Saturday, August 16, 2014

From ‘Bookless in Baghdad and other writings about reading’ by Shashi Tharoor

……..Gunther Grass, urging that ‘writers experience another view of history’ and that ‘literature must refresh memory’

A British friend, asked to explain to a foreigner what made England England, replied, ‘Cricket, Shakespeare, the BBC.’ Though so concise an answer would be difficult ffor an Indian, it is impossible to imagine any similar attempt to describe India that omits the Mahabharata. ……The Ramayana is cited generally when ethical ideals are expected; the Mahabharata is referred to when compromises are made, shady deals struck, promises dishonoured, battles fought, disasters lamented.’

….the French dramatist who wrote Peter Brooke’s ‘international’ version of the epic, Jean Clause Carriere …wrote…. ‘This immense poem which flows with the majesty of a great river, carries an inexhaustible richness, which defies all structural, thematic, historical or psychological analysis ….Layers of ramifications, sometimes contradictory, follow up on one another and are interwoven without losing the central theme. That theme is a threat; we live in a time of destruction – everything points in the same direction.’ (Emphasis added)

I spent the rest of the panel discussion looking (to echo a description of Bertie Wooster’s Uncle Tom) like a pterodactyl with a secret sorrow.

Wodehouse …..I felt like one who had ‘drained the four-ale of life and found a dead mouse at the bottom of the pewter’ (Sam the Sudden)

Much of [Malcolm] Muggeridge’s appeal, it must be said, lay in his irreverence. Visiting Tokyo after the Second World War, he attended a public appearance by Emperor Hirohito and described him as a ‘nervous, shy, stuttering, pathetic figure, formerly god.’

[Malcolm Muggeridge] ‘What words will endure no writer can know, but for those of us who have to struggle to find the time to write, that motto remains an inspiration’

…Churchill cheerfully said that history would judge him kindly because he intended to write it himself.

Pushkin….is not just immortal: he is recognized as the creator of the modern Russian language and literature, no less, and as the writer who has captured the Russian soul as no other writer has before or since.

In his poem ‘The poet’s obligation’ Neruda had declared, ‘To whoever is not listening to the sea / this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up / in house or office, factory or woman / or street or mine or dry prison cell, / to him I come, and without speaking or looking / I arrive and open the door of his prison.’

‘India,’ wrote the British historian E.P.Thompson, ‘is perhaps the most important country for the future of the world. All the convergent influences of the world run through this society …. There is not a thought that is being thought in the West or East that is not active in some Indian mind.’

Secularism in India does not mean irreligiousness, which even avowedly atheist parties like the communists or the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham have found unpopular among their voters; indeed, in Calcutta’s annual Durga Puja, the youth wings of the communist parties compete with each other to put up the most lavish Puja pandals or pavilions to the Goddess Durga. Rather, it means, in the Indian tradition, multi-religiousness.

….the Indian identity celebrates diversity: if America is a melting-pot, then to me India is a thali, a selection of sumptuous dishes in different bowls. Each tastes different, and does not necessarily mix with the next, but they belong together on the same plate, and they complement each other in making the meal a satisfying repast. Indian are used to multiple identities and multiple loyalties, all coming together in allegiance to a larger idea of India, an India which safeguards the common space available to each identity.

An astonishing 47 per cent of Detroiters, nearly one out of two adults in the predominantly black city, are functionally illiterate. (By way of comparison, the figure for Vietnam is 6.7 per cent.) Functional illiteracy relates to the inability of an individual to use reading, writing and computational skills in everyday life situations ….In the richest country on earth, 23 per cent of adult Americans – 44 million men and women – cannot do these things. Detroit is the worst case, but it’s only twice as bad as the rest of the country……….understand the instructions for an antidote on a ordinary can or cockroach poison  ….read a life insurance form… Nearly half of America’s adults cannot do these things. They are, in effect, unequipped for life in a modern society. ….unlike in the developing world, where illiteracy is predominantly a rural problem, in the US it occurs overwhelmingly in the inner cities, with a heavy concentration among the poor and those dependent on welfare.

‘To forgive time its sins,’ Tayyeb Mutanabi had written, ‘if it maintains friendships and safeguards books.’ …. ‘A home without a library is an arid desert.’

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