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Youth (Scenes from Provincial Life #2)- J.M. Coetzee : 8/52 ( Memoir)

A few years ago I went on a date with an aspiring writer. He was the stereotype. Tall, lanky, unshaven, badly dressed and smelling of stale cigarette smoke. He had that faraway look on his face while he spoke about the book he wanted to write. He then told me that he had just quit his job the previous day to focus on the book and was in no position to take what we had to more than just one date. I nodded. On the train back, I realized that if I had met him this way when I was 20,  I would have totally fallen for him. ‘Write me like one of your French girls’ I would have said to him. And he would have. And then dedicated the book to me. And thanked me in his Booker acceptance speech… I Google him once in a while to check whether he made it. He still hasn’t.

A few weeks ago another crush,again an aspiring writer who is going through the motions in a regular desk job, mentioned this book to me. ( Yeah. Looks I have a thing for aspiring writers. And not without good reason ) A book about a poet stuck in a dead end computer programming job at IBM and how he could totally relate to it. Though the crush itself didn’t last for more than a week, the book recommendation did.

A white confused South African who wants to escape his homeland,one he feels is not rightfully his, to become a poet in the land of the artists and writers. While he would love to go to France, he settles for England. And there, he is again forced to settle for less. He settles for a job that puts food on his table but eats away his creative soul. He settles for women who aren’t the muse he is desperately looking for. But that poet in him does not settle down. It flits from thought to thought, aimlessly drifting through the days and nights, summers and winters hoping that his dreams will somehow find him.

The prose is beautiful. It just moves from moment to moment, feeling to feeling in a rushed, haphazard way. It makes you feel helpless and while you keep hoping for something good to happen, you somehow know that nothing is going to happen.There are so many poets and authors referred to in the book, most of them whom I haven’t read or even heard of. Makes me want to try them, maybe I’ll start with Ezra Pound, our hero’s hero. While the political situation across the world in the early sixties isn’t the main backdrop, it is the undercurrent that drives the narration forward. I realized that  know so little about South Africa. There’s a touch of India too. Satyajit Ray makes an appearance and so does Indian curry. And it also appears that Indian computer programmers living abroad haven’t changed their habits over the decades.

‘”At 18 he might have been a poet. Now he is not a poet, not a writer, not an artist. He is a computer programmer, a 24year old computer programmer in a world where there are (yet) no 30 year old computer programmers. At 31 he is too old to be a programmer: one turns oneself into something else – some kind of businessman – or shoots oneself”

Words that hang heavy on me. Different contexts, same implication. Scary. Very scary.

Had this book not been labelled a ‘fictionalized memoir’, it would have made it to my dark and twisty shelves. But no. Our hero went on to win the Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature. If Astrid or Caroline or Jacqueline Google him, they would know that he made it.

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Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy. A name that evokes extreme emotions. You either hate her or love her, there’s nothing in between. And you either hate the people who love her or love the people who hate her. Again, nothing in between. But my love for Arundhati Roy began long before she won the Booker (and the wrath of some people for ‘vulgarity’ in That Book), long before she called Maoists Gandhians with Guns, long before she said that Kashmir wasn’t an integral part of India, long before she wrote those pages and pages of essays about everything from dams to ‘alleged’ terrorists. My love for her began in a gentler time, simpler time. In one of those long lazy summer afternoons when I used sprawl out in the sunshine on the verandah and read Target, that magazine that shaped the childhoods of the 80s kids. (The silly puns we make on Twitter were made decades ago in the Ha Ha pages of Target.)

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So one month, in an article which would now probably appear in some listicle as ’10 Multitasking Superheros who hold 5 jobs’  or something as lame, there was this feature about Arundhati Roy. She was an ‘Aerobics instructor who is also an actress, scriptwriter and something else that I don’t rememember clearly’.But she was four things in that feature. And in that black an white photograph that accompanied the writeup, she was the Rahel I would see many many years later. In that interview she spoke about how her mother Mary Roy fought for property rights of married Syrian Christian women. About how her mother started the Corpus Christi school and how since she was the first student of the school that followed no traditional syllabus, she had read Macbeth before she was 10 years old. Macbeth, which again, Rahel and Estha would quote in That Book. She spoke about her dog, Kuttapan Patti Swami Om Prakash. Google doesn’t throw up any results for that name, but I know that it isn’t a figment of my childhood imagination because I remember almost chanting the name because it had that zingy ring to it (Yawn, yes. Like Rahel and Estha chanted Nictating ictating tating ating ting, but inside my head.) That dog would become Khubchand. She was the dropout architect whom I would picture  Rahel as many years later. No, there was no Velutha or Baby Kochamma in that interview. And no, because That Book isn’t exactly autobiographical. She spoke about the script she wrote for In which Annie Gives It Those Ones and how Annie was actually a grubby guy named Anand. ( Since it is out here, I must watch this atleast now). And about her aerobics. And whatever other things that could be fit into that one page feature about her.

And that was when I fell in love with Arundhati Roy.

Arundhati Roy:  Aerobics Instructor, actress, scriptwriter, could-have-been-architect and Something-else-I-Can’t-Remember. Arundhati Roy: Soon to be Booker prize winning, Maoist sympathising, Gandhi-hating, dam-damning,terrorist-supporting, seditious anti-national.

Yes. I can say for sure that I had a girlcrush on her decades before girlcrush became an actual word. She is one of those people I never question. Maybe she has impractical dreams in this practical world. Maybe she only sees problems and doesn’t offer solutions. Maybe she dares to voice her support for people who shouldn’t be supported. Maybe. Maybe not. But I am an unashamed fan, follower, groupie, call-it-what-you want of hers. And yes, you can hate me for that.

Ok. Now why this post? I’ve been suffering from reader’s block for the past couple of months and even though I’ve started five books, I still haven’t been able to finish even one. Last week, a friend (finally) read The God of Small Things and wrote this two point review of the book that said it all. And so I picked up the book. Again. And I am rediscovering the book. Again. Woman, release your next work of fiction soon. We’re waiting.