A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. ~Oscar Wilde

Sands of Struggle

Dune – Frank Herbert – first published – 1966 FIVE minus TWO stars. (different to THREE stars )

DUNE book cover

Dune has been labelled by many as the best science fiction book ever, has a starry eyed fan following, and was first recommended to me by a primary school teacher who has an intense interest in science, science fiction and teaching. In spite of that, and the fact that the book has been on my bookshelf for around ten years, I never read it. For one thing, I am wary of reading books which have an indiscriminate fandom. Fans who seem to like things because they are “just so great!” Or “amazing!” or any other things that define a following but not the followed. Other than the long ago met teacher, those who recommended Dune to me seemed to me to be more of the starry eyed kind rather than the nerd. Nerds are great because they can defend and discuss their background research and solidify their appreciation in a way I understand.

I started reading Dune without any expectations, just curious. My on-his-way-out-of-adolescence son recommended (insisted) that I read it as he wishes us to continue our family tradition of watching science fiction movies together when the new Dune movie comes out in 2020. He said it would be better to read the book before we saw the movie. I am glad I did. I did end up giving it four stars. A better rating would be 5 stars minus 2 for the anti feminist shades. It is surprising, because in the 1960s feminism was a surging heard all around the world. More on this in the spoiler alerted section.

The story works within the parameters of young adult fiction, which is how I would categorise it. There are strong elements of mysticism threaded with scientific imagination, interwoven within superstition which makes the premise seem like real life. Intelligent, rebellious youth trained in martial arts, the sciences, mind and body control meets destiny to become a religious leader. It is an old story (no shame there) retold with an endeavour to unify the various arms of knowledge and wisdom mankind may gather. It is easy to fall in love with young Paul and follow his growth into a religious leader who is also a political head of government with a fanatical following. It is easy to recognise his wisdom, and understand how difficult it is for his followers to see the glitz and not the conniving and the heartbreak behind the life which Paul must lead. It is easy for the reader to root for the young, wise one who sees his own glamour and his pitfalls equally clearly, but eventually makes decisions based on what would be good for All.

The “Litany Against Fear” – perhaps holds the strongest appeal for today’s young adult reading this book. Standing on the brink of adulthood, faced with an uncertain and unseen future, expected to make choices about education and career about a life yet unseen, this would be a strong mantra to draw strength from –
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

This is not a new concept. Anyone who is familiar with ancient philosophies, has seen meditations about overcoming fear in some form or the other. It is placed perfectly in a story about an adolescent trying to bring sense to an adult world, therefore, it grips the imagination. It may even be helpful to memorise, for the so inclined.

Another quote – nothing new in itself, but good to be found in a story which grips popular imagination.
“When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong – faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!
SPOILER ALERT
!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have taken two stars away from the perfect rating for the two following reasons.

1. According to the Bene Gesserit legend, the saviour of mankind would be “Kwisatz Haderach”. He – note the pronoun – would have powers that no woman could ever have because a woman could look into the Truth everywhere but one place. The Kwisatz Haderach would see the whole truth because he would see where woman could and more. This is a not so subtle acceptance that a man is capable of more than a woman because a woman has limitations which a man does not. I have no idea whether Frank Herbert intended to convey this message. If it is unintentional, it is worse, because it reveals a hidden belief, and thus the more dangerous.

The story has many powerful women who are pivotal to the plot, but they are secondary to the Kwisatz Haderach, by decree – of the author. The mother, without whose training Paul would not have been ready when the need arose, the lover who stood by him through the wars, the sister who was more formidable than an adult in her knowledge, understanding, and skills, the wife whom he accepted and who immortalised his story with her gift of the pen. They all exist but to advance the job and fame of the Kwisatz Haderach, not for their own brilliant space in the legend.

2. The last paragraph of the book-
“Think on it, Chani: that princess will have the name, yet she’ll live as less than a concubine—never to know a moment of tenderness from the man to whom she’s bound. While we, Chani, we who carry the name of concubine—history will call us wives.”

Paul marries Irulan to ensure his position in the Imperium. He promises Chani that Irulan will never know a moment of tenderness from him, and she will be his only love. I do not know what the future books will bring, but Jessica’s comment makes my blood run cold. The idea of Jessica and Chani to be remembered as wives, not as the Reverend Mother or the woman who fought an equal battle at the side of Paul seems repugnant. The implication that Irulan is less than Chani, or Jessica, the concubines who were more beloved than wives, because she is a pawn, albeit willing, in a political game, and because she is never going to feel her man’s tenderness is so outrageous, that I nearly rated this book a zero star.

There is a subtle undercurrent of, if not precisely of misogyny, an insidious undertone of men and women being not quite equal, that is unsettling.

Joy and Luck

A pursuit of joy and wish to harness luck inspired Suyuan Woo top create the The Joy LuckJoy luck Club cover Club. In her novel of the same name(published in 1989, and made into a movie in 1993) ,  author Amy Tan explores the relationship between a mother and a daughter, that most fragile of tenacious bonds. It is a tale of failures and triumphs,  of sorrow and joy, of misunderstandings and love.

 

Each generation grows up questioning the previous, even if the questions are silent in one’s head,and there is an outward kowtowing to the demands of a deep rooted culture. This outward complaisance often leads to the roots settling in and the person becoming part of the culture. Or is the other way around? Or does it not happen often?

When mothers having been uprooted from their own pasts, raise their daughters in a far away land, they find a tension in holding on to the land of their birth, and allowing themselves to be free of the bitterness that uprooted them in the first place. Bitterness there always seems to be. In being abandoned by their family, or by their husbands, in the shame of loving a mother who brought shame into the family, in the trauma of having to leave babies behind and trusting that strangers would save them.

Youthful America can hold out lures to these women who come from ancient cultures, whether it is the glittering life visible from across the seas, or the seduction of breaking free from the entwining, centuries old bonds, or getting away from a past that has become unbearable, and starting afresh. The pride in one’s heritage jostles with the battles of one’s youth. There is an uneasy breakdown of the conviction that their upbringing is the only one true path, which drives cracks into their assuredness of the right and the wrong. Daughters grow up with a reluctant foot in a land they do not know, in roots that they cannot see, and a wavering foot in a land they live and breathe in, desperate to belong. In the end, the delicate balance between love and understanding, of hope and a desire to build bridges, builds a new system of roots. 

Not understanding Mah Jong, seemed to be a bit of a hindrance as there was a vague feeling of missing the point.  There was also a need to refer back multiple times between chapters and story lines. It was a little confusing. However, in the end, it was well worth the read. 

DP and MG

It has taken me the better part of two years to complete my first reading of Devdatta Pattanaik’s “My Gita”. I am sure that I will go back to it time and time again, for it is a treatise on the Bhagavad Gita, that ultimate “lifestyle” manual. The current remarkable obsession with “self-exploration, self-examination, self-actualization”, and, apparently, “selfies”, may have had its beginnings in the “self-realization” discussed in the book, through the millenia spanning the composition of the “Bhagavad Gita”.

I have often picked up a “Gita” I purchased while still a fledgling in the thoughtful world, (I still am), but have not got beyond the first verses. It’s heavy Sanskrit text and lumbering translation kept the book on my bedside stack, always as a to-be-read.

Devdutta Pattanaiks’s “My Gita” is not a translation or transliteration of the Bhagavad Gita. Instead it is series of 18 essays on what Pattanaik considers to be the 18 themes of the Gita. It does not cover the Gita sequentially, as the themes he has identified are not isolated by chapter, but rather sprinkled within multiple discourses through the whole collection or “song”. It is important to remember this while reading the book, as it gives it a very different experience to reading the Gita.

To my mind, this book has been about understanding the value of the Gita in my 21st century hectic, and often seemingly rudderless existence. On days I have felt the buzzing of restlessness, the pages have soothed me. On days I felt calm, I have had moments of eye opening wonder.

I am delighted that I can come back to this book time and again in order to calm myself, and experience more moments of blinding understanding. I might even attempt the Sanskrit version again, one day. I just need to understand that I do not need to read either in a linear, consecutive manner. I can open them to any page, and attempt to absorb the wisdom they contain.

Ultimately, while this book is Pattanaik’s take on the Bhagavad Gita, the original, as seen in these essays belongs to all.

Hopefully the few editing oversights have been corrected in future editions of the book.

Arjuna_and_His_Charioteer_Krishna_Confront_Karna,_crop

pictures from the friendly World Wide Web –

  1. Scroll.In
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavad_Gita

 

Tough to love

Believe, and it exists. A bit like Schrödinger’s cat. The Americans did not, or do not, believe, and their gods are dying.

For the first 25% of the book (thank you, Kindle), I was not getting much out of the book at all. I had started reading it at my sister’s insistence, and her taste in books can be a little gritty. It took me about eight months to get through the first 25% of the book, and when I started reading it again during the hiatus between Christmas and the New Year, I found that I had forgotten much of the beginning. I kept going, as I was determined to finish it, so I could tell my sister that I had. Since I had seen “The Last Jedi” during that time, Yoda kept murmuring in my ear “Page turner, it is not”. 

Then with progress, at about 60% of the book, I became invested in Shadow. I pushed through to the end because I wanted to know what happened to Shadow, and because I believe in magic. Which is the same thing as a belief in gods. Sort of.

In the end, I liked the story. Through most of it, I rued my lack of knowledge of the gods, ignorance of their stories, and felt that I was not quite “getting it”. That caused a certain amount of pain. It turned out, though, that I did not need to know about the myths. It had pull just at face value.

Essentially that is all Art needs. Pull. And a good feeling at the end. This has both.

Now, should I get “Mythos” by Stephen Fry? Mythology has always had pull, and now, even more so.

American Gods

Who won?

It has beenThw winner stands alone strange to read such a cynical story by Paulo Coelho, whose books seemed to me the anti thesis of cynicism. I had loved “The Alchemist”, and I had liked “Veronica Decides to Die” as well, very much. Somewhere along the line Coelho may have decided that he was no longer going to be the Mr. Nice Guy. He may have felt that he needed to write a story about the superficiality of the very rich, very famous in show business. He may have been disillusioned. So he wrote a cynical novel.

The problem does not lie in its cynicism, or depiction of the dark underbelly of the “superclass”, which, apparently, is a real term. The problem lies in the fact that Coelho does not show. He tells. Page after page after repeated page. He tells us that the super class is superficial. They lead tired empty meaningless lives. They manipulate. They form cartels. They have surgery to enhance their looks. They are afraid of growing old. How do we know? Coelho tells us.

This information has no relevance to the story of murder and mayhem that is “The Winner Stands Alone”. No matter. It is revealed again and again, woven into a story that has potential.

I cannot believe what I just wrote. Paulo Coelho’s story has potential! Ouch!

The question now remains, did the story get lost in translation? Or did Coelho just want to write something different, and make a hash of it?

I also failed to discern the relationship the name of the novel has to the story between the covers.

All in all, a sad disappointment.

Perhaps there are two Paulo Coelho’s? One who wrote “The Alchemist” and one who tried to write a book called “The Winner Stands Alone”.

 

Feeling like home

It is beginning to feel a lot like home. Coming back from a day of work, and swerving into the narrow garage with the bumpy road just outside that had brought forth so many frustrated tears during those first few days after moving. The pest control guy has worked his magic and the electrician, handy man and telecommunications guy have all done their bit. It is easy to step into the place with the confidence of long standing residence.

It seems no longer to matter that it is getting dark by the time tired feet clamber up the side entrance. The security key finds its way into its lock and, click, the door opens. The friends have turned up by turn and helped fix little teething problems. The black and blue toe hurts no more, though colleagues gleefully predict that the nail will fall off soon.

The strange hot water system, which needs a little rest between showers, or washing dishes or such like no longer irks. It is just something to which the rhythvan goh bedroom in Arles sepiam of the rest of the day needs to fit in.

The old furniture has mostly been taken away and the new furniture is not here yet. Each earmarked spot seems to be quietly anticipating the advent of the bed, the dining table, the sofa. The things that are around, have settled into their new home. Everything seems to just “go there”.

The plant whose name is a mystery, which rewarded careful attention to it with half a dozen flowers only at the height of summer, has suddenly thrown out half a dozen juicy buds, even though there is a distinct chill in the air. The new geranium has taken three days to bud and flower from its baby stalks. Only the lemon tree seems to miss the hot balcony of yesteryear, and has come crashing down with every bug that can hit a citrus plant. Somehow, even though life is just as busy, there still has been time to nip up to the nursery and bring back an eco friendly pest oil to treat the plant.

The mornings are being greeted with eager anticipation as the sun shines through the camellias, lazy and satisfying, even on a work day. The evenings are relaxed and somehow seem to provide time to watch the cork float even after attending to the chores.

The quiet rustling of the trees and the trilling soft cheep of birds accompanies the drying laundry. The family of bush turkeys who come around every dusk make coming home sweet.

It is peaceful, beautiful, and welcoming. It is home. Home, it seems is not a place, but a feeling.

~Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.~

The Purer Motive

Ruthless kingmaker who united a war torn land under one wise and brave ruler. The chosen one, having shown great promise as a child and a student, goes on to rule, with wisdom, the land he has fought alongside his teacher to win. A king who is remembered with reverence in his own right. His mentor – learned, wise, cynical, quick to spot strengths and weaknesses- in people, in logic, in philosophy. Author of a book whose wisdom has transcended more than 2000 years. History knows him as Chanakya.

Soulless powerbroker who seems to mirror the deeds of the widely respected sage, and creates a king, wilfully escalating the mayhem across the land in the process. Other than a few smart questions, the king ( of the female gender) shows no wisdom, courage, or discretion. Having being handed platform after platform through deceit and thuggery, of which she is a willing participant, she gains her throne through years of political manipulation. She then  apparently rules India wisely through three terms. One is left wondering where such acumen has sprung from, since all she learnt from her teacher and life, was how to win position and power by  deceit, murder, mayhem and manipulation. Her mentor – now… what is his name?… umm.. oh yeah. Pandit Gangaprasad Mishra.

“Chanakya’s” chant? I think not. Ruthless and soulless are not synonyms, neither are kingmaker and powerbroker.

Chankaya's Chant

%d bloggers like this: