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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Book Review : 'Half Sick of Shadows' by Richard Abbott

Half Sick of Shadows’ by Richard Abbott is an adaptation of a ballad by Tennyson. A poem, that many of us have read, enjoyed and loved. It is a retelling of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shallot’.

At a stonewalled house in an olden time in Britain, this particular story starts off with the unnamed Lady’s birth. In the house, surrounded by nature the Lady wakes, at first. Everything seemed new, from the flowers and the leaves. Here, all there was to do was eat, sleep and change. As a little child, she just did that much, and there was no one, except a Mirror which would keep on guiding her.

Time passed, as the Lady went to sleep again. Then as time moved on, another age is born. She has begun to grow, but the form, which she finds herself drawing from, is too thin and exasperating. She slept again, and this time she awoke yet again. Times are passing and changing. She wishes for people to value her but they seem to be changing and missing.

As she continues to hibernate, she wakes again, this time she can watch and even stroll and even begins to build an outline. And with it, the world too. The earliest hunters to the tiny settlements, to even the medieval times. She can see the world, but she always seemed curbed and away from everything. 

The Mirror is her only guide; she is allowed to sing now and then but the pall could always be drawn between her world and the other world. She always desires and wants to see the rest of the world, but her life is always so restricted that it never seems to happen.

She seems educated and learned of the world around her as the mysterious Mirror continues to guide her and set her on the path. Everything and everyone seems different. There are animals, birds and beasts, which look and feel different from the last time. Even her home seems changed every time she awakes. The people on the outside of her tower worship her as they think her a divine being. She manages to bond with a few, as she discovers her own power and her dangerous position she seems to be in.

Her only guide is the Mirror and she can see that she has changed so much over the years. She considered herself, she thought of herself, her own roots and feelings.

Richard Abbott
The Mirror captures all this, and with it, it captures all of the Lady’s movements, her conversations with the few beings of the world that surround her, the times she talks to a little boy, a woman, a man, sometimes even a King, and a Queen.

She keeps at it, as eras go by. She discovers the beauty of the web, she must weave. But she never had discovered the idea of sharing, because it has never occurred to her. She left behind most of these and kept on moving through the time. Would she ever stop? Would she discover why everything around her was so? Will she know if it was to end? I would say give both of them a read, the poem and this book. Both of them are equally worth it... :)

 You can Buy the Book, right here.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Author Interview : Kalyanaraman Durgadas, author of ‘Songs of the Cauvery (Part 2)

Here is more to this very Interesting Interview, with Kalyanaraman Durgadas, author of 'Songs of the Cauvery'. Here, he explains how he relates the book and its characters to day to day lives, which particular character he feels most close to and why, the next book he has planned, who was it that told him he could become an author, his favourite authors and why, and the books he is currently reading, and much, much more, Folks...

How would you relate the book and its characters to your day to day lives?

This is an extremely interesting question. As I researched more and more of the public persons of that era, I found that there was any number of people with unshakeable integrity. I can name, off the top of my head, fifty public figures of unimpeachable integrity. I cannot name too many such public figures of today.
The characters in the book were not run-of-the mill, average people. They were ‘outliers’. It is certainly difficult to relate these characters to the people you meet in our everyday transactions. 

In this day and age, where evolutionary theorists are finding it difficult to explain altruism in living beings, often explaining it away as a kind of overarching selfishness, I hope the book points to an alternate way of thinking that has prevailed among us and hopefully will continue to grow and flourish.

Which particular character did you feel most close to? Why?

I felt closest to Janaki. My mother, an extremely intelligent and sensitive woman, got married at the age of 14 and her dreams for continuing her education came to an abrupt stop in her Form IV. Even though she went on to become a well-known writer in Tamil, having published around 100 stories in Tamil literary magazines, she never got over the sense of ‘incompleteness’ of her education till her death.

Janaki, in a sense complements her by obsessively pursuing education.

Could you tell the readers about your experiences and how it was related to
Kalyanaraman Durgadas
what you wrote?

My training as an engineer and entrepreneur helped me in meeting and interacting with a lot of people. Perhaps that is the only extent that has helped. My extensive reading also helped.

The plays that I have written and produced helped me to set the scenes with a sense of drama.

What is the most fulfilling part of writing a book?

Writing the powerful scenes in the book, seeing it all come together, some characters simply deciding to what they want to do despite your initial plans, people writing letters saying they were born in the land of my story and the story transported them there…

The many great reviews the book has received from The Hindu, Deccan Herald, Pioneer, Bangalore Mirror, Deccan Chronicle, Youth ki Awaz and other readers has been a great motivator in the validation of my ideas of what makes a good story.

If I had to choose, I would say the reader reactions are the best part.

What is the next book that you have planned?

I have already started ideating and trying out a few chapters. These are the things I definitely know about it:
I have a theme.
It won’t be a historical novel.
It will be engaging.
I have some characters. Let’s see what they do.

Who was it that told you that you could become the author, you are today?

I started reading early, at the age of four, soon with a kind of omnivorous ferocity, in both English and Tamil and when my mother wrote, I was the official proofreader. That must have been from when I was nine on wards. I even gave suggestions on plot, character and word-choice.

My mother encouraged me and was certain that I would be a writer. Sounds rather lame, considering that she also thought I was good-looking, but that is the truth.

Any advice to writers that would like to be published today? How tough is it to be published?

Unfortunately, my experience has been rather smooth, unlike the usual stories of even famous authors plastering their walls with rejection slips and exulting when there is a hint in one of them that the editor has actually read their manuscript.

The very first publisher I sent the manuscript of ‘Songs of the Cauvery’ to, Rupa publications, wrote to me within three weeks of submission and told me they will be sending me a contract.

The publication of the comic fantasy that I wrote, ‘The Sorcerer of Mandala’ was even smoother. I had sent it to a beta reader. She liked it so much that she sent the manuscript to a publisher in the USA and I received an offer from Yali Publications even before I submitted!

In case, you are wondering, I wrote both ‘Songs of the Cauvery’ and ‘Sorcerer of Mandala’, more-or-less simultaneously. I finished the latter within a month of finishing the former. The publication of SOM was just 15 days after SOC!

Who are your favourite authors and why?
Walter Scott from Wikipedia

Oh many-- almost too numerous to recount here. These are given below in no particular order.

I love humour -- I have read all of PG Wodehouse, at least once. Other favourite humourists are Terry Pratchett, Stephen Leacock, Evelyn Waugh, GK Chesterton, Douglas Adams
RK Narayan

As you can see, it’s all pretty eclectic.

Which books are you currently reading?

I read many books at the same time, switching between them. At present, I am reading the following:

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Author Interview : Kalyanaraman Durgadas, author of 'Songs of the Cauvery' (Part 1)

Kalyanaraman Durgadas
Read up, the first part of the Interview with Kalyanaraman Durgadas, author of 'Songs of the Cauvery'. The book was brilliant, while the author's answers to my questions held their own, since they were intense and penetrating. 

In fact, I could not capture their brilliance in a single part and so it is in two parts. In this part of the Interview, he tells us how the story first happened, the kind of research, which was put into this book, and what according to him was different about the book, Folks...

How did ‘Songs of the Cauvery’ happen?  Could you describe the journey? 

Well, it was a strange and fulfilling journey -- from the moment I started conceiving the story, to when I won the award for the best debut writer of 2016.

A couple of years back, I chanced upon a manuscript among some old papers of my late father, in an old steel trunk. It was a set of, around 300 shlokas entitled ‘Gaanesatatwasudhalahari’, written by my paternal great grand father, Sri Nilakantha Sastry. I read through it, and translated it, summoning my sparse knowledge of Sanskrit, and I was fascinated…

Apart from the main subject matter of the book, which was Ganesa as the Non-dual Being, what I found interesting was that the first chapter of the book was devoted principally to his lineage (and therefore mine) -- both the familial and the gnostic Sishya Parampara (the lineage of disciples) -- and I found that all of them had lived on the banks of the Cauvery river, in the delta area.

As I read, I got in touch with the man himself -- his feelings, longings, ambitions and so on, and I was hooked.

I simply had to write a story set in the Cauvery delta around the time he lived. The result was the ‘Songs of the Cauvery.

What kind of research was put into the writing of this book?

In short, a lot of research. The Cauvery, already sacred to me, became an obsession. I put together a map of the course of the Cauvery River using Google Earth and assembled a large 4’ by 3’ map of the region, she flows through.

I went and revisited the Samadhi of my Great grandfather (he died a monk) at Tiruvaiyaru, next to Sri Thyagaraja’s. I wandered through the land. I re-visited all the places that were to become a setting for my story. Thanjavur, Tiruvaiyaru, Kumbakonam, Mayavaram, Madras, and Pondicherry. I read various accounts of the period… the turn of the 19th century.
UV Swaminatha Iyer : Wikipedia

There were accounts by evangelical churchmen, by memsahibs, soldiers, ICS officers. I chose to concentrate on works by Indians. I re-read books like 'En charitram' of U V Swaminatha Iyer, Subramania Bharati’s stories and poems, Kalki Krishnamurthy, Thi. Janakiraman and others.

I read the history of Chola kingdom and the subsequent kingdoms. 

I read anything of that period. Railway timetables, University syllabi, books that were prescribed by the University of Madras, biographies, about Devadasis, about the dance, music and cultural pursuits of that period and region, accounts of the freedom struggle in British India and French Pondicherry, administrative and police structures, court cases… anything.

I even had to research many word frequencies in the English spoken those days to ensure that the language in dialogues was not anachronistic.

I had to do this because I chose to write the novel as an insider and not from the point of view of what may be best described as a tourist.

Even though, I discovered many things that were of immense interest to me, a very small fractional percentage of them made it into the book. All this immersion, however, helped me to write with confidence about the period and write with authenticity.

What according to you is different about your book?

A couple of things:

1) This period and the South have not been written about in fiction, at least in English fiction.
2) I think the book is authentic and engaging.

To quote, N Ravi of TheHindu (Director, Kasturi holdings), “Set in the backdrop of the Cauvery, under the British rule, the book fills the vital gap in the understanding and appreciation of the region.

I have journeyed through to the end of Mr Kalyanaraman’s gripping and extremely well-written book in two consecutive evenings, which is a measure of how compelling a read it is. In fact, I am used to reading two or three books at the same time and I have many partly-read books with me, but this is one that I read through from start to finish without putting down.”

How did you come up with the main plot line and develop it? 

I have already described, how I came to set the story in the Cauvery Delta and chose a particular time in history. I had always wanted to explore the theme of ‘Tyaga’, loosely translated as sacrifice, more properly as ‘letting go.’ I used 'Cauvery' not just as a physical presence, but mainly as a metaphor in the novel.

Once I had decided on the climactic scene and the characters, the plot unwound more or less by itself.

To summarize, to begin with I had a space, a time period, a theme, an incident and the characters. The plot happened because of the longings and motivations of the characters and the various choices they made during the course of the story.

You can Read the Review here and Buy the Book right here, as well.