Tuesday, 14 February 2017

History, My Story

Last year, I sent this nostalgic piece to an online poetry website. This morning, I received a polite and sympathetic rejection of my submission as well as an encouragement to submit again any time I liked. I’m grateful to the editor for considering my work—one of over a hundred thousand he receives every year. His is a tough call. I will continue to write—and write better, hopefully—and continue to send out my stuff. Hope springs from the roster of famous writers who were repeatedly rejected before they were first published. I’m still taking guard at the starting block of creative writing.

Here is the slightly modified version of my poem History, My Story.


Chronicle of past times
and all of human history.
Record of peoples and events
glorious and dark.

My beloved subject
in high school and after.
Till a teacher's misdemeanour
makes me hate it, almost.

Bell rings, class out
rushing down the aisle.
He grabs me by the collar
slams me against the wall.

What did I do?" A fearful cry
"How dare you distract!" he rages.
Pleading look, sniggering mates
they wink and smile. 

Calendars later, I still remember
the day, the date, the pain.
'twas a history lesson
I will never forget.



© Prashant C. Trikannad

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Drabble #10: A story in 100 words

For representational purpose only
Last night, I finally took out a supari on my husband. I wanted the rat dead before I'd my first sip of morning chai. I picked up the phone and speed dialled a number.

"It's over. He's gone."

"Are you sure?"

"I was there."

"Where's the body?"

"Everywhere."

"Okay, baby, get to the airport. I'll be on the other side, I promise."

I picked up my bag and walked through the hall when the front door opened and two men, faces hidden behind kerchiefs, entered.

"Who...who are you?"

"Friends of your husband."

A single bullet sliced through the air.



Note: For previous Drabbles, click here.

Friday, 3 February 2017

The Dictators by Pablo Neruda

An odor has remained among the sugarcane:
a mixture of blood and body, a penetrating
petal that brings nausea.

Between the coconut palms the graves are full
of ruined bones, of speechless death-rattles.

The delicate dictator is talking
with top hats, gold braid, and collars.

The tiny palace gleams like a watch
and the rapid laughs with gloves on
cross the corridors at times
and join the dead voices
and the blue mouths freshly buried.

The weeping cannot be seen, like a plant
whose seeds fall endlessly on the earth,
whose large blind leaves grow even without light.

Hatred has grown scale on scale,
blow on blow, in the ghastly water of the swamp,
with a snout full of ooze and silence.


Pablo Neruda, 1904-1973. Photo: Wikimedia
In the opening lines of his poem The Dictators, the Nobel laureate, poet, writer, diplomat and political activist expresses his anguish at the oppression of the Chilean people by dictators as well as democratic rulers who act like dictators. The lines speak of torture, death and decay. Pablo Neruda paints a stark and vivid picture of life under despotic regimes, such as those led by Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet who is believed to have ordered the poet's death.

Dictators, whether Pinochet, Hitler, Pol Pot or Idi Amin, put down violent and nonviolent resistance by kidnapping, torturing and executing political opponents and innocent civilians, and ruling with an iron fist. Pinochet overthrew the democratically-elected socialist President Salvador Allende in a CIA-instigated coup in 1973 and eliminated thousands of left-wing activists, in his nearly two-decade long misrule.


The cruelty of tyranny had a profound impact on Neruda who recreates the horror in those opening lines where he talks about the stench of dead bodies lying in pools of blood in sugarcane fields, the breezy coconut plantations turning into unmarked graveyards, and spirited voices silenced in the throes of death.

Neruda champions the cause of his people and raises a battle cry against fascism, both unconcealed and disguised, and warns of the vile and destructive powers of totalitarian regimes. His message is: Absolute power dehumanises absolutely.

But does a political leader have to be a military dictator and wear "top hats, gold braid, and collars" in order to clamp down on resistance? Can he not sow seeds of fear, hatred, and confusion wearing a suit and tie, and a facade of decency and decorum?



Note: For more Friday's Forgotten Books, visit Patti Abbott's blog Pattinase.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

3:10 to Yuma, 2007

Dan Evans to his elder son William: And you just remember that your old man walked Ben Wade to that station when nobody else would. 

The last scene in 3:10 to Yuma (2007) where notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and peace-loving rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) dash out of a hotel, with bullets flying all around them, is reminiscent of Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) running out of an empty hovel in the final moments of the famous namesake film (1969).

The comparison ends there.

Cassidy and the Kid are thick as two thieves, literally, robbing banks and trains before meeting their fate in a Bolivian town. Wade and Evans start out as foes and in a fateful turn of events end up fighting a common enemy—Wade’s own murderous gang trying to rescue their boss.

Civil War veteran Evans, married with two young sons, reluctantly agrees to be part of the team escorting Wade from Bisbee to Contention—and put him on the 3:10 train to Yuma to face justice and the gallows. He desperately needs the $200 reward to clear a debt and save his land, even if it means risking his life for a gunslinger.


Predictably, things don’t go as planned. The journey is fraught with danger and high drama, as Indians and gunmen ambush the party and the shrewd and manipulative Wade plays mind games with Evans. In the end, the rancher is left alone with his captive. Does he succeed in putting Wade on the train?

Doc Potter: Is it true that you dynamited a wagon full of prospectors in the western territories last spring?

Ben Wade: No, that's a lie... It was a train full.


3:10 to Yuma is about one man’s courage and determination, and what he believes in, and another man’s last shot at redemption and in a way doffing his hat to the better man. The end turned out to be anticlimactic compared to what I expected. Bale and Crowe fit into the skin of their characters. Crowe plays the bad guy in a good way. I’m not sure villainous roles suit him. 

Directed by James Mangold (Cop Land, Girl, Interrupted, Kate & Leopold, The Wolverine), the two-hour long film has a galloping pace, plenty of gunfights, and cold-blooded killing. The action is in harmony with Marco Beltrami's music. The dialogue is crisp and clever, and almost philosophical in tone. Wade’s trigger-happy sidekick Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) and bounty hunter Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) are the other actors to watch out for. Foster, in particular, plays a mean gunman to perfection.
  

Ben Wade to Dan Evans: You know, squeezin' that watch won't stop time.

In spite of its contemporary filmmaking style, 3:10 to Yuma is in every sense a traditional western. I intend to watch the 1957 original starring Glenn Ford as Ben Wade and Van Heflin as Dan Evans, and read Elmore Leonard’s short story on which the film is based.

Recommended.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Red Rock Rampage by Ben Boulden, 2017

I enjoy reading Ben Boulden’s book reviews over at his blog Gravetapping. They are a solid piece of work—very focused, balanced, and well-written. And now, I very much look forward to reading his first novel Red Rock Rampage, which will be released on February 6.

Red Rock Rampage is the fifteenth book in the Blaze! Adult Western Series created by bestselling action-adventure author Stephen Mertz. It has a great cover, fascinating characters, plenty of action, and vivid descriptions.

In the novel, “J.D. and Kate Blaze ride into the settlement of Small Basin, Utah, on the trail of train robbers but soon discover that the town and the surrounding area are ruled by the iron fist of a renegade Mormon patriarch—and he has his eye on two beautiful young women he intends to make unwilling brides. Hired killers, corrupt lawmen, and brutal kidnappers mean a heap of trouble for the Old West's only husband-and-wife gunfighters. Forced to split up, Kate and J.D. have to battle their way back to each other to survive!”


J.D. and Kate Blaze are not your regular fictional heroes. According to series publisher Rough Edges Press owned by prolific author James Reasoner, “(They) are two of the deadliest gunfighters the Old West has ever seen. They also happen to be husband and wife, as passionate in their love for each other as they are in their quest for justice on the violent frontier!”

Ben, who reviews mystery, crime, and thrillers on his blog as well as for Mystery Scene Magazine, says his 115-page debut novel will be available as both an ebook (exclusive to Kindle and also available through Kindle Unlimited) and a trade paperback. You can pre-order the Kindle version for now.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Drubble #2: A story in 25 words

He barked, stuck his tongue out, wagged his tail, spun round, and pawed the door.

"ALRIGHT!" my dog said to me. "You wanna go down?"

Sunday, 8 January 2017

With Great Truth & Regard: The Story of the Typewriter in India, 2016


I wrote my first story on a Godrej typewriter. It was an interview with former playback singer Preeti Sagar. The Q&A appeared in Free Press Bulletin shortly after I joined the tabloid as a reporter in the mid-eighties. Until then, I had only been editing stories on India’s first homegrown typewriter, which, in many offices, occupied a large portion of a Godrej horizontal desk and sat next to a Godrej vertical cabinet. In those days, Godrej was synonymous with office furniture.

Long before that, I cut my teeth on portable typewriters. I learnt to change the ribbon and roll foolscap paper on Brother, Smith Carona and Remington that my father and uncle owned. Both were journalists and between them they had a top speed of nearly 200 words per minute. Cigarette between lips, they pounded away at their portables and delivered clean copies for the next day’s edition. You could hear them speed typing in the newsroom from quite a distance. It was, no doubt, music to the ears of editors with stubborn deadlines.

A year before I took up my first newspaper job at Free Press Journal Group, I enrolled into a typing and shorthand institute where I learnt the rudiments of ten-finger typing on Godrej machines, beginning with the home or middle row—‘asdf’ with the left hand followed by ‘;lkj’ with the right. I found it tedious. A month later, I was back to rapid two-finger typing. It was an insult to the typewriter. But that’s how I type to this day.



And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of memories that came back after I read With Great Truth & Regard: The Story of the Typewriter in India edited by senior journalist and author Sidharth Bhatia. It resonated with me because of my experience with this unwieldy machine that made writers and letter writers out of so many of us. The 304-page well-illustrated hardback chronicles the long and rich anecdotal history of the manual typewriter, from the time industrialist Naval Godrej pioneered the first all-Indian typewriter in 1955 to its inevitable death by computers in 2011. The company stopped production that year, though you can still find old working typewriters outside courts, at street corners, and in small towns.

As Jamshyd N. Godrej, son of Naval Godrej and CMD of Godrej & Boyce, notes in his Foreword, “The book captures the story of typewriters in India from many perspectives, including the socio-economic perspective, which is about the impact typewriters had on the Indian masses. It is also about the contribution typewriters made to bring women into offices in larger numbers—a huge step forward for their empowerment in India.”

The Godrej typewriter, a complex machine with 2,000 high-precision components, was one of post-Independent India’s earliest instances of self-reliance in manufacturing. It was testimony to a young nation’s capability to mass-produce an indigenous typewriter and take on established foreign brands like Remington, Underwood, and Imperial. And it came 60 years before the government launched its ‘Make in India’ initiative.



“The story of the Indian typewriter is more than just a matter of manufacturing a piece of office equipment; it is the story of one man's dogged determination to make a machine that would compete against the world's best. And most of all, it is part of India's own goal of becoming self-reliant,” Bhatia writes in his engaging piece titled Making the Indian Typewriter: The Godrej Story.

In many ways, the history of the typewriter is also the history of the typist.

An entire generation of people across cultures and communities—from the office stenographer to the court typist and from the public librarian to the newspaper editor—broke their backs and built their careers on the typewriter. There was no social barrier to using the machine. The typewriter was an equaliser. It defined the Indian workplace more than any other office device. In nearly every commercial enterprise or government office someone or other hunched over a typewriter, either typing from a handwritten document at the side, winding a new spool and occasionally making a mess of it, or rubbing out lines with a circular ink eraser and tearing a hole through the paper. It was both frustrating and satisfying.

The typewriter sat on the office desk or a roadside table with a degree of self-importance. Over tea and gossip, it did many things at once—it told stories, dictated letters, made rules, typed affidavits, hired people, balanced accounts, prepared invoices, and wrote out inventories. It was also privy to all kinds of information, including secrets and lies. If the typewriter could talk, I suspect, it would have strained ties and damaged relations among peoples and societies. But noisy as it was, the typewriter remained a mute spectator throughout its eventful existence.



With Great Truth & Regard is a nostalgic throwback to a time when typewriters influenced and shaped ordinary lives. It is an evocative collection of memories, essays, observations, short accounts, and titbits about a 20th century innovation that users took for granted. No one really expected the typewriter to all but vanish. After all, it had achieved so much in the sphere of communication, employment, socio-cultural diversity, including film and television, and women emancipation.   

Launched on December 2, 2016—to commemorate the birth centenary of Naval Godrej (1916-2016)—the volume contains personal narratives by eminent Indian writers, historians, journalists, and social commentators. It is not just a tribute to Godrej typewriters but a testimonial to all typewriters in India. Some of the chapters that I particularly enjoyed were The Rise of the Indian Typewriter, South India's Relationship with Typing, The World of Steno Stereotypes, The Shift from Typewriters to Computers in Journalism, Writing the Script of Life: The Typewriter in Hindi Cinema, and The Immortal Typewriter. It is further enriched by dozens of photographs by Chirodeep Chaudhuri. The vintage illustrations and advertisements of typewriters tell their own story.

If you worked on typewriters, then this book will take you down memory lane. And if you did not, you can still enjoy reading about one of the great utilitarian devices of the 20th century and see what you missed. At 300-plus pages, I felt the book was a tad long but I suppose that bit can be overlooked given the fond memories the typewriter evokes.

Now, the "Backspace" has long replaced the "xxxx" but I would like to think that a part of the manual typewriter still lives on in the keyboards we use today. 


Recommended. 

Title: Great Truth & Regard: The Story of the Typewriter in India
Year: 2016
Editor: Sidharth Bhatia
Pages: 304
Publisher: Godrej
Distributor: Roli Books, India






Note: All images are sourced from the book.


Saturday, 31 December 2016

A year gone, a year to come

Since I did not write or review much this year, I thought I would at least end the year with a post on one of my favourite literary genres—classical poetry. Fittingly, a poem about New Year's Eve or New Year.

There was plenty to choose from. I read Alfred Lord Tennyson's The Death of the Old Year, Thomas Hardy's New Year's Eve, Christina Rossetti's Old and New Year Ditties, Robert Burns' Auld Lang Syne, Helen Hunt Jackson's New Year's Morning, D.H. Lawrence's New Year's Night, Sylvia Plath's New Year on Dartmoor, and John Clare's The Old Year.

I liked them all.

A lot of people look at the old year with sadness, regret, and emotion. And a lot of writing, and especially poetry, reflect those feelings. We remember it mostly as just another year when we grew old and where we could have done so much more, personally and professionally. Fortunately, our minds are trained to conveniently hide unhappy memories, if not erase them completely. Every passing year brings in its anguished wake a new year filled with renewed hope, optimism, and purpose of life, where we dream of doing better than we did in the previous year, and where we truly believe—"This is going to be my year. And I am going to make things happen for me and my family."

Of all the beautiful poems I read, the one that resonated with me this evening, hours before New Year, was The Year by American author-poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919). I thought it was realistic and balanced. I liked the way it bids goodbye to the Old Year and ushers in the New Year, depending on how you read it. And it rhymes very well too.

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our prides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of a year.


Ella Wheeler's most famous poem was Solitude which gave us the equally famous opening lines:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth
But has trouble enough of its own.


I sincerely hope you will have lots of reasons to laugh in 2017 and beyond. I wish you a joyous New Year filled with health and happiness.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, 1905

"One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied."
— Opening lines of the story

The Gift of the Magi is one of American writer O. Henry's most famous short stories. It is often read at Christmas time. It is also told to children as a lesson in love, giving, sacrifice, and morality. Basically, that which is good in people.

Jim and Della are much in love and happy in their marriage. The couple live in a small apartment, lead a simple life, and have just enough money to get by. In spite of their poor situation, they decide to surprise the other with Christmas gifts—by giving up their most important possessions.


On Christmas eve, Della sells her beautiful knee-length hair and with the money buys a lovely pocket watch chain for her husband. Jim sells his gold watch, a family heirloom, and uses the money to buy hair accessories for his wife.

As you might have guessed, both end up buying gifts that neither of them can use.  

The Gift of the Magi—an allusion to the Wise Men who brought gifts for the new-born Jesus—is a feel-good story even if somewhat poignant and sentimental. Jim and Della discover something more priceless than expensive gifts—their love for each other. Can there be a better Christmas gift?

O. Henry reminds me of two other great storytellers, Anton Chekhov and Guy de Maupassant. All three authors are known for their very affecting stories—about ordinary people and their destinies, their lives and relationships—which usually end with a twist. My feeling is that O. Henry was wittier of the three. There is subtle humour in this story.


I thought this was the perfect story to read and review in the spirit of Christmas and the goodness and simplicity of life. I first read it a long time ago, probably in school, as my wife reminded me. It is a true classic and very relevant in our times. 

O. Henry, who was born William Sydney Porter, first published the story as Gifts of the Magi in The New York Sunday World, December 10, 1905. Apparently, he wrote it in one of New York's oldest bars called Pete’s Tavern. A year later, it appeared in the O. Henry Anthology The Four Million. The story has been adapted to various cultural forms including film and television.

Recommended.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen releases new novella

Award-winning Danish author Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen has announced the release of her second Tora Skammelsen novella, Miller's Cottage, which is about the curious writer from Thy, the north-western corner of Denmark. Dorte, who writes and reviews crime and mystery, lives in this beautiful region.

"The story can be read as a stand-alone, but for readers with an interest in Tora’s private affairs it may be a good idea to read North Sea Cottage first," Dorte says on her blog djskrimiblog.

In the nearly 100-page novella, "Tora buys her home near the North Sea, but village life does not quite live up to her expectations. Soon she develops a keen interest in the activities of her peculiar neighbour Margrethe. Why does the widow try to hide the fact that a man is living with her? Besides there is Rune, the charming sales rep at the Old Mill Inn, who all but sweeps Tora off her feet while her friend, Police Inspector Thomas Bilgren, is preoccupied with a bank robbery."


In North Sea Cottage, Book 1 released in June 2014, "Tora Skammelsen...retreats to her aunt's cottage to get away from it all. Here, on the Danish North Sea coast, she tries to make sense of her life and rid herself of the ghosts of her past. When the old stable catches fire leading to the discovery of a skeleton, Tora is faced with ghosts that go even further back, to the time of World War Two. Now she must uncover her own family secrets, but will she learn the truth in time to save herself?"

I like the thought of reading about a young writer dealing with family secrets on the picturesque North Sea coast. It sounds mysteriously haunting.

Dorte has also written two short stories featuring Tora — The Woman Behind the Curtain and Football Widow. Here's what these stories are about.


The Woman Behind the Curtain describes one week in Tora's life. "(She) returns home to her parents to unwind after her harrowing experiences in volume one, but life in the sleepy suburb seems tedious and repetitive—until the morning when a neighbour does not draw her bedroom curtains."

In the second story, "A football star is injured and returns to Thy after a glorious international career. His wife revives her friendship with Police Inspector Thomas Bilgren. Soon she asks Thomas and Tora for a lift home from the sports centre. An ugly surprise is waiting for them in the couple's kitchen."

This is the order of the four Tora Skammelsen novellas and short stories for Amazon Kindle.

1. North Sea Cottage — Book 1, June 2014
2. The Woman Behind The Curtain — Book 2, December 2014
3. Football Widow, Book 3 — May 2016
4. Miller's Cottage, Book 4 — December 2016

The 3Cs has previously featured blog friend Dorte and her books here and here. Readers can buy her books at Amazon and read her blog at djskrimiblog.