Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Links: Asafoetida Attacks, Broken Toys, and Authenticity Angst

1. Jhumpa Lahiri's latest, in the New Yorker. I know some will read this and complain that she's doing a version of what she's already done in the short stories in The Interpreter of Maladies. But I don't think her material is necessarily spent as of yet. Also, the second person address gives the story a somewhat different feel. And anyway, Lahiri's almost miraculous precision is always impressive to me.

2. Nadeem Aslam has a blistering personal essay in Granta about growing up with fundamentalists in his family. These folks were so extreme in their hatred of idolatry, they routinely broke even children's toys. Aslam also has some interesting reflections on linguistic alienation that hit close to home for me as well:

I have read widely in Arabic literature, beginning, yes, with the Thousand Nights and A Night. I have read the Qur'an several times as an adult, and of course there are the novels of the magnificent Naguib Mahfouz; pre-Islamic pagan poetry; the fables of Kalila wa Dimna; extracts from a sorcerer's manual from eleventh-century Spain; the wounded and wounding lines of Mahmoud Darwish. But I have read them all in English, silently in my study. The aural connection was severed long ago.

3. Asafoetida attack! Jai Arjun has a hilarious (and needless to say, negative) review of the new Aishwariya Rai film Mistress of Spices. How this pleasurable takedown relates to our discussion of negative reviewing from a couple of weeks ago, I have no idea.

4. And I randomly came across this interesting personal reflection on "authenticity" in India Currents magazine. A young woman (an NRI) meets a Tibetan woman and a white woman in an American grocery store. While everyone (including the woman herself) assumes that she "knows" the Himalayas because she is ethnically Indian, it turns out that the Tibetan is the granddaughter of Tenzing Norgay, the first person to climb Mt. Everest.


Ruchira Paul said...

Oh God! I mean the film review - probably spot on. (I must send the link to my sister.) But what else would one expect? Like book, like movie. How can you make a silk purse out of... etc. (Hope you are not a fan of Divakaruni.)

I am extremely intrigued by snippet # 4 about the ethnically Indian young woman meeting Tenzing's daughter and her Himalayan perception crashing down to earth.

It is really amazing how much we assume about our own ethnicity. I am a Bengali born and brought up in Delhi. My forays into Bengal were few and far between and confined to Kolkata. But being well versed in the Bengali language and with a literature loving mother, my sister and I voraciously read (and still read) Bengali books from early childhood. I am therefore very well acquainted with the Bengal of Bengali literature and things Bengali. Yet recently when I read Amitav Ghosh's *The Hungry Tide* based in the Sundarban region, I kept feeling that I was reading about a faraway foreign country. I *thought* I knew the Sunderbans, having read about them extensively and heard eye-witness accounts. But what I learnt from Ghosh's novel was mostly all new information. And strangely enough, the never seen and quaint pre WWII Burma of The Glass Palace had felt more like a familiar place than the delta country of Bengal.

Thanks for the great post.

4:47 PM  
Jabberwock said...

"How this pleasurable takedown relates to our discussion of negative reviewing from a couple of weeks ago, I have no idea."

Well, mainly because even I need to rant and rave at times - all my grandstanding about negativity regardless :-)

More seriously, what I said in that earlier post was that writing negative reviews of books is no longer so appealing - one important reason being that too much precious time has been wasted on reading it, and I don't want to waste more on writing the review. With a bad film it's a little different - it takes just 1 1/2 - 2 hours to get through and there's usually company, so it doesn't feel like you've thrown away precious hours of your life.

Also, the Spices post really wasn't intended to be a review - it was a rant.

11:27 PM  
Ruchira Paul said...

Nadeem Aslam's piece is fabulous!

12:18 AM  
Ruchira Paul said...


Rant away! You do it elegantly. My own rants are devoted exclusively to George W. Bush and I am exahusted in the end. I visit Amardeep's blog for its soothing quality.

Sorry Amardeep. Three comments on a single post is a bit much even by my loquacious standards. But this post has so much good stuff! Thanks again.

12:34 AM  
Jabberwock said...

Yes, that Aslam piece is beautiful! Relates very well with some of the things he said at the Kitab festival recently.

3:34 AM  
Amardeep said...

Ruchira, don't worry about posting too many comments. As they say in hip hop: it's all good.

8:33 AM  
elizabeth said...

re: the Aslam essay--I've heard similar comments from both Muslim desi and Turkish friends, about the strange mixture of familiarity and alienation they feel towards Arabic. Incidentally, Amitava Kumar has some lovely photos of Aslam's up on his site.

....as I wrote when the Granta came out, though, what's a "God's Own Countries"-themed issue with no contribution on Kerala?

4:07 PM  

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