Tag Archive | communism

The Lives of Others- Neel Mukheerjee :50/52

A one pm on Doordarshan book

If I had a time machine, I would transport myself into Bengal of the late 60s. Naxalism fascinates me. As a child, I remember someone explaining Naxalite to me : ‘They hate rich people. They behead the man at night and place the head on the doorstep for everyone to see it the next morning’. Something that gave me nightmares, something that made thank god we were not rich. But as I grew older and wiser (?), I began to sympathise with them. Last year I went on a Red Sun and Hello Bastar reading phase, topped by The Lowland and The Shoes of the Dead. Overdosed. So maybe that is why The Lives of Others didn’t hit me as hard as it should have.

There is not a single likeable character in this book, not even Supratik; he fell from that pedestal towards the end. But that’s how reality should be.  A huge messy joint family, the Ghoshes live in a four storey building on 22 Basanta Bose Road. And there is a story in each storey. The patriarch witnessing the slow downfall of the family business he built,  four sons with problems of their own, an unmarried daughter seeped in bitterness and spewing venom, a scheming daughter-in-law, grandchildren ranging from mathematics prodigies to  drug addicts. And a revolutionary Naxalite.

The narration moves between the story of each Ghosh in Calcutta and a diary written by Supratik while hiding in small villages on the Bengal-Orrisa borders. Disillusioned by his comfortable life and the party power politics in the city, he moves to the villages and lives with the farmers there, as one of them, and sows the seed of revolution while he sows seeds of paddy in those fields. The diary he writes is expected to invoke strong feelings, but I was somehow immune to it. I’ve read enough about starving farmers to know that they never win ever. But to whom was he writing this diary? At first, I thought that it was to his mother, then it seemed like it was to his lover. But when the recipient was finally revealed, it left me hanging. The relationship had no form, no closure. And there’s one more uncomfortable relationship in the family, one that is disgusting and disturbing. Weddings, funerals, trade unions, mad professors, terrace romance. You have everything, but without the song and dance or comedy. It is an Ekta Kapoor saga, without the blingy clothes. It is a Visu movie, without the lesson at the end. As I said, it is a one pm on Doordarshan story. And it is a story that is reality even today.

But all these make the book what it is. A slow, long, painful but wonderful journey into the Lives of Others.

Afternote:  Maybe an overdose of such stories where there is no happy ending is a well planned conspiracy to make people like me disillusioned with the revolutionary movement? 

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The Betrayal- Helen Dunmore :24/52

Got Readers Block this April. I was somehow not able to sit down with a book. And then I got a Kindle Paperwhite. Yes, inspite of this rant, I went ahead and got one. And yes, I’m loving it.

Inaugurated it with The Betrayal.

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The Siege made me cold and depressed, The Betrayal made me frustrated and angry.

Ten years after The Siege, Anna, Andrei and Kolya live a happy contended life. The horrors of the siege and the war are slowly fading away and they look forward to the small joys of life like a lazy weekend at the dacha and the hospital ball. And then terror strikes again, this time in the form of stupidity. Yes, there is no other word to describe it, and I shudder when I realise that this kind of stupidity is not just pure fiction.

Andrei gets pulled into treating a little boy with a cancerous growth, the boy being the son of a highly placed dangerous police officer with the MGB. Cancer does its thing and the father, a paranoid Stalin era idiot, sees conspiracy. He sees saboteurs, spies , Jews and everything else in a what is infact a disease that god, a god they are not allowed to believe in, is to be blamed for.

The book takes you into the depths of the horror that is the Lubyanka in Moscow where people are mercilessly thrown  into for their crimes, crimes as shocking as ‘insufficient vigilance’. Don’t report an anti govt joke made at a party? Get a year in prison. Solitary confinement where people communicate through soap impressions and attempt toilet paper scribbles. Cells as large as cupboards where you’re not allowed to sit or even lean against a wall and conveyor belt interrogations that last for days.

And then it also takes you to a safe dacha in the village where there’s a new life being born. And a much awaited death, a death that brings hope.

 

 

The Second Lady- Irving Wallace : 21/52

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I read The Second Lady long long ago, but the book was missing the last few pages. However after that initial torment for a few days, I have managed to live all this while without knowing what happened the moment the two women stepped off the plane. And somehow after all these years, something made me want to find out.
Maybe it is not cool to say that you like Irving Wallace and such authors these days, you got to be snooty and read authors like <insert Cool Author name> to be with it. But hey, I like masala and I will not lie.
A classic USA-USSR thriller. The Soviets embark on an unbelievably bizzare plan to replace the American First Lady with a look alike, an actress with a strong resemblance  and been tweaked to perfection over the past three years. The replacement happens, the impersonator embarks on her role of a lifetime and the pages turn themselves. It is a USA-USSR game, so you already know who will win. But how they win is what makes it a page turner. The Soviets are ugly, potato nosed people. Their First Lady is fat and housewife-looking. Their food is vomituous, their alcohol is bitter. Americans on the other hand are handsome and glamourous. They are sexy and clever. Well ofcourse. And then there is a half-American KGB agent whose loyalties lie with the Soviets but heart lies with the Americans. So he is the  man who has a change of heart, the goodbad guy whom you root for.  A lot of twists, turns, mind games and sex later the book ends in a nailbiting climax. And this time, I know what happened in the end. Or do I?
It was written in 1980, so you can’t read it with an internet age mindset. But the plot unravels  smoothly and there aren’t too many laughable loopholes that will make you roll your eyes.

The sore point between the Russians and Americans in this book is a small uranium rich African country called Boende. And today, when Russia and America are at it again,unfriending each other over Crimea, this book makes it seem like nothing has actually changed in the world.