Posts tagged ‘family’

February 19, 2011

February Thoughts from South Asia

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Prof P. Lal, one of the most loveable Indian Publishers, closes his final book

I won’t talk about the literary festivals that are proliferating in India these days like wildfire (but don’t take me as someone who is averse to them). Rather, with esteemed reverence I would like to remember one of the India’s greatest publishers and writers, Prof P. Lal, who passed away recently. His ‘Writer’s Workshop’, during the five decades plus of its existence, published many famous names of the present times: Vikram Seth, Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande and Raja Rao, to name a few.


I got to know about Prof P. Lal about four years ago and spoke with him on a few occasions. This was the time when I was looking for a suitable publisher for my novel. I had spoken to about a dozen editors and publishing house receptionists or so, and the only one who spoke to me with excitement was Prof Lal. Not just that, he also gave me a few words of encouragement, something that did a lot to my confidence and for which I am forever indebted.

But sadly, I couldn’t publish with Writer’s Workshop (I repent it to this day). And the only reason I didn’t publish my first title with him was due to the simple fact that WW didn’t have a distribution setup. Mr. Lal’s love for books was so deep-routed and his idea of books so unique that he hand-bound the books himself in lovely and colorful Indian sarees (the traditional clothing of Indian women) cloth pieces from his house at Kolkata, in north east India, and the book numbers were kept as low as 100, something like a limited edition.

During one of our recent conversations, I requested him to accept a small donation from me for the Writer’s Workshop, which his website announced they needed. I was honored because, not only did he accept my offer, but he also made it a point to talk about my small gesture on WW’s website. It is still there now. Aside from this, there was a poetry collection I had been working on, too, about which I told him and he asked me to send it for consideration. But since it wasn’t fully ready, I couldn’t send it. Now, perhaps, I never will. Worse, no one as good might ever be willing to see it.


A father at 94

Well, this got me thinking, I mean, how is it possible to father a child that is biologically one’s own at 94?

But it has happened right here in India! The man who achieved this feat asserted, according to a national daily, that it’s due to the food he had consumed when young: three liters of Buffalo milk, half a kilo of almonds and half a kilo of ghee (melted, clarified butter) everyday. It’s a magic formula to remain virile until the final breath, if you go by his theory. Food for thought for scientists, I guess.

In a race to unsettle the previous record holder, another Indian man who fathered a child at 90, this nonagenarian farmer is not just happy, he is bubbling with newly attained fatherhood and posing for pictures in his village in India’s northwest. He has called this unique achievement, ‘The God’s gift’. His wife is in her mid-fifties.

An important question: Is it not the responsibility of a parent to consider, before bearing a child, if he or she has enough residual time to bring up the child properly? But at 94 he can hardly be blamed to worry about such issues. And as Hugh Hefner, CEO of Playboy enterprises, recently said during his engagement to a Playboy model 60 years younger, ‘When you’re in love, age is just a number.’ Let’s watch out: he’s 84.


When it’s for the family, it pays to fight the weather

With the onset of a particularly aggressive winter this year, it hurt many of us to see so many people stuck at the airports all over Europe and America, spending Christmas and other holidays sprawled on hard benches or floors. So the question is: is it really worthwhile for you to jettison your travel plans, or the possibility of being with your loved ones, for the fear that the weather may play a spoil sport?

I would like to share what happened to me when I was confronted with the option and the opportunity came for me to visit my family at Delhi, nearly three thousand kilometers from where I am stationed. The newspaper had reported diversion of 76 flights during the last few days of December yet I grabbed the opportunity to visit my family with both hands and booked myself a flight for the first of January. And as luck would have it, the aircraft arrived in the afternoon on a clear day and on time. So you see, it does pay to fight the weather.

January 12, 2011

Book Review: Stitches by David Small

by thiszine

by David Small

W. W. Norton Company
(September 2010 paperback, $14.95, 329 pages)

In the well done graphic novel the story surpasses both words and illustrations. With Stitches, David Small brilliantly writes and illustrates such a graphic novel.

Stitches is a sad autobiographical tale of Small’s childhood in Detroit, Michigan in the 1950s and the bulk of it is drawn from the memory of boy from age 6 to 15. A child of a wretchedly unhappy home where furious silences speak louder than screaming fights, the reader enters a world in which a mother’s silent fury is realized by a cough, a slam of a cabinet or the placement of a fork on the dinner table. For reasons unknown to Small as a child, his mother sets the dour tone of the household for hours, days or weeks at a time.

The youngest son of a radiologist father and a 1950’s housewife mother, Small brilliantly illustrates the tale of his neglected youth as a byproduct of his parents miserably unhappy marriage. Because words are never assigned to the deep unhappiness that envelopes his childhood, each family member develops a language to process the frustration and anger. Small’s father beats a punching bag in the basement. His older brother Ted bangs on his drums. Small gets sick. Born an irritable baby prone to bouts of colic and respiratory illness, he gets home-treated with shots, medicine and enemas. Thanks to the marvels of 1950’s medicine he also receives multiple sessions of high dosage radiation therapy for his sinusitis, administered by his father.

A growth appears on Small’s neck at age 11. Brought to attention by a friend of his mother, it takes three years for his parents to actually pursue diagnosis and treatment. The growth turns out to be a malignant tumor due to the repeated radiation exposure. This truth he discoverers on his own rather than being told. He undergoes radical neck surgery. His right vocal chord is cut and he is left without a voice. The surgery leaves his, “smooth young throat slashed and laced back up like a bloody boot.” Small struggles to find a voice and to conquer the demons of his youth.

This is a jarring tale. However, it manages to avoid the maudlin pitfalls of the “survivor” who overcomes tragic odds. It does not make Small a stereotypical “hero” who conquers the demons of his past. These are the all-too predictable pitfalls in many graphic novels. Instead, this tale is a truthful look at a painful past. With insight, Stitches illustrates memories of place and time which take the reader into Small’s consciousness. At times whimsical and magical, then is suddenly devastatingly sad and harsh, Stitches is moving yet it is never burdened with self-pity, or miraculously, with spite.

Small’s ink lines and washes are masterful. His use of space and expression illustrate volumes of words that are never spoken. He perfectly captures adult expressions from the eyes and understanding of a child: his mother’s crushing fury, his father’s aloof distance, his grandmother’s inconceivable insanity, a disapproving and confused frown from his parents friends and the kind eyes of his psychiatrist. Minimal use of ink and dialogue paint the greater picture of Small’s vulnerability during his childhood. Small remarkably and exquisitely captures the essence of the time and place without imparting distorted feelings or superimposing adult interpretations. This cathartic memoir of deep, disturbing loss is ultimately a testament of acceptance, forgiveness and moving on.

– reviewed by Sweetman

August 10, 2010

CanLit Book Review: Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner

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by Nicolas Dickner, translated by Lazer Lederhendler

Alfred A. Knopf
(Published in Canada, February 2005; U.S., January 2010 CAN $29.95, 287 pages)

Nicolas Dickner’s 2010 Canada Reads Winner, Nikolski, originally written in French and translated into English by Lazer Lederhendler, follows three unknowingly connected characters. As the book opens in 1989, we meet a Montreal bookstore owner, who remains nameless, dealing with the death of his mother. An odd character, he points out trivial things like how he has never left the city of Montreal, and while sorting out his mother’s belongings he comes across a compass, a forgotten gift from the father he never met. The compass does not point to true North, but thirty-four degrees West, aligning with the Aleutian Islands town of Nikolski.

We are introduced to Noah Riel next, a modern day nomad who grows up travelling Western Canada with his mother in their old camper. Noah never met his father, Jonas Doucet, and in hopes of a connection sends letters addressed for General Delivery to various Canadian cities decided on by keen cartographic estimations of Jonas’ nomadic routes. His father’s absence holds strong, a depressing reality that remains with Noah forever, one way or another. Nikolski’s third main character is Joyce Doucet, Jonas’ niece. Joyce is from Tête-à-la-Baleine, a small Quebec town, and is under the assumption that her mother is dead. Raised by her grandfather, Joyce grows up hearing his romantic tales about their ancestors who were world travelling pirates.

In their late teens, Noah and Joyce both move to Montreal. By the mid-nineties Noah is working on a graduate degree in anthropology researching the significance of waste left behind by ancient civilisations, desperate to know why people leave things behind. While in university Noah tries to contact his ever-moving mother by way of more General Delivery letters, only to relive his depressing childhood as they returned unread. Meanwhile, Joyce ends up in Montreal by way of inspiration. Upon reading a news article about a woman running from authorities for piracy, whom Joyce assumes is her mother, she steers her future course: “… the ambition of carrying on the family tradition seeped into her mind,” Dickner writes. “[Joyce] was destined for a pirate’s life, shiver me timbers!” She takes a job at the Poissonnerie Shanahan, and by night sifts through back alley dumpsters in Montreal’s business sector for abandoned computers.

Eventually, Noah and Joyce find their callings. After reuniting with past lover Arizna, a prominent media publisher in Venezuela, Noah meets his son Simôn. Noah then moves to Venezuela to provide the toddler with the fatherly role model he never experienced. Joyce fulfills her burning ancestral calling by hacking bank accounts and stealing identities, an e-pirate of the twentieth century. Eventually, Joyce, Noah and the unnamed bookstore owner’s paths ironically intertwine, and their final destinations become wherever true north lies for each of them.

Nicolas Dickner

There is a strong set of symbols in Nikolski that lead to Dickner’s overall comment on modern society and identity. His main allegorical tool is the sea: from Joyce’s likening to a plaice fish swimming around the streets, deep-dumpster diving, and living off the bounty of larger beings to Noah’s convoluted illusions of inland ships and swimming through prairie fields, Nikolski is filled with images “straight out of Salvador Dali’s surrealist menagerie” as Dickner puts it. These fish-like nomads never stop moving, searching, evolving, and waiting for reality to finally unfold some truth.

Among the seascape imagery there is a lot of Canadiana in this book, often looking like a Richler-esque romanticised portrait of Canada. Noah and Joyce Duddyly romp around Saint Urbain Street, Saint Laurent Boulevard, and other popular CanLit landmarks, becoming contemporary images spray-painted over Montreal’s traditional ambience. But in Nikolski, Dickner brings Canada into today’s generation. Subtle sly comments on the Oka crisis, the Bosnian War, and other political topics of the nineties represent a bigger landscape than inner-border mainstream Canada, which really only turns out to be where the characters in this story are born, nothing else. Searching for something personified by their distant parents, Noah and Joyce are Canada’s minorities, cover-ups forgotten and lost. This survey of contemporary life deeply rooted in the past provides a frank realist interpretation of how one little, yet life changing event, can boggle the compass for generations to come.

~John Coleman