I picked up The Gaze after listening to a speech by the author on TED talks. I usually give a book 50-100 pages to draw me in. And the first couple of chapters were bleak. I didn’t quite understand what was happening and where the plot was headed, mostly because I was busy deciphering a rather confusing narrative. But instead of putting me off, it challenged me to stay on as if to say, ‘see if you can make sense of me’. And I was equal to the task. I decided to let go of the plot- one of the reasons I was getting bogged down was because I was trying to tie it up with the back cover blurb- so I let go of what I had read there. And I just focused on deciphering the narrative. Which was the best thing I could have done. Shafak has a delicious narrative style that sometimes makes you want to re-read sentences/ phrases and sometimes read them aloud (making everybody around you think you are slightly cuckoo). She effortlessly goes back and forth in time and space and has us surrounded not only by people who are stared at but also the quintessential voyeurs i.e. all the rest of us, both men and women.
And it is in this circumstance, when the reader is surrounded by all these fantastic –cum-terrible-cum-wonderful creatures and voyeurs, that she introduces the Dictionary of Gazes. And who better to obsess over it than B-C, the dwarf. The words that go into the Dictionary of Gazes now appear intermittently throughout the novel.
So, in short, I loved reading this novel. And here’s why. The narrator of the story is nameless. This is a brilliant way of telling you that this character is a ‘nobody’. When you name something, you give it that much more importance. In this case, the idea communicated that the character had a really low self-esteem not least because she was obese. The only other place that I have come across the use of the nameless narrator is Ghosh’ s The Shadow Lines.
There are a couple of chapters that go to 18th century Siberia and 17th century France. Shafak is describing the origins of two spectacles that form part of an exhibition of spectacles in 19th century Turkey. Before delving into these background stories she introduces a caveat in the previous chapter suggesting that the reader can skip the following chapter completely if she so wished. I didn’t. Personally, I loved both chapters because it gave a background to something I wasn’t quite comprehending. But more importantly, both of them was talking about some violation that had taken place that had led to the creation of these spectacles. But I also think that her suggestion was interesting. Towards the end she says there are many ways of telling a story and repeats the stories without the key violation. There is no spectacle that is created, rendering both stories useless. One is left wondering if the reader could really have left out those two chapters in her reading. I will never know.
Finally, her language is full of imagery. I also found some ( not too much) similarities with ‘magical realism’. Both of these made the reading so much more engaging. Sometimes imagery is easy to get but this kind of imagery was challenging, and so there was a continuous dialogue with the reader. Her language was also whimsical at times. This was one of the things that took time getting used to. But in the end, it was also one of the things that made the reading challenging and interesting.
A final caveat- this is a translation from the Turkish original. I am not sure how much of the ‘challenging’ aspects of the language of the book comes from it being Turkish and how much from it being an inefficient translation ( if it is). Perhaps someone who knows both languages can tell. But I do wonder how much was lost in translation.
This blog is for a dear friend, confidante and boss. When I was going through a particularly bad patch, Shiva said to me “ these are horrible things to happen to a person. True. But, your life is too large for you to let such small things come in the way of living”. And yet he let something as trifling as malaria get him. At the risk of sounding clichéd, without Shiva I wouldn’t be where I am now or writing this blog at all. Even if I have known him only for a year, I am glad I knew him at all and I wish I had known him for longer. This blogpost, that I wrote a week ago, is about this city, Bangalore, where I have shifted for a month now. My being here, doing the job that I do, and living a different life is partly due to Shiva. Shiva Dhakal, you had no business to go.
It has been a month since I shifted to this city. A city, that now, seems full of glass office buildings and a city that is reeling under the impact of The Great IT Exodus. Bangalore is where my grandparents settled after my grandfather’s retirement and have lived there since, some 30 years almost. Which means I have been visiting Bangalore almost every holiday? For me, Bangalore meant a good time, my grandparents, no school, vacation, cousins and friends to play with, relatives, and all that is old and traditional.
This time it is different. I am here on work. So good times are fewer and farther between. But they still are in steady supply.
For a start, this city of parks has not changed much in that respect, at least in this neighborhood. I remember going to Krishnarao park with my grandfather and playing in the playground there. I now go to the park for my walks. A multitude of health conscious folk and gossip lovers descend on the park every morning rather early and traverse the same circular path every day. Down the road is Lalbagh which I go to off a Sunday. This vast and beautiful space of greenery and trees and lakes is truly exotic for this Bombayite. To have them so accessible is a dream come true. Shiva loved nature, he would have loved Bangalore.
Over the past few weekends, I got to check out three places to eat. First, with Aparna, Vinita and Sruthi, I had a hungry breakfast at Vidyarthi Bhavan. We waited for close to 30 minutes standing like hawks over other people having breakfast and keeping a look out for emptying seats. When we finally did sit down, we were famished. We had the idli, vada and masala dosa. The masala dosa and the filter coffee were to die for. Definitely, a must if you are in Bangalore any time. Second, I went to Maiya’s for lunch with Nikki. We went up to the Gujarati part of the restaurant. The food was good but not great. I mean, nowhere near those awesome Gujarati thali places in Bombay like Samrat and Panchvati. Koshy’s, on the other hand, was a delectable find. I went there with Sam and a brood of her lovely friends. It is this really old café-type setup, famous for its kerela food, but I had their fish and chips which was also good. Shiva loved fish, he would have enjoyed this place. Also this marked my first drinking outing in Bangalore. Sadly, when I asked for more rum and coke, I was told it was too late. That’s right, Bangalore closes all liquor by 11.30. Shiva would have laughed at such a rule and wondered how I lived here. Shiva would have enjoyed a gastronomical exploration of this city. Shiva loved food.
I must tell about my first client at work. Yes yes, there are things like client confidentiality and all that, so no names and such, but still it makes for an interesting story. It’s a hospital that is looking for marketing solutions. They are a ‘boutique’ hospital. And I had to google that myself. Meeting up with the COO was even more interesting. He waxed eloquent about what the hospital offers and why the prices are so exorbitant (because of the state-of-the-art technology etc). And then, he launches on healthcare in India, how ‘Indian’s culturally don’t care about people dying on the street. Thought running through my head: how posh for a man so concerned about public health and the ‘Indian mentality of not caring’ to be heading such an exclusive luxury facility? Shiva would have wondered what I was doing with ‘boutique’ hospitals and laughed at my predicament. He would have said, “ its ok. You can do it”.
This weekend, I spent at Valley School, that alternative education school of the Krishnamurthy Foundation Institute (KFI) in the beautiful, green outskirts of Bangalore. I had gone there for a workshop on rhythm, art and movement. There was dancing, singing, carpentry and drawing and painting. All of which I did. The greenery of the valley beckons and I see myself a frequent visitor there. If Shiva had come for this, he would have escaped to visit the villagers and break bread with them assuming they would have some delicious food.
While there, I learnt this beautiful Bengali song, that I reproduce here
Khwaja’r name pagol hoiya
Phiri ami Ajmer giyago
(Eto Kore daklam tare)- 2
Tobu dekha pailam na
Pagol Chhada duniya cholena (hai re)
*(Tui pagol tor mon-o-pagol)-2
Pagol pagol korish na
Pagol chhada duniya cholena (hai re)
(Murshid ache deshe deshe
Ei jogote koto beshe re)- 2
(Dhorte parle pabi re tui)- 2
Behest- er-I nazrana
Pagol chhada duniya chole na (hai re)
Tui pagol tor mon-o-pagol *
The meaning, in a gist, is that in searching for god/ultimate/truth, I have become crazy. I have looked everywhere and haven’t found it. I even went to Ajmer but to no avail. But that’s ok. Without the mad people/ madness, the world wouldn’t run. You are mad and so is your heart, don’t call other people mad because without the mad, the world wouldn’t run. There are many Murshid (philosphers, guides, guru, teachers) in different forms in the world everywhere. And yet you dont see the ultimate until you do see it.
Shiva has been one of my Murshids . I am unable to keep track of all that is lost by losing him.
Cold, impersonal, apolitical,
steeped in apathy.
Where dreams made of brick and cement
Have turned to dreams of brittle glass.
where dreams were once woven fine
the fabric faded and the dreams came undone
Where love is what they say it is
Singing in the rain, dancing around trees
Where love is made in full public view
On some Scandal Point, some seashore, or dark avenue
Where every rumble of the electric train
Is the heavy breathing of a people’s strain
Where sleep comes as sweet relief
From breathless existence ,hope and belief
Where a stormy gale that burst in from the sea
Rustles that one solitary leaf
where the rain that comes with that stormy gale
lasts four months, the city’s sins washed away
Cold, impersonal, apolitical,
steeped in apathy