Longest Time Span to Write a Composition

Yesterday I was researching about some south Indian Literatures. Ever since I read Yayati, I51vujhtlpl-_sx323_bo1204203200_ got curious to discover more such novels from the South Indian Library. I came across a book called Khasakkinte Itihasam(The Legend of Khasak) a Malayalam(language spoken in the Indian state of Kerala) Novel by OV Vijayan. What caught my attention was to discover the fact that it took the author 12 years to complete the novel. It seemed extraordinary as the book had just around 200 pages. Why would it take 12 years to write 200 pages? Couldn’t it have been written in one year? I could feel  that the author must have put in lots of thoughts and so would have developed the novel slowly slowly over time.

I wondered about the longest time span I have taken to write a composition. I only write small articles, blog posts, poems and the longest span I could remember of holding back before publishing my composition was 2 days. Oftentimes, I am too eager to publish my post and try to finish it as soon as possible. I don’t even proofread it properly. Something keeps nagging me at the back of mind- ‘Oh it’s alright, Just publish it’ And I do publish it. And serenity dawns in my mind. Only then I read my composition most attentively on the live page and then panic to correct the errors.

It always enchants me to hear of people who take a long period of time to publish something. I am yet ignorant of the experience of devotedly working on a composition, holding back the temptation to share, and publishing it only after taking it to perfection. But I do aspire to do it sometime. Have you ever worked devotedly for any composition, that took you a very long time to finish it?

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Sweeney Todd- The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

So, it turns out that 221 B Baker Street is not the only fabled address that has acquired a cult status, today I discovered another- Todd’s barber shop at 186 Fleet Street, London.

Today, while at a Library, I was looking forward to some light casual reading and so was drawn towards the shelf containing graphic novels. I flipped through some Batman, some Shakespeare, and some World War themed graphic novels but at last got hypnotized with the cover of this book.

barber2

I think the memories of my college days came back which prompted me to  pause at it. In those days, I had some friends who were great fans of manga and through them I had got to watch some interesting animated series like Hellsing, which I had found strangely amusing. This book cover with such a vicious guy,  having tainted fonts below him and the label of ‘classic’  at the top made me believe this would be an interesting read.

And it was! I was engrossed throughout! I was so eager to know the ending of this tantalizing suspense story that I didn’t take a break the whole time.

After finishing I started doing my research. It turned out the story was written as a serial and published in a London periodical between 1846-47 with the title ‘Strings of Pearls’ Now that I had read the tale, I could relate why it had such a title. The mysterious barber in the story is a wicked and greedy man and it so happens that some people who visit him disappear in strange ways, never to appear again. It is only when a particular person goes missing , who is carrying a  ‘String of Pearls’ to be delivered to a young lady as a token of remembrance from her  past lover, that a series of events get triggered leading to the uncovering of mystery.

Wikipedia told me that this story belongs to the category of ‘penny dreadful’

Penny dreadfuls were often written carelessly and contained themes of gore and violence. The ‘String of Pearls’ is no different. Its style of writing makes it a perfect example of a penny dreadful, having a sensational, violent subject matter that plays off of the public’s real fears.

I remembered James Hadley Chase whose stories too, somewhat felt like this. Anyways, I think it was a graphic novel so such a theme appealed to me. I couldn’t have read it if it was a normal novel. Since it was in a comics form, my expectations were well aligned to what is expected from a comic book- a sensational story with thrill and suspense. I was amused to know that this story was hugely popular even before its last chapters were published. Subsequently, over the years it got adapted into novels, plays, Broadway musical, and movie.

The tale became a staple of Victorian melodrama and London urban legend, and has been retold many times since

I was glad I got to know about this urban legend, and as I stated earlier, this vicious barber’s place of dwelling, 186 Fleet Street (which was the center of suspense in the graphic novel) made me consider it with as much curiosity as I consider 221B Baker Street.

 

Should Wizard Hit Mommy?

Today, during the concluding hours of the soothing weekend, I happened to go through  my cupboard for arranging books.In the process, I found my old English coursebook of high school. I always saved my English books because I loved the stories in them. While I flipped the pages of this paticular book titled ‘Vistas: Supplementary Reader in English’, I stopped at one particular story. ‘Should Wizard Hit Mommy’ by John Updike.

I began to read it with interest, while also reviving some school days memory with it. As I finished reading it, I felt touched by the story. I had never felt like that when I had read it in school. Maybe something has changed  in these 7 years.I felt like sharing this story with everyone. Ask everyone I knew, to read it and talk about it. Do they find it as nice as I found it now? This prompted me to write about it today on my blog.

‘Should Wizard Hit Mommy’ is a beautiful story of a father who tells fanciful bedtime stories to his daughter. But on this particular day, he decides that he will tell her a more realistic story. His daughter must learn the realities of life and should no longer live in the illusory world of rosy tales. He tells her an old story but changes its ending which makes the little girl get restless and revolting. She protests that  his dad should change its ending to what it had been when he had told her on an earlier day, but he refuses. He feels convinced that this may irritate his daughter but what he is conveying is the reality of life, and she must acknowledge it.

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John Updike, known for writing on subjects concerning middle-class people has weaved this interesting short story involving a father, worn out with handling responsibilities of family and a little girl who is young, naive and imagines of an ideal world.

I invite you to read this wonderful tale..You too may like it. Please tell me how you feel about it. I am sure you will find it very nicely narrated.

wizard

In the evenings and for Saturday naps like today’s, Jack told his daughter Jo a story out of his head. This custom, begun when she was two, was itself now nearly two years old, and his head felt empty. Each new story was a slight variation of a basic tale: a small creature, usually named Roger (Roger Fish, Roger Squirrel, Roger Chipmunk), had some problem and went with it to the wise old owl. The owl told him to go to the wizard, and the wizard performed a magic spell that solved the problem, demanding in payment a number of
pennies greater than the number that Roger Creature had, but in the same breath directing the animal to a place where the extra pennies could be found. Then Roger was
so happy he played many games with other creatures, and went home to his mother just in time to hear the train whistle that brought his daddy home from Boston. Jack described their supper, and the story was over. Working his way through this scheme was especially fatiguing on Saturday, because Jo never fell asleep in naps any more, and knowing this made the rite seem futile.
The little girl (not so little any more; the bumps her feet made under the covers were halfway down the bed, their big double bed that they let her be in for naps and when she was sick) had at last arranged herself, and from the way her fat face deep in the pillow shone in the sunlight sifting through the drawn shades, it did not seem fantastic that some magic would occur, and she would take her nap like an infant of two. Her brother, Bobby, was two, and already asleep with his bottle. Jack asked, “Who shall the
story be about today?”
“Roger…” Jo squeezed her eyes shut and smiled to be thinking she was thinking. Her eyes opened, her mother’s blue. “Skunk,” she said firmly. A new animal; they must talk about skunks at nursery school. Having a fresh hero momentarily stirred Jack to creative enthusiasm. “All right,” he said. “Once upon a time, in the deep dark woods, there was a tiny little creature by the name of Roger Skunk. And he smelled very bad.”
“Yes,” Jo said.
“He smelled so bad that none of the other little woodland creatures would play with him.” Jo looked at him solemnly; she hadn’t foreseen this. “Whenever he would go out to play,” Jack continued with zest, remembering certain humiliations of his own childhood, “all of the other tiny animals would cry, “Uh-oh, here comes Roger Stinky Skunk,” and they would run away, and Roger Skunk would stand there all alone, and two little round tears would fall from his eyes.” The corners of Jo’s mouth drooped down and her lower lip bent forward as he traced with a forefinger along the side of her nose the course of
one of Roger Skunk’s tears.
“Won’t he see the owl?” she asked in a high and faintly roughened voice. Sitting on the bed beside her, Jack felt the covers tug as her legs switched tensely. He was pleased with this moment — he was telling her something true, something she must know — and had no wish to hurry on. But downstairs a chair scraped, and he realised he must get
down to help Clare paint the living-room woodwork.
“Well, he walked along very sadly and came to a very big tree, and in the tiptop of the tree was an enormous wise old owl.”
“Good.”
“Mr Owl,” Roger Skunk said, “all the other little animals run away from me because I smell so bad.”

“So you do,” the owl said.

“Very, very bad.”

“What can I do?” Roger Skunk said, and he cried very hard.
“The wizard, the wizard,” Jo shouted, and sat right up, and a Little Golden Book spilled from the bed.
“Now, Jo. Daddy’s telling the story. Do you want to tell Daddy the story?”
“No. You me.”
“Then lie down and be sleepy.”
Her head relapsed onto the pillow and she said, “Out of your head.”
“Well. The owl thought and thought. At last he said, “Why don’t you go see the wizard?”
“Daddy?”
“What?”
“Are magic spells real?” This was a new phase, just this last month, a reality phase. When he told her spiders eat bugs, she turned to her mother and asked, “Do they really?” and when Clare told her God was in the sky and all around them, she turned to her father and insisted, with a sly yet eager smile, “Is He really?”
“They’re real in stories,” Jack answered curtly. She had made him miss a beat in the narrative. “The owl said, “Go through the dark woods, under the apple trees, into the swamp, over the crick —”
“What’s a crick?”
wizardA little river. “Over the crick, and there will be the wizard’s house.” And that’s the way Roger Skunk went, and pretty soon he came to a little white house, and he rapped on the door.”

Jack rapped on the window sill, and under the covers Jo’s tall figure clenched in an infantile thrill.

“And then a tiny little old man came out, with a long white beard and a pointed blue hat, and said, “Eh? Whatzis? Whatcher want? You smell awful.” The wizard’s voice was one of Jack’s own favourite effects; he did it by scrunching up his face and somehow whining through his eyes, which felt for the interval rheumy. He felt being an old man suited him.“I know it,” Roger Skunk said, “and all the little animals run away from me. The enormous wise owl said you could help me.”
“Eh? Well, maybe. Come on in. Don’t get too close.” Now, inside, Jo, there were all these magic things, all jumbled together in a big dusty heap, because the wizard did not have any cleaning lady.”
“Why?”
“Why? Because he was a wizard, and a very old man.”
“Will he die?”
“No. Wizards don’t die. Well, he rummaged around and found an old stick called a magic wand and asked Roger Skunk what he wanted to smell like. Roger thought and thought and said, “Roses.”
“Yes. Good,” Jo said smugly.
Jack fixed her with a trance like gaze and chanted in the wizard’s elderly irritable voice:
“Abracadabry, hocus-poo, Roger Skunk, how do you do, Roses, boses, pull an ear,
Roger Skunk, you never fear: Bingo!”
He paused as a rapt expression widened out from his daughter’s nostrils, forcing her eyebrows up and her lower lip down in a wide noiseless grin, an expression in which
Jack was startled to recognise his wife feigning pleasure at cocktail parties. “And all of a sudden,” he whispered, “the whole inside of the wizard’s house was full of the
smell of — roses! ‘Roses!’ Roger Fish cried. And the wizard said, very cranky, “That’ll be seven pennies.”
“Daddy.”
“What?”
“Roger Skunk. You said Roger Fish.”
“Yes. Skunk.”
“You said Roger Fish. Wasn’t that silly?”
“Very silly of your stupid old daddy. Where was I? Well, you know about the pennies.”
“Say it.”
“O.K. Roger Skunk said, ‘But all I have is four pennies,’ and he began to cry.”

Jo made the crying face again, but this time without a trace of sincerity. This annoyed Jack.
Downstairs some more furniture rumbled. Clare shouldn’t move heavy things; she was six months pregnant. It would be their third.
“So the wizard said, ‘Oh, very well. Go to the end of the lane and turn around three times and look down the magic well and there you will find three pennies. Hurry up.’ So Roger Skunk went to the end of the lane and turned around three times and there in the magic well were three pennies! So he took them back to the wizard and was very happy and ran out into the woods and all the other little animals gathered around him because he smelled so good.And they played tag, baseball, football, basketball, lacrosse, hockey, soccer, and pick-up-sticks.”
“What’s pick-up-sticks?”
“It’s a game you play with sticks.”
“Like the wizard’s magic wand?”
“Kind of. And they played games and laughed all afternoon and then it began to get dark and they all ran home to their mommies.”
Jo was starting to fuss with her hands and look out of the window, at the crack of day that showed under the shade. She thought the story was all over. Jack didn’t like women when they took anything for granted; he liked them apprehensive, hanging on his words. “Now, Jo, are you listening?”
“Yes.”
“Because this is very interesting.
Roger Skunk’s mommy said, ‘What’s that awful smell?’
“Wha-at?”
“And, Roger Skunk said, ‘It’s me, Mommy. I smell like roses.’ And she said, ‘Who made you smell like that?’ And he said, ‘The wizard,’ and she said, ‘Well, of all the nerve. You come with me and we’re going right back to that very awful wizard.”
Jo sat up, her hands dabbling in the air with genuine fright. “But Daddy, then he said about the other little animals run away!” Her hands skittered off, into the underbrush.
“All right. He said, ‘But Mommy, all the other little animals run away,’ and she said, ‘I don’t care. You smelled the way a little skunk should have and I’m going to take you right back to that wizard,’ and she took an umbrella and went back with Roger Skunk and hit that wizard right over the head.”
“No,” Jo said, and put her hand out to touch his lips, yet even in her agitation did not quite dare to stop the source of truth. Inspiration came to her. “Then the wizard
hit her on the head and did not change that little skunk back.”
“No,” he said. “The wizard said ‘O.K.’ and Roger Skunk did not smell of roses any more. He smelled very bad again.”
“But the other little amum — oh! — amum — ”
“Joanne. It’s Daddy’s story. Shall Daddy not tell you any more stories?”

Her broad face looked at him through sifted light, astounded. “This is what happened, then. Roger Skunk and his mommy went home and they heard Woo-oo, woooo-oo and it was the choo-choo train bringing Daddy Skunk home from Boston. And they had lima beans, celery, liver, mashed potatoes, and Pie-Oh-My for dessert. And when Roger Skunk was in bed Mommy Skunk came up and hugged him and said he smelled like her little baby skunk again and she loved him very much. And that’s the end of the story.”
“But Daddy.”
“What?”
“Then did the other little animals run away?”
“No, because eventually they got used to the way he was and did not mind it at all.”
“What’s evenshiladee?”
“In a little while.”
“That was a stupid mommy.”
“It was not,” he said with rare emphasis, and believed, from her expression, that she realised he was defending his own mother to her, or something as odd. “Now I want
you to put your big heavy head in the pillow and have a good long nap.” He adjusted the shade so not even a crack of day showed, and tiptoed to the door, in the pretense that she was already asleep. But when he turned, she was crouching on top of the covers and staring at him. “Hey.Get under the covers and fall faaast asleep. Bobby’s asleep.”
She stood up and bounced gingerly on the springs.
“Daddy.”
“What?”
“Tomorrow, I want you to tell me the story that that wizard took that magic wand and hit that mommy” — her plump arms chopped forcefully — “right over the head.”
“No. That’s not the story. The point is that the little skunk loved his mommy more than he loved all the other little animals and she knew what was right.”
“No. Tomorrow you say he hit that mommy. Do it.” She kicked her legs up and sat down on the bed with a great heave and complaint of springs, as she had done hundreds of times before, except that this time she did not laugh.
“Say it, Daddy.”
“Well, we’ll see. Now at least have a rest. Stay on the bed. You’re a good girl.”
He closed the door and went downstairs. Clare had spread the newspapers and opened the paint can and, wearing an old shirt of his on top of her maternity smock, was stroking the chair rail with a dipped brush. Above him footsteps vibrated and he called, “Joanne! Shall I come up there and scold you?” The footsteps hesitated.
“That was a long story,” Clare said.
“The poor kid,” he answered, and with utter weariness watched his wife labour. The woodwork, a cage of moldings and rails and baseboards all around them, was half old tan
and half new ivory and he felt caught in an ugly middle position, and though he as well felt his wife’s presence in the cage with him, he did not want to speak with her, work
with her, touch her, anything.

(Image Source: xobba eCards )

Yayati: A Fine Classic

A few days back, I read the novel ‘Of Human Bondage’ by Somerset Maugham. In that, was a character named Philip, representing a man with unbridled emotions, craving to fathom the meaning of life and in the process succumbing to objects of sense gratification and equating it to be the purpose of life.

Coincidentally the next book I finished today, also dealt with a similar theme. The void I had felt in Maugham’s story seemed to be addressed eloquently in this book.

Synopsis

Yayati is born in a King’s family and since childhood tries to understand what the purpose of life is.

..I was dissatisfied with life and thirsty for something undefined

His mother, afraid that he may leave home to become an ascetic like his elder brother makes him take a vow that he will never accept asceticism. But this intensifies his curiosity even more as he wonders what does a renunciate gain, what pleasure they acquire while sacrificing a life of wealth, comfort, and aristocratic pleasures.

The story becomes dramatic when the characters Devyani and Sharmishtha enter the scene. Both of them are beautiful young women and dream of aristocratic lives. They are friends but Devyani is jealous of Sharmishtha. Devyani by virtue of a coincidence convinces Yayati to marry her and by a clever ploy, traps Sharmistha into a  pact to become her maid servant.The story becomes quite interesting after that as we see the character’s nature unfolding. Yayati seems to succumb to Devyani’s demands just to please her, and she starts drawing full benefit of his infatuation.

Devyani was smiling now. It was not the smile of a lover only, it was obviously tinged with pride. It was the smile of a pretty woman, who in her arrogance thought she could reduce a man to utter subjection

Yayati, who is trying to find happiness through Devyani, soon  realizes she doesn’t love him and so feels drawn towards her servant Sharmishtha. He keeps trying to figure out what will bring him happiness but keeps equating fickle enjoyments as eternal joys. Consequently, he goes on submitting more and more to his carnal impulses and feels perplexed that despite all these he is feeling further deteriorated, dissatisfied.Meanwhile, the drama between Devyani and Sharmishtha intensifies as Devyani begins to see Sharmishtha as a threat between her and Yayati.

Kacha, an enlightened ascetic, and a friend to all these three characters makes appearances at times and his dialogues help a reader feel pacified while contemplating the desperate plight of these three characters. The presence of such a character was what I had found missing in Maugham’s novel. Someone who soothes the reader with some words of wisdom. While in Philip’s case, it had always felt pessimistic, here the presence of Kacha filled that pessimistic void.

..If in the eyes of the world you are a maid, to me you are a gracious queen. The slave is Devyani. She is slave to her splendour, dignity and ego.The man whose soul is prey to selfishness, desire and enjoyment is forever slave in this world.

The Author

The author, V S Khandekar in the preface says that he was inspired to write this tale from Mahabharata(one of  the major Sanskrit epics of ancient India) The story of Yayati forms a subsidiary part of Mahabharata and not its central theme.  Although Khanderkar molded the story somewhat to portray the characters as they ‘appeared to him’ rather than how they had  originally been portrayed. He originally wrote this book in Marathi (the language spoken in the Indian state of Maharashtra) and the book was published in 1959. It won him the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award(1960) and the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary award, in 1974.

Creative Narration

One interesting thing about this book was its creative narration. The tale progresses with changing perspectives. In first chapter Yayati is the narrator, in the next Devyani and in the next to that, Sharmishtha.In this way, it keeps changing. The same scene which unfolds from the eyes of Yayati is unfolded with a wholly different perspective from the eyes of Devyani in the next chapter. It renders a fascinating effect in the mind of readers. Every subsequent chapter feels like a revelation as one gets to see the ways different characters are interpreting the same flow of events.

A Classic Tale of Lust

The tagline of this book had made me a bit skeptical in the beginning but I soon realized that this book carries no obscenity of language. Having been inspired from a classical poetry, it uses poetic language in its narration. Furthermore, lust has been addressed here not only in terms of Yayati’s carnal indulgences but also in terms of an individual’s unbridled thirst to satisfy such dark desires as jealousy, hatred  and, sense of superiority. Every character becomes a representative of one of these malignant yearnings which make them slaves of what Maugham had called ‘Human Bondage’ in his book.

Conclusion

All in all, I found the book quite gripping, interesting , thoughtful and enlightening. After a long time, I got hold of a book that was balanced in every aspect- drawing the plot, sketching the characters, and delivering a message while maintaining the standard of language. I would highly recommend this book to any keen reader who likes books with philosophical themes.

“Oh man, desire is never satisfied by indulgence.

Like the sacrificial fire, it ever grows with every offering.”

yayati

 

Recycled Book Reading Challenge: Amsterdam

Aha! So here I am to tell you about a recycled book I got to read. It’s called ‘Amsterdam’ and is written by Ian McEwan. This was the first book I read of McEwan. At the old book store, the book cover had caught my attention. It appeared like a thrilling tale with mystery and suspense. Furthermore, the declaration made on the book cover that the book won the 1998 Booker Prize added to my conviction that the story must be great to have deserved such honors.

As I read the book, soon I found my pace slacken becuase of lack of a gripping plot. The characters didn’t appear very interesting to me and their personalities didn’t make me eager to know about their endeavours. One of them was a music composer and the other a newspaper editor. They entered into a pact that if one of them will acquire any terminal illness, the other will help by aiding in quick demise of the other to avoid a painful existence. This, they had deduced, after seeing the horrible conditions suffered by an amorous lady who had died of cancer. This lady had dated both these men and so both of them held sympathies for her.

In the course of the story, a battle ensues between both these guys concerning the issue of morality. What one sees as the other one’s moral duty , the other dismisses it with contempt. What I could gather from it was the hypocrisy ingrained in people, to only see bad in others while justifying their own wrongs.

All in all, the book was quick to finish. The narrative wasn’t quite gripping , nor was the plot. The twists weren’t thrilling nor did I feel like taking much out of the novel. Mostly, after finishing a novel I will have plenty of quotes picked up, or some incidents to talk about or some interesting sequence in the story to think about. Unfortunately I didn’t find any such thing in this book. While I was searching online to read some published reviews, I found one published in The Guardian. I could’t agree more to the words of Sam Jordison

The fact that it won the Booker will make many people (and more and more of them in the future) assume that Amsterdam must be McEwan’s best work, when it is far from it. And if Amsterdam were the only book of his I’d read, I’d never want to read another – and so miss out on one of our best contemporary novelists.

(I am glad to post my review for the Recycled Book Reading Challenge, an initiative by Mliae! Do visit her blog to become a part and also meet bloggers who are a part of this reading challenge! )

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