A Christmas Carol

I believe that the books that we have read as a child do have much to offer if looked at again with adult eyes. There are things, for example, friendship, brotherhood, love, treachery, heartbreak, misery, war, and most of all death, that a child has yet to encounter. As far as adults go, we have had a fair share of these either it being a personal experience or from other people’s lives.

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A Christmas Carol was first published in the year 1843 and today we are in 2017. This very fact, that two people, the writer and the reader, can come in contact, have a conversation, and momentarily, share a period of time long gone, is a testament to the power that books hold.

In the first chapter, we are introduced to Ebenezer “Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” on whom “External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often “came down” handsomely, and Scrooge never did.”, and on top of all that, he hates Christmas.

This is the first time I am reading Charles Dickens as far as I recall (I may have read his work as I child), and his writing style took me by a pleasant surprise.
When he mentions the death of Scrooge’s partner and friend, Jacob Marley, this is how he describes his condition.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

The flow, the usage of words, the craft, I loved every bit of them and I am sharing direct quotes from early on in the book so that you may get a taste of it.
Your mileage may vary.

Scrooge’s nephew comes to his house to invite him to Christmas dinner which you may have understood by now he refused.
He the turns away two men who came seeking donation for the poor, and gives his clerk, Bob, a hard time when he asks for a day’s leave on Christmas.  Later that night, Marley’s ghost pays him a visit and when he comes to terms that something haunted is coming his way, he says, “It’s humbug still!” said Scrooge. “I won’t believe it.”.

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I will not say more as it will be a major disservice to you, the reader.
Though I will add that Marley’s ghost isn’t the only ghost who pays him a visit.

This is a story of great inspiration and heart about how we as person change over the course of our lives, be it for the good or the bad, and how life gives us a chance to reflect on our life and mend it before it gets too late.
I highly recommend this book to any lover of Classics.

Also, I take great pleasure in informing you that this novella is the first book that I have started (7/2) and finished (15/2) in 2017. As I have stated in my article, The Stranger, 2016 was not a productive year for me when it came to both reading and writing.
I am currently reading two non-fiction books, The Prince and Meditations.
Both of them require a good amount of brain juice and are not suited for just picking up and reading. For this reason, I started A Christmas Carol. I read it on my tablet through Google Play for free. This is a public domain book and you can easily find it for free, like on Gutenberg.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand toward the City. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!”

The Stranger

“I may not have been sure about what really did interest me, but I was absolutely sure about what didn’t.”

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This is an apt quote to give you a glimpse of the kind of book this is.
The Stranger is the story of a man, Meursalt (which will be called M in the following article) . To be honest though I have recently (by which I mean 24,  August 2016, Yeah,  2016 was not much of a productive year when it came to reading and writing) finished this book I had to google the name of the main character, not that the character or the story was not interesting, it is a fascinating book and a short read. It’s just that the other characters in M’s life are so interesting, and his life’s philosophy is so absorbing.

I had only a little time left and I didn’t want to waste it on God.

The story develops slowly,  if you venture to read it I recommend that you keep patience and give it some time to open itself to you.

Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.

Story begins with M visiting the countryside where his mother who has recently passed away who lived in what you may consider an old age home. The way he carries himself in the situation is very unconventional and bewildering to say the least.

The following stays true for most of what you will read in this book, his moral compass seems to be skewed but that’s just the way he thinks.

“I didn’t like having to explain to them, so I just shut up, smoked a cigarette, and looked at the sea.”

From the wiki on Absurdism –
“The absurdist philosopher Albert Camus stated that individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence while also defiantly continuing to explore and search for meaning. Absurdism shares some concepts, and a common theoretical template, with existentialism and nihilism.

Then there are the other characters of whom I will not give any further information. It’s a great book, a short read full of a particular kind of philosophy expressed in a fascinating way, something that I didn’t agree to on many levels but still I would recommend it to anyone who likes to read quality material and thoughts that even are, Absurd.

Algyojha

Quite a few years back, while strolling in Landmark, a book store which was one of the few good places to spend your time when visiting that particular shopping mall, I picked up a collection of Munshi Premchand stories and novels. Was it in Hindi or English, I don’t remember, neither do I remember as to why I didn’t buy it. What one does remember is, Munshi Premchand.Munshi Premchand

If you have had the opportunity and blessing of getting educated in India, chances are that you have met this man. Premchand was a prolific Hindi writer, holding the title: “Upanyas Samrat” (“Emperor among Novelists”), and has dozens of novels and hundreds of short stories to his name.

There are many things that one can not see clearly and need to be reminded about. Our indifferent attitude towards Hindi as a language does not fall under that. If only one notices in his or her life, how we flow through the days and weeks, and count how much proper interaction we are having with Hindi the indifference should be pretty clear.

I picked up this short story ‘अलग्योझा’ for the very simple reason that I wanted to read something in Hindi and having liked his writing style and stories as a kid, Premchand seemed the right choice.

The story premise is basic and one that we Indians have seen, heard, and read countless times. The classic tale of a child losing his mother at a young age and coming to terms with having a stepmother.
Don’t let the words basic premise fool you. This is Mr. Premchand’s work that you will be reading. There is great drama in it. Brotherly love, compassion, envy, care and nurture, sadness, moments of sunshine and humour.

As usual the work touches on many of the social issues that we have ourselves come to know and see. For one the fractioning of house from a joint family to separate nuclear units and how the relations that were once cherished get estranged. The title itself references to that.

I would leave the rest for you to discover and enjoy.
I read this story using this app on my tablet. You can also read it directly on this website.

I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

If you would like an auditory experience of the powerful words by Langston Hughes, I highly  recommend that you watch this, reciter, Denzel Washington.
Admit it, you already know you are in for a treat and indeed a treat it is, as was the movie this clip is from, The Great Debaters.

Unless you have been living under a rock, the situations of Black people in America, No! I am not talking about the horrors of the past, what’s done is done. I am talking about what is happening right now. The nightmare that the Blacks are still living which would have been, could have been, should have been a beautiful dream.
The Beautiful American Dream.
Rather what they have is a fancy social media tag #BlackLivesMatter, and even that was taken over by others in the form of #AllLivesMatter and what not, as though even that was too much for them to have.

Note that this poem dates back to 1945, a period of great difficulty for the African Americans, rampant with prejudice and racism that too institutionalized.
Yes, it is not as bad as it was then but as the great American scholar Imam Siraj Wahaj said, the racism problem never went away, it just went in deeper. If you aren’t familiar with what horrors I mentioned above and how it is bad but not as bad as it was, I request that you check the video below which is part of a lecture series, The Life of Malcolm X. Note that it is a sensitive topic and the Imam makes it clear, so things you will hear may hurt you.

Coming back to the poem.
I, too, sing America. The poet refers to his (can also be understood in the plural sense as referring to all the Africans Americans) patriotism, that he also feels for America, works for America, wants good for America, that he is also a part of America.

He is the darker brother, and discriminated against for being that, treated in a different way than others.
But he takes it on the chin, laughs, eats well, prepares .
If you intend to dig deep into this, I recommend that you read up on the Civil Rights Movement, learn more about Black History, and what all it took to change their situation.

He prepares for a future, where he will be treated equally, and no one will have the audacity to scorn at him.
Sadly the future that the poet wanted has not materialized, not yet.

Besides they will see that he always was, what he is now, beautiful. A fact that they were oblivious to or rather purposefully overlooked.
And be ashamed.

I, too, am America.

A House for Mr Biswas

If you ever come across a scene, where the members of a family are falling head over heels for someone, running around that person, trying to please and appease him. Know that the creature in front of you is the Son-In-Law of that family. This is an Indian cultural thing that is quite common here in India, though this status and prestige of the Son-In-Law depreciates over the years, the rate of depreciation depends on how he treats his wife and her family members.
The sad part is that Mr Biswas didn’t even receive the above mentioned honour when he married into the Tulsi Family.

Having purchased the paperback in August’2013, I picked it up last week. I don’t remember from where did I came to know about this book, but I am thankful that I did, for it is an excellent read, beautifully written by  V. S. Naipaul.

‘A work of great comic power qualified with firm and unsentimental compassion’                                                                                                                                 -Anthony Burgess

I couldn’t agree more.

The book is about the life of Mohun Biswas and his yearning to own a house.

How terrible it would have been. . . to have lived without even attempting to lay claim to one’s portion of the earth; to have lived and died as one has been born, unnecessary and unaccommodated.

The story is setup in Trinidad and major characters are Indo-Trinidadians. It begins with telling you that Mr Biswas is living in his own house, he is forty six years old, and he is to die soon. What follow is a journey that takes you back in time, to his birth, in the ‘wrong way’, in a village that is uniquely Indian. Most of the Indians living in urban India do have some connection with the villages and small districts because of family and friends though that connection is getting weaker by the day, and if not, most Indians have watched enough Bollywood to feel as if the the opening chapter is going on in some village in India itself.

While reading most books there are moment you pass a smile or have a chuckle, this one is different. I couldn’t help myself laughing out loud through out the book and the last time that I remember having such an experience was when I read Catch- 22.

As the story develops, you start feeling for Mr Biswas, his struggles, his troubles, his fears, his triumphs, all feel real, and you connect with him and other characters in the book. It all feels real.

‘When you sick you forget what it is to be well. And when you well you don’t really know what it is to be sick. Is the same with not having place to go back to every afternoon.’

Roti Kapda aur Makaan (Food, Clothing, and Shelter). These are the key struggles of many Indian and for the fact, Humans around the world. People who have the above should be grateful to God, be more humble and charitable.

Above I mentioned the Tulsi Family. Mr Biswas marries one of the daughters of this family, though the circumstances in which the marriage takes place, are quite hilarious for the reader, but surreal for Mr Biswas.

Mr. Biswas has no money or position. He was expected to become a Tulsi.

 From the ultimate low, Mr Biswas pulls himself up, and makes something out of his life.

He was going out into the world, to test it for his power to frighten. The past was counterfeit, a series of cheating accidents. Real life, and its especial sweetness, awaited; he was still beginning.

I wouldn’t divulge anything more from the story because I want to you read it for yourself. I had a great time reading this book, laughed a great deal, grew solemn in certain sections of the book, especially when the book was near its end.

Some of the quotes from the book:

He has begun to wait, not only for love, but for the world to yield its sweetness and romance. He deferred all his pleasure in life until that day.

There is, in some weak people who feel their own weakness and resent it, a certain mechanism which, operating suddenly and without conscious direction, releases them from final humiliation.

For Shama and her sisters and women like them, ambition, if the word could be used, was a series of negatives: not to be unmarried, not to be childless, not to be an undutiful daughter, sister, wife, mother, widow.

Father and son, each saw the other as weak and vulnerable, and each felt a responsibility for the other, a responsibility which, in times of particular pain, was disguised by exaggerated authority on the one side, exaggerated respect on the other.

PS: I did find out from where I learned about this book, TIME’S ALL-TIME 100 Novels.