Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Links: Urdu Poetry, Blame it on Verdi, and the Desi Frankenstein

Was Boris Karloff, the original cinematic Frankenstein monster, partly Desi? It seems pretty likely he was; Accidental Blogger investigates.

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Amit Verma reaches Peshawar, where he finally feels like he's in a foreign country.

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Western biologists visit a remote region in the Papua province of Indonesia, called the Foja Mountains. Apparently this area has had little or no human presence, though the Post doesn't explain how or why it's remained so pristine. The intrepid biologists hit a mother-lode of previously unknown flora and fauna. (I love reading about scientists having adventures... incidentally, check out the pictures from the expedition at the Post).

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There's a nice HTML edition of a Gutenberg Etext of Hindustani Lyrics, translated by Inayat Khan and Jessie Westbrook (1919). Snatches of verse from Amir, Ghalib, Hali, and many others. The translations aren't especially "useful" without the facing page of the original Urdu, but fans of Urdu Poetry might find this interesting nonetheless. Here's a snippet from Ghalib:

The high ambition of the drop of rain
Is to be merged in the unfettered sea;
My sorrow when it passed all bounds of pain,
Changing, became itself the remedy.

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With an intractable Maoist insurgency problem, Nepal's King Gyanendra is foundering. The Washington Post implies he is in danger of being overthrown by a military coup.

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The Indian Express reports that the government of Delhi is planning to "regularize" illegal construction in residential areas. I don't really know what to make of it. On the one hand, it seems ethical to grant people official rights over land they already effectively own, especially if the government doesn't have the power or the interest to kick them off. But of course this move might well encourage more illegal development, adding to the housing/development chaos. And things simply can't go on the way they are, with millions of people in legal limbo. (But I'll leave it to people who know the housing situation in Delhi better than I to judge this decision...)

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The Literary Saloon finds a damning instance of gender segregation in the assignment of reviews at the New York Times Book Review. Woman-oriented books get women reviewers, while books oriented to politics and war get male reviewers.

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The Literary Saloon also mentions an upcoming African-Asian literary festival to be held in Delhi starting February 14.

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And there's a story in the New York Times by a London local who was impressed by Woody Allen's choice of locales in Match Point.

We saw the film recently in Doylestown, and generally liked the dialogue and the style of the film through the first half. I obviously don't know London as well as a local, but I was challenged by Woody Allen's cultural references, specifically in this case the opera. His use of Italian opera in this case actually directly correlates with where he takes the film's plot (notice the uncanny parallels between the plot of La Traviata and that of Allen's film). Woody Allen's misogynistic streak is also present in much Opera, which gives the film a rather novel exculpatory claim: it can be cruel to its heroine because Verdi was, and how can we fault Verdi? Blame it on Verdi!

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Speaking of London, also check out Amitava Kumar, on Sukhdev Sandhu's ethos of the London street.


Anonymous said...

As a long time reader I was gratified to see that you are the first blog listed in the "who's blogging" box on the Post's New Guinea article.

4:04 PM  
raina said...

actually match point is an adaptation of theodore drieser's an american tragedy. it was made into the movie a place in the sun with elizabeth taylor and montgomery clift. interestingly, an american tragedy was commissioned by the metropolitan opera and had its premier in dec last year.
just want to point out, that the plot of la traviata has no connection to the plot of match point. allen, in addition to jazz, is also an opera fan. he used old enrico caruso recordings, and really matchpoint's essential elements of love, betrayal, jealousy, murder, etc. are all essential operatic themes. the only modern recordings in the score is the traviata aria un de feliche ... and caro nome from rigoletto. the score also includes french opera.

4:06 PM  
Amardeep said...


Actually, the general plots of An American Tragedy and La Traviata are also similar, albeit in a very broad sense (a social climber dragged down by a poor woman eventually gets rid of her -- and she dies). In La Traviata the spurned heroine dies of natural causes (TB); in Dreiser she drowns ("accidentally"). So I don't see why we can't say that Allen is borrowing from the Verdi opera as much as from Dreiser and the film version of "A Place in the Sun."

But we can agree to disagree on the specific points, especially since you agree that the themes of Allen's film are so heavily influenced by opera in general.

4:30 PM  
raina said...

i'm sorry to disagreee, but only because i watch a lot of opera. i have seen traviata many times and know its music and liberetto intimately. from your description i'm not sure you do. traviata is not about a social climber. it is about a courtesan who falls in love and her failure to find true happiness. alfredo is hardly a social climber - she is essentially a prostitute (read pretty woman which is essentially another variation of traviata). is she is spurned it is because she deceives alfredo. also traviata is itself based on alexander dumas’ the lady of the camelias (which was also made into a movie with greta garbo - camille).

all allen is doing is using an operatic score because he finds the story contains similar themes as in opera. the borrowing allen is doing is using caruso records and certain operatic arias being played in certain scenes. the only traviata aria is there because they go see the opera in the movie, and tom happens to mention it.

5:20 PM  

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