Tag Archives: thoughts

Book Review: America by Andy Warhol

Buy America
Author: Andy Warhol
Publisher: Penguin UK/Penguin Modern Classics
Genre: Non-Fiction
ISBN: 9780141193069
Price: £14.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Who is Andy Warhol? This is one question which is very difficult to answer. No really is it. From a movie-maker (pseudo, but what the heck, we all are in some way or the other) to a cultural pop icon to a writer to a philanderer to a weirdo and to a very successful painter – Warhol was probably everything rolled into one. Andy probably saw things which no one else did and that was the beauty of his observations coupled with this simplistic writing skills.

My fascination with Andy Warhol started when I first witnessed the Campbell soup can display and wondered: “Well, here is a man who is selling this to the public and they are eating out of his hands. This is exactly what he wants and he is getting it as well. This is Andy Warhol, I guess”. And maybe that’s who he was – a charmer. An intellectual in his own right – a person who was somewhere down like a child – wanting acceptance and a little insecure deep down and always wanting to satiate his curiosity and in the bargain producing brilliant works such as, “America”.

“America” is an introspection on almost everything American and what makes and breaks it – from images, celebrities and their guises to what does it take probably to just be human. What I liked about the book was the fact that Andy not once gets preachy about anything. Everything is a summation or just a mad and random observation and he has the need to let us know what it is.

For me the book was a revelation as I always thought of Andy Warhol to be self-obsessed and maybe he was that to a very large extent. It is just that with this book I got to experience another side of the artist and the mad genius that he was.  The book is very well-written, but of course however most of the book is full of pictures clicked by Andy and the images are wonderful. The madness is clearly visible and one thing is for certain: You cannot remove Andy from America and America from Andy.

You can buy the book from Flipkart


An Interview with Arjun Rao

I am excited to present to you my interview with Arjun Rao author of Third Best. I had reviewed the book earlier. You can find the review here

And here is the interview:

Why do parents have such tall expectations from their kids? Will this ever change considering how skewed our education system really is?

I don’t really think that parents have tall expectations. I believe that parents just want their kids to do well, find themselves a career, have kids, that sort of thing. Kids whose parents allowed them all that freedom to do whatever they wanted always wish that their parents had actually interefered in their lives, offered advice when they needed it, instead of allowing them to bungle their ways through life! So, in some ways, I guess the grass is always greener and all that. Besides, all parents do want their kids to live better lives than they did. Why else would they save money for them, send them to good (sometimes unaffordable schools and colleges)and then help them try to get jobs?

Now, finding parents who have realisitic expectations of their children – very, very rare. I really don’t think any parent will ever say: “My child is mediocre and I’m happy with that.” They will hold the school accountable, they will send the child to extra tuition classes everyday, force them to join sports coaching camps and then become very upset when their kids want to have nothing to do with them in the future.

You know, skewed isn’t really the right word. Education and society are important reflections of each other. They influence each other in a very big way. But, like everything else, they have to constantly evolve. A society, an educational system, a school that does not evolve, constantly embracing change, is going to become extinct.

Is your book really a coming-of-age novel? If not, then does it fit into any genre so to say?  

Well, it is coming-of-age in that the kids grow up, go through these major events in their lives and emerge, older, wiser and not entirely unscathed. That said, I’m not really sure that Third Best does fit into any genre. Sure, the people who will instantly form a bond will be kids who are the same ages as the kids in the book but this is no children’s book even though it is about children. I’m not entirely sure how that happened and I didn’t start writing thinking that I’m going to create something that no one will be able to classify! But on some level I like that people are finding it tough to categorize (mean laugh).

How strong is the element of Moral Compass played out in the book, with reference to the dilemma that Nirvan is in when it comes to spilling the beans?
For most males, growing up in an environment like Shore Mount (even though there are girls around), means to live life with a silent code (it’s silent in that no one talks about it but it’s the same everywhere!). And not “telling” (to use the same phrase as in Third Best) is a very important part of this. Most boys who’ve been to boarding school would have even taken punishments that were intended for others – seniors or classmates, it’s something that is just done. So when Nirvan, who has heard about Shore Mount all his life, is faced with the same situation, there’s no way that he’s going to give anybody up!

Do the kids feel bad doing some of the things that they do do? I’m not so sure. You see, systems in boarding schools were, for the longest time, archaic. Adults, in their efforts to instil a sense of responsibility in older boys, appointed them prefects or monitors, placing them in charge of the juniors, making it very clear that if the juniors muck about, the prefects will be held responsible. And so, when a seventeen year-old is faced with the need to discipline a thirteen year-old, what else will he do but instil fear in the younger fellow so that he doesn’t get in trouble again? And that fear is almost always instilled through violence. It must be the adults who must stand up and remember that it is them who are running the school and not the senior boys, just like Gomez does after a point.

Your favourite writers while you were growing up…
Oh no. This is really going to be embarrassing. Alexandre Dumas, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens, Jeffrey Archer, (oh what the hell!) and Enid Blyton and Ved Vyas (yes, I do mean the Mahabharata).

Your favourite writers, now that you have grown up…Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, George RR Martin, Terry Goodkind, Neil Gaiman.

Arjun as a teenager…Obnoxious, loud, in need of a hair style, never lonely, loved school, couldn’t figure out why girls weren’t instantly charmed by him.

Arjun as a writer…

I need to be left alone. I could be anywhere (I wrote most of Third Best in Delhi) but I need to be alone. I plot stories just before I sleep. It’s very scary but I’ve actually dreamt some sequences that are in the book (and I don’t mean the sex!). My characters often surprise me – they end up doing things that I did not intend when I first started out. Predictably, Gautam is the character that does that the most.

Arjun the teacher…

I’d like to think that I’m kind and I’m proud of what I do. I chose to teach and (even though there are some days when I miss life in the metropolis or watching the newest movies or feel like I’m stuck in a rut) I still really enjoy myself.

Do you think teachers today are able to influence their students’ choices and thought process? Did they ever? Are you a disciplinarian?

This is one of those yes and no questions. Kids have traditionally believed that adults are full of it and will never be able to see the world as lucidly as they can. And, for some mystifying reason, kids think that the most of their teachers. But I think this is because of the world’s perception of teaching. On average, a great teacher is paid less than an average corporate office-type guy, which is a real shame. Society depends on teachers to create the generations of the future – for the first twenty-something years of a person’s life, the adults that they interact with (and in many cases this is even more than their parents) are their teachers. Why does the world expect everything from a teacher – help mould kids into responsible citizens, equip them with the tools they will need to survive their futures and help set them on a path to that future and then treat them with the greatest of disdain? You should see eyes light up when I (now) tell them that I’m an author. When I tell people I’m a teacher the usual response is: “Oh…”

Every kid should at least have one adult to look up to and in the case of so many people it’s that one teacher. The one who went out of his way to make you feel like you were the greatest student in the world, the one who went out of her way to teach you something you should have figured out years ago and the one who stood at the school gates as you left for the last time and smiled. So yes, I do believe teachers have, do and will always influence the lives of their students.

I teach at a boys’ school so I think it’s easier for me to establish boundaries. And it is necessary to do that – you can be friendly but remember, you are not their friend. Students are not buddies you discuss your problems with, they are children placed in your care for limited amounts of time and you have to be able to make sure that you don’t feel bad disciplining them when they do something wrong. I try.

Do you think that e-readers have changed the way we read? What do you prefer – e-books or books in their physical form?

Of course they have, it would silly to deny that they haven’t. I have read nothing longer than an essay online so I really couldn’t tell which I prefer. But I will say this – a house without books on shelves is very cold. And besides, a computer (or any equivalent) will never be able to replace the smell of the paper in a book (brand new or very old). Almost as good as rain on dry ground.

Which character is closest to you and why?

I think it would be very easy to say that Nirvan is closest to me because his is the one character that I had plotted out in the greatest detail. He never managed to surprise me at all! But on another level, I think each character has a little of me inside them. I had to imagine how I would react in the situations I threw them into and so they all bear different aspects of my personality (Both Gautam and Faraz would probably be very embarrassed by that!).

One book you wish you had written and why?

Without hesitation, it would have to be A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I think it was the first book I read by an Indian author (apart from the epics and pieces by freedom fighters) and I finished and immediately started again. I couldn’t believe that someone could tell a story like that! I loved the detail, I laughed at the characters and I couldn’t believe that he allowed Lata to marry the guy she gets married to. But then I was younger when I first read it (and the second time) but in retrospect I can totally see that that was the only realistic way to go. Besides, when I finished, I wanted to become Amit. I wish I was that cool.

 You can purchase Third Best on: Flipkart

An Interview with Esther David

So after reading The Man with the Enormous Wings, I had this need to connect with the writer. To ask her questions. To know a little more about the book and her thoughts. Here it is…in the form of this interview!

What gave way to the idea of writing, “The Man with the Enormous Wings”?

During the riots of 2002, my publishers were suggesting that I write a novel and weave it around the earthquake and riots. But, I was so traumatized by the communal riots of 2002,  that I could not. All, I wrote was a poem and a short story, which is used as the last chapter of my novel The Man With Enormous Wings. Then, I did sign a contract to write The Man with Enormous Wings, but it took me ten years to give form to the novel, by concentrating on specific incidents, and people. During this period, I saw how Mahatma Gandhi was forgotten in Gujarat. I thought, he would be the perfect character like Alice in Wonderland, as he grows wings, changes size and keeps on falling between warring groups of people. So, I made him the central character of my novel.

Esther as a person….

Author – Novelist – Storyteller. Always an insider, who is an outsider. Armchair naturalist, armchair anthropologist, armchair artist, armchair art critic.

Esther as a writer…

An artistic dreamer. She has to work very hard to give form to her novels. Has to rewrite many times, till she gets the poetic imagery she wants to create in her work. 

Did you ever feel that you cannot write this book because of the surge of emotions? I for one could not read it at length because it stirred so many feelings in me.

2002 happened around my house. I was witness to many events. It was too close. I could not write. I was also frightened. I am still frightened that it can happen again, so I so long to write.

Esther’s favourite books

The Strange Case of Billy Biswas by Arun Joshi. A thousand years of Solitude – by Gabriel Garcias Marquez. Shame – by Salman Rushdie. Aphrodite – by Isabelle Allende

Esther’s favourite writers…

Gabriel Garcias Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Isabelle Allende, Toni Morrison, Amos Oz.

If you had to describe, “The Man with the Enormous Wings” in one word, what would it be and why?

Unwanted. In the present scenario of Gujarat with its Vibrant Gujarat and ghettoization between communities, there is no place for Mahatma Gandhi and his ideology, meaning The Man With Enormous Wings.

 I loved that the book ended with a lot of hope and optimism. What do you think about it? Will it be like this?

I am just consoling myself, because, most people have forgotten 2002, and, as we say in the Bible – if we forget, it will happen again.

 Your views on today’s literary world…

It gives a writer a wide scope to be read and become known and publishers help in the growth of writers, as long as authors are willing to work hard. Yet, the media needs to focus more on writers who live in India, than expatriate Indian born writers.  

That was this. You can read the review of “The Man with the Enormous Wings” here.

The Man with Enormous Wings; David, Esther; Penguin India; Rs. 199.

Makers of Modern India: Edited and Introduced by Ramachandra Guha

This is one book that everyone who has an interest in the evolvement of the idea of India must read. Ramachandra Guha, the writer of this book, is known worldwide for his impeccable style of writing. His writing only gets better when he deals with anything that has any interest in the modern India.

This is a book about those Indians who has changed the way India used to be perceived. Guha meticulously researched for this book and the result is a highly readable account of genuine heroes of modern India. The book is about thinking and writing of nineteen thinkers of modern India. 

I started reading this book around four days ago and it took a lot from me – in the sense, when it came to the ideas and thoughts of the nineteen thinkers – right from Rammohan Roy who speaks about Relations between Men and Women to Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s thoughts on elevating the depressed classes, it was an eye-opener. The topics that these leaders touch on are varied – from gender, class and to banishing English as a language to Kashmir, Tibet, and Nationalism – it is the variedness of these topics that sometimes lead to contradictory and quite opposing ideas. What I like is the selection of passages, speeches and thoughts that Guha has so skillfully compiled. It touches on almost every aspect and yet there were gaps that could have been filled.

The interpretation of their writings were done by Guha in the context of the then prevailing situations. Though, there is notable exclusion from the book. Not a single Indian Marxist has been covered by Guha. There is no doubt that Indian Marxists are great thinkers, but when it comes to the pragmatism of their high level of thinking, there is none. Definitely, there is not an iota of pragmatism in the thinking of Indian Marxists.

Then, the exclusion of Subhas Chandra Bose and Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel from the list of makers of modern India is highly contestable. These two definitely changed the perspective and thinking of innumerable people. And, of course, these two leaders were also responsible for making the largest democracy of the world. The reason mentioned by Guha for their inclusion is not sufficient.

Anyway, this is a book which will directly take you in the mind of thinkers who have been covered. Do read this to understand the ethos of India in a straight way and to the point. In a nutshell, this one is a highly readable book by Ramachandra Guha.

Makers of Modern India; Edited and Introduced by Ramachandra Guha; Penguin Viking; Rs. 799