Excerpts from, Thoughts about & Feelings for: The English Patient

I’m reading The English Patient lately. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve read. At all. And therefore I’m quite out of words to describe it.

I’ll just paste a few lines here that made me stop & smile:

“The shelves nearest the torn wall bowed with the rain, which had doubled the weight of the books”

“And then, as if there were someone in the room who was not to be disturbed, she walked backwards, stepping on her own footprints, for safety, but also as part of a private game, so it would seem from the steps that she had entered the room and then the corporeal body had disappeared.”

“She will stare at the word in a novel, lift it off the book and carry it to a dictionary.”

Clearly, this is no Rand. I cannot explain what about them is beautiful. But can’t you see it? I’ll try anyway.

It’s the way the words are placed, and the sentence formed. It’s the way they are thought of, in the writer’s head. A different perspective. And perhaps, a different logic (for the lack of a better word). For the first time, it’s not so much about ‘what’ the author says, as much as it is ‘how’ he says it. And this ‘how’ is different for the sake of difference, it’s not fake, it’s not pretentious, it’s not trying too hard. The uniqueness of the ‘how’ is born out of the author’s intention behind his words. In essence, out of ‘what’  he says.

I wish I could write more such examples. There are so many, so subtle, that you almost miss them. Like those invisible dust flakes that glide upon your cornea, that you see sometimes when you look into the light. There now, Gone the next second. A hidden meaning behind every line. Not reading between the lines, but beyond them.

War is an eternal theme in the book. And yet, there’s no blood. All the characters are bleeding though, profusely. All the time. It is so strange – we are so used to a certain perception of war through novels & books. We don’t really understand the extent of its calamity unless told in an explicit, gruelling, gruesome, horrifying manner. But The Eglish Patient never really talks of the violence; or the bloodshed. In fact, you almost forget that there was a war. That was survived by the characters. Except in some places where the realization sneaks up on you. And then there’s a poignant stab – as you are suddenly introduced to pain hiding beyond words that seemed so innocent some time back.

But I am not concerned with that. For the first time in my life, I’m not eager to go to the next page. I’m not so concerned with ‘what’ the writer wants to say. What’s his ‘point’? I’m not looking beyond the words I’m reading at any point of time. Because that’s the only way one can read this book. Not with the intention of finishing it – but just with the intention of reading it.

Here’s another gem:

Now, The English Patient himself is a man with no identity. Disfigured beyond recognition, he has no name, no nation, no family, no possessions except for a sea of knowledge. And silently, a paragraph about his past, a memoir narrated, hits you out of nowhere at the way ‘fate’ (for the lack of a better word, works):

“The desert could not be claimed or owned – it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names long before Canterbury existed, long before battles & treaties quilted Europe and the East. Its caravans, those strange rambling feasts and cultures, left nothing behind, not an ember. All of us, even those with European homes and children in the distance, wished to remove the clothing of our countries. It was a place of faith. We disappeared into the landscape. Fire and sand. We left the harbours of oasis. The places water came to and touched…..Ain, Bir, Wadi, Foggara, Khottara, Shaduf. I didn’t want my name against such beautiful names. Erase the family name! Erase nations! I was taught such things by the desert.

Still, some wanted their mark here. On that dry water-course, on this shingled knoll. Small vanities in this plot of land northwest of the Sudan, south of Cyrenaica. Fenelon-Barnes wanted the fossil trees he discovered to bear his name. He even wanted a tribe to take his name, and spent a year on the negotiations. Then Bauchan outdid him, having a type of sand dune named after him. But I wanted to erase my name and the place I had come from. By the time war arrived, after ten years in the desert, it was easy for me to slip across borders, not belong to anyone, to any nation.”

Make yourself comfortable….

After my whining in ‘My blog sucks’ I have finally decided to start writing any rubbish that comes to my mind. So here is something that took place sometime back:

Well I indulged in a little “social experiment” sometime back. There are a lot of forums on the internet, as we all know. We most are quite useful — in situations where three heads could be better than one. But then there are also ‘social’ forums — where one can basically socialize and generally air ones opinions.

Background:

SO, I’m registered on bookcrossing.com (there’s a post about what that is somewhere here). And after quite sometime, I actually began to take it seriously. I had signed up for a bookray/ring sometime back and I’d recd tht book — but for certain reasons, I ended up keeping the book for much longer than I was supposed. Not very good. I actually didn’t make the time to read it. And the person who started the ray kept sending me msgs telling me to ‘make a journal entry’. And I’m like Damn! I haven’t even read it yet — what will I write? So I tell her yeah I’ve recd it and haven’t had the time to make an entry. Days go by, and I still haven’t read or made any entries and this person is getting more an more irritated wondering why I haven’t made any entry. And well, although I should be reading. I’m getting a lil irritated too — I said I would make an entry and this person isn’t worried that I’ve had her book for some time, just obsessed over the entry. So I finally decide to write whatever lil I can tell abt the book. And then I finally realize: by a journal entry, she means I’m supposed to write that I have the book. Wow!I leave my views abt it anyway, and contact this person telling them I have an tht I’ll be mailing the book across to the next person, and explaining why I wasn’t making the ‘journal entry’ albeit with a little sarcasm thrown in for good effect.

Experiment:

That gets me thinking — this is weird. She knows I have the book. I told her that. So why worry over me confirming the same thing again on a website? And that got me thinking some more — The purpose of the website was to set books free, let them end up with whoever and then be surprised when someone makes a journal entry telling you their reading your book. But instead it seemed that everyone was obsessed over the tiny details — not just this person, but many others on the website too. I wanted to know if other people thought the same way, so I posted my ponderings on their forum, w/o any mention of this person of course. A general wondering if we obsess over our books once they go into a ray or ring or just left somewhere.

Result:

Quite a few people responded — some didn’t care where their books went. Some did. Some used to but not anymore. Some did in certain circumstances. Cool. Then, this person appears, assuming that the entire thread was targeted towards them. SO, they try to justify themselves and essentially to provide a synopsis of the entire episode. NOW, the replies AFTER her post contain people’s own reactions after freeing the book, AND tell me whether they think I should have left a journal entry or not upon getting the book.

Perspective:

Now, everything written till here can be ignored. ‘Cuz this is the only important part.

1. These people ad no idea of what had transpired between me and this other person. Yet, they made it their business to tell me what they think I should have done.

2. My original post did not mention this person or the incident whatsoever. The incident might have been a trigger, but I did wonder about this everytime I was on the website. That this other person seemed to make an assumption was silly enough. Even sillier was the fact that people forgot to talk about the main content of the post and went on to advise me or her.

Conclusion:

The content of my post was slightly disturbing. No one really wants to admit that they obsess over things. (Particularly in these developed countries where the educated think that it borders on a psychological disorder) But well, we do. On something or the other. And usually, it’s only a matter of getting things into perspective. So, quite obviously, many feel uncomfortable reading it. Yet, most are strikingly honest. There are others who don’t feel uncomfortable. Kudos to them. However, the ones who feel uncomfortable, these belong to two categories: 1. The ones that still addressed the topic, as honestly and as impartially as they could. 2. The ones who told me what I should/should not have done.

When they see a mirror, some people will want to punch it.

Hear ye, book lovers all — www.bookcrossing.com

Another jewel from the treasure chest of my internet voyages. I came across this website pretty long ago, about two years ago actually, and I registered myself as well, and released one book — Maximum City by Suketu Mehta. The concept of the website is pretty new and seems a bit odd at first. It actually takes a while to grow on you. The website was started by a certain Ron Hornbacker and his wife in 2001. The objective of the website is to track an object by means of figuring out who it is with. In the website’s case, the object happens to be a book.

This is how it works:
1. You register your book on bookcrossing.com. Registration requires entering the book’s ISBN code (each book has one) on the book registration form and filling up other details like name, author, etc. The website gives you a BCID (Bookcrossing ID) code. Then one writes this code and a small note in the book to this effect.

2. Pass on the book to someone you know, or give it off to charity, or leave it in a park where someone can find it. Once the book’s left, one makes a release note on the website proclaiming that the book is ‘out in the wild’. The ides is to get the book traveling.
3. When someone finds the book, the note tells him to go to this site, enter the BCID code and make a journal entry saying he’s caught the book from so and so place and basically update the status of the book, adding in his own two bits. Once he’s done reading, he will pass it on to someone else or release it in the wild again hoping that the next person will read the note and make a journal entry on the website.

4. During this whole process the original owner of the book and all the others who ‘caught’ the book, made journal entries on the website and released it are able to track the book through the website. It’s absolutely fun to see where your book might end up!

The website makes this whole process very easy and very creative. Each member gets his/her own book shelf, where one can maintain a list of books and tag them depending on their status. The shelf is divided into sections like books caught, books released, and so on. You get to see which books were recently released, which were recently caught, and you can even search by area to see if someone released a book in your city! (Btw, the website has over 750,000 members across at least 50 countries). You can even interact with the other members and arrange to exchange book. The website is also immensely user friendly and everything is explained in great detail.

*the whole concept of the website rests on a reader’s ability to ‘let go’ of a book. This does not particularly appeal to many people. I have only released books I do not like, and can’t bring myself to release anything else. However, it’s fun. Fun to see where your book’s gone and how many people have read it. The other premise on which the concept rests is a presumption that anyone who finds the book will bother to make a journal entry and most importantly, will pass it on to someone so that the book will keep traveling. Traveling and tracking is the essential purpose of making the book a part of this website. If your finder happens to be a keeper or doesn’t make the entry before giving away the book, then the fun is lost.

Now, the first premise is quite under one’s control, the second isn’t. What the website does, is asks the readers to bear in mind the first premise and ignore the second — quite a
rational approach, considering that the second premise is anyway not under one’s control. The issue however remains: Not many people are rational.

However, the website, still has many members, and quite a few from India as well. The concept, although not entirely new, (WheresGeorge.org tracks US currency notes and Phototag.org tracks disposable cameras) is nonetheless creative and fun!!

Oh, btw, you’ll find the link under web-o-scope.

Freakonomics….contd. Excerpt 2

The authors of Freakonomics do uncover certain truths about transactions in today’s day and age and give us certain new points. One such I liked, and is the second excerpt from this book:

Chap 2: How Is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real Estate Agents – Page 16:

It is common for one party to a transaction to have better information than another party. In the parlance of economists, such a case is known as an information asymmetry. We accept as a verity of capitalism that someone (usually an expert) knows more than someone else (usually a consumer). But information symmetries everywhere have been gravely wounded by the Internet. Information is the currency of the Internet.

Creation v/s Imagination

I read a bit of Harry Potter today. Well, actually, I listened to it, as my brother was reading. And I found it to be so pointless. I read this book when I was maybe in college, and I went on to read the other 5 books as well. At the time, it seemed pretty interesting. But now, they make no sense whatsoever. This change in opinion, has come to apply not just to the HP series, but to all books in the fantasy genre. I have also come to understand that fantasy as a genre makes no sense whatsoever. This understanding was the result of about an hour of indulgence in a soliloquoy, which if witnessed, might become the basis of assumptions of mental instability. Considering that, it is going to take me a lot of effort to try and patiently put my thoughts into words. However, I will try and present my arguments against the fantasy genre of literature.The crux of this argument is imagination v/s creation. The former is what fantasies evolve from, or are created from. Indeed, J.K. Rowling seems to have a HUGE capacity for it, and so did J.R.R. Tolkein. The latter is what art, science, and essentially, everything of any consequence to man evolves from. Man survived, and continues to do so because of his ability to create. Writing, like other arts, is also a result of man’s ability to create, or his creativity. What the fantasy genre does, is reduces this process of creating, or man’s ability to create into a whimsical act often quite chaotic, having no implication and more importantly, no reason.

When one creates, one makes something out of something; not nothing. Creation requires basic raw material. In the case where the object of creation is intangible, it requires raw material in the form of thought, concepts and ideas. These thoughts, concepts and ideas also, cannot be created out of nothing — they need to have a solid basis in reality, they need to be justified, and most importantly, they need to be flawless. Thus, creation, at all times requires building up from a foundation of well-thought out, flawless premises and with a clear, unambiguous and unique objective. Take examples of absolutely any object of creation and you will realise this is the only way the process works. The process of creation, thus, requires certain parameters, definitions, a purpose, and most importantly an irrefutable reason as to why the creation must occur in the first place.

Take imagination on the other hand.  To ‘imagine’ is to create an image in one’s mind. Of what? Absolutely anything! Since it’s just an image, it requires to reason for its existence, it requires no objective, no parameters, and needs no definitions. Since its existence is devoid of any purpose, it has no implication, so there is no compelling reason as to why the image exists or why it doesn’t. Since it has no parameters, or objective, it is built on absolutely no premises, and thus has no direction. It can go wherever it wants, no patterns to follow, since there is no direction. An example of this is Harry Potter, and just about every other book that was based on fantasy. The book’s content could go almost anywhere. If the content were left unfinished, almost anyone would be able to finish it, since it would require nothing more than just a wild goose chase after random imagery. Since almost anyone could finish the content, or write one — the book no longer is an expression of the author’s ideas, it no longer has a central idea which is the author’s own and essentially the author isn’t writing it because he has something to say, but because he wants to say SOMETHING.

This entire argument is based on the presupposition that creation is superior to imagination. After the above explanation, my reasons for this become obvious, as does the fact in itself.

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner: Excerpt 1

My first economics book. Well, not exactly, I have read textbooks before, but hell, they ain’t no match for this one. Not that that’s saying a lot about this particular book (because my textbooks are seriously low standards to compare with) but it gives one some idea. I bought this one since I wanted to read up something about economics — and it had to be something that wouldn’t kill the tiny flicker of interest in my mind.  I’m glad to say this one hasn’t.  It has also piqued my curiosity quite a bit. Not just about economics but about the mechanics of this book itself.

The book itself doesn’t seem to have a certain purpose. Rather it seems to have certain randomness. Like someone decided to freely associate with and about economics. So it’s not as if the writers want to really make a point. Although they do claim that the point is to show how economics works everywhere and everything. Sure. Fine. One could buy that, only once you read the book this seems like such an apology of a ‘point’. Something they ‘had’ to come up with, so they picked whatever seemed most obvious.

Anyhow, the book does have certain observations that are correct. Both authors do ‘uncover’ certain underlying premises about human life that seem to at work in the economics of society.  Therefore certain noteworthy excerpts have warranted mention and extrapolation.

Chap 2. How is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real-Estate Agents – Page 55

“…… people respond strongly to strong incentives. And there are few incentives stronger than the fear of random violence — which, in essence, is why terrorism is so effective.”

Well, fear is a very strong incentive. And although fear of random violence may be a strong incentive, there are ones much stronger. Stronger as incentives. Since they will produce reactions that will be stronger, in a very quiet, un-noisy manner, but yet, very strong. Fear is a unique emotion. It has unbelievable motivational qualities. Most people (almost all, actually) function out of fear. It remains one of the primary factors for function in people.  To the stone-age man (I like this term, unscientific as it may be) fear was the only motive — he hunted because he was afraid of starving, he sought protection because he was afraid of  the wild, he sought a mate because he was afraid of extinction and he sought other stone-age men because he was afraid of being alone.  People haven’t changed much. Their reasons haven’t changed much.

One of mankind’s most fundamental “creations” — Religion — came out of a grotesque surrender to fear. This statement has two aspects: That of religion being a fundamental creation and that it exists because of fear. That religion was created by man becomes obvious since there is no proof of the existence of Religion independent of man. He created it since it served a purpose. This purpose was control. Control over the minds of those who could be controlled. What kind of a person can be controlled by another? One who subordinates himself, his mind, his ability to think to that of another person. One who has no sense of ‘self’. A person without a self is no longer a human being, but just a creature who lives out of a simple pain pleasure mechanism like all other animals and therefore, like them, is motivated only by fear. The creature’s lack of self incapacitates him to have any other motivating factor, since any other factor would require the capcity of thinking. Religion was created to control such creatures. And it thrives, due to the existence of such creatures.