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Rogan Gosh: The Acid-Masala Curry Comic

Rogan GoshRogan Gosh by Peter Milligan

My Rating: ★★★☆☆

Rogan Gosh is designed to be as incomprehensible to the reader as the original dish must have been for Milligan and McCarthy. The name comes from rogan josh, a spicy Indian curry dish, rich in chillies and dangerously red in appearance.

As Grant Morrison says, Rogan Gosh was a product of the new psychedelic period of the nineties. The focus turning from outer concerns to inner ones, along with the presence in many of the artist’s lives of the new psychedelic drugs.

It was also supposed to be inspired by the Amar Chitra Katha tradition of story telling. This was the reason I decided to take a look at it. The cover was a weird blue half-god, half-acidhead, with an assortment of images that assaulted my good sense.

But I decided to be forgiving and carried on. The first page of the comic convinced me that I will not only read this but also love it, no matter how much of a hallucinogenic trip it might be. McCarthy had reprocessed the lush, painted look of the Amar Chitra Katha comic books from India and also imbued them with a sort of deranged other-worldliness that was impossible to resist.

That tanned man with the mustache you see in the crowd is Rudyard Kipling himself, one of the possible contenders for the lead character in this book, where dream-world meets reality, shakes hands and sleep together.

Rudyard Kipling goes into a drug-house in search for truth after some serious accident involving his servant and then lapses into a euphoric dream in which he dreams of two characters who are pre-incarnations of a future “Karmanaut” called Rogan Gosh. And then the whole of the psychedelic adventures unfold.

That or the whole thing is a dream by a rejected lover who drinks and cuts his wrist and hallucinates ever closer to death.

Or, it might all be real and Rudyard Kipling might really have been a form that Soma Swami, the ultimate villain who tries to keep us all veiled in Maya, took to trick Rogan Gosh into destroying himself and he pre-incarnated as the two characters and all their adventures are real.

The text too flows between several narrative voices, including Rudyard Kipling and an unnamed dying youth representing the voice of bleak rational existentialism in the face of the uninflected void. Blending their stories like the spices of the Curry that inspired them, they dress it up and serve it forth for your dining pleasure.

Got all that? Now remove all the “Or”s and replace them with “And”s. Yup. Rogan Gosh is supposed to be an experimental story where it is not a Either/Or world but a world were dreams and reality are all happening at the same time, one inside the other, creating each other.

The concept is good and the presentation is mind-blowing. But, I wish they had given it the definition it deserved instead of making this such a free-flowing story with no ends or resolutions and absolutely no structure. The art work seemed slovenly at times and completely random at other times.

Don’t worry about all the plot details I covered here, they were not even half of the possibilities and they were not spoilers. You can’t really spoil a good curry.

PS. Today might be a good day to appreciate Rogan Gosh, especially if you too look like that cover after your Holi celebrations. Happy Holi!

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Posted by on March 8, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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A Shorter History of Myth

A Short History of MythA Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Karen Armstrong attempts to take us through the story of how myth has evolved in human history, affected its progress, how the contemporary society deals with it and the future direction it might or should take. For such a vast scope, a book that is less than 200 pages was bound to end up with a sketch that is barely an outline, let alone a complete history.

For a student of myth, this cannot even serve as an introduction to the scope and breadth of the study of mythologies, but for the casual reader, it can provide some interesting tea-time conversation at best.

To cut a short story shorter, here is A Shorter History of Myth:

The Paleolithic Period: The Mythology of the Hunters (c. 20000 to 8000 BCE)

We are meaning-seeking creatures. From our earliest awakenings of consciousness, we started to ascribe meanings and stories to things we found among and around us. The traditions of myth started in tis earliest phase of human history. As hunter-gatherers, Armstrong contends that human’s being the only creatures conscious of their acts had a deep apprehension, a guilt, about killing other creatures for their own sustenance. So they built up stories to explain this and developed a cult of sacrifice to give the act of killing a symbolic significance of supplication and respect.

In this society, the males probably dominated and the mythology reflects this male domination. Most of these primitive gods were male. Everything that was wondrous and unexplainable were made the stuff of myth, The gods were the architects of the world and everything was orchestrated by them. The sky and the rains and thunder and fire were the great mysteries and these formed the earliest myths, the earliest gods.

The Neolithic Period: The Mythology of the Farmers (c. 8000 to 4000 BCE)

Then we invented farming. As our way of life changed, our myths too began to change. The cyclic nature of seasons and rain became more important than abstract entities life the sky and planets. The old gods were either forgotten or changed into agricultural deities. The greatest mystery now was this wonder – that earth can renew itself and bring out food for their sustenance. The seed they sow was converted as if in a womb. The Myth of the Earth-Goddess started to grow. Of a sustaining goddess that demands great sacrifice. The act of sex began to have symbolic meaning, human copulation aiding and abetting in earth’s fertility. With fertility cults and the personal gods who bring rain and floods and with a mother goddess that responded to care, the world was a very personal interaction with these mythical beings.

The Early Civilisations (c. 4000 to 800 BCE)

Soon agriculture gave way to city building and more organized ways of life. Men started to have more control over their lives. Irrigation and organized agriculture brought more and more of the mysteries of nature under man’s control. THe myths about the fertility gods too now started to sound remote. Myths that do not touch our everyday lives tend to die out, ignored.

But as the myths and the gods started becoming more and more distant, humans felt a deep spiritual anguish that was soon to culminate in the greatest spiritual revolution that man has ever seen.

The Axial Age (c. 800 to 200 BCE)

The axial age is called so because it was a pivotal time in which the greatest philosophies of the ancient age, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Confucianism, Jainism etc all arose in the same time.

It was a response to the great spiritual chasm that man was feeling as we separated from nature. We still needed an understanding of our significance in the world. A reason for living. As city life progressed. we developed myths about gods who lived in cities like ours with divine order – a utopia in the havens. We dreamed of recreating such order here in the world.

The axial leaders turned the focus away from gods and heavens and asked men and women to focus on their own lives, thoughts and action. They told that we are responsible for our own actions and no gods guide out fates. They wanted to recreate a heavenly order on the human sphere and focused on strict codes of living, rituals and mores and codes of conduct. These were the first stirring of organized religion and myths started the conversion to religion.

The Post-Axial Period (c. 200 BCE to c. 1500 CE)

Men started codifying the laws of religions and laws of life and converted myths into beliefs. they turned from symbols giving us guidance on how to live to concrete facts and gods that tell us how to live in exact terms. We converted historical figures like Jesus into archetypal myths and imbued them with divine characteristics and tried to come to terms with the lack of guidance.

This was also the time when the early Greeks started their exploration of Logos or logic. They encouraged us to reject the unverifiable and the intuitive and to choose Logos over Mythos, leading humankind inevitably on to the next major change in human history

The Modern Age (c. 1500 to 2000)

Logos finally won over Mythos and we used our logic and our understanding to gain unprecedented control over our environment and our own lives. But while we progressed materially, we seem to have regressed spiritually. the respect and reverence for nature, to our fellow creatures and to each other turned into an attitude of exploitation and self-serving that led to great catastrophes like the world wars and mass massacres. We now are gradually realizing that perhaps we need to get back to the myths and the old stories to help us make sense of our lives and to get back an appreciation of nature and of life, to learn to live together without destroying each other and our planet.

For that we need to let Mythos come back from the corner it was beaten into by our all-pervading Logos.

The real message of the book comes out in this section. It deals with the modern societies obsession with Logos over Mythos and its rejection of these fundamentally psychological coping mechanisms that are myths, the primal stories that give us a sense of place in this otherwise meaningless existence. Apparently that is one of the fundamental requirements of the human condition.

This last section of the book is about how myth survives in today’s world. Armstrong says that it is now the duty of the artists and the writers to carry on the tradition of mythology, which is he only tool we mankind has ever developed that helps us cope with ourselves. She also goes into great detail to give examples of modern works that are built on myths such as Ulysses and The Waste Land.

“We have seen that a myth could never be approached in a purely profane setting. It was only comprehensible in a liturgical context that set it apart from everyday life; it must be experienced as part of a process of personal transformation. None of this, surely, applies to the novel, which can be read anywhere at all without ritual trappings, and must, if it is any good, eschew the overtly didactic. Yet the experience of reading a novel has certain qualities that remind us of the traditional apprehension of mythology. It can be seen as a form of meditation. Readers have to live with a novel for days or even weeks. It projects them into another world, parallel to but apart from their ordinary lives. They know perfectly well that this fictional realm is not real and yet while they are reading it becomes compelling. A powerful novel becomes part of the backdrop of our lives, long after we have laid the book aside. It is an exercise of make-believe that, like yoga or a religious festival, breaks down barriers of space and time and extends our sympathies, so that we are able to empathize with other lives and sorrows. It teaches compassion, the ability to feel with others. And, like mythology, an important novel is transformative. If we allow it to do so, it can change us forever.”

The agenda at this point becomes very clear and the book’s denouement is clearly an invocation towards asking novelists to take up old myths and use them and reexamine them; this of course leads smoothly on to the fact that the book is an introduction to the Canongate Myth Series, which has commissioned a series of works from authors such as Margaret AtwoodPhilip Pullman and Victor Pelevin, each of which is designed to be a modern version of an ancient myth. I have to admit that this was my original motivation to pick up the book as I really wanted to read The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.

Karen Armstrong does give a clear and well reasoned argument for the need for Myth in our daily life and in our art but does not really do justice to the title of the book.

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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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Nabokov’s Lolita

LolitaLolita by Vladimir Nabokov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Still dazed by the stupor of melancholy and perversion that Humbert Humbert has exposed my poor brain to. Still trying to make sense of the monster/poet/victim and of Lolita, the symbol of our age. Who exploited whom, who were the villains and who were to be punished, these thoughts are still swirling in my head; desperately trying to ascribe meaning beyond the mere acts of the novel, to read into the disparities between nature and actions. A see-saw of poetry and debauchery. I also wonder how much I missed out on due to my handicap of not knowing french.

The primary effect of this beauty and poetry is that we keep geting charmed by this old-world, aristocratic protagonist who can talk in such a poetic way and then he gently turns around and reminds us of what he is contemplating doing to that young girl and we draw back in revulsion again, only to be ensnared in his honeyed prose a few lines later. And so it goes, tiring you out and enchanting you.

So, a review will come as soon as I can reconcile the beauty of the novel with its deep, dark underbelly and some meaning that is not merely moral emerges.

That might take many readings and I am not sure that is something I am willing to put myself through. But a review, however small, helps clarify the book in my head and, for that I will try.

Another thing I want to make sense of is this – Nabokov’s account of the old newspaper story that inspired him to start a work such as Lolita presented in the novel’s afterword “On a Book Entitled Lolita” – The story was about “an ape in the Jardin des Plantes, who after months of coaxing by the scientists, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: the sketch showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage.” – Isn’t that just surreal? The connection with Humbert is right there at the edge of my imagination, in his own prison maybe and maybe in the prison that was his life’s lust. I don’t now, but what pleasure to ponder.

One thing I can confidently say even with my shock at the rest of the novel is that the opening paragraph is perhaps the most beautiful and alluring one I have ever read – It draws you into this perverse universe where every dark secret thought is open to scrutiny like some succubi, a beautiful mermaid or Lamia who lures you only to crucify you. The mind thrills and the eyes laze over the paragraph and you are aglow in the ecstasy the rest of the book seems to promise, thinking of the beauty that is waiting for you in those pages, the plays of language, the thrill of appreciating such wonder and you are happy that this book, Lolita, that you have heard so much about is going to be a delight. But of course, the book is just like a nymph as described in it, it tantalizes with ethereal beauty only to expose our world to the harsh reality of man’s nature – at least I think so. The book is the real Lolita not any character in it.

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Posted by on February 7, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Poetry, Thoughts

 

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Book

On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book is great and if you like writing, it is probably a must read.

I could write a summary of the book, it is easy enough to summarize and there are only a few important points that King presents, but then I dont want you to get it for free. 🙂 Go and read the book yourself, it is worth it.

Rude? As King says, “…if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

Here is are a few excerpts from the book that might inspire you to take my advice –

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. It’s what I do at night, kicked back in my blue chair. Similarly, I don’t read fiction to study the art of fiction, but simply because I like stories. Yet there is a learning process going on. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.

It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner.

Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows.

Talent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening(or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic. That goes for reading and writing as well as for playing a musical instrument, hitting a baseball, or running the four-forty. The sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate—four to six hours a day, every day—will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things and have an aptitude for them; in fact, you may be following such a program already.

If you feel you need permission to do all the reading and writing your little heart desires, however, consider it hereby granted by yours truly.

I love this book because it agrees with all my preconceptions. Feels nice to be on the right track. It is also quite inspiring when it comes to kicking you into putting on your writing cap.

I couldn’t resist putting in this anecdote about James Joyce as well:

One of my favorite stories on the subject—probably more myth than truth—concerns James Joyce. According to the story, a friend came to visit him one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair.

“James, what’s wrong?” the friend asked. “Is it the work?”

Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at the friend. Of course it was the work; isn’t it always?

“How many words did you get today?” the friend pursued.

Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk):

“Seven.”

“Seven? But James . . . that’s good, at least for you!”

Yes,” Joyce said, finally looking up. “I suppose it is . . . but I don’t know what order they go in!”

Of course, the book is not intended just as a writing manual. Even if you never intend to write, the memoir is a wonderful graphic tale on King’s life and like all his stories, it does not lack in imagination or entertainment.

Meanwhile, let me get down to some actual writing…

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Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Book Reviews, Books, Creative, Thoughts

 

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One down, Bard.

Othello (The New Cambridge Shakespeare)Othello by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I decided to start my mission to read all 38 of The Complete Plays of Shakespeare with Othello. It turned out to be a good decision to start with the New Cambridge edition.

I was considering this reading as an academic reading of the bard and it generally took me almost 3 hours of constant reading to get through one average sized (10-15 pages) scene! Even after reading every scene three times – once aloud and twice normally – I still never felt I had enough of it, and moved on to the next only due to the suspense. What genius, what lovely wordplays and what sense of drama and malice. I can’t believe I never had this joy in shakespeare till now.

All in all, it took much longer than originally planned… But then that is the drawback of reading annotated works – had to read every scene three times… But these New Cambridge Editions are gold mines of information, will stick with them for the other plays also. I hope my mission will not take years to complete at this rate…

One closing statement: Iago is my favorite literary character after Don Quixote.

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Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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Book Review: Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Walden, or Life in the WoodsWalden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first half is written by Thoreau, the accomplished philosopher and soars much above my humble powers of comprehension; the second half is written by Thoreau, the amateur naturalist and swims much below my capacity for interest.

After reading about the influence the book had on Gandhi, I had attempted reading Walden many (roughly four) times before and each time had to give up before the tenth page due to the onrush of new ideas that enveloped me. I put away the book each time with lots of food for thought and always hoped to finish it one day.

Now after finally finishing the book, while I was elated and elevated by the book, I just wish that Thoreau had stuck to telling about the affairs of men and their degraded ways of living and about his alternate views. Maybe even a detailed account of his days and how it affected him would have been fine but when he decided to write whole chapters about how to do bean cultivation and how to measure the depth of a pond with rudimentary methods and theorizing about the reason for the unusual depth of walden and about the habits of wild hens, sadly, I lost interest. I trudged through the last chapters and managed to finish it out of a sense of obligation built up over years of awe about the book.

The concluding chapter, to an extent, rewarded me for my persistence and toil. In this final chapter, he comes back to the real purpose of the book: to drill home a simple idea – “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws will be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.”

This I think was the core philosophy of the book – if you pursue the ideal direction/vision you have of how your life should be, and not how convention dictates it should be, then you will find success and satisfaction on a scale unimaginable through those conventional routes or to those conventional minds.

I will of course be re-reading the book at some point and thankfully I will know which parts to skip without any remorse.

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Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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The poetry he sees

The poetry he sees

He reads not the works of Neruda or Auden,

He writes not poems of elegant grace and beauty,

To read his poems, see what is reflected in his eyes;

As he looks at the sunset and is lost for a second,

See that sweet ode to an everyday sight?

Read it in his eyes and follow him for more –

As he looks at that girl and his heart wonders for a while

If it could be her smile that is to greet him every morning, and

Writes that elegy in the moment she fades away from view.

The poems to be found thus, of every form they are –

They move with him and is all around, everywhere –

His spoon as he sees it lying on the plate;

With half eaten rice cakes and an orange peel,

Is his sonnet of thanks, his hallelujah.

No this poetry is not found in books nor written.

He lives his poems, sees and breathes them.

He never has read a poem nor thought of writing one,

But if he sees beauty enough to stand and wonder,

The poetry he sees is poetry enough.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2011 in Creative, Philosophy, Poetry, Thoughts

 

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