever change? Will private colleges and deemed universities and the like actually be held responsible for their actions before a competent tribunal? It’s up to the UGC to take the responsibility. Whether they will actually do it is anyone’s guess.

Moving on, CNN-IBN tells me, on television, that Kolkata is burning. When I first heard the news this afternoon, I assumed that the Nandigram issue had finally reached boiling point. But no, I was apparently mistaken. A rather shady outfit by name of the All India Minority Forum (AIMF) called for a roadblock this morning. Soon, the protest turned violent and the army was called in to maintain law and order. Now, in India, when the army is called in to restore peace, it means something is seriously wrong. Otherwise, the army just stays out of internal affairs. The policy will normally suffice. Only later in the afternoon did I realise that the protests were not just against the Nandigram issue. Apparently, the AIMF, which called for the protests, want eminent Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen to be shipped out of India at the earliest possible instance. Her sin? That she said something, allegedly blasphemous, in her most recent book Shodh.

This kind of behaviour goes against pretty much everything I was taught as a kid. Or am I being naive in wanting to actually practise what I was taught in school? I grew up in a liberal, rest-not-until-you-get-answers background. I was taught that it is Man’s (and woman’s) fundamental right to speak their mind. I was taught that, in a democracy, freedom of expression is paramount. I was also taught that even if you did not have anything to eat, you must have the freedom to say you are starving. What has happened to the India I know? What has happened to that sacrosanct freedom of expression? This censorship of personal opinion began with the banning of Satanic Verses way back in 1988, barely 10 days after its release. It has not stopped until today. The right to free speech is shamelessly curtailed and the press censored in the name of protecting minority sentiments. I do acknowledge that religious minorities in India must be given adequate protection. But, is this not going too far? If the AIMF can bring an entire city to a standstill today, forcing the army to step in to maintain law and order, is there not something seriously wrong with the way things are going?

What irks me even more that the protests, is the fact that nobody seems to be talking about Ms. Nasreen’s right to say what she thinks is right. Nobody is arguing she is right. But even dissent must be within the acceptable framework of democracy. Burning public vehicles and causing infinite inconvenience to common people in the name of a protest march is simply unacceptable. Will someone please talk about it? Will the state government, and the Centre forget their pseudo-secularism for a moment and defend Ms. Nasreen’s right to live where she wants to and say what she wants to?

It’s a fictional character…for Heaven’s sake!

Yes, I mean Albus Dumbledore, the lovable Headmaster in the Harry Potter books. The hype and hoopla surrounding the recent revelation that Dumbledore is gay is unbelievable. I have read analyses, letters, book reviews and even a feature in a magazine on how it affects the series. Well…the simple truth is, it doesn’t. Dumbledore’s sexuality has absolutely no bearing on the story itself. Neither is it obvious to readers that Dumbledore was, in fact, gay. Then, what’s the big deal? Whatever our reaction may be to homosexuality in general, I don’t see how that interferes with our enjoyment of the books.

My greatest confusion comes from people saying homosexuality is anti-Christian and so it ruins the books for the reader. Tell me, do we think about religion while reading a story book? At least, I don’t. To me, Dumbledore’s sexual preferences hold no consequence whatsoever. To me, Dumbledore is a brilliantly etched fictional character, with his own flaws and drawbacks. That is what makes him human. If he is gay, and that is a problem, then it would be just another one of his flaws. Why should long-time readers of the Potter books suddenly detest both the author and the series? Do we stop reading the works of Oscar Wilde because he happened to be gay? If not, then why are we so obsessed with Dumbledore?

Maybe we, as readers, should learn to separate fact from fiction. Maybe we should be more rational in our outlook towards things that exist, even if we don’t agree with what’s happening. Does that make me a bad person? I hardly think so.

The Great Indian Novel

That’s right. It is the famous book by Shashi Tharoor I am talking about. I know it’s a bit late to review that book on this blog, but what can I do? I bought myself a copy just a week ago, and finished reading it just a couple of hours ago. But, I can say this confidently. I regret having taken so long to read a book that is so delightfully irreverent and astonishingly well-informed. Now, where do I start? Before I say anything else, let me state that I always knew that Tharoor was a prolific writer. But, this one exceeded my expectations. To cut a long story short, I loved the book. There were many things that I liked about the book. The first, and most important: the treatment of the fictional Gangaji, (the real-life Gandhi) as a master tactician, an expert politician, and sometimes, a biased moralist. The portrayal must have ruffled quite a few Congress feathers when it was first published. It makes me wonder if the current generation of Congress-walahs have even read the book. After all, Tharoor does not exactly flatter them by labelling their ‘Goddess Indira’ as Priya Duryodhani. Or is the allusion too subtle for the videshi mind of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi to grasp? Do the apologists of the Dynasty even have the brains required to understand Tharoor’s satire? I highly doubt they do. For if they had, they would not have nominated him as India’s candidate for the position of Secretary General of the United Nations. Congratulations Mr. Tharoor! You have made your point quite clearly.

The second positive aspect, perhaps as important as the first is our beloved first Prime Minister as Dritarashtra. Oh yes, Dritarashtra was blind, literally. That is not his fault. But, Nehru was blind in the metaphorical sense. And, as Tharoor puts it, chose to see the world as he wanted to see it and not as it really was. The analogy, I must say, is quite apt. The references to Draupadi Mokrasi puzzled me, until the very end. Until about an hour after I finished the book. The brilliance of it all hit me on the face as suddenly as a flash of sunlight in a dull, dreary day. Draupadi Mokrasi is precisely that, De-mocracy!! Wow!

Anyway, with that, I will end this eulogy of Tharoor and his book. I do, however, have something to say about Nita’s latest blogpost. She has finally completed an incomplete post on NRIs and dollar-earning desis. It was published, if I remember right, way back in October 2006. Wow Nita! Your posts certainly have a long gestation period. Her objections to Rashmi Bansal’s article on Rediff are certainly valid. When I first read the said article a year ago, I wasn’t as offended as Nita. In fact, I even questioned her defensiveness. But today, I bear testimony to the fact that attitudes evolve. I am just as bugged as Nita by the way Bansal portrays all Indians working abroad as those who are not good enough to make it to top-of-the-rung institutions in India.

Secondly, Nita’s feelings about nostalgia are quite valid too. Not everyone feels the need to wax eloquent about crowded sabzi mandis and traffic jams and mum’s cooking. We must accept that some people are decidedly happier in their First-World homes with 52-inch televisions and three cars. That doesn’t mean they are not Indian. Why do we, as Indians, feel the need to be so judgemental about those who choose to make a foreign land their home despite what Bansal calls cold reception? Do they not have the right to choose the way they want to live? Do we seriously think our NRI cousins or American-born nephews are out to make us jealous and plant diffidence and wistfulness in our desi heads? If we do, we are simply too naive for the world…and lack greatly in entrepreneurship and confidence. If some of us want to chase dollar dreams, so be it? Why is the rest of the world so bothered about that? We may or not may not be good Indians, but we are certainly successful and happy, albeit in an alien land.

Right to free speech?

Yesterday’s attack on controversial Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen speaks volumes about the increasing intolerance in Indian society. We, as Indians, pat ourselves on the back about democratic tradition in our beloved homeland and pride ourselves on the inherent tolerance of the Indian people. But, where has that tolerance gone now? Ms. Nasreen was in Hyderabad to release the Telugu version of her new book Shodh, when activists of the All-India Majilis-E-Itihadul Muslimeen attacked the gathering. Not only is the attack worth condemning but the words of a local AIMIM MLA on CNN-IBN are simply outrageous. He claimed, in full view of television cameras, that the “punishment” meted out to Ms. Nasreen was insufficient and she should have been killed to teach a lesson to all other presumptuous Muslim women who dare to speak out against oppression. The new book Shodh explores the life of a woman wanting to break free and live life on her own terms.

The AIMIM claims that the book is anti-Islamic and that Taslima Nasreen is a kafir for daring to express herself. The attack against Ms. Nasreen is just one example of the growing intolerance in Indian society. In fact, the incident reminded me of the annual anti-Valentine’s Day vandalism carried out by the Shiv Sena. It is not just religious fundamentalist groups who indulge in such acts. A few years ago, about 20 young couples were arrested by the Chennai City Police at a park in Anna Nagar, one of the posher areas of the city. When the parents of the arrested arrived, the police claimed to have arrested them for indecent exposure in public. Apparently, holding your boyfriend’s hand in broad daylight is considered indecent exposure. As usual, the local Hindu Munnani activists and other fundamentalist outfits, both Hindu and Muslim, condemned the behaviour of the poor couples and blamed the decadence on the West.

All this brings us to one fundamental question. Since when is speaking your mind taboo in this country? Why should Ms. Nasreen be attacked simply because she chose to say out aloud what many of us think privately anyway? A more pertinent question would be why nobody does anything when such incidents occur? Everyone from the AP Chief Minister to the Prime Minister to the press condemns the attack on Ms. Nasreen, but the attackers were let off on bail almost as soon as they were arrested. Chances are the case will be forgotten over the next week. Why does nobody think it fit to arrest the man who practically called for Ms. Nasreen’s assassination and slap a charge of inflammatory speech on him? All this makes me wonder whether the right to free speech is not merely a politically correct thing to accord in this country. Do we really have the right to free speech without fearing reprisal? I don’t know.

On literature and cinema

Over the past few days, I have heard more about Harry Potter than I did over the last 10 years. The hype surrounding the release of Book 7 is unbelievable. Among other unbelievable things is this article in the San Jose Mercury News about giving Harry a “proper send-off”. I began to read the article out of sheer curiosity. By the time I finished it, I was convinced that all the hype was unnecessary. To “hold “Goodbye, Harry” gatherings” and mock funerals seems utterly ridiculous to me. If there is one thing the Potter series has done to children, it is to teach them that death is a certainty. It tells the tale of an epic battle between good and evil and shows that many lives, some innocent and others not, will be lost in the process. When a series as realistic as this one ends, why should children go into a state of manic depression? It seems that when they do, they have not really learnt the lesson Jo tried so hard to convey. That “for the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.” If that is true, children would understand why the series has to end. They would understand that all good things must end at some point so that better things can take their place. By advising parents to hold mock funerals and memorial services in the memory of the fictional hero, I think psychologists and psychiatrists are underestimating the intelligence of children who read the Potter books. Perhaps, they have understood the point of the books better than we have as adults. Perhaps, they are not as dumb as child and family psychologists think they are.

Having said that, on to the second theme of this post. I recently saw the trailer of the forthcoming movie “Gandhi, My Father“. It’s tagline states that
“one family’s tragedy was the price of a nation’s freedom.” Why is that, you may wonder. For the first time, a movie humanises Gandhi and talks about the complicated relationship he shared with his eldest son, Harilal. As usual, the political parties claiming uphold the Gandhian legacy have created a furore about the movie allegedly tarnishing Bapu’s squeaky clean image. Why is it so difficult for us to accept that the man who brought us independence through the mantra of non-violence may not have been the perfect human being we make him out to be? Does his failure as a father undermine, in any way, his contribution to the Indian freedom movement? The question I asked a few months ago of Indian crickets is valid in this context too. Why do we seek to deify those who do us good? Why can’t Gandhi be human, with his flaws and drawbacks? Why does he have to be God-incarnate to hold a place in our hearts? To me, Gandhi is a man. A great man, but a man nonetheless. Yes, his contribution to the freedom struggle was invaluable. But he had his faults. Who doesn’t? I don’t agree with many of his principles, but I still respect him. If I were to criticise his ideals, do I become the Devil’s advocate? I don’t think so. I certainly hope people don’t stop questioning what must be questioned in an attempt at blind reverence. Gandhi was a great man. He was a Mahatma. But even Mahatmas have their flaws.

Where is the reading habit going?

The latest, and the last, instalment of Harry Potter is out. I am still awaiting the verdict from acclaimed critics and ardent fans, but the hype surrounding the book release has set me thinking. Yesterday, when I went to pick up my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I found that I was probably the only adult, apart from the harassed parent running to the bookshop early in the morning to shut their child’s whining. In fact, I suspect the other parents thought I too was a parent who came to pick up the book for her child. Anyway, there I was, picking up the book for the sheer pleasure of reading. Yes, Harry Potter is a children’s novel. But there is no rule that adults must not read children’s novels, is there? There is no rule that intelligent 25 year-olds wanting to do research on terrorism must not escape into the fictional and extremely fascinating world of Hogwarts, Voldemort and Harry Potter for the sheer fun of reading an extremely well-written piece of literature. So, why is it so difficult for my “mature” adult friends to appreciate my taste in literature without looking upon me as a mentally retarded freak who likes to read “kiddish” books with the zeal of a 13 year old?

Ok, now I am ranting. Back to the point I wanted to make. Where has the reading habit disappeared to in the children of today? While it is certainly true that the Harry Potter series has bought many a kid back to books, Jo has not entirely succeeded in weaning today’s child away from brainless cartoons and violent video games. I have been thinking about this whole issue ever since I got back home last evening. I live in an apartment where there are at least 25 children between the ages of 5 and 15. None of them, and I repeat, none of them were remotely interested in the fate of poor Mr. Potter in the final book released not 12 hours ago. I came home at 6 pm and buried my nose in the book almost immediately, pausing only for dinner, and finally stopping shortly before midnight because I could not keep my eyes open. The reading session continued this morning and continued only with brief pauses for bath and food until I finally finished the book around 2 pm. The kids around me seemed oblivious of the interest that the book generated and were quite content in watching Scooby Doo and Popeye on Cartoon Network, or whatever it is that they watch. To me, that was a travesty. I cannot imagine putting down an interesting book to watch a movie where I am not required to use my brain.

Unfortunately, creativity seems to be becoming a bad word for Generation Y (or Z or whatever) They are quite content copying answers from textbooks without questioning their rationality or relevance and watching stupid cartoons and equally stupid movies. They refuse to use the greatest gift God has ever given humankind, the ability to think and reason. Schools that they attend are equally content in accepting textbook answers to textbook questions and far from encouraging thought and creativity, actively discourage any variation from the accepted textbook answer. Any child impertinent enough to attempt an original answer is quickly sanctioned with low marks and a note to the parent complaining that the child is too arrogant for his own good. The charade does not stop there. The parents, obsessed as they are with grades and class ranking quickly stifle any more originality by ordering the child to do as the teacher says or face the consequences. And so starts the process of unquestioning acceptance of the written word. But wait, what are we doing? Why are we making a nation-full of people incapable of expressing original ideas and creative impulses? Why are we sticking to the colonial principle of making a nation full of clerks? If that is truly what we want, why are we complaining of the lack of research in Indian universities?

It is frustrating to sit here and see children of today scorning the reading habit as if it were the plague. How does one explain the pleasure of spending a lazy afternoon with an interesting book in hand? How does one explain the thrill of imagining the deadly magical duel between Harry and whoever attacks him instead of having to make do with what Warner Brothers chooses to show us on screen? Why are the children of today becoming so lazy that even picking up a real book with paper and cardboard is a bother? At this point, after observing children around me, I only have questions. The answers seem too elusive to hope for in the near future.

The Harry Potter Phenomenon

While on a smelly 7-hour long Air India flight from Paris to Mumbai, one tends to try and distract oneself by reading. And that is precisely what I did. Before I proceed, let me register my disappointment with the state of India’s shining national carrier. After a highly annoying conversation with the Air India Paris representative about baggage allowances and laptop computers, I boarded the flight with an armload of magazines and newspapers. The flight’s condition gave me serious doubts about its air-worthiness and made me wonder if Air India had at all bothered to maintain its fleet since it first acquired the aircraft in the 1970s. Trust me, it was that bad.

Anyway, back to the point. Once I got over the shock of seeing the state of “Air India shining”, I began to read the highly interesting, but atrociously expensive Time Magazine. The article in question was about the efforts of the “Harry Potter Brain Trust” to keep up the net of secrecy surrounding the much-hyped release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. While the process in itself was extremely interesting, what spurred me on to writing this post was the conclusion of the authors, Lev Grossman and Andrea Sachs. They ask whether the publishers of the Harry Potter books are not under-estimating the power of the same series they are working so energetically to promote.

This was a particularly interesting question. If people only read books to find out the story and the ending, nobody would read the same books more than once. Such is not the case, as we all know. Dickens, published many decades ago still holds a sway over lovers of books. Some books are classics and we never tire of reading them. I have read David Copperfield and many times over and the books hold the same appeal today as they did all those years ago, during the first reading. To cite more examples, the story of Iliad and Odyssey are so famous that they must have become boring by now. But no, they continue to inspire the production of such blockbusters as Troy and Gladiator. The same goes for the Potter books. Why then, are we obsessing with secrecy? Why are we so paranoid about spoilers on the Internet affecting our enjoyment of the books? So what if we do find out the ending? Do we not read a book simply because we want to read it irrespective of who killed whom and who defeated whom?

As a student of literature (ex-student, but that’s beside the point), I find that it only makes sense if Harry finally defeated the evil Voldemort. Why would Jo create the character only to have him defeated at the hands of the most powerful and evil sorcerer ever? From a purely literary perspective, that is the only thing that would make sense. The good must always triumph over the bad. That is poetic justice. And not even J K Rowling would throw us a googly on that. That brings us back to the original question. What is the point of reading. The point is to spend time with the book and enjoy the time thus spent. It is appreciate and even experience a good book. And Harry Potter, is a good book.