For Whom The Bell Tolls : Ernest Hemingway

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qué puta es la guerra’ Agustin said. ‘War is a bitchery’

And that was to me one of the finest sentences in the novel. In a book full of memorable passages and dialog, this stood out for having captured the entire essence of what the story talks about. This is not an apology for war but rather a vivid description of what war does to men and women. A story of roughness : in living, in loving, in thinking and ultimately in dying. That was to me For whom the bell tolls.

It frustrated and fascinated me in equal measures to read this book. Frustration because the story keeps meandering and moves into channels and tributaries of thought which end up going nowhere. You waddle through the slush of Hemingway’s thoughts to reach a cross roads and wonder what the hell you are doing there. Sometime yesterday afternoon, I almost gave up on the book but then there is that little imp of conscience that kept nagging at me until I picked it up again. And I am glad I did ! It fascinated me for a writer who employs such stripped-to-the-bones prose could tell you all about the human condition in a few hundred pages. 

There is love in these pages, intensely physical and satisfying love which sometimes does not reach the brain of the protagonist. There is the horror and futility of combat in these pages which the protagonist relishes more than the arms of his woman. Robert Jordan is someone whose reflections I have seen in a lot of soldiers, commanders and leaders of literature. He warms up to companionship and love but there is a part of his brain that is cold and ruthless. The part that plots and plans and calculates. The part of the brain that usually wins wars and can be quite merciless in how it does it. The finest moments are when Jordan talks to his mind and we are invited for a journey along its circuitous passageways. These are the thoughts that frustrated me too for they tend to go on and on. Would this be the way Theseus felt when he followed Ariadne’s pool of thread out of the labyrinth ? 

This is vintage stuff. Powerful, intoxicating and a heady mix of Hemingway !

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee ~ John Donne

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Athisayaragam : Ravi Menon

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Rare is a day when a Malayali does not hear the voice of K.J. Yesudas. You hear him on the TV, on the radio, YouTube, Public Speakers, iPod’s, places of worship…wherever music is played. The entire field of Malayalam music is incomplete without the voice of this one man. There is even a saying that the god Ayyappa goes to sleep listening to Yesudas singing Harivarasanam ! (P.S : If you have not heard this rendition, then I would strongly recommend that you do. Even if you do not understand the lyrics, the feeling is unbelievably soothing !). Yesudas has a mark in the lives of every south Indian who has grown up from the 60’s to now. Through countless movie tracks and Carnatic classical renditions, he has walked the path to become a living legend !

It is my association with the Mathrubhoomi magazine that brought me to know Ravi Menon. There is a certain flair that he has in writing that makes me want to listen to the songs as I am reading about them. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I have started listening more to the Malayalam songs from the 1960’s – 1980’s after reading Ravi’s column in Mathrubhoomi . It is a kind of writing that evokes nostalgia for times gone by and an era of titans in the Malayalam music industry. This book is a collection of articles on the lives of people who have built the legend of Yesudas. Little known names like that of Raman Nambiyath – who was the producer of the first movie in which Das sang and also the music composers, recording artists and countless singers of little fame who were all on the path of this singer’s rise to glory are all chronicled here.

It is these little anecdotes that make this book interesting. Kattasseri Joseph Yesudas is an icon now and it is such gentle reminders that tell us how much toil, sweat and effort goes into building such an icon that the world can but behold !

The End Of History And The Last Man : Francis Fukuyama

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When I was done with this book, all I had in my head was a faint buzzing. I took it initially to be a sign of incomprehension but later figured it out to be one of weariness. The weariness stemmed from the theories that the author postulates in the book. A quick look at the reviews tells me that I am not the only one with the same ideas. According to Fukuyama, we reach the end of history when we achieve the liberal-capitalist democratic form of government. He is quick to tell us that this does not mean that events of historical importance will not occur from then on but simply that historical evolution will grind to a halt at this point. All very interesting thoughts but then he fails to observe some of the most notable players on the world stage.

 

First and foremost, in all the discourse that Fukuyama gives about liberal democracy not one word is mentioned of China. A single party dominated superpower stood looming over the World and yet Fukuyama missed to interpret its importance or the contradiction to his theory. Then again there is Russia which while outwardly called a democracy is also a reminder of the power that authoritarian governments can assume in today’s political scenario. This forms only part of the counter –argument. Then again was the insistence that with the curtains drawn on the Cold War, global conflict had come to an end. In my reading of the counter theses, this was the one point that met with the most vehement opposition. The fact that the author would overlook the escalating issues brought in by religious fundamentalism was met with much scorn. To quote George Will : ’History had just returned from vacation’. Of course, he did come out with detailed points defending his view later on but then accommodating these in the book would have given it much more credibility.

 The fact that I could dig up and read so much about this book and its postulates is proof enough that it is an interesting book. I do not necessarily agree with 80% of the book’s contents but totally loved the way it made my mind work and find all the counter arguments to what was in here.