Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi - A Review

Indian fantasy-writing has puzzled me. Most fantasy writers seem intent on providing a scientific or pseudo-scientific rationale for the mythology as though they are still defending themselves against accusations of primitive superstition.

It is not like J.K.Rowling explains that the Avada Kedavara curse kills because the wand is voice-activated to emit a nano-particle beam at the victim to coagulate the blood in his heart. Not does Tolkien claim that his Balrog is actually an android with a flame-thrower in his throat and a neuronic whip in his hand. The art of writing fantasy lies in inducing a 'willing suspension of disbelief' in the reader. Most Indian fantasy writing, however, fails in this merely because a reader, who is willing to suspend disbelief in the matter of accepting magic, is unable to believe in the 'scientific' rationale for the myth.

The blurb for 'The Krishna Key' makes it appear as though it is an urban fantasy i.e the introduction of mythical elements into the everyday world of today. The tale, however, seems to be written with the intent of following the treasure hunt style of tale so successfully adopted by Dan Brown. The problem, however, is that it failed to impress me as either type of story.

The Krishna Key reminded me of nothing but the "Chariots of the Gods" by Von Danniken. The latter is a book of speculative theories about the origins of myths. The Krishna Key is much the same - except that Ashwin Sanghi dresses it up in a gauze-thin veneer of a thriller tale. In the utter disregard for character verisimilitude - as witness a school drop-out lecturing a gape-mouthed history researcher and a lawyer in as many diverse things as nuclear sciences, myth as well as history - and even timelines, it becomes clear that the story is merely intended a vehicle for the speculative theories that the author intended to communicate.

I do not have much of an interest in speculative theories about myths. Thus, for me, it is a grave disappointment to read such a book when I was looking forward to reading a decent fantasy/thriller. After a gripping start the book degenerates into a series of lectures with just enough action thrown in every now and then to get the book to a close.

Ashwin Sanghi, however, is a pleasant surprise in the English he uses since his usage of Hinglish is sparing and restricted mostly to the dialogues of his characters. If he had intended to write a workable novel with all these theories in place, he should have opted for a longer size for the book and paid more attention to his characters.

All in all, it may be an interesting book if you like speculative theories about the myths of the past and you  do not read the book expecting it to be a great thriller or fantasy.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The trek that wasn't

There I was in Rishikesh feeling that all nature was conspiring to make me feel at home by ensuring that it rained all night. This idea that everything was coming together to ensure that I felt at home was intensified when the next day's journey onwards was one long traffic jam after another - what else can make a Bangalorean feel more at home?
How human it is to think that everything in the universe is being staged exclusively to affect you! A massive landslide had halted all traffic about 3 hours from Rishikesh. The stop-start mode of transport continued almost all the way. Even the boulder that crashed into the road scant feet behind our vehicle gave us no indication of the massive disaster that was engulfing the region.
We hit Srinagar - between DevPrayag and KarnaPrayag - around 4.30 PM. The original intention of reaching Loharganj - which was the starting point of our trek route - had long been abandoned and we were intending to reach Karnaprayag by night and staying there. We stopped there for tea and by the time we started again, the bridge over the Alaknanda on our route was blocked and another traffic jam had developed. Abandoning any intent of traveling any further we took rooms in a hotel at Srinagar for the night.
That was where we stayed for the next couple of days. It rained almost incessantly for till the evening of Tuesday and the sight of the Alaknanda in spate was enough to strike terror in the hearts of anyone staying just one house to this side of the banks. One more day of rain would, in all probability, have found us stranded on the second floor with water lapping at our heels. The roads forward and backward were impassable.
We did not realize how lucky we had been. But for that stop for tea we would have probably been past the point of no return and looking for manna from Heaven and helicopters to the rescue. As it was, I felt almost ashamed when I received concerned calls from friends while comfortably ensconsed in a hotel watching cricket and guzzling vodka. A far cry from the desolate straits of the thousands of pilgrims stranded along the route.
A further indicator of our extraordinary luck was the news that an alternative route - which cut off at a point about 15-20 Km.s before Srinagar - was open on Wednesday. We opted to go back and with absolutely no problems or delays reached Haridwar by evening. Deciding not to go back we managed to find accomodation in Club Mahindra, Kanatal near Mussoorie and were there till Friday.
The most dangerous part of this entire trip was the car journey to Dehradun. Our driver seemed to have modelled his driving on the Formula 1 drivers and racing down a mountain road at 50 Kmph was certainly the scariest part of the whole trip. When we started remonstarting with him about the speed, the car started zipping at 60 Kmph as though he had mistaken the accelerator for the brake. We abandoned our attempts lest each attempt increased the speed by an additional 10 Kmph ending in our sailing off in a graceful arc into the valley below.
It seemed like our chauffeur had homicidal tendencies. Every time he passed any vehicle on the road, he seemed to be giving in to the temptation of sideswiping it before changing his mind at the last moment. While I was busy holding in the contents of my stomach, the others were bewailing the fact that we had escaped the horrors of nature's fury only to end up as a red smear on an otherwise harmless road. One of us was reassured about the driver's eventual entry into Heaven - having put the fear of God into so many people's hearts.
A change of drivers at Dehradun was accompanied by a gusty sigh of relief. The 'fear of God' companion sought our driver's name and, as he later told us, merely to ensure that he never got into another car which had a driver whose name even remotely resembled it. The trip back to Delhi was uneventful.
The trek to Roopkund still remains a proposal but, seeing the possible horrors that we could have undergone, that is a blessing. I do hope that all those who are undergoing such suffering now also end up safe in their homes.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A double century

What with the heat in Delhi keeping me for walking and a trek that will demand a lot from my lungs and legs, I feel woefully ill-prepared. So, in the spirit of the times, I shall do a virtual walk through my blogging days and assume that it shall help me in my all too real trek.

I know it is customary to do this 'blogging journey' post on the anniversary of the blog. The issue is confused for me, however, as is most of my life. Having started blogging in 2009 and written 21 posts with no more readership than my own eager visits to see if anyone had actually come around - yes, I was tracking my own page-views those days - I summarily abandoned blogging and re-started only in 2012 when I joined Indiblogger and started blogging in real earnest. Now, which of those dates is the anniversary date and how many years should I consider? The question is too burdensome and, thus, I am doing my walk through my blogging in my 200th post.

The shade more than a year of active blogging has been very kind to me. I always thought I wrote humor but invariably failed to laugh at any of my own posts when reading them. It was nice to know that there were a lot of others in the world who considered what I wrote humorous. There were so many kind people in the world coming around to comment on my posts that I even was enthused into indexing my posts. The tags on top of the blog - Humor, TreksNTravels, Fiction, Philosophy, Others - lead you to the indexes of that classification of posts. The fact is that - bar Philosophy - almost all my posts are written in what I consider my humorous style. Posts under Others, sub-classified as Blogging are mostly related to blog awards and have a surfeit of biographical information - so much so I never felt the need to ever write the customary "About Me' section.

Blogging also lead me to write for a few short story contests and, now, I have a short story published in the collection "Uff Ye emotions". What is more, a social media ignoramus like me now owns up to a Facebook page for my blog - Life is Like This. I am yet to go beyond into the uncharted waters of Twitter and all but, who knows, where else blogging will take me?

The best part of blogging for me is that it has brought me in touch with wonderful people. Meeting bloggers regularly in Bangalore and, now, finding bloggers in other cities like Delhi making the effort to meet is such a warm feeling.

From the day I started blogging again in 2012, blogging has taken me - in real life as well - through different and exciting paths. I look forward to more of it in the days to come. If, in the meantime, I have given a few of my readers a few enjoyable moments at least, I can hope that some of you will be with me on that journey to make things altogether more appealing.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Indolent Pleasures

I really do not know where human beings get these crazy notions. The one that has irked me all my life is this idea that somehow a person has to justify his/her existence by doing something. I mean, my own belief is that "I exist therefore I deserve to exist" but this commonsense notion seems to find disfavor with almost everyone. People keep asking me "But what do you do?" and my answer "I live" is considered absolutely insufficient if not downright insulting. It is this stupid notion that causes otherwise harmless people to go out into the world and create absurd things like bundled derivatives and cause untold harm and misery to large swathes of the population.

I have always been made of sterner stuff. I prefer to loll around in my sofa and take my ease. Unfortunately, the world does not need to convince me of its rightness in order to get me to work. All it has to do is to stop supplying me my food and other needs (to be frank, it never started) for me to have to get off my behind and toil at something. I offer as solid proof of the existence of brains inside my skull that I did not starve for more than a few hours before I realized that I would have to set aside some funds to feed myself before I started taking my ease.

Having set out with the clear intention of working just for long enough to ensure that I could have a modicum of comfort through the rest of my life, I did work for as long as eighteen years before I could bid goodbye to my forced adherence to the stupid notions of Society. Even as a child, I never had had the itch to boast of possessing the most marbles - so I did not fall into the pit of wanting to crow about having reached the top of whichever dunghill I had toiled in.

My annual visit to Delhi involves a visit to my erstwhile place of toil. Nothing gives as much joy to the slave as a visit to his place of enslavement when he knows that he is now irretrievably free. So, every time I visit my former office I feel a happiness akin to ecstasy. The funny thing is the sort of impression that I seem to have left behind. Can you believe that there are hordes of people there who actually believe that I am a workaholic and still refuse to accept - after seven years - that I could ever be capable of living a life of absolute indolence?

Thankfully, it does not require their belief now for me to loll around at home and watch with grave interest the procession of ants that is wending its way towards the sugar that I spilled and am too lazy to clean up. There are those who feel impelled to try to corner all the marbles in the world. I watch their antics with amused interest. There are those who work at bettering the lot of Society. I salute them without feeling any need to emulate their actions.

I have found my metier. Anyone who does something needs an appreciative audience. In a world of people scurrying around turning head-stands and cart-wheels, I am the only one who is prepared to sit around and applaud. I have my hands poised. Now, strut out your stuff!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Melting Moments

There are cities that are termed 'melting pots of culture'. There is this city which seems to have taken that phrase too literally with a special emphasis on the 'melting' part. Delhi seems to be concentrating on melting anyone who has haplessly strayed into its precincts. So, if someone talks of a river of people in Delhi, you cannot be sure whether he is talking only figuratively or whether he actually means that what is now a river was once a crowd of people melted down.

That reminded me of a friend of mine who used to say, "Summers in Delhi are very romantic. Full of melting moments." In all my near eighteen years in Delhi I never found Romance, however. It is, may be, because I was too busy melting all by myself to melt in anyone else's company. Now, though, people melt away the moment I hove to on the horizon. (Maybe they did even then - but, as I said, I was too busy melting to notice)

As I sit here contemplating another day of venturing into the cauldron, my only consolation is that my trip to the Himalayas will help re-freeze me into some humanoid shape. As it is, people say that I look like some child had put me together from lumps of snow - a sort of animated Snowman, abominable or otherwise - and this repeated melting and re-freezing is certainly not helping the cause of converting me into every Pretty Young Thing's dream man (Hey! I read fantasy, so you cannot stop me indulging in the wildest of fantasies!)

Once more into the furnace my friends. I have nothing to lose but my moisture, having lost everything else.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A sense of humor?

After a long stint of hunting for jobs, Ajay bags one with a call center operation and rings up his close friend to share his joy.
"Dude! I got a job with ...."
"Pleeaase tell me you are not calling me to sell me insurance"
Ha Ha Ha
Ajay let his friend down badly by not laughing heartily at this sally. A shocking lack of a sense of humor! His friend was aghast.

Vinay's boss was at his home for a dinner.
His wife says, "You know Vinay is the only guy I have seen who can add two and two and bring out a different result every time. I am surprised that he works in finance."
You have no idea how ridiculously serious men can be. They just cannot take a joke on themselves.

Rahul and his wife are at a party.
"You look gorgeous"
"She'd better after the fortune she paid to the beauty parlor"
Well! If men cannot laugh at themselves, women are worse!

There have been occasions when Indians have been accused of lacking A Sense of Humor due to the manner in which they reacted to some comments. That link there constitutes my own rebuttal to that accusation in the-NRI - the only guest post that has not been linked from my blog and, thus, the only one that very few of my readers would have come across. A strange piece for a so-called humorist to have written!

The whole point about a sense of humor is that people do not have a uniform attitude to all jokes on themselves. Every person has some sensitive areas and someone who can take a joke on his baldness may be unable to see humor in his physical ineptitude. As a generalization women do not take to jokes on their looks while men find it difficult to laugh off a joke on their ability at work. Such sensitivities change over time but, whether they are gender-specific or not, sensitive areas do exist.

Some jokes cease to amuse at some times. Like in the first case, a joke about call centers is unlikely to be amusing when the concerned person is expecting to be congratulated. Some jokes are misplaced depending on the audience. As in the second case, where the wife's joke characterizes the husband as inept in front of his boss.or the third case where the husband jokes about his wife's looks in a party.

In my mind, there is a difference between a wit and a humorist. A wit is someone who makes people laugh and, for him, it does not matter whether he makes people laugh at someone or not. That sort of wit is abhorrent to me (though I have been carried away by a line and done it too often myself) since it is a joy that comes out of someone's hurt and any sensitive person is bound to feel guilty even as the punchline makes her laugh.

A humorist on the other hand is someone who makes people laugh with him. Normally, the joke is an alternative lighthearted way of looking at circumstances rather than a dig at the foibles of people. To me, this is the best part of humor. If a humorist can succeed in making people take a lighthearted view of life, he has contributed more to the happiness of people than if he made them laugh at someone else.

Satire, for example, is a dig at people and Society. There is no denying the fact that it hurts the target - but, then, it is intended to since it seeks to drive in a message and, perhaps, alter the behavior. Theoretically, a joke that hurts a person may well be said in order to change behavior - though jokes about height etc. do not seem like they can be very efficacious in changing anything. As in everything else in the grey area, the perpetrator alone knows his motives - but to accuse the target of lacking a sense of humor when you full well know that your joke would hurt him seems like a bit of cynicism.

I do not intend saying that everyone who reacts badly to a joke is correct in doing so. There are too many people in the world who really do lack a sense of humor and go out of their way to seek injury where none was intended. I only intend saying that when a 'humorist' accuses another of lacking a sense of humor, there is a good possibility that it is the 'humorist' who was lacking in sense.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A brief interval

Every now and then I make my readers extremely happy - by allowing them some peace with silence on my blog. This, then, is yet another such happy occasion. So, if you see dancing on the streets and people suddenly laughing out aloud for no reason, please do not immediately think of ambulances and straitjackets. It is merely one of my hapless readers unable to contain his joy.

Yes - it is that time of the year again when I go around to haunt the Himalayas instead of my blog. I shall be leaving for Delhi tomorrow and shall be there till the 14th. (A warning: If I find a PC there and if the heat there has not manage to completely fry the innards of my skull - calling it brains seems to invite a lot of Boos and I have no need for further reminders - you may not necessarily find me silent in this period) From the 15th to the 27th, you can really relax for I shall be doing my celebrated act of the gasping trekker all the way to Roopkund and, hopefully, back. 

Meanwhile my PC has ultimately given up the ghost after living to a ripe old age of 9 years. The timing could have been better. Had it died a month back I could have said "Le PC est mort, Vive le PC" and lined up the next. As it is, any such endeavor shall await my return. So, maybe, who knows how much further peace shall reign on Earth. Anyone feeling appropriately grateful can organize an appropriate requiem for my deceased cyber-companion.

Before the cacophony of untuneful joyous singing erupts, I shall bid Au Revoir.