Wednesday, 16 August 2017

My review - All the Names by José Saramago

An oblivion deeper than the grave – this expression in the back-cover blurb perhaps sums the book up, whether it’s the Central Registry you are talking about or the General Cemetery, one boiling down a person’s whole life to a collection of data on cards, the other becoming a shapeless, unwieldy and near-infinite burial ground that a visitor could get lost in.



Senhor José, a mere clerk, the bottom rung of the hierarchy, a virtual machine entrusted with loads of paperwork, is the embodiment of all the people labouring under a routine existence that makes them clutch at straws for that one tiny bit of fun, that one single tinge of sugar in a sea of brine. That his straw is a woman mentioned on a record-card is immaterial. That he is ready to climb walls and smash window-panes at the age of sixty to dig into the woman’s school-life is at best a metaphor. But the fact that he follows the long, circuitous route to find her instead of the glaringly obvious is the gist of it all: we humans have carved a society for ourselves where a large section comprises of nothing but virtual clones of a life-form that is supposed to detach itself from the umbilical cord, grow up and count the rest of its breaths in a rut of endless repetition, zero entertainment and zilch for love, finally dying and occupying some space in a grave and a few smudges of ink on paper.



I feel sorry for men like Senhor José whose only chance at a once-in-a-lifetime-thrill is as cheap as getting dust-coated and cobwebbed in an array of towering bookshelves (the archive of the dead) to look for the record of an equally ordinary woman, religiously collecting tidbits of celebrities in an album, lying to a perpetually-suspecting boss, and finding solace in a hunt that is perhaps doomed from the start. That moment of weakness, when Jose toys with the idea of masturbating in the deceased woman’s bed, roiling in the scent of her erstwhile presence, made me sadder for him than I was. Should I be considered guilty if I tried to reach for a woman’s traces on her paraphernalia when my whole life had been nothing but an unromantic, yawn-inducing saga of doing nothing but plodding on an insipid job? Perhaps, necrophilia or olfactophilia wouldn’t be so abhorrent after all. Not fetish but the loser's form of love stretching across time, space and hollow decency.



Too bad that the haunting beauty of Saramago’s truths - which, incidentally, are comparable to the findings of a microscope trained on the human condition - suffers from this one malady: lack of punctuation and such compact passages that sometimes I became desperate to breathe in the midst of all the candour and moroseness churning within. Still, I’m definitely going to try his magnum opus, Blindness, if only to have a masochistic taste of what another bleak world looks like.



But before that, I need some light, frivolous reading to flush out the viscous, tar-like remains of All the Names.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Review: Poisoning Eros Book I and II - Wrath James White and Monica J. O'Rourke




The gore-fest was seemingly endless, bringing formerly-known barriers crashing down for me. After a while, this could become jaded and repetitive, like a porn-clip losing its ability to titillate with umpteen viewings and jerk-off sessions; but there is a decent plot too (decent seems an alien word here) and Gloria's character is quite well fleshed-out: the aged porn-star left with nothing but bestiality porn shoots to eke out a living and to feed her addiction, or may be it's the other way round - the addiction feeding on her, gnawing at the remnants of her life that is all set for a journey she couldn't have imagined in her wildest dreams.


The romp through hell has been described in an intensely graphic manner, no-holds-barred, most perversions under the sun covered for the benefit of sexual-violence seekers like us fans of splatterpunk and erotic horror, but again, it's not just the medley of tits, ass, dicks, cunts, blood, ripped flesh and cumshots - there are questions raised about the nature of our beliefs, about the concept of heaven and hell, the architect of this imperfect world and his fallibility. And there is a surprise in store at the end.

In short, a great read, at least for me.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Bourne Ascendancy (Jason Bourne # 12) - Book Review


 Eric Van Lustbader’s Jason Bourne has had a checkered journey, starting off with a de-aged version of himself in The Bourne Legacy (Book#4), a far cry from Ludlum’s portrayal of him as a man who was losing his edge in The Bourne Ultimatum – a hero with no more adventures left inside him, except – may be – on the demands of the publisher.


Bourne, with his world-saving antics and his stubborn refusal to be outshined by any modern assassin, had an exhilarating run in Legacy, but things kept moving along in Bourne’s life and a time came when Lustbader’s own creations began to push him backstage.


No doubt, Lustbader has been brilliant in writing thrillers that are built of layers and layers of intrigue – sometimes hard to follow, with a plethora of characters and plot twists at every turn – but he definitely loved Leonid Arkadin (a hitman arguably Bourne’s equal in The Bourne Sanction (Book#6)) much more than Bourne, just as he replaced Cactus with Deron as Bourne’s supplier of guns, fake documents and gadgets - a rather hostile takeover of Robert Ludlum’s most memorable hero.


This fact somewhat diminished the appreciation of the Bourne series for me, and perhaps for many more readers. After all, why would I want to read about every character in The Bourne Deception (Book#7) being puppeteered by Arkadin while Bourne remains in the shadows? But Bourne being the hero of the series must win, so Arkadin must be upstaged in a respectable way, but not before three books have already elapsed. 

I regained my faith in the series with The Bourne Imperative (Book#10), a brilliant tale of the incomparable (once again, at last) Bourne pitted against a ruthless and powerful nemesis, an assassin of legendary talent (Ilan Halevy, the Babylonian) and a weird replica of himself. It was like revisiting The Bourne Identity. Did this revival of Bourne (for me, again) had something to do with Lustbader going back to the roots of Ludlum’s Bourne, his amnesia? Possibly.


Lustbader’s thrillers have some features which are always present: a plot spanning many countries (with beautiful descriptions of places, people and culture, albeit laced with personal prejudices), the current geopolitical scenario and international problems being drawn upon (Israel-Palestine conflict, Syrian uprising, Mexican drug-cartels, activities of FARC in Columbia, Iranian problem, Mossad and more), stream-of consciousness of every major character, mutual conflicts of ambitious politicians and bureaucrats and their one-upmanship, and Bourne being the pawn who is somehow always drawn into the dragnet. 

The Bourne Ascendancy is not an exception. This time round, Lustbader weaves a plot straddling Syria, Israel, Afghanistan, the US and Singapore. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is a philandering president, a spoof of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and another ‘nothing-is-what-it-seems’ play with the characters. A weak aspect of the book - in fact, many of his books - is his obdurate attempt to include as many people (of diverse nationalities and loyalties) and terrorist outfits as possible, Bourne thereby getting lost in the maze of Syrians, Taliban and Pakistanis, while the basic theme of the book acquires centre-stage after such a series of prolix events – overstretched and often incredible – that I began to lose patience with the book. 

A major contributor to the tome of this book (it is 451 pages) is Camilla’s story, the Monica Lewinsky-alter ego whose thoughts, emotional conflicts, realizations and epiphanies seemingly turn her into someone even bigger than Bourne himself.



Bourne does emerge victorious, but only after moving at a snail’s pace along a plot that doesn’t turn out as the swashbuckling finale I was expecting. Bourne about to kill the American President at the behest of a terrorist – on pain of a beloved’s death – it all should have been as much of a cliff-hanger as the unlikely Khan-Bourne team out to eliminate the arch-villain in Legacy, or even Ludlum’s fake Jason Bourne (Major Alcott Price in The Bourne Supremacy) planning a hit on a prominent man in China, but it fizzles out, quite like Bourne and Rebecca’s attack on Semid Abdul Qehar’s fortress in The Bourne Dominion

Bourne and Mary - The Bourne Identity

I do like the Rebecca-Bourne love undertones, though. It should have occupied more space. Since the death of Mary, the lonely, inadvertent assassin (or ‘Blacksmith,’ his latest spy-lingo occupation) does need a lovely woman to turn to in the midst of all the guns, blood and gristle.  


Monday, 28 October 2013

Tropic of Cancer_Review


Less of a book and more of a hodgepodge of raves and rants from a man who couldn’t accept life as it is: this sounds a bit too scathing but bears more than an element of truth in it. Raves and rants abound but they are so unabashedly honest, so slanderously abusive, so nakedly, sordidly libertine and at times, so beautifully poetic that one feels like going back to revisit some of the passages whose gist wasn’t lucid on the first attempt but turned out to be heavily-imbued with meaning on the second and the third. 



The cover of the book (my copy) shows a woman in the buff with a prominent derriere, a smoulderingly-inviting come-hither look but an almost transgender expression on the half-turned face. It left me a little red-faced at the bookshop’s counter but I went ahead as boldly as Miller himself would have done when he chose to have his book out in the public domain, only to be condemned mercilessly and banned for its shock-value and violently-candid libertinism.

First Edition 1934
The word ‘cunt’ is used innumerable times and the references to women – mostly whores – wouldn’t be palatable for a reader with a feministic bent of mind: such is the objectification of the female body. But if it is seen from a pure, honest libertine’s point of view (taking a cue from Marquis de Sade) – as opposed to hypocritical prudes – Miller is quite right in suggesting that a whore should be ‘a whore from the cradle’ rather than a blend of fake feminine refinement and cold detachment from a sexual act which they perform with ‘eyes staring vacantly at the ceiling’ while the man is slugging away with his machine.

 A whore who is vociferous, who moans and groans with abandon and spews out stuff that a patron wants to hear in such critical, pre-orgasmic moments is one who is admired by Miller for being true to her vocation. Indeed, this might be the crudest example to show it but a vocation demands total submergence of a person in it for it to have any value.


Henry Miller and Twinka
 It’s hard to remember the names of the women in the book – all of them come under the broad classification of ‘cunt’ – and I found their respective relationship with Miller quite confusing and non-differentiable. Tania finds mention a lot in the memoir with Miller’s jealousy at her lying down with an undeserving man.



Occasionally, Miller delves into reflections and musings on life, existentialism, the human condition, nihilism, fatalism and many aspects of philosophy which I do not know the names for. Walt Whitman is held in the highest esteem while Goethe is vilified with innuendoes. Paris is both censured and praised - sometimes in the same breath – and the sullied underbelly of the city: the red-light area (inevitably), the humdrum street-existence, the poverty and hunger which stand heavily at odds with the opulent image of Paris that most people harbour, is all brought out with Miller’s nakedly-delivered wisdom.




I found Miller’s metaphors and similes too mired in literary fog and often disgusting: ‘polished as a leper’s skull,’ ‘the smile of a fat worm’ and so on; but his writing is not the kind that can be understood and appreciated all at one go. Hence, the knocking and re-knocking at doors that require all your intelligence and patience to reveal what they have in store.


Being a writer from the early 20th century, Miller too could not fail to be touched with Gandhi’s ideals but he chooses to refer to it with a revolting example of a fake Gandhian who is out visiting whores in Paris. The incident of his making a fool of himself is both humorous as well as stomach-wrenching but aside from the wry humour, what he says about Gandhi is true. The Indian edifice indeed stood on a tenuous foundation which was held in place by the Mahatma but as soon as the great man would exit, the opposing forces of caste, creed and colour would re-assert themselves and the society would start to implode. Quite a far-sighted assessment from a man who understood India from a distance.



 Miller is quite opaque at times – umpteen times actually – when his words seem to flow with reckless abandon without a cogent meaning to be derived from them. Many sections of the memoir are the prose-poem kind with a generous use of his extensive vocabulary that draws upon both street-slang and patrician eloquence in equal measure. He calumniates the so-called important people who run the world, the ‘colourless individuals’: the engineers, doctors, lawyers, money-lenders and the like. He attacks the education system which moulds young minds into a set type in order for them to melt into the bog of the teeming banality of the wasteland the world has become. His rebellion is that of a man who wouldn’t want the smallest slice of the commonplace life: he would live the way he wants to, even if it means mooching along the streets of Paris on an empty stomach while still able to get a hard-on, both a cause for celebration and an anatomical riddle to unravel.

 Many people would pick up the book for its sexual content as the cover itself suggests or as his entire oeuvre and his reputation indicate. Most characters in the book are sex-starved but even in their worst ramblings, they often spout profound truths for a reader who is patient and incisive. A man who wants loads of books and loads of ‘cunt’ might seem repulsive but it exposes the anguish that lies within many repressed people who are forced to eke out a dreary existence, trapped in a job they abhor. To get a bevy of cunts is their idea of both bliss and release: a libertine’s philosophy all the way but many seemingly innocent and polished people inhabiting the civilized world are great sensualists and even perverts from inside. Miller only reveals the darker side of factotums while cutting down on none of their perversions.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Biking and writing......

I was riding  the bike at a breakneck pace, without a helmet, sans the least care in the world, with only one thought – rebellion – directed against the whole world. 

The gusts of wind that buffeted my unprotected face, blinding me with their intensity, forcing me to squint and blowing away my hair backward, seemed to whistle in my ears in an eerie fashion.

The stretch of asphalt in front of me, robbed of some of its sun-baked hotness under the coolly overcast sky, went ahead, snake-like, peppered with gentle undulations that often tried to jolt me off the seat as I would never slow down.

I would attempt to ape the manoeuvres of super-bikers, making the bike lean to one side, my knee almost grazing the tarmac, then quickly straighten up again, only to lean towards the other side with the next sharp turn in the road.

In the frenzy induced by the drug of adventure, mounting a flyover seemed to be a conquest of the most Himalayan task in my life and as I achieved it, I took my hands off the handle-bars, beating the air with my fists, celebrating a facile victory.

Little did I know what awaited me as I descended – a speeding car that appeared out of nowhere, hit my bike broadside-on with such force that I was sent sailing over the kerb, landing in a heap amid a row of trees, finally waking up to write this piece with a week-full of pills and intravenous shots in my bloodstream that befuddled my brain but never doused my creative fire.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Love, lust and infatuation....

I wonder what it is that exists between me and her. On the one hand, I am pained to the core, burning with jealousy when I see her do so much as exchange pleasantries with another guy. On the other hand, I ignore her at will. 

Perhaps it feeds my ego to see her alone, unaccompanied and awaiting me. But for how long would she wait? She has her desires and I have mine. I keep them in check on the surface but inwardly I am consumed by the desire to possess her, to make wild, passionate love to her; love that is more carnal less emotional; love that applies a balm on the aching body. To satisfy these cravings I indulge myself with pictures of her - always of her; no girl even remotely manages to bring me anywhere near the climax of my sexual excitement than her.

Her body, her skin, her smell and the evocative photographs make me almost insane with desire; their gratification can only be effected with an act of masturbation that makes me let go of some of my thirst, makes me feel sane again. 

Yet whenever I see her in person, I continue to ignore her, not even answering her smiles, just looking away.

Perhaps I do not have the courage to attempt to re-join a bond that had been rudely snapped two years back, not as a result of any quarrel but simply an effort to save myself from her mocking comments, hurting me in front of everybody, not directly, but in a way that can hardly be called subtle.

Her face is not very pretty, her body is a bit plump but she is cute in a petite sort of way and there is something in her eyes, mesmerizing me, giving rise to those pangs of my inability to possess her.Very few people would call her beautiful. Still, I find the million pictures and videos of stark naked women in tantalizing poses, in various degrees of nudity, pouting lips, lissome legs, incredible bottoms and shapely breasts - all fading away when it comes to rousing the demon inside me, the libidinous beast who subsists on lust and its base realization.

Now I think it isn't really love. This thing is antithetical to the very concept of love. It is that lowly thing called infatuation, an inane feeling that deprives the mind of its ability to reason, allows lust to take over and reduces one human-being to an object and and another to an admirer who is no different than a window-shopper who suddenly becomes fixated on a particular bauble, which is gilt-edged on the outside but is probably even less worthy than the pedestal it is mounted on.

Love makes a better human being out of a man or woman but infatuation, especially one that occurs at a very young, unripe age, also has its advantages. The best thing is it ends soon. No matter how much pain, heart-burn and anguish it may engender, in the long run, it teaches a lesson that cannot be forgotten ever. In fact, infatuation could be a step towards making a person capable of true love.

When you realize the worthlessness of a bauble, it is likely that you would appreciate the value of a jewel much more.

Innocence, squeamishness and survival...

The sight of blood would make him sick even if it exuded from a minor cut or wound. It wasn't his squeamishness, rather a kind, loving nature that wished to see no one getting hurt. He could be masochistic enough to bear all the pain himself letting a fellow-being live a life of comfort.

The atavistic urge of self-preservation had never touched him. If he had been hit by a car, the first thing he would think of was the reason that led to the motorist's distraction resulting in the accident; perhaps the motorist had problems of his own or he was preoccupied and so on and so forth.

He could never accuse people. Whenever he met someone, his eyes searched for the goodness inside that man even if that minuscule thing was buried beneath layers and layers of malevolence, greed, hatred and deceit. Such people are at a premium and an endangered specie.

For such a man, survival in the brick-metal-concrete jungle of a city is no less difficult than the survival of a hapless deer amid a pride of lions in the real, unforgiving wilds.

I wonder what God was thinking when He decided to send such a creature to earth, an earth which has fallen to such depths that humanity is a vestige of what it was at the dawn of the earliest civilization. Mankind is probably reverting to that time when survival was the key, the centre of a man's existence and fellow-feeling existed in a form that is evinced by animals only.