Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Links I've Been Sitting On: Writers, Artists, Dancers, Filmmakers, and Coffee Plants

I've been sitting on a bunch of links lately. Thanks to everyone who's been sending in tips and suggestions. Please keep them coming (oh, and also be patient: I've been slow-blogging it lately).

1. Shashi Tharoor on R.K. Narayan in The Hindu. (thanks Tilotamma)

Tharoor revisits a critique of Narayan he wrote about twelve years ago, which went after Narayan's seeming style-lessness:

I was, I must admit, particularly frustrated to find that Narayan was indifferent to the wider canon of English fiction and to the use of the English language by other writers, Western or Indian. Worse, his indifference was something of which he was inordinately proud. He told interviewers that he avoided reading:
"I do not admit influences." This showed in his writing, but he was defiant: "What is style?" he asked one interviewer. "Please ask these critics to first define it .... Style is a fad." The result was that he used words as if unconscious of their nuances: every other sentence included a wrong inappropriately or wrongly used; the ABC of bad writing - archaisms, banalities and cliches - abounded, as if the author had learned them in a school textbook and was unaware that they have been hollowed by repetition. Narayan's words were just what they seemed; there was no hint of meanings lurking behind the surface syllables, no shadow of worlds beyond the words. Indeed, much of Narayan's prose reads like a translation.

I don't know -- while I don't get particularly excited about Narayan, I haven't seen the archaisms and malapropisms Tharoor is describing. One wishes Narayan might have been a little bit broader and more eclectic, perhaps. But his prose is clean and functional. And he tells very captivating, absorbing stories. Naipaul's criticisms of Narayan in India: A Wounded Civilization strike closer to the crux of the problem -- Narayan's turn to mysticism.

And I'm also not sure if Tharoor is really one to talk. The two novels I've read of Tharoor's are lively, to be sure. But they are also highly derivative, and sometimes quite awkward. As in the following cliché-ridden passage from Tharoor's Riot: A Love Story:

"Priscilla," he said huskily, as if he did not know what else to say.
"Lakshman," I replied, tasting the unfamiliarity of those two syllables, as unfamiliar and intimate as the taste at the tip of my tongue.
"I -- we -- I shouldn't be doing this," he said, and I suddenly felt it as if a page was being turned back in a book I wanted to continue reading.
I leaned forward then, intending to muzzle my face in his chest, but I never got there. A look crossed his eyes then, a look of both longing and desperation, and I felt his hands seize my face and raise it to his lips, and then I closed my eyes, and let myself be loved.

At this point, it is likely one will find Tharoor's novel to be a book that is being shut, as one no longer wants to continue reading. I closed my eyes, and let myself be bored.

2. Ruchira (of Accidental Blogger) sent me some links to an Indian artist she recently met in Delhi, named Richa Arora. Arora has some very interesting work, and seems like a promising young painter. Ruchira also has a very thoughtful post about her here.

My mini-comment: the paintings are very architectural, and convey a powerful sense of space. I wouldn't mind having one on my wall. (Maybe next time I go to Delhi...)

3. If you're looking for a botany fix... There was a fabulous story on NPR yesterday about a special kind of coffee plant (the "cafe marron" plant) on the island of Rodrigues, in the Indian Ocean, near Mauritius. The plant was was long thought to be extinct, but about 25 years ago exactly one specimen was discovered on the island. No others could be found, so that one plant has become the focal point for botanists who want to keep it alive and get it to reproduce. They took a cutting to the Kew Gardens in London, and were able to get the cutting to grow. But it took twenty years and steroids to get the London specimen to produce a seed. By inexplicable coincidence, the original specimen also produced a seed recently.

Seriously, try listening to the story -- it's a real botanists' pot-boiler!

4. Suketu Mehta on power machismo vs. power feminism (via Sepia Mutiny news). In this transcript of a recent talk, Mehta reprises some of the arguments he makes in Maximum City, and strongly condemns the recent law banning dance bar girls in Bombay.

I agree: it's a dumb law.

5. A friend in Iowa recently sent me a link about a professional Bharatnatyam dancer who is a turbaned Sikh. Navtej Johar is based in India. He's pretty amazing -- watch some of his moves in Flash video here.

6. I was happy to get some correspondence from the filmmaker Prashant Bhargava, whose short film Sangam has been screened at quite a number of film festivals, as well as on the Sundance Channel. Now I need to see it... Anyone seen this yet?


Whose God is it anyways? said...

i'm an r.k. narayan fan and so cannot agree at all with what tharoor is saying. i see no real evidence for most of what he's saying in narayan's writing (and neither did graham greene, one of my other favourite writers, who saw something special in narayan). perhaps narayan is too simple (and writing that comes across as too simple or too effortless is often the hardest) for the likes of tharoor who overthink their often tortured, pretentious prose and writing about politics/culture etc. you don't have to have read a whole range of western writers to show off your writing skills or your knowledge. narayan wrote about his world (a part of india) in his own way, and in most cases he did it very well. he was well versed in indian literature that informed his worldview. I'm a big fan of naipaul as well, but he's also not one to talk.

12:25 PM  
Whose God is it anyways? said...

a different take on narayan that answers some of tharoors concerns and criticisms of his writing:,,1733428,00.html

2:45 PM  
Amardeep said...

Whose God,

Thanks -- the Alexander McCall Smith article in the Guardian is excellent. He does a great job tying Narayan's biography to his writing style.

The lazy can click here to read it.

3:58 PM  
Anonymous said...

Tharoor's stuff is masala, not highbrow. There are flat spots.

3:39 AM  
tilo said...

Thanks , Boss!

12:29 PM  
maddy said...

Hi amardeep,
like i wrote the other day, it was when I saw your blog that I knew about this whole needled me actually and so i wrote a bit about it..have a look

3:59 AM  

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