Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a perfect follow up novel by Khaled Hosseini after the success of his first novel, a best seller, The Kite Runner. This book shows the plight of Afghan women in war-ravaged Afghanistan. Hosseini presents a harrowing picture of discrimination of women in Afghanistan thorough the lives of two women: Mariam and Laila. Starting from the early 70's, when Mariam was a little girl, the story takes us thorough the Soviet invasion and their withdrawal from Afghanistan, rise of Taliban, Taliban's eventual demise after 9/11 and ends in 2003 with Taliban still lurking dangerously at bay.

Mariam and Laila, two main characters of the novel, are born in different generations and have contrasting family backgrounds. Mariam is an illegitimate daughter of a businessman, she - after losing her mother - is married to Rasheed who is thirty years elder to her. Mariam lives in Kabul and her married life is marred with fear of her husband's 'shifting moods and volatile temperament, his insistence on steering mundane exchanges down a confrontational path...' and tolerating 'his scorn, his ridicule, his insults, his walking past her like she was nothing but a house cat...'. Laila is born in an educated Afghan family. She is a real beauty and has a doting father whose love and affection for her is unbound. Laila's mother is grieving the loss of her two sons in the war. In these painful times, her best companion is Tariq, a childhood friend, with whom Laila falls in love.
In order to protect themselves from the Civil war in Kabul, Laila's family decide to move to a safer place. Fate prevents them from doing that. The lives of Mariam and Laila intertwine at this point.

This book is a tear-jerker. Mariam and Laila go thorough severe physical and emotional abuse. I felt for them for every whip of the belt or every scornful word thrown at them. My pulse raced when they were audacious and heroic. My heart-rended when they felt fear and desolation. Their existence with Rasheed during Taliban-reign was living hell. Amidst these sufferings, Hosseini beautifully portrays the gradual transformation of Mariam-Laila relationship from coldness of guilt & betrayal to the warmth of love & affection that exists between a mother and daughter.

One of the many strong aspects of Hosseini's writing is the 'relationship development'. Whether it is Mariam -Laila or Mariam-Aziza or Zalmai-Tariq, you 'feel' the character and their feeling for each other grows on you. Hosseini is very adept in portraying the character inter-relationships which makes the reader easily character's shoes and view the situation from their perspective.
In the case of Mariam-Laila, with vivid descriptions and persuasive detail, Hosseini eloquently conveys the subtle emotions, subconscious feelings that exists between them in their mundane day-to-day life or when they are in an abject situation. The sheer momentum and gripping intensity in Hosseini's storytelling relentlessly hits the reader with the emotional reality during numerous heart-breaking, cruel and evil moments in the novel.

I liked the way the Hosseini ended the novel with a touch of optimism. For Laila, Mariam is the embodiment of love, hope and sacrifice. Laila's visit to kolba gave her a closure that Mariam has gone a long distance from her, but Laila knows "Mariam is never very far. She is here, in these walls they've repainted, in the trees they've planted, in the blankets that keep children warm, in these pillows and books and pencils. She is in children's laughter. She is in the verses Aziza recites and in the prayers she mutters when she bows westwards. But, mostly, Mariam is in Laila's own heart, where she shines with the bursting radiance of thousand suns".

Truly must read. Highly recommend!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pongalo Pongal

My early morning sleep, you know the shallow drowsy sleep just before you have to wake up, a sleep where you dream and you know that you are dreaming, well, it was momentarily disturbed with the sound of my cell phone beeping a text message. A message from my friend wishing me 'Yen iniya Pongal nalvazhthukkal' (Happy Pongal!). It is always nice to get a cheerful greeting first thing in the morning.

Pongal - our harvest festival. Like New Year, it is the time for a fresh start for anyone and everyone who depend on agriculture for their livelihood. When I was in India, Pongal meant the following for me: it was four days of school holidays. A visit to Thatha & Paati's house at Ashok Nagar. Poojai performed with Appa for Sun God. The festive atmosphere all around with colouful kolams, decorations and everyone dressed up in their best attire. Feast on chakra pongal with extra nei (ofcourse with Vadai and payasam). Watch Pongal special - Dindigul Leoni's nagaichuvai pattimandram (debate) - on Sun TV. People burning random things on the street corner on the pretext of bhogi. Kabali, Karpagam Gardens' milkman, brining his gho on Maattu Pongal. Last but not least, Pongal's real hero, sugarcane!

After Diwali crackers (Lakshmi vedi, Atom bomb, 10000 wala, the lot) and SB, sugar cane would be in the list of things I miss being away from India. Ahhh...sugar cane. The beautiful black/purple colour, sweet taste, its inherent candy smell - I/we could keep chewing it till our jaws and/or incisors gave up.

Choosing the right sugar cane is also the key. The anatomy of a good sugarcane, apart from its colour, is the length between the joints. The longer the length between the joints the better. Also, we have to watch out for spoilt ones. They have reddish streaks inside them and it tastes sour. Some people prefer to peel sugarcane's skin before eating it, but we are so allured by it that we start eating it straightaway!

Out of all this Pongal memories and experiences, enjoying sugar cane with my cousins, sitting in veranda, spitting the karumbu shakkai on the old newspaper haphazardly placed on the floor, chatting, pulling each others legs, is probably the defining image of Pongal for me. I long for those to days to come back and I keep those memories very close to my heart.

Here's to another year of peace and happiness and, of course, good harvest for our farmers.

Happy Pongal!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Unnodu naan...

Unnodu naan iruntha ovoru manithuliyum
marana padukayilum marakaathu kanmaniyae
thonooru nimidangal thottanaitha kaalam thaan
yennoru aandukalaai ithayathil kanakuthadi

Paarvayilae sila nimidam
Bayathodu sila nimidam
Katti anaithapadi kaneeril sila nimidam
Ilakanamae paaraamal
ella idankalil muththangal vitheithu
mogatthil sila nimadam

Yethu niyayam yethu paavam iruvarukum thonravilai
Athu irava athu pagala athu pattri ariyailai
Yaar thodanga yaar mudika oru vazhiyum thonravilai
Iruvarumae thodanki vittom ithuvareikum kelvi ilai

Achcham kaleinthaen aasayinei nii anaitthaai
Aadai kaleinthaen vetkathei nii anainthaai
Kanda thirukolam kanavaga mareinthaalum
Kadeisiyilae azhutha kanneer kayil innum oduthadi

This was written by Kaviarasu Vairamuthu for my favourite Mani Ratnam movie, Iruvar. The poem was recited by Arvind Swamy. Thanks to his gruff voice (perhaps trying to mimic MK), I could not hear the lyrics properly the first time when I heard this. I was hooked to this poem after I read the lyrics.

The lyrics are erotic as this poem is played in the passage of movie after Thamizhchelvan and Senthamarai make love. Vairamuthu's wordings convey the desire and intimacy between the lovers in a sensual way without sounding vulgar. His reading doesn't make you uncomfortable - but when he finishes the poem with 'Kadaisiyilea azhudha kannir kaiyil innum odudhadi'- he does, momentarily, takes your breath away.


Udal Mannuku, Uyir Tamizhuku.

Vairamuthu does it again in Iruvar. If Tamil Nadu ever forms a Rugby team - Num Karupargal (Our Blacks, not All Blacks), we don't need to look anywhere for our Haka. It is right here...

Mannuku Uyir Tamizhiku

Ithai urakka solvom ulagirku
Inam onraaga
Mozhi venraaga
Puthu velai edupom vidiviku
Nam Vetri pathaiyil Narigal vanthaal
Virunthu Vaipom vinniku

Pirantha pillai nadanthu pazhaga
Kaiyil velai kodupom
Pirantha pillai iranthu piranthal
Vaalal keeri puthaipom

Yutha sattham ketaal pothum
Mutha satham mudipom
Ratha kulathai nirappi nirappi
Vetri thaamarai paripom

Engal mannai thottavan kaalgal
Engal mannil uramaagum
Engal pennai thottavan kaigal
Engal Adupil viragaagum

Udal Mannuku Uyir Tamizhiku
Ithai urakka solvom Ulagirku
Inam onraaga
Mozhi venraaga
Puthu velai edupom vidiviku
Nam Vetri pathaiyil Narigal vanthaal
Virunthu Vaipom vinniku!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Kite Runner

My brother recommended this book to me. I am not an avid reader like him. Whatever books I have read are the ones recommended by others. In that vein, I am glad I have read Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner.

The Kite Runner is about the story of Amir, a wealthy Pashtun boy from Kabul, who is haunted by the guilt of betraying his childhood friend Hassan, a Hazara boy, his father's servant's son. The story is set in the period of some historic and painful events in Afghanistan - fall of Monarchy thorough the Soviet invasion, mass displacement of Afghan refugees to Pakistan and Iran, and the emergence of the Taliban regime.

The Kite Runner is a passionate and devastating story of betrayal and redemption. It provides a reference and a glimpse into the side of humanity only a few people possess or experience but is rarely seen or read. Hosseini presents this in such an simplistic and provocatively-intensive manner, it is stunning and heartbreaking.

My perception of Afghanistan has changed after reading this book. Hosseini has beautifully described his home country in a way that the world knows about life in Afghanistan now and before.

When I finished reading this book yesterday, I was feeling down and weeping within. I can't wait to read the Hosseini's next novel 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'.

Khaled Hosseini, 'For you, a thousand times over'...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year....new beginning

Wish you a very happy and prosperous 2009.

Hope the new year is as beautiful as these Sunflowers....

Here's to a great 2009!