Friday, August 6, 2010

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

A 1998 booker prize winner that was recommended to me by a friend calling it edgy and moralistic. I sure wasn’t disappointed. Amsterdam is powerful and complex in story and has also been written very skillfully. Its about two friends, who share a common previous lover, and their moral conflict of ethics and loyalty. Turmoil and Dilemma have never been written better.
Although the name suggests that there would be a major part of Amsterdam to play in the tone and mood of the novel. But, it isn’t. It is set in present day London for most part of it and the protagonists travel to Amsterdam for the climax (a mind-boggling one) yielding it to grab the title of the novel. There aren’t any panoramic cityscape descriptions probably to not take away from the intensity of emotions of the characters. Intimate settings and more private spaces have been wonderfully explored in all their glory and detail apart from which there are these few public spaces that have been captured very well.

Vernon Halliday’s newspaper office is one interesting place. The authoritarian in him exudes control over everyone and everything. His chair was empty; he was finely dissolved throughout the building, from the city desk on the fifth floor, …,to the basement.
The author has regularly taken cues from the setting to leave an impression on the moods of the characters. As the other protagonist Clive Linley takes the train out of London to the Lake District, he crosses fields and rivers and barren land that has at places been marred by human concrete buildings and roads. He feels that the human project has been a failure from the very beginning.
Following a trail at the Lake District Park where he has come to take inspiration for the last piece of his symphony, Peering over the top of the slab, which jutted up over a thirty-foot drop, he found himself looking down a miniature tarn, hardly bigger than a large puddle. Standing on the grass that fringed it on its far side was the woman he had seen hurrying past, the woman in blue.  Also standing with her was this other man looking advantageous.
 The moral dilemma of helping a struggling lady rather than writing these symphony notes that he’ll forget very soon further gets intensified because of the physical distance between the two. Surely, one of my favorite passages from the book because of its visual thrust using just words.
‘As Clive edged around the loud bass section, … he avoided the basses, who already seemed drunk in competition with the tympani. At last he attained the tempered sodality of the violins, who had permitted flutes and piccolo to join them.’ the orchestra members at the party, delightful description.
Even though the book may be missing the broader, zoomed out views of London, the grayness of it has been captured at various points successfully, setting the tone of the story right. And don’t miss it for just the ending …..It’s worth the effort.

Bal Bhawan

One of the fondest memories I have of my childhood remains to be of my two trips to the National Bal Bhawan, Kotla Road, New Delhi in 2001 and 2002. The event being the Annual National (later, International) Children’s Assembly  organized by the Bal Bhawan generally in the third week of November in celebration of Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru’s birth anniversary ( November 14). Now those of you (I’m sure most) not aware of the magnitude of the event, it brings together five to ten children each from the 80 odd Bal Bhawans across India to stay at the National Bal Bhawan for a week  amidst cultural performances, competitions, talks, workshops, etc. So that makes it around 600 children from every nook and corner of India and some other countries coming and staying together in the complex (huger than you can imagine, right in the heart of New Delhi) and music, art, dance, theatre, literature and so much more.
For the first moment, spine chilling, intimidating. 11 years of age (my first time), alien city (then, we lived in a gated township at Unchahar, secure and cocooned), no parents. Only your bunch of friends and your escort. But equally was the idea exciting, meeting new people, seeing and learning new things, making new friends and…. no parents !!
The Director, Ms. Amita Shaw and children at a recent assembly
First things first, the living bit. All the girls put up in dorms. The boys in the two floors of their makeshift emptied Research Training Center.  People from neighboring cities, towns grouping together, with their mattresses next to each other. Common toilets and bathrooms (some with hot water). Even though the early winter chill gave reason enough to bathe only on alternate days, still there would perpetually be a queue. And, also there always were these other kids (read better) that were up early, bathed every day, never missed the breakfast timings and their morning stroll. :P
But the most amazing part of the whole fiesta was the cultural events, a host of talented children showcasing their parts of the world. From Baul music from West Bengal, to the endangered art form of Kalamkari from Andhra Pradesh and the Sambalpuri dance from Orissa, everyday one discovered the awesomeness of our country a little more. And in all that, meeting like-minded people and making friends.
So much fun !!!
Another strong memory is of PCO shacks, outside the complex, we had to walk to, post dinner, to make phone calls back home. Yes, there were no cellphones then(which also meant staying with your group all the time) and calling parents every alternate night was obligatory. We had to cross this huge play field to reach the main gate and outside it. And in the slightly chilly breeze, it was quite a journey. Also, it so happened in all years, that one of the assembly days used to be Eid. Devotees sitting on crisp white bedsheets offering prayers would line the Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg (I found out the name later)in the morning and the catering staff would cook up the most delicious Vermicelli Kheer for dinner dessert.
Anyone who has ever been to the Bal Bhavan as a child shall forever remember the place for what it is.   So do I, quite vividly so. My later associations with the Bal Bhavan have only further strengthened my sense of belonging to the place. And it is only this belonging that keeps pulling me back to it and relive those cherished memories.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Let's start...

Hey there!
Found my blog’s apt name finally. Reveals my present state of mind regarding the blog. As blogging takes learning to the next level, we start here to exchange and share our lives and experiences, what we know, what we just found out and perhaps also stuff that we don’t know about and are curious. This isn’t as much about me as it is about what I see around me and what I think about it. I’m a student of Architecture in New Delhi, India. The blog, among other things shall also feature my Theory of Settlements assignments.
Hope you enjoy reading it and share some of your experiences too.
Cheers ;) !