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Archive for April, 2011

Here is the introductory note that I wrote for the first post of this series.

I have been writing a lot about books for a while now, and in the process I have been neglecting another of my loves, music. So, I thought I will give music some time. The first thing I thought I will do is make a list of my favourite songs. So, I sat down, thought about it, heard some old CDs, which I haven’t heard in ages, and thought about how I felt when I first heard a particular song. Then I made a list of my favourites. Then I thought that I will post about the songs in this list 🙂

One small note on the word ‘favourite’. A favourite song doesn’t mean that it is critically acclaimed, it launched the singer’s / band’s career, it has won awards like the Grammies, it has been in the Billboard top 10 or some other list, it has made a lot of money, it has one of the highest hits in YouTube or it is played in the mall (though some of this might be true for a specific song). It also doesn’t mean that the song is an unknown classic and no one has heard this song and I am feeling very possessive towards it and am proud of helping the world discover it. It also doesn’t mean that the singer is a role model of mine and I admire his / her political views or way of life.

I use the word ‘favourite’ here to mean that I just liked a song when I first heard it and I had the time and the patience to listen to the song fully at that time and I was probably in the right mood and in the right receptive state of mind which helped me to discover the beautiful secrets hidden inside the song. 

Another note on my favourite songs – they may not necessarily be my favourites right now at this moment because our favourites keep changing every moment. But they are all songs which when I heard them first, created a deep impression on me. Some of them made me laugh, some of them made cry, some of them made me hum, some of them made me sing-along. One of my friends says that music can sometimes explain the world in a way that words cannot. Some of these songs did that to me.

These songs are not ranked in any particular order. They are just randomly listed. Most of them are songs sung in English, but I will throw in the occasional Indian or Chinese or Russian song or a song in another language.

If you want to know about my first favourite, you are invited here.

Here is my second favourite 🙂

Song No.2 – Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega

 

I am not sure how I discovered Suzanne Vega’s music. I thought my dear friend M—–l, from Outgoing Signals, who is a music connoisseur, introduced me to Vega’s music, but he vehemently denies it 🙂 

I love this song for two reasons. The first is for the way it depicts an everyday scene beautifully. The second is because it has no accompanying instrumental music (a cappella-style, it is called). It makes me marvel at the astonishing possibilities of the human voice. There are many versions and remixes of this song and most of them have accompanying instrumental music, which kills the central idea behind the song. This version is the best because I think it stays true to Vega’s original vision.  

Have you heard this song before? What do you think about it?

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I have been writing a lot about books for a while now, and in the process I have been neglecting another of my loves, music. So, I thought I will give music some time. The first thing I thought I will do is make a list of my favourite songs. So, I sat down, thought about it, heard some old CDs, which I haven’t heard in ages, and thought about how I felt when I first heard a particular song. Then I made a list of my favourites. Then I thought that I will post about the songs in this list 🙂

One small note on the word ‘favourite’. A favourite song doesn’t mean that it is critically acclaimed, it launched the singer’s / band’s career, it has won awards like the Grammys, it has been in the Billboard top 10 or some other list, it has made a lot of money, it has one of the highest hits in YouTube or it is played in the mall (though some of this might be true for a specific song). It also doesn’t mean that the song is an unknown classic and no one has heard this song and I am feeling very possessive towards it and am proud of helping the world discover it. It also doesn’t mean that the singer is a role model of mine and I admire his / her political views or way of life.

I use the word ‘favourite’ here to mean that I just liked a song when I first heard it and I had the time and the patience to listen to the song fully at that time and I was probably in the right mood and in the right receptive state of mind which helped me to discover the beautiful secrets hidden inside the song. 

Another note on my favourite songs – they may not necessarily be my favourites right now at this moment because our favourites keep changing every moment. But they are all songs which when I heard them first, created a deep impression on me. Some of them made me laugh, some of them made cry, some of them made me hum, some of them made me sing-along. One of my friends says that music can sometimes explain the world in a way that words cannot. Some of these songs did that to me.

These songs are not ranked in any particular order. They are just randomly listed. Most of them are songs sung in English, but I will throw in the occasional Indian or Chinese or Russian song or a song in another language. So, here is my first favourite 🙂

Song No.1 – Sitting, Waiting, Wishing by Jack Johnson

 

I discovered this song by chance because it was part of the song compilation in one of my CDs. The thing which pulled me into the song was the melody and the guitar play – it is simple and melodious and pulls a string in one’s heart. I realized after hearing the song that the lyrics are beautiful too. This song is about a man who loves a woman, and waits for her to love him back. This song is classified under the genre folk rock / pop rock. If you know about genres, do tell me what is pop rock.

Have you heard this song before? What do you think about it?

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I read these beautiful thought-provoking passages in the book ‘The Meaning of Life : A Very Short Introduction’ by Terry Eagleton. Thought you might like them 🙂 Pardon me if some of them are heavy-reading.


 
Irreconcilable beauties
 
“As the sociologist Mark Weber bleakly remarked : “The ultimately possible attitudes to life are irreconcilable, and hence their struggle can never be brought to a final conclusion”. Isaiah Berlin writes in similar vein that ‘the world that we encounter in ordinary experience is one in which we are faced by choices equally absolute, the realisation of some of which must inevitably mean the sacrifice of others’….the truth is that there just are situations from which one can emerge only with dirty hands. Pressed far enough, every moral law starts to come apart at the seams. The novelist Thomas Hardy was well aware that you can paint yourself unwittingly into moral corners in which, whichever way you move, someone is bound to get badly damaged. There is simply no answer to the question of which of your children you should sacrifice if a Nazi soldier orders you to hand over one of them to be killed.”
 
Abstraction – the double-edged knife
 
“Because we live by signs, which bring along with them the capacity for abstraction, we can distance ourselves from our immediate contexts, free our from the imprisonment of our bodily senses, and speculate on the human situation as such. Like fire, however, the power of abstraction is an ambiguous gift, at once creative and destructive. If it allows us to think in terms of whole communities, it also allows us to lay them waste with chemical weapons.”
 
‘A Useless Passion’
 
“Other animals may be anxious about, say, escaping predators or feeding their young, but they do not give the appearance of being troubled by what has been called ‘ontological anxiety’ : namely, the feeling (sometimes accompanied by a particularly intense hangover) that one is a pointless, superfluous being – a ‘useless passion’, as Jean-Paul Sartre put it.”
 
The ‘Modernist’ take on Meaning
 
“What marks modernist thought from one end to another is the belief that human existence is contingent – that it has no ground, goal, direction, or necessity and that our species might quite easily never have emerged on the planet. This possibility then hollows out our actual presence, casting across it the perpetual shadow of loss and death. Even in our most ecstatic moments, we are dimly aware that the ground is marshy underfoot – that there is no unimpeachable foundation to what we are and what we do. This may make our finest moments even more precious, or it may serve to drastically devalue them.”

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Beautiful passage from Nick Hornby’s book ’31 Songs’ that I am reading now.

‘You Had Time’ sets itself a further handicap : it begins with more than two minutes of apparently hopeful and occasionally discordant piano noodling. I know, I know – neither ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ nor ‘(Hit Me) Baby One More Time’ begins with piano noodling, and they wouldn’t have been much good if they had; that’s not what pop is supposed to be about. But DiFranco’s song is nothing if not ambitious, because what it does – or, at any rate, what it pretends to do – is describe the genesis of its own creation : it shows its workings in a way that should delight any maths teacher. When it kicks off, the noodling sounds impressionistic, like a snatch of soundtrack for an arty but emotional film – maybe Don’t Look Now, because the piano has a sombre, churchy feel to it, and you can imagine Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie wandering around Venice in the cold, grieving and doomed. But it cheers up a little, when DiFranco makes out that she’s suddenly hit upon the gorgeous little riff that gives the song its spine. She’s not quite there yet, because she hasn’t found anything to do with her left hand, so there’s a little bit more messing about; and then, as if by magic (although of course we know that it’s merely the magic of hard work and talent) she works out a counterpoint, and she’s there. Indeed, she celebrates the birth of the song by shoving the piano out of the way and playing the song proper on acoustic proper – the two instruments are fused together with a deliberately improbable seamlessness on the recording, as if she wants us to see this as a metaphor for the creative process, rather than as the creative process itself. It’s a sweet idea, a fan’s dream of how music is created; I’d love to be a musician precisely because a part of me believes that this is exactly how songs are born, just as some people who are not writers believe that we are entirely dependent on the appearance of a muse.

–  From Nick Hornby’s essay on the song ‘You Had Time’ by Ani DiFranco

You can hear ‘You Had Time’  here.

Do listen to it and tell me whether you agree with Hornby 🙂

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I got ‘The Wind and the Rain’ by George K. Mathew, sometime back. The first thing that grabbed my attention was the spectacularly beautiful cover picture of a crystal clear river with a fishing boat floating on it and lush green palms on both sides of the river. The author’s wonderful preface and the first page of the story hooked me in. But I have been reading it for a while now and I was feeling guilty about my slow pace of reading. So I decided to do a readathon for the past two days and I finished the book today. Here is the review.

Summary of the story

I am giving below the summary of the story as given in the back cover of the book.

Set in the lush paradise of Kerala in the 1930s, this is the haunting love story of Roy and Maya, growing up together in Arat, by the verdant banks of River Pampa. Though deeply in love and destined for each other, they are cruelly separated by unfortunate circumstances. Flung by fate into far-off Pattom and trapped in an unfulfilling marriage, Maya has to face many unexpected challenges. Back at Arat, the boorish Narayan tries to force his claims on his cousin, Rani, and her beloved elephant, Balan. Roy helps Rani avert the near-catastrophic consequences of Narayan’s villainous plot. Events come to a head in Pattom too, after a series of disasters, leading to an intriguing climax. An engrossing tale, simple yet profound, of a love eternal and endless, encapsulated beautifully within the covers of this compelling page-turner.

That cover picture is stunningly beautiful, isn’t it?

What I think

The title of the book comes from a song sung by the jester Feste in the Shakespeare play ‘Twelfth Night’. To me as a layperson, it seems to represent the beautiful land of Kerala which is probably the home of the wind and the rain. Or it probably represents the two main characters in the story, Roy and Maya, who are always together, like the wind and the rain.

‘The Wind and the Rain’ is a delightful love story. It tells the story of Roy and Maya, who are the children of close friends, who are childhood friends and go to school together, who fall in love with each other and are destined to get married, till an unfortunate misunderstanding happens. Will that misfortune keep them apart for life? Or will all-powerful love influence the circumstances and bring them together? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

I enjoyed reading ‘The Wind and the Rain’. The love between Roy and Maya and the way it evolves from childhood friendship to teenage romance and play and to full-blown mature love is beautifully depicted by the author in the story. Some of my favourite scenes in the story are when Roy and Maya are together and are having playful conversations, poking fun at each other, teasing each other, going to their personal Eden in the mountains to await the arrival of the monsoon and doing a thousand other delightful things that lovers do together. The author of the book, George Mathew, is an eighty year old ‘young’ gentleman and is a first-time author and by the evidence of this story, it looks like he was amazingly young at heart. 

This book is also a wonderful evocation of the stunning beauty of Kerala – the majestic mountains, the beautiful rivers, the mysterious forests, the wonderful trees, the green fields, the interesting animals and birds, the delicious fishes, the surprising insects, the soft rain. Reading the book makes one think of the words green, lush, verdant, luxuriant, grassy. The book transports the reader to an era where nature was pristine and virgin and pure. One feels sad at what has been lost. There is also a wonderful elephant called Balan, which plays a very important role in the story. And there is a dog called Nero which makes occasional appearances. There are also a squirrel and a catfish which appear in just a scene each but which touch our hearts.

The book also describes smalltown India of a bygone era and its people quite authentically with gentle humour. It reminded me of R.K.Narayan’s Malgudi and its characters.

‘The Wind and the Rain’ is published by Helios books, which is a new indie publishing house. In these troubled days, when e-books are eating into the regular book market and where bookstore chains are in financial trouble and some of them are closing down (e.g. Borders), it is wonderful that new indie publishers like Helios are coming up and are encouraging first-time authors.

Excerpts

I am giving below some of my favourite passages from the book.

On being bored

Being bored in company is quite different from being bored alone. And the difference was appreciated in the country as much as in the town.

Work and Rest

It is said of the Almighty that He worked for six days and rested on the seventh. The sexton, who had not the same ardour for work, rested for six days and worked on the seventh.

On Birds

It was ironic, Roy thought, that these birds should have flown across thousands of miles merely to squabble and skirmish, quarrel and wrangle here, to the clacking of bills, the flapping of wings and the swapping of shrieks and cries that rose intermittently into the sky.

The Two Perspectives

He was wading back to the breach when he noticed a long, dark shadow snaking in through it into the field. Excitement gripped him as he tossed the hood behind him and, taking a couple of quick plods through the ooze, stood silent and out of breath just where the shadow had last been seen. He was quite sure it was a catfish because no other fish was long and sinuous enough to move in that manner. But, to his dismay, the shadow had vanished.

      Countless ripples spawned by countless droplets now played and danced over the water to the faintest tinkle of fairy bells. He wiped the water away from his eyes and sank gradually on one knee for a closer look. Before long, he felt the hair on his nape rise as his eyes made out a dark, elongated ‘S’ just showing against the darker matter below. A three-footer, Roy said to himself. And what a massive head!

      The fish was beyond the reach of his hands : he had to be right over it to ensure its capture. It took him almost an age to bring his other knee down into the ooze beside his quarry. He held his breath as he brought his hands down gradually on either side of its body. His palms and fingers were now around the creature. There was surprisingly no reaction when his fingers closed lightly over its smooth and slimy skin. It remained motionless when his right hand, fingers outspread, moved forward under its soft, distended belly and even when his left thumb and forefinger moved up to its gills. The opening and closing of the gill plates, laboured and uneven, were of a creature beyond the point of exhaustion.

      The hunt was at an end, the prize his. Just when his joy was bubbling over, he paused. Roy suddenly saw the fish in another light, not as an item for the pot, but as a mother awaiting the throes of delivery as his own mother had been once. He remembered Maya’s squirrel. And the teal he had spared for Maya’s sake. The thumb and forefinger of his left hand were at the gills and he could have sealed the fate of his fish, merely by bringing the two fingers together.

      Instead, he found himself lifting the creature clear out of the water and holding it in the way he would a newborn human baby. There was no struggle, just a widening and contracting of its gill plates. A catfish can remain out of water for a considerable length of time. Yet Roy set out immediately with his precious burden, crossing the field with long steps.

      At the opposite edge of the field and surrounded by a coconut garden was a large pool, green with fish weed. Paappi, to whom it belonged, called it the southern pond. Issuing into the field from it was a steady stream of water, rolling out and eddying languidly. He bent down on one knee and very gently let his catch into the outflow. The catfish, heavy with roe, swam feebly through the stream into the pond. Roy watched it go, its head waggling wearily from side to side, until it sank out of sight.

      Roy had always wanted to catch a fish this size for Maya. He dedicated this big one, especially since he had let it go, to the golden girl who lived in his heart. He plodded back across the field to repair the breach he had made in the bund. The drizzle had thinned and the droplets flew sharply about with the wind. It was time he went home.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed reading ‘The Wind and the Rain’. It is one of the most beautiful evocations of nature that I have read. And it is also a delightful love story. If you like reading about nature and love, you will like this book.

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