Monthly Archives: August 2008

III Block Night Canteen Beckons……

 

What do you do when you just refuse to get sleep and want to go eat something? Now I dont know. I guess I just drink some water and try getting some sleep anyway. But some time ago, there was this thing called III Block Canteen at NITK.

“Swami, Ondu Half Fry matthe ondu Lassi….Swalpa Bega Kodi!!”

And somehow I was always captivated by the menu, so obnoxiously explicit in its acknowledgement of the fact that the canteen owner was more interested in the prices part rather than the item part, that I had to do this piece of free publicity. But of course, this was the state of the menu sometime in March this year. I would really like to know what the state is now though. Any updates anyone?

PS: Photos Courtesy Paul Savio

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Atonement by Ian McEwan: A Book Review

Ian McEwan’s Atonement is much more than just a novel. It is a supreme work of literature. With the ability to imbibe beautifully crafted sentences that convey a lot more than just a story, McEwan has demonstrated a unique and unparalleled talent to tell the story by laying stress on giving a convincing description of the thoughts of his characters. And so, as you savor one by one, the stream of the characters’ thoughts, it is not long before you realize that Atonement ceases to be just any other novel and instead, it assumes the shape of a delightful portrayal of psychological realism. The innocently dangerous thoughts of a 13 year old, the desperate battle for the will to survive amidst a war, the unreasonable demands and wishes of nine year olds, the tragedy of a hope, the reality of war, the desire to atone- all find a place in this magnificent meta-fictional novel.

 

Atonement opens with Briony Tallis, a 13 year old aspiring writer, preparing a play to be performed on the occasion of her brother, Leon’s homecoming. There is an evident lack of focus in the opening pages, with the scenes largely drifting along Briony’s thoughts. It is however not long before all the characters are introduced and the book settles itself into a well crafted rhythm. But as soon as you expect events to unfold, McEwan makes it perfectly clear that he plans to tell the story through his characters’ thoughts rather than their actions. And so, every thought, every conscious and sub conscious occurrence is dealt with in the most satisfying and elaborate fashion.

 

“….The cost of oblivious daydreaming was always this moment of return, the realignment with what had been before and now seemed a little worse. Her reverie, once rich in plausible details, had become a passing silliness before the hard mass of the actual……….Briony had lost her godly power of creation, but it was only at this moment of return that the loss became evident; part of a daydream’s enticement was the illusion that she was helpless before its logic.”

“…..She wanted to leave, she wanted to lie alone, face down on her bed and savour the vile piquancy of the moment, and go back down the lines of branching consequences to the point before the destruction began…..Self pity needed her full attention, and only in solitude could she breathe life into the lacerating details…”

 

 

And so we are subjected to the day dreaming of a 13 year old Briony, the subtleties of whose response to an unfulfilled expectation is explored in magnificent detail. But perhaps, what is of even more significance and relevance is Briony’s dangerous illusion of having attained adolescence. And it is as a result of the dangerous presence of this illusion that she convinces herself that she has indeed understood the true meaning of the event she witnesses on the garden from her window. By nightfall the same day, she finds herself involved in more situations where circumstances demand her to construe with maturity, and which she consciously does, but alas, under just the delusion of the same. And the illusion of her attaining a greater sense of responsibility, manifesting itself in her imagination, culminates during the early hours of the following day, when she accuses Robbie, the house keeper’s son, of a crime he didn’t commit. This one act, arising out of her assuming superficial responsibility, haunts her eventually as she then decides to spend the rest of her life trying to atone for the same.

 

McEwan’s attention to the conscious and the sub-conscious thoughts of his characters are portrayed in such convincing detail that he takes over 200 pages to describe the events of a single day. In it, we are subjected to Cecelia, Briony’s sister, and her unobtrusive lifestyle, having spent her entire college days in complete denial of her love to Robbie. And Robbie himself, who optimistically wishes to pursue a career in medicine, keeps his silence to himself and his thoughts from her. But how they let go of that unspoken and unacknowledged desire for each other in such an uninhibited manner, one night inside a library, is so beautifully described that even though the description goes into the minute details of their encounter, not at one moment, do you find the whole encounter offensive or objectionable. We also find Mrs. Tallis, the authority of the house, unwell as she usually finds herself to be, perceiving the actions of each and every person in her house through the walls of her bedroom. We meet Leon, Briony’s brother, and his friend Paul, the chocolate billionaire who are the guests for the night. Briony’s cousin Lola, who is a couple of years elder than Briony, also forms part of the homecoming celebration with her adolescent mindset, well set in.

Once you go beyond that one fateful day, McEwan  vehemently explores Robbie’s mind, as he reluctantly participates in a war filled with a reality that is dangerously unfamiliar to him. The delirious state of the military during the Dunkirk Retreat forms the backdrop of the surreal scenes of pain and hopelessness surrounding him as he walks miles and miles to the shore accompanied by a few of his buddies, with his only impetus for survival being the words that he carries on a sheet of paper in his breast pocket, Cecelia’s words : “I will wait for you. Come Back…” And amidst all the mind numbing tragedies around him, his only source of happiness and bliss, is his regular withdrawals from his memory bank- that one parting kiss that he shared with her just before he left for the war.

 

“…..He kissed her, lightly at first, but they drew closer, and when their tongues touched, a disembodied part of himself was abjectly grateful, for he knew he now had a memory in the bank and would be drawing on it for months to come. He was drawing on it now, in a French barn, in the small hours.”

“ ‘…..Realistically, there had to be a choice- you or them. How could it be both? I’ve never had a moment’s doubt. I love you. I believe in you completely. You are my dearest one, my reason for life. Cee.’….He knew these last lines by heart and mouthed them now in the darkness. My reason for life. Not Living, but life. That was the touch. And she was his reason for life, and why he must survive. He lay on his side, staring at where he thought the barn’s entrance was, waiting for the first signs of light. He was too restless for sleep now. He wanted only to be walking to the coast.”

 

The reason why this book captivates you is largely due to its ability to take the reader deep into the psyche of the characters and into what they are thinking. So much so, that the thoughts completely obviate the necessity of the actions. It also lies in the successful exploration of the concept of atonement- as seen through Briony’s voluntary effort to right what she wronged. Perhaps, a crucial scene in the book is one in which Briony is treating a young French soldier who is about to die. The French Soldier believes that she is his long lost love and continues to talk to her about the various things that he would do back home. And just before he dies in her arms, he calls out her name: “Tallis…..”, which Briony later realizes the difference in the way he said it. (“……She could still hear his voice, the way he said Tallis, turning it into a girl’s name…”) There are plenty more instances in the book which fill the reader with such a satisfied quality experience that it is difficult not to go through the last pages of the book filled with awe and wonder.

But there is nothing more moving and complete than the way the concept of Atonement is encapsulated in the words of an ageing Briony:

“…How can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? ……No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. …”

 

One of the most compelling and satisfying reads ever. No wonder this book was chosen as one among the Times Best 100 Books. And no wonder it was made into an Oscar nominated movie by the same name. But no level of film making can get the beauty of the written words onto the screen. A must read for all book fanatics.

 

 

And Thus Spake His Holiness

Considering the fact that my first job has not really helped my posting frequency, it has now become imperative for me to take steps to discontinue my indifferent treatment to my blog. It has been a long time since I churned out the handbag expedition post. And in that, I had also dealt with how Mr. Fate seems to be so very concerned about me and my future and how He always seemed to so easily tell me “I don’t think I can let you have this, or that, or for that matter anything that you deem really important!” But then I guess He eventually got bored of stabbing me and decided to just sit and watch all the fun. And as a result, here I am- in my first job- as a Project Assistant at IISc. Decent pay for doing something I like to do. Project is good. Work is good. Meeting new people. Making new friends. And I guess on the whole, life seems to be returning back to being filled with brighter prospects for the future. And that’s as far as I can go to say myself to be settled.

But something about the project was initially bothering me to a large extent. Having specialized in Soil Engineering at every step of my B.Tech, I was a little apprehensive about this present project of mine as it was based on Environmental Engineering. And so as I was talking to my close friend His Holiness about how I felt I was being unfaithful to Soil Engineering by taking up a project in Environmental Engineering, he made some spontaneous remarks that have somehow stuck with me even now. Check this out, this is what he said:

“Look man you don’t worry about that. You can look at it this way. Think of you being married to Soil Engineering and that you want to have a baby (the baby corresponding to me doing my higher studies in Soil Engg) but you can’t due to some constraints. And so now, think of Environmental Engg as a Surrogate Mother who is just helping you have the baby. So its not like you are cheating on Soil Engg. Its just that you are making use of Envi Engg to strengthen your ties with Soil Engg!”

And that somehow put everything into place and I felt more confident about my project and my future prospects. I really do not know how this guy suddenly comes up with these analogies. But good for me, it helped me put things in the right perspective. And so as per his suggestion in a comment that he put in the previous Stab post, I now officially declare myself to be DE-STABBED!

And also of notice, is that my second shot at GRE is going to take place this October 1st. Come to think of it, this is actually my first shot, considering the fact that I never really wrote the GRE last time around! And yes, my passport is already on its way this time.

So there you have it. Something worthwhile that has indeed happened to me in my life at last.

PS: Apology Accepted.

Going to God’s Own Country

Given the fact that my blogging frequency is competing hard with the frequency of the Indian Cricket team’s success, I’d rather not make excuses on why it is so. Instead, I am just going to say that I am leaving to Trivandrum today, by way of a 17 hour bus journey spanning each of the 760 kms and will be back only on Tuesday. And when I come back, I hope to write about a whole load of stuff that has happened over the past 2 weeks. This include:

  1. The Weekend Party at my home
  2. The Chetan Bhagat Phenomenon as it took place with my friend Logik.
  3. Some wise words by  Royan D’Mello
  4. My views on the alarmingly high number of reality shows on TV
  5. The De-Stab Post
  6. The upcoming Indian Bands gig in Bangalore on August 24
  7. My Experience in God’s Own Country
  8. About a few interestng blogs I read up in the holidays.
  9. Book reviews on Atonement by Ian Mcewan and A House for Mr.Biswas by V S Naipaul

So thats what I plan to do after I come back. How many of them I will end up doing – no idea!

So till then-Chao!