Friday, February 17, 2017

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again - A Story for All Times

I was about six when my father returned from Boston with the Hobbit. Every day, he’d tell us the story. Thus it was that, long before I could read, Tolkien’s world came alive for me. Gollum, Bilbo, Gandalf, the dwarves, elves, bears, goblins, spiders and a dragon!

While it may appear to be a tale for children - and, indeed, the Hobbit is somewhat more child friendly than the Trilogy - it’s not really a book that most parents would feel comfortable reading out to their children. I might be more than a little judgemental but it seems to me that a lot of parents have a set idea of what constitutes books for children. Like the whole concept of baby food, literature too has undergone a rather unwholesome processing.

This is the edition that we had:

Let me lead you through the story as I remember it.

One fine day, a Hobbit called Bilbo Baggins, prepares for a relaxed morning.

 Wait! What’s a Hobbit?
"I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off. They are inclined to be fat in the stomach; they dress in bright colours (chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes, because their feet grow naturally leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs (especially after dinner, which they have twice a day when they can get it). Now you know enough to go on with."

The bell rings and it’s a dwarf. Before your mind’s eye begins running the Disney tape, press pause. Tolkien’s dwarves are much more dignified, for one thing.

Anyway, the bell goes on ringing and, one by one, or sometimes even two by two or more, thirteen dwarves enter Bilbo’s posh and cosy Hobbit Hole.  

And, as if that were not chaos enough, there’s yet another gate crasher and this is Gandalf. A wizard. Once again, I beg of you to switch off your Disney blinkers. And, if possible, the Peter Jackson visuals as well.

An Unexpected Party, the first chapter, plunges us into a scene of delightful disorder:
Chip the glasses and crack the plates!Blunt the knives and bend the forks!That's what Bilbo Baggins hates—Smash the bottles and burn the corks!
Cut the cloth and tread on the fat! Pour the milk on the pantry floor!Leave the bones on the bedroom mat!Splash the wine on every door!
Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl;Pound them up with a thumping pole;And when you’ve finished if any are whole,Send them down the hall to roll!
That's what Bilbo Baggins hates!So, carefully! carefully with the plates!

And, before you can catch your breath, the party ends with the plan for a mighty adventure:  One of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield, has to reclaim his kingdom from Smaug, a dragon. And, what’s worse for the comfort loving Hobbit, Bilbo is to be the Burglar!

Roast Mutton, the next chapter, is equally if not more entertaining. After trudging through harsh lands, the company, minus the wizard who has done the disappearing act, an act of which, as you will soon find out, he is inordinately fond, bump into three Trolls. Rather Bilbo is caught trying to pick a pocket.
Now the trolls were in dire need of a change of diet. As one of them puts it:
"Mutton yesterday, mutton today, and blimey, if it don't look like mutton again tomorrer," ...
However, in the nick of time, Gandalf arrives and saves the day.

After such a narrow escape, A Short Rest is a chapter that remains enshrined in my memory. Elf Elrond’s home is a place I would dearly love to visit when I am tired or in anguish.

Well fortified by this brief lull, we are plunged into one crisis after another from Over Hill and Under Hill onwards.

This is a very dramatic chapter from the thunderstorm on the hill to the capture by goblins…
Clap! Snap! the black crack!Grip, grab! Pinch, nab!And down down to Goblin-town    You go, my lad!
Clash, crash! Crush, smash!Hammer and tongs! Knocker and gongs!Pound, pound, far underground!     Ho, ho! my lad!
Swish, smack! Whip crack!Batter and beat! Yammer and bleat!Work, work! Nor dare to shirk,While Goblins quaff, and Goblins laugh,Round and round far underground     Below, my lad!

This poem always makes me think of life as we know it now :)

Riddles in the Dark is yet another outstanding chapter for this is where the fateful meeting with slimy Gollum takes place. It is a creepy, clammy scene!

And the pace continues  with Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire where we hear wolves howl and our company is carried away by eagles.

Queer Lodgings is another favourite of mine. Beorn’s house and what happens there are both scary and enchanting.

Flies and Spiders is not for you if you have arachnophobia. But it’s another outstanding chapter in terms of fantasy. Spiders in an enchanted forest and hostile elves makes for a must-read chapter.

I confess that from there on I somehow don’t recall many highlights and often skipped Barrels Out of Bond in my many re-readings of this saga.

So you can even just listen to the story if reading is not your cup of tea.

But I’m so tempted to delve into the book again and resume what used to be an yearly pilgrimage through Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Trilogy!

I’m crossing my fingers here that, if you have not yet read them, my post will inspire you to do so. And if, sadly, your only link with Tolkien are the crass film versions, then I hope you will try the real thing now.

Tolkien is good reading. In many ways. Modern mythology, fantasy, literature and a just plain good read.  

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Quest of the Sparrows - Spiritual Fiction of Sorts

This book came to me just as I was finishing typing out my father's novel, The Being and the Becoming

In that book, a man sets off in search of self and meets many people - other selfs - and adventures in this journey of self-discovery. I was a little girl when my father was writing it and he would read aloud to us each night from whatever he had output that day. As he was my father, the book has sentimental value to me as I discover bits and pieces of what might even be some of my father's own personal experiences.

As the daughter of a man who had undertaken a spiritual journey, the book leaves me pointers for my own journey. 

Thus, Ravi and Kartik Sharma's The Quest of the Sparrows did not come as any eye opener in the spiritual sense. You can read excerpts at the website.

Yet it enchanted with its dramatic opening and, in places, matched milestones in my father's book - tales of a man of spiritual worth inspiring a crowd to action. Action which is useful and benign.
In terms of books about spiritual journeys also it stands nowhere near the works of Hermann Hesse 

or Richard Bach 

or even Lloyd C Douglas. 

The blurb says:
A seemingly ordinary young man forced to become a guru takes a leap of faith and sets off with his followers on a taxing journey that changes their mindsets and lives forever.
Inspired by the carefree life of a sparrow, reluctant guru Partibhan takes off on a 600-kilometre expedition on foot to test his theory of practical spirituality. He believes that human beings can become powerful creators, but the desire to secure the future makes them mere survivors. However, survival isn't the only goal of life. A much bigger role, a higher calling awaits us. 

Will Guru Partibhan and his disciples complete the journey? Will they discover their true potential and find everlasting joy? 

The authors have also uploaded a short inspirational video for the book: 

While not quite in the league of the other authors I have mentioned above, this book is a charming tale, laced with human experience and draws the reader to questions which need examination.

In any case, this is another offering from a growing breed of Indians writing in English and, for me, it represented a cross between a Chetan Bhagat 

and a Shubha Vilas.   

Which is to say that it's eminently readable and quite enjoyable and likely to bestow enlightenment.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Shubha Vilas Retells The Ramayana

When I was little, my family owned a set of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana - these are the two main mythologies of the religion that is now called ‘Hinduism’. They were big and thick and bound in some rust red cloth and had plenty of colour pictures. I spent long hours pouring over these pictures as a child, as dust motes danced in the slanting afternoon sun of our living room.

The Ramayana consisted of two volumes and my mother would begin a reading of it at some auspicious point and conclude by another sacred date.

These books were from the Gita Press but it is rather hard to navigate their website and I cannot find a link an English version there.

You can find the Gita Press versions online at a couple of places and download them at several others but I’m not sure how safe that is.

  Hindi Book Valmiki Ramayan Part I by Gita Press by radhakrishan13299 on Scribd

If you want to read it in a very scholarly way you'd perhaps do best to visit here.

The Hindi version of the Gita Press is available in PDF.

Now, in a nutshell, this is the story of a noble prince who unhesitatingly obeyed his father and went into exile in a forest for fourteen years. Along with him went his wife and one of his brothers. And they had a great many exciting adventures. It’s a marvellous tale and, like all holy books, provides many with much solace, not to mention the unfailing enchantment of epic tales.

All I can remember of what it had to teach me is what my father said: How to be a king without a kingdom. 

There has even been a version that appeared on TV in India and was a huge success. But I've resisted watching it as I consider it as much blasphemy as Jackson's retelling of Tolkien's epic. I hope the animated version below won't be too bad.

When my son was small I read him a retelling which was in English and, though it was pretty different from the story I’d been raised in, it had a good style and was engrossing. I can't quite remember who wrote it.

And then we went to Malaysia and I discovered that the Ramayana has versions there and in Indonesia. This must form an interface of translation and religion and literature between our countries.

And, yet, some tales are such that they can be retold an infinite number of times and all tales grow in the telling.

Shubha Villas’ book came into my hands at a time when I was working with a Korean scholar who was researching mythology. It helped me look at how this story has been morphing and adapting itself over time.

It’s an elegant book with lively colours to the cover picture and makes for easy and enchanting reading.

The edition is enriched with wisdom and interpretations, provided as footnotes. I find the small picture of a leaping deer at the foot of some pages very charming.

All in all, it would make a first class gift to anyone, especially anyone planning to travel to India.