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The Gospel according to Jesus Christ- Jose Saramgo : 60/52

The greatest way The Greatest Story Ever Told could have been told

I warmed up to Jesus after Reza Aslan’s Zealot made him more real. Then The Testament of Mary happened and he became that attractive naxal-like rebel to me. And then, this Christmas day, I finally found a Jesus Christ that I can actually live with. The complete package.

Conceived on a surreal violet dawn, his birth is announced by a stranger who leaves behind a bowl of shining earth. This stranger will then drop into his life at unexpected places and give the reader goosebumps. I’m still not sure how to ‘accept’ Pastor, the tall dark mysterious stranger who left me with a chill down my spine at the very last line of the book. The baby isn’t born in the classic crib scene with farm animals and angels, he is born in a cave somewhere near Bethlehem, aided by a slavewoman. His father,Joseph, then goes on to cause the death of 25 innocent babies, something that will haunt him in his dreams till his death; his shocking, unexpected death that has never been actually explained anywhere in the Bible. And  the dream is bequeathed to his son, thirteen year old Jesus. And the real story then begins.

God is the villain here, the selfish one who wants to be god to the world at any cost, even specifically at the cost of killing the son he sent to this world through probably something like this. You stomach churns when, without batting an eyelid, ever so matter-of-fact, he lists the names of all the martyrs who will die for the sake of his religion. Almost five pages of martyrs, listed in alphabetical order, right from the disciples themselves to those who will later die gruesome deaths in the Spanish Inquisitions and after. Simon, whom you will call Peter, like you, he will be crucified, but upside down. Philip will be tied to a cross and stoned to death, Bartholomew will be skinned alive, Thomas will be speared to death…Adalbert of Prague put to death with a seven-pronged pikestaff, Adrian hammered to death over an anvil….Vincent of Saragossa tortured to death with millstone, grid and spikes... Had the book been written a few years later, maybe god could have included Graham Staines and his two children, burnt to death while sleeping in a jeep in that long  list of people who died purely for his selfish cause, the cause of making him god of the world.

Jesus is a real paavam, a pawn in god’s larger game. Someone whose only purpose in life was to die a gory death for reasons that are still unclear to me. He is so human in this book, makes him so flesh and blood ordinary, but extraordinary in that unexplainable way. He fights with his mother, leaves home. Comes back and leaves again, his ego hurt. He meets Mary Magdalene, the woman behind the man he goes on to become.They live as man and woman, nothing is glossed over here. Thankfully. Judas too, isn’t the traitor we all think he is. He just does what he has to do. And by doing that, he probably prevented a larger catastrophe. And Pastor, Oh, Pastor. No, as ‘broad minded’ as I am, I can’t get to accept him. But without him, there will be nothing. And like how our politicians need poverty and communal riots to keep themselves relevant, god needs Pastor to remain relevant himself. So Pastor isn’t going anywhere. But Pastor gave me that whole body shiver each time he appeared. *shudders*.

This is a gospel that needs to be included into the other Book. For the sake of sanity.

Afternote: Maybe the Gharwapsi guys can use this book as ammunition to reveal the sham it all really is. But then, with people like me ( the intelligent ones) , it may backfire. If a missionary had given me this story, I could have become a believer.

PS: I’ve actually finished one more book this year. Memories Of My Melancholy Whores. But nothing worth raving or outraging about. Not sure if I should leave this list as a round number at 60 or write one more post to make it an auspicious odd number at 61.

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The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher- Hilary Mantel : 59/52

I’m too dense to get most of them.

With Wolf Hall put on hold  because I couldn’t keep up with the Thomases, I picked up this book to get Hilary Mantel in bite sized pieces. But looks like I’m still not deep enough to get her. Or maybe I’m not cool enough.

Do Not Disturb was disturbing. I expected something more stereotypical and was pleasantly and disturbingly surprised. Comma too hit home somewhere. Winter Break left me with goosebumps. The rest, I didn’t get. The most disappointing was the last story, the one in the book title. Not that I expected anything controversial, but it wasn’t as twisty as I hoped it would be. Also, I don’t take Irish terror seriously.

The problem with short-stories is that they leave me wanting more. I can handle those crisp two page stories with twist endings or novellas, but I always have a problem with short-story length short-stories. Also, short-stories need to be read at a leisurely pace, and spaced out over a longer period. I read these at one stretch, and worse, in order. So maybe I need to pick up this book after a few months and read one story at a time again to appreciate it better.

 

Our Moon has Blood Clots- Rahul Pandita: 58/52

…and still bleeding. Silently.

To be honest, I’ve never given much thought to the issue of Kashmir Pandits. Mainly because it is one of the Whatabouts that the rabid rightwing on Twitter invoke everytime anything about anything is discussed. That argument when you use the atrocities against one minority to negate the atrocities against another minority. But now, after reading this book, after reading this book in two extended sittings because it was so gripping, I realize that this is a story that needs to be told in louder voices. Louder, saner, sensible voices. Voices like Rahul Pandita’s.

I’m on a voyeuristic journey these days, reading about wars and genocides. Humanity’s greatest mistakes, history that should teach us lessons. But this exodus of the Kashmir Pandits is not yet history, it is just two decades old. It is not a horror that happened in another era to another people. It is something that happened during my lifetime, in my country to people from my generation. It is a wound that is still raw, bleeding. No, the blood has not yet clotted.

All that time when I was living a carefree life in the safe south, complaining about the ‘same old’ Kashmir headlines in the news every day; laughing at the old woman who watched Ulaga Seidhigal for news about Kashmir, where her grandson was posted, thinking that it was not part of India ;romanticizing Azaadi based on Pankaj Kapur and Aravind Swamy, a boy almost my age was uprooted from his home and thrown into refugee camps where he would be handed half a tomato as part of the rations. He would then be shuttled from room to room, hotel to hotel, house to house more than seventeen times over the next two decades, never finding Home again. Just because he was not one of Them.

Rahul Pandita’s Hello, Bastar was good. It was to the point, well researched and well written. But it was someone else’s story. This book on the other hand is his own story. A story of the teenage boy who lived in the house with 22 rooms and the apple tree. A house with the kitchen garden and the soon-to-be-renovated attic full of ‘costly deodar wood’. A house he would return to after years, and seek permission from strangers to enter. A house where he would then search desperately for traces of the life he was forced to leave behind. The story of the teenage boy with a cousin he hero worshipped, the cousin whose death he dreamt of a decade before it happened. The story of a teenage boy who was Kris Srikanth to his best friend Javed Miandad, best friend before he did something to break them. The story of the teenage boy who looked out of his window one night and saw people dividing up the neighborhood among themselves, laying claim to his house while his whole family cowered with fear inside. The story of the teenage boy whose mother grabbed a kitchen knife, ready to kill his sister and then herself if those people outside entered the house. A chilling story of a people caught inside someone else’s fight for freedom. A people killed for no reason other than the fact that they were not one of Them.

No hate is spewed in the book. It is largely neutral, actually, too neutral given that it is a first hand account of the exodus. He is allowed some hate. But there is so much dignity in the writing.There is pain in each word and that pain is more powerful and effective than hate. Facts are laid out, clean and clear. Names of the people killed, how they were killed. Plain facts enough to let the reader decide what is right and what is not, who is right and who is not. And who is to blame. It is such a shame that the people of the country’s first Prime Minister are living in exile for the past two and a half decades, largely ignored by both the media and political parties. I won’t blame the rightwingers now for being vocal about this. They seem to be the only voice for these people.

The Visitor summed up the KP Conundrum perfectly here

The Rape of Nanking- Iris Chang: 57/52

The forgotten Holocaust. One of the forgotten Holocausts

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I swore off all real war book after This Divided Island. But then, the masochist-voyuer in me didn’t allow it. I wanted to read about more horrific horrors that happened  in other wars. So I Googled to find more such books. And I realised that there is no dearth of such books and such horrific horrors and such wars in this world.

This book happened in between my trips to China and Germany. It shook me up badly and I wanted my emotions to settle down a bit before I wrote about it. But then I went to Germany and visited Dachau Concentration camp. And suddenly I wasn’t too sure about which horror was more horrific. The relatively unknown WW2 horror of Japanese soldiers slaughtering Chinese civilians in killing competitions and bayonet practice or the well known WW2 horror of gas chambers and Hitler’s Hate. And again, I waited for my emotions to settle down. But now I’m actually too numb and that moment of horror has passed. One more war book and I think I’ll be vaccinated for life against Feeling. So what I write now is not what I initially felt.

When I think China, I think of only Tiananmen Square, Bamboo gulags, Inhuman Rights. The land without Twitter and Facebook and Google. Enemy country. I don’t know anything about Chinese history before 1989. And when I think of Japan, I think of hard work and perfection. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tsunamis. A country of phoenix birds rising from the ashes to greater heights each time. The victims. Our friends. But now, I can think of just one thing when I think China. Nanking. And when I think Japan, again, Nanking. (  A Tale for the Time Being had that chapter from the Kamikaze pilot’s life. I wasn’t that moved then. But now I should read it again to understand Japan’s cruelty. )

The most horrific part of the Rape of Nanking is not the cold blooded massacre of 50000…100000…300000…prisoners or war and civilians because the Japanese Imperial army didn’t know what to do next; not the rapes of women from 8 to 80; not the killing competitions or the mass burial grounds; not the mountains where the  soil turned into metallic red slush or the Yangzte river that turned red with the blood of the beheaded. The most horrific part of the Rape of Nanking to me, is the fact that most of the world is still unaware about it even now.

It is like a ten line article tucked into page 30 of the WW2 newspaper where the Jewish holocaust and Hiroshima and Nagasaki are on the headlines. More sad is that China itself has tried to forget and remove all traces of the horror and move on to other self inflicted horrors instead of throwing open their doors for the world to see. And saddest is that the USA, self appointed guardians of humankind,cared only when Pearl Harbour happened, and even afterwards only made amends for their own wrongs to Japan instead of telling the world what Japan had done to their neighbours. And Japan, Japan with its denial, false propaganda, school books with twisted history and a right wing that still intimidates anyone who wants to share the truth. Oh, Japan, you’ve fallen from that pedestal I had you on. And how.

On my next trip to China I wanted to plan a quick visit to Nanjing. But after Googling a bit, I decided against it. Even if I can make that overnight train or expensive flight for the weekend, I think I’ll be going into a city that has erased her scars and painted herself over with a new shiny gloss. A city that has buried its past and moved on to the future. But then, maybe that’s what China is all about. And to some of us here, Nanking will continue to be nothing more than that authentic Chinese restaurant.

Edit: On the anniversary of the Rape of Nanking, I got some uninvited attention on Twitter from some Japanese. Some keywords led them to my tweet about the book. I was open to discussion and they shared some photos showing the Japanese-Chinese ‘friendship’ in Nanking. Three happy propaganda photos do not erase the horror that it actually was. These were some of the links they shared to debunk the ‘myth’ of the Nanking Massacre.

This–> http://www.howitzer.jp/nanking/page01.html Seriously? If you say so.

This, obviously, is the Ginling College Safety Zone –> http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15799coll123/id/33881/rec/50

This, I don’t understand the language, but yes Chiang Kai Shek was to blame too. Although he was just a pawn in the bigger picture –>  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c66d9WKRwk

The Promise- Danielle Steel : 56/52

Lulz

a) I’m too old for this kind of drivel

b) This wasn’t drivel back in 1978

c) I’m too hardhearted and cynical to understand Love

Chances are that the right answer might be option c.

After the thundercloud of This Divided Island, I wanted some cotton candy fluffy clouds. The Promise was one of those books that Chitrakka made be get for her from V K Library. It was the rage back then. Longlongago. I think I even tried to read it as a teenager, I do have vague memories of some beads being buried on a beach. But I don’t think I finished reading the book back then. The story was totally new to me now, new meaning roll-your-eyes-at-the-cliched-plot kind of new.

All it lacked was six songs and two fight scenes. Otherwise it was the perfect BollyKollyTollywood plot. I’m sure this book must have been made into an Indian movie. Or was it too lame for even that? Rich boy, poor girl, villi mother. Lou. Accident, lies, plastic surgery, Devdasish mode. Two years later meet, don’t recognise, fight, make up. Live happily everafter.

Classic Danielle Steel setting: everything and everyone is beautiful. Perfectly dressed women, effortlessly chic in Channel or in miraculous bargain buys . Gold clasp handbags, luxury luggage, gold cigarette cases, gold watch fobs. Adorable doggies, breathtaking views from the window. The works.  And the typical Danielle Steel relationships: old people in love, young people in love, young woman in love with a man 20 years her senior. Gaaaaaah.

Anyway. I wanted fluff, I got fluff.

 

Afternote:

And suddenly I realised that this was part of the theme in Anbe Sivam. Rich girl, poor boy. Elopement, accident, disfigured face. Lies. That movie wasn’t about love as it was about other things, but I did wonder what Bala would have done if she had seen Nalla in the end. The romantic in me ( there isn’t one) wants to say that she would have called off the wedding and lived regretfully ever after with an ugly but principled husband. And the cynic in me ( there’s lots of her) says that she would have pretended not to recognise him or brushed him off with gentle words and lived happily everafter with the handsome Ars. What would I have done? I love communists with their lofty ideals and impractical principles, but I think I too would have chosen the MNC slave adman.  But no, the disfigured face wouldn’t have mattered to me.

What do you think would have happened?

This Divided Island- Samanth Subramaniam : 55/52

Is It really over?

There are some types of hate that I totally don’t get.

‘If we even step into the country they will kill us’, said the janitor in my Oslo office in that amusing singsong Srilankan Tamil accent. This was in 2008, before the war ‘ended’. Who is They, I wondered.  Are They tracking the movements of this nondescript man standing in front of me with the mop in his hand? How could They hate him so much? I didn’t get it.  He told me about his  annual trip to meet his parents the next month. They would fly in to Chennai from Srilanka and he would fly into Chennai from Oslo. They would meet for a fortnight in a hotel in Vadapalani, laugh , cry, pray, enjoy togetherness as long as they could. Then they would bid goodbyes with  the hope that they would meet again the next year; sametime sameplace, godwilling. And they would go back home. The parents, back to their home in some war torn town near the equator, and he, back to his destined life closer to the north pole.

In another country, a few months before it all got over, a gentleman was just leaving a friend’s house as I entered. ‘He’s a puli. He rushing to meet someone with some money’, my friend whispered to me. Maybe my friend was exaggerating and the man was just a sympathiser, a refugee, but a shiver ran down my spine.

I read Reef this year, it had some mild mentions about the War. And I read Blue before that, it had nothing about the War.  That’s all I knew about Srilanka till a week ago. I blindly supported The Cause, outraged over Rajapakshe’s visits, made the obligatory noises over that John Abraham movie and such things because I felt that it was the thing to do. But now I know.

The Terror travels from Colombo to Canada to London with Tigers, ex Tigers, disillusioned Tigers, resigned-to-fate Tigers and non-Tigers telling their tales. Scattered across the world, they still yearn for the life they dreamed of, the life they left behind.  And then the book moves to The North, the defeated country. Jaffna, a town stuck in an automobile timewarp, haunted by the ghosts from the Terror. Nameboards scrubbed clean of Tamil. Kandarodai is now Kandurugoda, Hindu temples are overshadowed by Buddhist viharayas and Mahinda Rajapakshe’s creepy smile overshadows The Buddha. A mosque that refuses to erase the bullet holes from a Tiger attack, a mosque inscribed with the names of 103 victims of a Tiger attack. A tale of an eight year old boy shot in the mouth by a Tiger.

The Faith broke my faith in Buddhism. I thought Buddhism was a religion of peace. But turns out that it is much like the other Religion of Peace: violent and fanatic. It also takes on the shades of that ideology from Germany when the Sinhalese talk about Aryan supremacy. The Sinhalese are apparently the Aryans who came with Buddhism from North India and the Tamils are the ugly dirty Dravidians who deserve to be wiped out. And it also reveals shades of the current trend of hatred that is taking over India these days with  monks dressed in various  hues of saffron invoking kings and events from two millenia ago to justify the ethnic cleansing today.

The book ends with the Endgames, where the futility of it all hits you. Villages full of families clinging on to the hope that their loved ones snatched away by the Tigers are still alive somewhere. Wives refusing to let go of their missing husbands, either running from NGO pillar to post for answers or challenging the gods by flaunting the symbols of their marriage with the hope that their dead husbands will return. On one hand, you seethe with anger at the Tigers for grabbing unwilling men and women, boys and girls to fight the War, but on the other hand you also wonder at the selfishness of families refusing to participate in the war , a war that is theirs as much as it was Prabhakaran’s.

I was a Tiger sympathiser until I read this book. But I still don’t hate them as much as I feel sorry for them. Like all Causes, this one also started off on the right track, for the right reasons. And went horribly, horribly wrong  somewhere. A war is not lost when the last bullet hits your leader, it is lost when disillusionment sets in. And that, it seems, happened long before 19th May 2009. In every line of the book there was the undercurrent of the frustration and the helplessness of the cornered Tigers, the frustration that made them lose their minds long before they lost the war.

Samanth Subramaniam writes so beautifully. Like  tiny flowers blooming on a battlefield, his metaphors brighten up the depressing storyline. He has traveled the length and breadth of The Divided Island on rickety buses, autorickshaws, motorcycles and on foot to speak to the people whose voices need to be heard; voices of  anger, frustration, sadness. Voices of hope and hopelessness.  He treads carefully throughout the book, telling the tale without revealing his sources, most of them initials and pseudonyms. Because, though it is 2014, They might still get to them. He doesn’t take sides in this book, but at the end, the reader will. And that side will be the side of the civilians. The ones who didn’t have a choice.

7 Secrets of the Goddess: Devdutt Pattanaik- 54/52

Godesses 101

I’ve never had the opportunity to sit at a grandmother’s feet and listen to stories; stories that I would have listened to in wide eyed wonder at the age of 5, stories that I would have listened to,rolling my eyes in unbelief, at the age of 10 and beyond. Devdutt Pattanaik takes the place of that grandmother in my life. I think he is the only person who can actually get me to sit through a whole book on gods and Gods, goddesses and Goddesses, without waking up that mocking non-believing cynic in me. His books always make me see things from the larger perspective. Nothing is thrust in your face and it is upto you to interpret things the way you want to. And while this book isn’t exactly a page turner, it is an extremely interesting read. I wish I had this book in an e format for easy reference because this is a book that I will revisit again and again , maybe to pick up a tidbit to win an argument or just to reread a story so that I can look at some tradition through less judgmental eyes.

The book starts off with Gaia, but that section somehow felt obligatory. It felt like it was just added to make this book more ‘inclusive’. But once we move on to ‘our’ goddesses, it is familiar territory again and the book picks up speed. Again, these are all familiar stories that we’ve heard over the years, but they are put into neat logical sections. The wild Kali vs the domesticated Gauri. The richposh Lakshmi vs the humble Saraswati. The pure women gods vs Vitthai. The book explores the playful side, the sensual side, the generous side, the benevolent side and the angry side of those women who were created by the gods,  those women who married the gods, those women who gave birth to the gods, those women who are the actual gods. The subtext of the whole book is that Goddesses rule. They are the mothers, the consorts, the sisters. They are the ones who keep the Man Gods under control, the Man Gods who come running to them for help in times of trouble.

I somehow didn’t like the huge font, it made the book seem childish. Also, the pictures on every single facing page seemed a bit distracting. I had to read the text first and then revisit the whole book to study the pictures. It wasn’t possible to do both without breaking the flow. Though every single one of those pictures had a whole story of their own to tell, I somehow couldn’t multitask. And since there was so much, so many names, stories and references, it did need a bit of concentration to keep up.

In a country where the Goddess has so many names, so many faces, so many temples, so many forms, this book should be made mandatory reading. And after this book, I have the urge to watch some of those numerous Amman movies that were a thing in Tamil cinema some years ago.

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