Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mahabharata Quotes - Sabha Parva

Covers of Vols 1 - 6
My earlier post, collected some of the more interesting quotes from the first Parva of the Mahabharata, the Adi Parva. This post continues with a collection collated from the second Parva, the Sabha Parva. This Parva is contained entirely in Vol. 2 of the unabridged translation of the Mahabharata by Dr Bibek Debroy (My reviewsVol.1Vol.2Vol. 3Vol. 4Vol.5 (12), Vol. 6 (123)).

Narad muni's discourse to Yudhishtra, after the latter had settled down in the grand palace at Indraprastha, architected by the asura architect Maya, is quite notable as a piece of mini niti-shastra. I have taken the liberty of including many quotes from it, though I would recommend that people read it in its entirety.

  • "Do you hurt dharma by artha or artha by dharma or both for the sake of pleasures that kama brings?"
    [Sage Narada to Yudhishtra, Sabha Parva, Sabha Parva, Ch 5] (the first sub-Parva in the Sabha Parva is also named "Sabha Parva")

  • "Surely you do not seek the advice from only one, or from too many."
    [Sage Narada to Yudhishtra, Sabha Parva, Sabha Parva, Ch 5]

  • "Do you purchase a single learned man for one thousand foolish ones?"
    [Sage Narada to Yudhishtra, Sabha Parva, Sabha Parva, Ch 5]

  • "Have you appointed superior men in superior positions and medium ones in medium positions?"
    [Sage Narada to Yudhishtra, Sabha Parva, Sabha Parva, Ch 5]

  • Saturday, March 30, 2013

    Mahabharata Quotes - Adi Parva

    The Mahabharata is a goldmine of stories, episodes, conversations, and incidents. As I read the Mahabharata - specifically the unabridged translation by Dr Bibek Debroy (it is a task as yet unfinished, primarily because Dr Debroy has completed six volumes of the translation and Penguin is expected to publish the seventh volume in April), I underlined passages, excerpts, dialogues, quotes that caught my eye. Yes, many of the books I read (and own) are littered with these underlinings. A book once owned and read is rarely left in a pristine condition, severely affecting its resale value I suppose.

    I thought of how to collect some of these memorable excerpts into one place, and then decided that organizing them by parva, one post for each of the eighteen major parvas in the epic, would be as good a way as any. Now, based on the first parva, the Adi Parva, it seems that publishing them by parva may indeed work. If it turns out to be impractical, because of the length - too short or too long, then I will adopt a horses for courses strategy. If dharma can be subtle, so can a blog strategy.

    The very first parva is the Adi Parva, and is contained mostly in the first volume of the translation. In this post, I have collected some of the notable quotes from this parva.
    • "Time brings existence and non-existence, pleasure and pain. Time creates all elements and time destroys all beings. ... Time cannot be conquered. Time walks in all elements, pervasive and impartial."
      [Sanjaya to Dhritarashtra, Anukramanika Parva, Adi Parva, Ch 1]
    • "There is no curse that does not have a remedy. O snakes! But he who has been cursed by his mother has no remedy."
      [Vasuki, Astika Parva, Adi Parva, Ch 33]
    • "One who is afflicted by destiny can find a remedy in destiny alone."
      [Elapatra to Vasuki, Astika Parva, Adi Parva, Ch 34]

    Friday, March 29, 2013

    The Demonologist, by Andrew Pyper

    Image Credit:
    The Demonologist, by Andrew Pyper
    Doesn't Quite Flatter, Most Certainly Disappoints
    3 stars
    (Amazon, Kindle, Flipkart, my review on Amazon)
    "Makes me question the devil's competence, the author's grasp on storytelling, and David Ullman's hold on sanity."

    The way David Ullman, Cornell professor and expert on demonic literature, especially Milton's Paradise Lost, deciphers clues, goes on a cross country motor trip, in a Ford Mustang to begin with and later in several stolen cars, to rescue his daughter, Tess, before she is claimed, forever perhaps(?), by one of Satan's disciples, does more to make you question the devil's competence than David's proficiency.

    David's marriage is a mess. The protagonist has to have little going right for him in such novels. Except his daughter Tess who is the only ray of light in his otherwise dismal existence. And truth be told, the one thing that this book gets somewhat right are the bits about the father and daughter interactions. When his wife informs him of her decision to move out of their house, David uses the opportunity to accept an invitation from a mysterious lady to go on an all expense paid visit to Venice with his daughter. What happens at Venice leaves David with only a matter of days in which he must decipher clues to retrieve his daughter before she is claimed by the devil for all time. So far so good. The plot has all the ingredients required for a truly gripping and empathetic thriller. Who would not be attracted to a thriller with elements of the supernatural, a race against time, a father's love for his daughter, a cross-country road trip - very American, and more. But if you take all these ingredients and just dump them into a cauldron in the hope that what will emerge will be a savory dish, anyone who has ever ventured into a kitchen will know that does not happen.

    As I said, to be fair, some of the passages that describe the father's moments with his daughter, Tess, indeed ring true and heartfelt, and these are some of the redeeming passages in the book. Since they do not quite follow or lead up to anyplace, they feel forced into the narrative.

    This is one of those I've-seen-better-film-on-teeth type of screenplays, written post-haste, using a heady concoction of adverb-laden over-wrought prose (sample these: "A quietly beautiful woman too" or "Her hand on my elbow a patch of cool on my suddenly burning skin"), with strategically planted episodes meant to evoke a sense of growing horror, terror, and suspense, but however elicit only a derisive burst of laughter, snort even, but nothing beyond. Yes, we can see how they would fit neatly into a screenplay, and we can even imagine how they may be shot and presented to us, but this is a book, not a movie, yet. The clickety-clack from the rusty springs of a trampoline in the middle of a night is one such episode, but why is it in the novel, and what exactly does it do to drive the plot ahead is sadly never made evident or hinted at. The "Pursuer" is man of such clumsy incompetence you wonder how he manages to even brush his teeth in the morning without choking and drowning.

    The plot needed to be developed, the characters fleshed out, the clues needed to contribute to the fabric of the plot. That didn't happen; the result is a constant attempt at smashing adverbs into every sentence in the hopes of producing literary fusion. It has to be "A quietly beautiful woman too", while  "Outside, the interstate hums and yawns", or the truly climatic "Her hand on my elbow a patch of cool on my suddenly burning skin", while the mind bends to wrap itself around "She exhales. And before I can awaken, she releases an endless sigh. One that forms itself into an utterance that grows in volume and force, until it billows out of her as a kind of poem." On the other hand, "I sip the coffee. The taste of liquefied rust" does bring a smile as I remembered the brew that goes by the name of coffee in so many fast food joints.

    And finally, it's a jet, it's a plane, but is "The jet humming and whistling, soothing as a mechanical womb"?? This question will keep me awake for hours on end. The plot? Not so much.

    Author's site, Twitter handle, Facebook page
    Kindle Excerpt:

    © 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

    Sunday, March 17, 2013

    Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King - Review

    From Different Seasons (Signet)
    Fascinating Novella; The Screenplay of the Movie Actually Bettered It
    4 stars
    I must have watched "The Shawshank Redemption" more than a dozen times. It is a testament as much to the movie as it is to the screenplay and the novel it is based on. The Stephen King novella, "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" is less than a hundred pages long, and is unlike other Stephen King works from the horror genre. It is the travails of a convict, Andy Dufresne, wrongly sentenced for the twin murders of his wife and her lover, and how he spends his years in the prison, finding his way through the brutal hierarchy of the prison, the brutality and venality of the prison officials, his friendship with Red - this Irish character is played by Morgan Freeman in the movie, and from whose eyes we see and are told this story, and his escape from the prison that is also his redemption in some ways.

    Without going into the details, it was somewhat my impression that while Stephen King's novella is very good on its own merits, the movie betters the book, and that is saying a lot for both the movie and the book.

    Kindle Excerpt:

    © 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

    Saturday, March 16, 2013

    Blindness, by Jose Saramago

    Human Nature, Seen.
    4 stars
    Blindness that shines a light on human nature. Haunting and disturbing narrative.

    What if you went blind? What if every one also went blind - in your house, locality, town, country, perhaps even the world? Not gradually, but what if the blindness came without warning, leaving only a milky whiteness behind where once sight used to be? What if the authorities, still seeing, for the time being, not knowing what was causing the blindness, and without a cure for the blindness, and fearful of its possible contagiousness, started to quarantine the afflicted in an abandoned mental institution. Where those incarcerated could not leave, alive. Where no human with eyesight would or want to enter the institution. Such is the fate of a growing number of people in this book. 

    Written in a peculiar style - minimal punctuation and sentences that run into an entire paragraph, that evokes a sense of blindness when reading, because you have to grope a bit to get a feel for the language and to sense when one person has stopped talking and the other person has begun, the book haunts you with its matter-of-fact observations about human nature, and how it degenerates into the basest of gratifications.

    No one is identified by name. It is the "blind man" who is the first to go blind. He is taken to his house by a good Samaritan, and where his wife takes him to "the doctor", at whose clinic there are others, including a man with a black patch over one eye, a girl with dark glasses, a young boy, and others. Each one of them also goes blind, and each one is herded into an abandoned mental institution, where they must fend for themselves, establish rules of living, and wait for food to arrive. Only the doctor's wife, "the doctor's wife", is not afflicted by the blindness, for reasons unknown and untold, and she decides to accompany her husband to the institution. She herself is in a terrible dilemma, whether to tell the others of the fact that she can see, for if she does, then she is sure to be sucked into a never ending chore of attending to each and every person there, for it would be the decent thing to do.

    As more and more blind are stuffed into the institution, the facilities, never pristine to begin with, began to fall apart. With excrement flowing all over, the place stinking with the miasma of this excrement, sweat, fear, and hopelessness. There are soldiers guarding the institution, from a distance, and any attempt to escape is dealt with deadly force.

    While there are some rules that the inmates accept with a sense of resignation - the loss of privacy is for instance more of a notional loss in a world with only blind people, you however read with a sense of approaching dread the inevitable breakdown of basic humanity. When the descent into depravity does arrive, it still hits you with overwhelming revulsion. Food for sexual gratification was always on the table, and once a group in the institution decides to and manages to gain control over the food that is provided, it becomes a stark reality that the inmates have to rationalize, and accept.

    This is a novel that will linger with you for some time after you finish the last page and put it down. The self-feeding spiral of helplessness and growing resignation makes for disturbing reading. Even the style evokes a strong sense of discomfort and unease, even if the paragraph long sentences begin to outstay their welcome by the second half of the book. Sample this:
    They came stumbling into the ward, clutching at the air, here there was no rope to guide them, they would have to learn from painful experience, the boy was weeping, calling out for his mother, and it was the girl with dark glasses who tried to console him, She's coming, she's coming, she told him, and since she was wearing her dark glasses she could just as well have been blind as not, the others moved their eyes from one side to another, and could see nothing, while because the girl was wearing those glasses, and saying, She's coming, she's coming, it was as if she really could see the boy's desperate mother coming in through the door. The doctor's wife leaned over and whispered into her husband's ear, Four more have arrived. a woman, two men and a boy, What do the men look like, asked the doctor in a low voice, She described them, and he told her, The latter I don't know, the other, from your description, might well be the blind man who came to see me at the surgery.

    © 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

    Sunday, March 10, 2013

    Bus, Passengers, and God

    In God We Trust.
    You know, no commentary is required here. Just the words, "Ram bharose".

    © 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

    Full Moon and Associations

    On Feb 26, we had a full moon. It was not yet dark, and the moon was visible just over the horizon. I had to go and get my camera, and spent some time shooting, without a tripod. Of all the photos I took, I liked this one the best.

    Since the moon has been the inspiration for poets and romantics for millenia, it was but fitting that I also think of this song that describes the beauty of the moon in one line and then how it still cannot compare with the flawless beauty of the smitten.

    The other thing I thought of on seeing this photo was Our Moon has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, by Rahul Pandita (Flipkart, Amazon, Kindle). While the book deals with a sombre and tragic topic, I am talking about word associations here, aren't I?

    Kindle Excerpt:

    © 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.