Tuesday, 24 November 2009

William Dalrymple read from Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India at Taj Malabar on Nov 23, 2009

William Dalrymple came to Kochi to read from his most recent book, a selection of personal stories about people engaged in religious pursuit. He called his book a random sampling of traditional forms of religion. Together they form a portrait of an India in transition, of certain traditional forms surviving and even thriving, even as the Silicon Valleys and Cyberabads go up in the urban centres.

Dalrymple spoke about the making of his book before reading four passages

Dalrymple (using translators) engaged in conversation with people over a period of several years from East to West and North to South in India. These people followed a path leading out of their previous ordinary lives, into an extraordinary and extended search. Some like the devotees of Yellamma assume the mantle of a goddess worshipped by believers. Some, like the Thiyyam dancers become the possessed and frenzied indwelling of gods for three months of their life during the festival time. Still others like the Jain nuns endure the ascetic life of monasteries and extended pilgrimages, detaching themselves from pleasures so as to realise the permanent and the indestructible in their souls.

In his travels Dalrymple said he had the most fun with the Bauls of Bengal; but the most affecting episode for him was the tale of the Jain nun who attains to Sallekhana, the final one among all Jain renunciations, that of the body.

Dalrymple takes questions after his readings from 'Nine Lives'

Dalrymple answered questions about the method he used, and how he selected the people to interview. He also responded to those who cast doubt on the value of religion.

Dalrymple read with the intense, yet intimate, feeling of a conversation, much as if we were in the presence of the very people he had lived with and interviewed. He is almost absent from the stories of the nine lives he describes, and lets the engrossing accounts of their lives be told in their own words. Many quotations from the four readings were unforgettably aphoristic in nature.

KumKum has her copy of 'Nine Lives' autographed by Dalrymple

Dalrymple happily signed books for the legion of booklovers when they converged at the end. DC Books arranged for his books to be on sale at a counter; Penguin India organised the snacks and cocktail hour which followed.

A fuller account is here.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Reading Madame Bovary on Oct 30, 2009

Timeless Madame Bovary, deathless Emma, provoked such passionate debate among seven literature lovers in Kochi that Flaubert must have rejoiced from wherever he is. On the central question of the author's attitude to the heroine, no answer will come from the grave. Readers have to work it out for themselves.

Joe, Thommo, Bobby, Indira, Talitha, KumKum, and Amita

Many questions thrown up by the novel were discussed: provincial mores, anti-clericalism, mil-dil relations, romanticism, realism, precision in description, idiotic constancy in love, the arts of seduction, shopaholism, censorship, rebellion, splicing of scenes, reading books, and so on. The debates will continue, but the enjoyment of the writing has not ceased in a hundred and fifty years.

The translation by Eleanor Marx-Aveling (the daughter of Karl Marx) was used by all the readers, except Indira, who favoured Margaret Mauldon's translation. It is inordinately difficult to translate Flaubert's novel, if we consider the prodigious effort he spent to get the language exactly right in the original French. Nabokov offered a thousand emendations to the publisher, when he taught the novel in his course on European literature at Cornell in the fifties.

The next reading will be on Tuesday Nov 24, 2009 at the customary venue and time, 5-30pm, DC Books, Chittoor Road. The entire play, The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde will be read by KRG readers; the casting was decided at this session.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Poetry Session on July 3, 2009

For this session there were six of us reading, repeating a few poets who have been taken up in the past: Matthew Arnold, Carol Ann Duffy, Robert Browning, and Constantine Cavafy. The reading group had a guest this time, Ms. Padma Jayaraj, who is a retired lecturer from Sri Krishna College, Guruvayoor

Thommo, Priya, Padma, Joe, KumKum, and Indira
The special item at this reading was the informal discussion of the late Kamala Das, poet and enfant terrible, spiced with reminiscences by three of our group who had met her. You can read all about it and the rest of the poetry recitation by clicking on the Complete Record of the Poetry Session on July 3, 2009.

The programme for the rest of the year is as follows:
*   Sep 25, 2009: Repeat Poetry Session
*   Oct 30, 2009: Fiction Session – Madame Bovary
*   Nov 27, 2009: Play reading, The Importance of Being Earnest

Sunday, 7 June 2009

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye - first edition cover from 1951 - is it too quaint for young people now?

Six members gathered to read from the classic novella of J.D. Salinger. This was the second time reading the story for most of us, and it brought back memories from long ago. But the book was now revealed in a different light by the passage of decades. 

Priya, Bobby, Indira, KumKum, Talitha, and Amita after the reading

You will have an idea of the rapt enjoyment with which the individual readings were received from this picture of Talitha reading as KumKum listens:
She is reading the tender recall of his kid brother, Allie, dead of leukemia, as Holden Caulfield is writing an essay on Allie's old baseball mitt, which he kept as a treasure: it had "poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink."
Several of the women found that their teenage sons have, or had, similar  rebellious characteristics. A great deal of time in the discussion went into getting to the bottom of Holden's unique personality, as revealed in his adventures and conversations with a variety of people. It's all there in our discussions; please see the Full Record and Account of the session on June 5, 2009.
Here's another picture. Indira and Talitha listen as KumKum reads from the conversation between Phoebe and Holden when the kid sister challenges him to name a single real thing he likes! 

The next session will be Poetry, on July 3, 2009, at DC Books on Chittoor Road at 5:30 pm. The novel for the following session will be selected by Bobby and Indira and notified to members. The date has yet to be fixed.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

'Shakescene' – an all Shakespeare Poetry event

On May Day 2009 the Kochi Reading Group celebrated Shakespeare's birthday which falls nominally on the same day as he died, April 23. Talitha's suggestion at the last meeting that this should be an all-Shakespeare event triggered the preparation.

 Priya, Indira, KumKum, Talitha (reading), and Amita

The enthusiasm was so great that a group formed spontaneously to practise some of the lovely songs that are scattered throughout the plays. Talitha had preserved the music for these songs from her college days and brought along a banner decorated with the 'Shakescene' title (used by a gossip of those times to pour scorn on the Bard). You can see the Droeshout engraving at the right corner of the banner.

The Plays, the Sonnets, and the Songs got equal time; but the enjoyment was geatest when the music added its magic to the lyrics of the songs. Thommo even contribted a tune for his rendition of Sonnet 6, 'Then let not winter's ragged hand deface'. You can see the relish on our faces when we adjourned after the unusually long session of two hours.

Priya, Indira, KumKum, Amita, Talitha Geetha, the Bard, Thommo, and Joe

Downloadable mp3 files of the KRG Elizabethan Singers singing three songs and a sonnet can be found by clicking on the active link. We also present a full account of the discussions on May 1.

The next session to read J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye will be held on June 5, 2009, same time, 5:30 pm, and same place, DC Books on Chittoor Road opposite the YMCA. Thommo will be traveling. Tentatively the next session after that on Poetry will be held on July 3.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

'Rabbit is Rich' by John Updike

 Amita, Joe, Talitha, KumKum, Thommo, and Bobby

The group had a ripping session on Friday Mar 20, 2009. Updike's novel, Rabbit is Rich, provoked such intense discussions that we went on for two hours. It was the first time we were reading an American author.

Everyone had prepared insightful readings, and we were quite animated, discussing various issues the novel brings up: sex mores, father-son relationships, women as sex-objects, humour, the interior monologue style of writing, instances where Harry Angstrom fades out and Updike interjects himself into the novel, poetic passages, soft porn, and other issues.

Shevlin Sebastian of the Indian Express interviewing Talitha

Mr Shevlin Sebastian from the Indian Express newspaper wished to write an article, so we invited him to come along and attend the session. It turned out he was a long-time Updike enthusiast himself, and he participated too, providing such sidelights as Updike's having a different room in his house for each type of composition: one for writing novels, another for reviews, yet another for poetry, and so on. 

His article was published in The New Indian Express, Kochi, on Mar 25, 2009. Here is a link to it: Where Books Steal the Show
Our next session will be Poetry - an all-Shakespeare session on May 1 - his birthday falls on April 23. Indira’s idea of taking up a play once a year, and letting Harold Pinter be the first chosen, was approved. At this session we introduced a new feature, remote participation: Indira who was absent sent in her impressions on e-mail; it was read out first, and the discussion started off in earnest.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Poetry Session on Jan 30, 2009

Thommo, Talitha, KumKum, Indira, and Bobby
The year's first reading was held at DC Books on Jan 30, 2009. This was notable as being the first session where the women did not outnumber the men! But we missed Amita, Jeena, and Shobha. Had they been present the scales would have tipped the other way.

The next fiction session will be in early March to read from Rabbit is Rich by the late John Updike. For the next fiction choice after that two volunteers will go to a bookstore, select an appropriate book, and buy five or six copies. This may help us get over the difficulty of going through a voting process to decide the novel, only to find after much delay that it is not available in India through distributors.

You may peruse here the complete Record of the Poetry Session on Jan 30, 2009