Auto Da Fe

30 01 2008

In which I briefly touch upon why I don’t like owning books.

I am not a voracious reader and am fairly disorganized (actually I thrive on chaos)

My parents are avid readers and collectors of books. We always had an entire room filled with books, in each house we moved to. (And we moved quite often). Everytime, we would get to pack and unpack all these books. Always look for homes with an extra bedroom or an office that could house all the books we carried. Now, almost all those books are gone. Some donated to a public library, some to a new library at an orphanage and most recently, a year ago, some more to a university library, after their entire library was totally ravaged and wasted in a flood.

I am sure I have inherited some of those genes – I still love books, though only when they are kept in libraries. Childhood memories of packing and unpacking, dusting and rearranging books have left me with a rather strong preference for libraries.

I love libraries, as long as I don’t have to maintain them. Besides there is always an element of surprise in libraries – entering one you never know what you will find. I love libraries, as they offer that silent space in my life. I can put stuff (books/videos/audios) “on hold” and not bother looking for, reading reviews and buying them. Just wait for a sweet little email to inform me, that someone actually took the trouble to order and keep it ready for me, to come pick it up.

Not maintaining a library at home means no bookkeeping. Keeping track of books lent or borrowed can test a lot of friendships. Then of course there is the issue of the unwashed masses that congregate at dinners or parties and utter the most inane things about the books on your bookshelf. (I realize bookshelves serve as display cases in many homes or as conversation starters, but sometimes I really don’t want to be explaining why I have Moshe Dayan’s autobiography next to Banker to the Poor… or that I am not a Zionist or worse, who Dayan is).

There is also the cost of ownership argument. What is the price of owning a book? Yes, that book you bought on Amazon for a dollar fifty so you would qualify for free shipping. Does it cost you just that? Not really. You will need to find space for it in your bookcase, pack, unpack, organize and lug it around each time you move. It will affect usable space in your house or your housing options, because bookshelves take up prime real estate – you are not going to put that bookshelf next to the sunny window or that musty closet, are you? And I am not even talking about hardcovers here.

[old draft from 10/25/2005.]


A Smart Tag

30 01 2008

Spacebar, done! :) Here goes:

Post 5 links to 5 of your previously written posts. The posts have to relate to the 5 key words given (family, friend, yourself, your love, anything you like). Tag 5 other friends to do this meme. Try to tag at least 2 new acquaintances (if not, your current blog buddies will do) so that you get to know them each a little bit better.

Family: Death by chocolate with my mom.

Friend: This blog exists because Veena created it so we could have collaborative blogs about our Machu Picchu trip. Since that never happened, the next big event got some coverage. Here are two posts about Bill and her, the pre-wedding analysis and the post-wedding picture post.

Yourself: Well, ages before being dyslexic was in, there was some talk of it here. And I am not sure if this counts, but here is a post on YL with a really long ranting comment from me, that probably says more about me than anything else in this blog does.

I Love: beautiful visuals, so obviously, William Chang and the emp.

Something I like: Sleep. Except, practicing it so sincerely leaves me with little time to blog about it (or anything else). But here is the post about the view from my bedroom (in spring – only a couple of weeks away!).

To tag people… hmm… I am usually nice about letting tags just sink and disappear once they reach me, but am feeling rather evil right now, so

TR, KM*, Ludwig  and Heh Heh– because it should be no problem for these fine lads.

Anasuya and One Trick Pony, because I haven’t gone through their entire archives (just yet).

* because he was already taken :)

A different perspective

24 01 2008

Tahmima Anam‘s A Golden Age and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.

Anam’s book revolves around the separation of East Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh. Satrapi’s beautifully hand-drawn animation film remains faithful to her very successful graphic novel about growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution.

Incidentally both stories are set in political turmoil, but are primarily about how the lives of ordinary people (as opposed to revolutionary heroes) are affected by these events. These are rare stories about a revolution in a female voice. Both prefer to largely sidestep the action and violence. They choose to look at how a war transforms their urban upper middle class lives. These are stories of believable women who are drawn to fight the injustice around them, but they also have other yearnings, attachments and vibrant personalities. They take risks and suffer loses, but there is more to their daily lives.

Both have young Muslim women as protagonists, but their behavior, motivation and upbringing shatters a lot of stereotypes that are often only reinforced by stories in similar settings. For instance, they talk about a widow remarrying or divorce when the relationship makes you depressed. Now, both these options seem logical and rational. Except one rarely sees characters in a novel set in the late 40’s or even late 60’s in Bangladesh or Iran talk taking these ideas for granted.

Anam’s A Golden Age.

It is a lovely first book. I liked her writing, but what really works, for me, is the imperfections she etches into all her characters. I suppose her training in anthropology  might have had something to do with this. But the fact that the story rests heavily on her own family’s experience in the war makes it easier for her to create more believable and multidimensional characters.

I have read a good number of Indian authors in English. As it turns out, a fair chunk of them are of Bengali origin. The quibble I have with them (a broad generalization, of course,) is that all stick with the formula.

It is as if there is a ‘How to write about India’ memo – like the one about Africa . And it has got a couple of important things wrong – there are other cities in India, not just Calcutta. All young women in the mid 1900’s in India were not clones with no ability to think for themselves who were married before they finished college and shipped off to the west . And no, they did learn and like to do other things; they did not spend all their time practicing Hindustani music or Rabindra Sangeet. Oh, and more importantly, just because a woman has teenage children doesn’t mean she cannot be romantically interested in or involved with men other than her husband. Finally, if a woman is selfish and conniving, it doesn’t mean she will not have one other redeeming quality. Conversely, a good mother or wife isn’t always perfect. Do they think we just got here from Venus or Mars? We all know life isn’t a fairytale.

I am glad A Golden Age is set primarily in Dhaka. It is not about the immigrant experience in America, the UK or Bombay. I cannot begin to tell you how glad I am that this isn’t about her parents. I hope more people start talking to their grandparents and writing their stories. That would be a start.

Satrapi’s Persepolis.

Persepolis has recently been nominated for an Oscar in the best animation film category. A well made film that remains true to the book(s). But it is the random details, like the quirkiness of the characters, especially the opium smoking grandmother who can talk about everything from divorce to soaking one’s breasts in ice water, that make it really fun to watch.


Young Marjane is the liveliest little kid who will draw you into the film before you know it. For her, Iran’s struggle against the oppression of the Shah is similar to her struggle under the ‘dictatorship’ of her mom at home. There are lovely bits like when she and her friends compare ABBA and Bee Gees posters in class.

The voice talent in the film is among the best in France. Try to watch it in French, though I have heard there might be an English version. Based on previous experiences with French films being dubbed into English, it is totally not worth it (check out ‘A Man and a Woman’ in French and English and you will know what I mean).


23 01 2008

 The lovely Stanford Theatre has a Hitchcock Festival this winter. Two films every week until the end of March. And Castro, in the city, hosts the Film Noir Festival.

Then again, if you are only into Sundance like stuff, there is the Indie Film fest and the Jewish Film fest

I’m Not There

22 01 2008

Heath Ledger is no more. RIP Ennis Del Mar.