Saturday, April 28, 2012

Journalist - A Blog Novel by Mr. Hariharan Valady (3/3)

Once again it has been a long break... I don't think I would be able to do justice to this review in three posts but I am also worried if my review would become longer than the novel itself. So, let me try to condense my comments in this post and start with a fourth part if required later.

A fiction cannot be a photocopy of reality. The author has realized it well and thus also deviated from reality in some cases. The real Durai from Tamil Nadu is not as educated as he is portrayed in the novel. We don't even know if he ever went to college. He never fell in love with any TV anchor from a 'national' channel though there were talks of some stuff with a local newsreader two decades back. On the other hand, this Durai's education and his affair with the TV anchor reminds me of Kashmir. Not sure how many more states' stories are going to come in the chapters in line. :)

Knowing most of the parallels in reality, I couldn't resist comparing every paragraph in the story with reality. Not sure if it is good or bad for the novel. Having known almost everything about Durais and Rathinams I even felt like cautioning Vidya at times. I did that also while commenting on chapter 3.

All the criticism by opposition parties and media that we see with our bare eyes is one thing. There is another 'behind the scene' relationship that these people share with one another that we don't get to see. If the opposition  prince (only in democracy could you see prince and princess in opposition as well) is caught in an American airport with millions of black money why does the prime minister back home takes it up at the diplomatic level and resolves it? The media doesn't criticize parties that pay them huge money in the form of advertisements or in other forms. Most of the successful politicians always pretend to be friendly to media people. If you are in media you can directly call any politician any time for any help. You don't even have to ask. Their cronies will always be waiting by your gates to provide you with whatever facilities you are in need of. They would just read it on your face and do it for you. Why? Simply because you wouldn't be able to criticize them so hard after enjoying all those benefits. You also become party to their corruption now, right? This is why some of our media weirdly support some individuals even when they are at fault and some of their criticism doesn't sound like true criticism.

It was a good idea to come out with an Index after the third chapter. It would help the new comers to the blog in long term perspective. It would be much more helpful if it is brought up to top after posting every chapter. Likewise, the idea of listing all characters in the story and giving an introduction about each of them in a separate post is very good too. It's like salt and pepper on the table. Then, after the tenth chapter, he gives a quick summary of the story so far. All these are innovative ideas that aspiring online novelists could make use of.

When he started the novel, I was wondering how he would manage the images part. He managed it successfully by camouflaging some real pictures. Even then one of the readers pointed out who it was on the picture. Though the picture has nothing to do with the story, I personally think it is a 'very small' failure from author's perspective (I am supposed to do a 'critical' review. By nature, I am not good at being critical so this is the maximum I could do to be critical!). :)

As a writer, the author is successful in making the readers impatient about 'what next?' at the end of every post. Considering the size of each post, it's really very good to be able to convey some part of the story in every post and ending it with some curiosity.

In chapter-6, he talks about how Durai changes the topic depending on the audience. This is one thing that I have found in most of the successful politicians. You have to be a rabble-rouser. You have to speak for applause. If you do that well nobody would care whether you really work for their cause. Mr. Rathinam is so good at it. I have been seeing from my childhood how he has been doing it successfully.

The kind of relationship such leaders have with their party men at grassroots level is highlighted well in some places. Increasing the salaries of government employees with the elections in mind is such an innovative thing that it has been working in their favor for decades now. It's not just government employees, they do this to all groups of people. They have understood the pitfalls of democracy so well. Doing big short term favors to groups is more effective than smaller things for all people collectively. It actually helps in long term. Pleasing all is an impossible task. Instead, if you just do that to smaller groups of people, you would be able to make bigger impact and the beneficiaries would become your ambassadors forever. Even their children will like you just because their parents liked you and talked good about you to them.

Politics is not about pleasing all. It's about pleasing the right people who would do it for you with the rest. This combo knows it well. The author has understood it very well too. :)

Chapter-7 looks at things from their perspective as well. The author looks at things that make them corrupt even if they were not corrupt by nature. I know of many leaders who became the victim of the situation. They had to become corrupt to survive among the beasts. But, I personally feel that our politicians who are in question (Durais and Rathinams) are all corrupt by birth.Crookedness is in their veins.

The author says that politics and media are two fascinating things for him. Chapter-9 adds one more to the list, i.e. romance. The scenes that follow the bomb blast are very romantic. 

There comes an actress-turned-spokesperson in the eleventh chapter. It surely would have reminded everyone of some 'big-shot' in reality. There are so many actresses who want to join politics today. I don't know how many more actress-turned-spokespersons we are going to produce.

There is a time when Vidya gets confused with Durai's argument. She wonders on whose case he is arguing. I have seen this many times in reality. First few times I was confused like mad too. Then practice made me better. I started understanding what they mean when they say something. It's good if the author comes out with the dictionary of such stuff, too. What they say versus what they mean! Like the modern dictionaries to understand what women mean when they say something else (for example, if they say 'nothing', it means there is 'something' seriously wrong, they say!).

I liked two subtle things in chapter-12. The narration of Vidya losing all the excitement of the long drive with Durai when Uma slams the door explains a very subtle thing about the ability of slamming doors. It's these minute things that make or break relationships. Then, how Vidya skips telling Uma the overnight experience she had with Durai also is an interesting piece. It may sound obvious but it deserves the emphasis the author gives. Another such thing comes in chapter-13. When Durai wants to vent out his frustrations with his wife Meera, she remains locked with the TV and says, "Shhshh…we’ll do during the break...". Meera wouldn't have done it if she knew that that's what is going to be the game changer for Durai and Vidya. "The pressure cooker blew the fifth whistle when ultimately there was a commercial break" is another such thing. It's these minute things that need emphasis in stories. The author has understood that well and done a great job.

If the last forty years are so important in our history, the color TV thing is one of the most important one in the last forty years of our Dravidian politics. In 2006, I was betting with people saying so and so party won't win that time. But, the moment I got to know that their election manifesto had color television on top of their list, I ate my words. I know very well how mad our people are about movies and televisions. No other part of India is so mad on these things - except for Andhra Pradesh to some extent probably. But, I think, people have come out of it now. It won't work anymore. Because, there is nothing more exciting than movies and televisions for our people. Nothing means nothing... houses, jobs, money, nothing can do the trick. Even if you promise a second life they wouldn't fall for it. Money did work once but now everyone gives money so it doesn't work anymore.

Overall, every post has a good number of comments. That tells how many people are reading this novel. I have not been able to read some of the recent posts. I am sure it would have become all the more interesting by now. Need to find some time to read them all - at least once a week!

@Hariharan: Sir, thanks for giving an opportunity to review your brilliant piece of work. I am not sure if I have done justice. However, my best wishes for the successful completion of the first ever online novel that I have come across. :)

Please click here to get started with the novel...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Culture Surprises: London - 3/12

Like 'Culture Shocks', this is 'Culture Surprises'. 'Culture Surprises' is my travelogue and peoplogue. Travelogue to discuss about all my experiences in every new place I visit and peoplogue to discuss about all my experiences with people from different cultures I meet. So, it is not necessary that I talk about only cultures here. It's about everything new that I come across. So, purists... please bear with the coinage of the title!

Part 3...

The place we were supposed to go for accommodation was Croydon. First we had to go to the High Street in Croydon, collect the keys and then go to another place in Croydon itself. Every neighborhood has a High Street in London. It's a very English thing. It's similar to what is called 'Main Street' in many countries or the 'bazaar' in ours. Like the Hallis (Bommanahalli, Kammanahalli, Marathahalli, etc.) in Bangalore or the Pets (Saidapet, Teynampet, Kannammapet, etc.) in Chennai, the place names in London all end with a 'don' or 'ton', like Croydon, Kingston, Kensington, Wimbledon, Addington, Paddington, etc. London itself is a 'don', right?

We reached Croydon High Street by 8.30 PM. We went with high expectations about the 'hotel'. But what awaited us was a shock. It was a cramped reception where not even four or five people could stand. The stairs were so narrow that if the guy is little fat he can't even use it or if there are two people coming opposite to each other one of them has to go back up or down fully leaving way to another. The good news is, we didn't have to stay there. We just went there to collect the keys. We were supposed to stay in a service apartment that is run by the same hotel guys. Service apartment is an apartment where you get everything like kitchen, stove, utensils, etc. It would have been just impossible to stay in a hotel room with the family. The hotel guys themselves suggested to stay in service apartment. The difference in rent for between a single hotel room and a service apartment with multiple rooms was so less that I also agreed to that suggestion.

When I travel within India on duty the kind of hotels I get are of such a high quality that I never imagined that I would ever land in a place of that quality, that too in a place like London. Even the hotel that I stayed in Singapore was of great quality. I just couldn't digest that the hotels in London were worse than that. Then I consoled myself saying, 'It may not be the case with all hotels in London. It may be because this one is an Indian hotel'. Maybe this was a wrong sample.

All the shops in High Street were closed. The Indian young man who was in the hotel took us to the nearby Tesco shop and asked us to buy the most important things needed for the night as no other shops would be open at that time. He spoke in British accent. Can you imagine someone with that kind of an accent doing that kind of work in India? Impossible, right? It's a very common thing there. All the students work part-time somewhere like this for pocket money or in most cases manage all their expenses with this income. I have heard a lot about it when I was in India itself. But it was a different feeling witnessing it in person. In Tesco also, there were a lot of Indian staff, mostly north Indians. We just bought rice, lentils, milk, etc. and headed for the apartment.

The hotel guys arranged for a car, came till the apartment, helped with the luggage and left only after we were safely inside the apartment. It wasn't an easy task carrying the luggage till third floor. Yes, we were in third floor and we didn't have a lift. They had told me about it earlier. But again when you see it in person it's more disgusting, right? You built an apartment with three floors and didn't think of having a lift in it?! Funny! We don't have such buildings even in India these days. With all the luggage and the difficulty of carrying them all the way up to the third floor through those narrow stairs, I was haunted with many questions. At least if the stairs had been little wider I would have been okay. In India itself while looking for rented house we used to judge the quality of the house by the width of the stairs. In India itself I don't find such narrow stairs these days at least in those areas where I move around. All the new houses that are being built now are built with wider stairs. Then how come in a country like UK, that too in a city like London??? I was really confused.

I had a mental picture about the houses in London. When we entered into the apartment all those imaginations collapsed in disappointment. I blamed India for that also. I said it's run by Indians, right?! I know it was value for money. That was the value possible for the money paid by my company. Some of my colleagues who visited the place later even said, "You must be happy that you have got such a good apartment in London. I have stayed in worse places!". I was clueless. I just couldn't understand what was going on. It's not that I grew up in palaces. Five of us have stayed in a 10x10' room in bachelorhood days. But that's not the point. After that I have seen a much better quality of life in our own land, which is supposed to be a 'developing' country still. Even today I count every rupee that I spend. But I have certain criteria for a good house. That apartment unfortunately didn't meet those criteria. That's the reason I couldn't understand how so many people said that was a good apartment.

When I think about it, the biggest problem with that apartment was it had wooden floor. When I understood that it's all wooden floors only in all western countries I was trying to come to terms with it. I have seen wooden floors on the first floor in old village houses in my childhood. But after people became affluent they got rid of them and built concrete floors. 25 years later, when I had to see the same thing (though this is different from that) in what is called a developed country, I felt different. Another problem was, it's a very old apartment. Even the biggest and best houses will have their own problems once they get old. It's those problems that I had to deal with. The carpets were old and faded. Most of the things in the apartment reminded of how old they were. But otherwise I would say there was no major problem.

There were some good things as well. All the switches are kept low to be accessible for children. Isn't the idea of making them independent and not being dependent on elders for even silly things like this a thing to be appreciated? Not only in this. In general, western countries are known for bringing up their children to be independent from childhood.Why is it so? Maybe because they are not sure when their parents will decide to part ways?! They are particular about not passing on their problems to their children. It's good, right? I have even heard that they have laws to ensure their kids sleep in a separate room right from their childhood. They even say that when you look for a house you need to ensure that each child has a separate room in it.

The house that we stayed is right behind the Home Office in Croydon. The Home Office is their government department responsible for immigration, security, passport, etc. All our visas go there for approval. So we ended up in the place where they made the decision to let me in. It was well past 9 PM and there was nobody on the roads. The first feeling that I got as soon as I landed in Singapore was the feeling of safety. Likewise, the first feeling that I got as soon as I landed in London is the feeling of insecurity. From the day one we landed every day we heard some story. The main reason for that was the place where we ended up. I said it's called Croydon, right? Let me tell you now what kind of place it is.

Croydon is an English-minority neighborhood like many such neighborhoods in London. It's filled with Africans, Srilankans and Indians. A friend who is staying in Croydon told me last year itself, "Hey, all the rowdies in the area where I stay in London are all 'your' people only. Only others will find it difficult. You won't have any problem if you come to stay there!" and smiled (I hope you got what that 'your' meant!). As soon as I landed there, on the second day itself, another friend said, "The London riots that you would have heard about last year... it all happened in your area only. So be careful!". Isn't that enough for us?! I started inquiring about it with everyone that I met after that. "It's not that the whole of Croydon is like that. Only the West Croydon is little unsafe. Just avoid that part after the dark", said two - three people almost in the same style. Hell with Croydon! Every now and then I could also see the signs of whatever I heard. Every second or third day there would be a story about some mugging or crime in the neighborhood.

Maybe this is what is making the local whites unhappy. Who will tolerate their own place where they were born and grew up being spoiled by outsiders? An English man I met in Coimbatore 7 - 8 years back was cribbing a lot about this. "We have a culture that absorbs everyone that comes in. But we are not able to tolerate when those who come try to spoil our culture itself", he said with a worried face. I had no answer when he asked, "What's this arranged marriage? How can you arrange a marriage?" (It sounded similar to a comment made by a Telugu friend about food - "What is limit meals? Why do you have limits in eating? It's called meals only when you eat with full satisfaction, right?!"). They are shocked by our culture as much as we are shocked by their question!

Already they were not very happy with the way their city was being taken for a ride. Looks like it worsened after the London blasts. A colleague who was in London during those days of blasts said that the locals showed their anger even on Indians. Just like how north Indians call all south Indians 'Madrasi' here, it seems the Londoners call anyone with the subcontinent face a "Paki". 'Paki' is a short form of 'Pakistani'. It's supposed to be a discriminating - racial abuse there. It's like how Malayalis call Tamils 'Pandi' in Kerala and Tamils call Telugus 'Gulti' in Chennai. It's cheap. But this culture is there everywhere. All it says is, when it comes to hatred there is no difference between the so called civilized societies and the rest.

Since all shops were closed by 8 PM itself, I couldn't even a buy a sim card to inform home about our safe arrival. Whichever country you go, this is always a problem. That too, if you reach in late night it will be a major problem. You can't even do those important things that you are supposed to do as soon as you reach. There was no phone in apartment also. Luckily there was internet. So I could send a few emails. Next day morning I had to go to work. So I had to do all the preparations for that also in the previous night itself. So I unpacked the suitcases, ensured the important things were in place and went to bed.

How is this? The end of the first day itself comes in the third part only. We were there for a month. Then how many more parts???!!! Calculate it yourself! :)



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