Thursday, June 22, 2017

Romantic Poets Session – Jun 15, 2017

It was a record attendance – all but one of our readers attended and we had a lovely guest, retired professor of English from St. Teresa's College, Betty Kuriyan.

Shoba, Betty, KumKum

We all enjoyed the occasion, which was celebrated with sandwiches and cakes with tea and coffee. Our special thanks go to KumKum who proposed the happy idea of a session of poetry devoted to the English Romantic poets. She then followed up with the readers to ensure attendance. Kudos to her; and to Priya for arranging the splendid refreshments.

Saras (back) Hemjith, Kavita, Shoba, Betty, Joe, KumKum, Zakia

Although Thommo and Ankush were recovering from medical issues, both participated with abandon.

Saras, Hemjith

In our family I am allowed to decide whether Keats or Shelley is the greater poet, but there is no evidence from this session for a conclusion either way. Other contenders among the Romantics seem equally eligible. What a marvellous group of poets to have arrived in one place within a generation and elevated poetry to Himalayan heights!

Priya, Saras, Hemjith, Kavita

This time Sunil was missing; his absence has a generally downhill influence on the gathering for lack of wisecracks and laughter. As we are reading a humorous novella next time (Pnin) his attendance is a must if we are to derive the full experience.

Betty, KumKum, Zakia

Zakia, who came but did not read, is missing from the group picture below.

Ankush, Saras, Thommo, Priya, KumKum, Shoba, Pamela, Betty Kavita, Preeti, Hemjith (seated)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Paul Beatty — The Sellout May 24, 2017

The cover of the novel depicts Diogenes of Sinope, the Greek philosopher who allegedly carried around a lit lantern in broad daylight, saying he was “looking for an honest man”. But the Diogenes shown here is black, jauntily clad in pink shirt and white trousers.

The reading was poorly attended and a couple of readers had not managed to read the novel. Nevertheless with a bit of urging they too read from passages others had selected.

Paul Beatty - ‘I wanted to be a psychologist. It taught me how to look underneath the rock’

There's a lot of drollery and sheer extravagance in the use of language, sprinkled plentifully with mother-fuckers, bitches and psychology jargon. The characters are often denizens of the absurd: Hominy Jenkins who volunteers as slave to the narrator (‘Me’) and calls him Massa in the manner of a pre-Reconstruction era slave; a punk pretender called Foy Cheshire who lives by publishing the ideas of Me's father and heads the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals. And Marpessa the attractive bus-driver Me yearns for, who seems unattainable.


Me goes about his life work of
a) Re-creating the erased town of agrarian Dickens in LA County, the largest and most diverse county in USA whose population of 10m is larger than that of 42 states; and
b) Re-segregating its society so people may regain a sense of community, identity and self-worth.


Miraculously he succeeds in both ventures, and the rejuvenated Dickens scores higher on measures of social and educational progress than it ever had before. However, he runs foul of the Civil Rights Act and ends up facing judgement in the Supreme Court of the United Staes, refighting the ‘separate-but-equal’ battles of the 1960s.

KumKum & Joe

Though Me wins Marpessa by novel's end, since the case is unresolved, there's scope for a even crazier sequel.

Almond Nougat

Here we are at the end of the reading after consuming the sweet almond nougat Hemjit brought along:

Joe, Thommo, Sunil, Preeti (back row) KumKum, Hemjit (sitting)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Poetry Session – Apr 5, 2017

Seven readers attended, but several more would have come but for last-minute exigencies.

Karutha halwa

KumKum brought halwa to offer readers for the forthcoming Vishu celebration; Easter too is around the corner. Thommo ordered coffee for us and we were seated this time around two tables covered with elegant white tablecloths in a boardroom setting.

Two of the choices were novelists who turned their hand to poetry. Poets ancient and modern, famous and unknown, excited the senses of our readers.

Readers bring their wide experience to the poems and provide insights and appreciation. It is rare that a finely turned line misses an expression of relish. Often there are humorous sidelights to add a topical flavour to the readings.

From the relaxed comfort of the boardroom setting Joe forgot to use his camera to go around and capture the readers. Hence, there is only this final group picture:

Joe, Shoba, Thommo, Zakia, (seated) Saras, Hemjit, KumKum

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie — Americanah Mar 10, 2017

 Americanah cover, first edition May 2013

Chimamanda Adichie says in one of her talks that she did not realise she was black until she went to America. The fact that this novel says a lot about race is primarily on account of Ifemelu's similar journey to America as part of her growing up, and Obinze's experience of England as a migrant without papers. Some of the most thoughtful writing is within the posts of Ifemelu on her blog Raceteenth or Curious Observations by a Non-American Black on the Subject of Blackness in America.

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

But it was the author's goal to write an old-fashioned love story too. Ifemelu takes a shine to this cool guy, Obinze, at school and over time he completely falls for her, and she becomes the first and last love of his life. This overhang is always in the background of the novel, but in the foreground she obtains her liberation in America, all but forgets Obinze, and lives with two other men in succession. They too hold our interest. Meanwhile the reader thinks: what will happen in the end?

Pamela, Kavita, KumKum

It ends a little too fast as though the publisher had a deadline and the author had to come up with the best ending she could in the time available. In the process she forgets the cardinal rule of classic love stories: they have to end tragically, or at least unsatisfactorily.

Ankush, Shoba

There are many memorable quotes:
You can love without making love.

Race matters because of racism. And racism is absurd because it’s about how you look.

I feel like I got off the plane in Lagos and stopped being black.

Ankush, Thommo, Shoba, Kavita, KumKum, Pamela, Joe

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Poetry Session – Feb 10, 2017

Thommo, Hemjit
Eight of us met for a session of poetry and we had a guest, Martin Enckell, a poet from Finland who was spending time in India. Priya met him for an interview and invited him to join.

 Priya, Preeti

The Dropbox is gaining ground as a way of sharing poems so everybody has an electronic copy before the session. In case anyone is having a problem, please send the links to the poems, if not, just the titles of the poems and the poet name to Joe and he will try to scare up the poems from somewhere and put them in the folders of the KRG Dropbox.

Martin Enckell, Pamela, KumKum, Priya

We had some all-time favourite poets like Vikram Seth, and some lesser known performance poets who are making the current scene in England and elsewhere. Amid them we had a novelist and a playwright trying their hand at poetry.

Zakia, Pamela

Poetry gives us a wide sampling of writers and enables us to enjoy at a single session the cultural contributions of a diverse group. Invariably, in coming to grips with new writers there is a difficulty but the readers advance ideas to clarify points, and others come up with alternate interpretations. Poetry with its characteristic requirement that the sound and the sense amplify each other, offers an open field for the human voice.

Martin Enckell, Pamela, KumKum

We heard from one of our old readers, Ankush Banerjee, that he is back in town and may put in an appearance soon. Old readers are welcome to drop in if they are in town. We miss them all.
KumKum, Pamela, Priya, Thommo, Preeti, Martin Enckell, Joe, Hemjit (seated)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Paul Beatty Interview at Kolkata Lit Meet - Jan 25, 2017

Paul Beatty's Booker Prize winning novel, The Sellout, is the fiction selected for reading at KRG in the month of May. KumKum and Joe were in Kolkata for a week and it so happened the Kolkata Lit Meet (Kalam) was on at the same time

They took the opportunity of attending a session at which the author was interviewed. 

Sandip Roy (SR), author and interviewer, sat down with Paul Beatty (PB) for a chat. A few hundred people attended the evening session in the eastern lawns of the Victoria Memorial under a billowing shamiana, as the sun was going down behind the VM. While the conversation turned on several issues, including the election of the US President (Mr Trump), it was mainly about Mr Beatty's latest novel:

The cover shows Diogenes of Sinope, the Greek philosopher who, legend has it, went  around with a lit lantern in broad daylight, saying he was ‘looking for an honest man’. In the book too there is a black man with white trousers and a pink shirt, and the reader will wonder what he is searching for.

KumKum gets a front-seat audience with Paul Beatty
(Beatty's wife, Althea Amrik Wasow, is behind KumKum's left shoulder)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Tracy Chevalier — Girl with a Pearl Earring Jan 13, 2017

First edition, London 1999

After early neglect Johannes Vermeer's ascendancy in the world of art has been rapid. He painted what are regarded as some of the most precious paintings of northern Europe. People admired his colours and his compositional technique which produced quiet genre paintings of women going about everyday tasks. Every painting draws the viewer in, yet does not yield its mystery no longer how long one views it.

Jan Vermeer van Delft from the figure at left in black beret of the painting ‘The Procuress’, which critics hold to be an authentic effigy of the young Vermeer

He remained poor all his working life and never left Delft, his hometown. He had but one major patron (Van Ruijven) who left his own daughter a legacy of 20 paintings by Vermeer. 

Vermeer had eleven children to feed and depended on rents brought in by his mother-in-law, Maria Thins, for pursuing his passion to paint. In the end a ruinous war destroyed the art market and a defensive measure by the Dutch to flood the lowlands by opening the dykes inundated his mother-in-law's rental houses. That brought on destitution for the Vermeer family; he descended into despondency and mania and died, leaving behind 34 works, now considered priceless.

Meera, KumKum, Zakia, Saras

Tracy Chevalier mentions she must have seen three of Vermeer's paintings at the National Gallery of Art growing up in Washington, D.C., but none evoked a response at the time. It was later when she saw a poster of the Girl with a Pearl Earring in her sister's apartment that she was stirred and got one for herself. 

Girl with a Pearl Earring - Vermeer

Slowly the idea grew to write the story behind the painting as a historical novel, rooted faithfully in the times. It was to be Ms Chevalier's second novel, the one that made her famous and got her a film contract in addition.

Sunil, Thommo, & Hemjit

The novel is not literary, but there are several quotes that stand out:
But what is the story in the painting? — Griet's father asks her
I would never stop working on a painting if I knew it was not complete.— Vermeer to Griet

During the session the women readers graciously posed in the way Vermeer had Griet pose for his famous painting, the GWAPE pose. Here is the first by Priya:

Priya in GWAPE pose with nose-ring

The readers gathered for a picture after the enjoyable session which concluded with Hemjit's spread of sandwiches and cutlets, to celebrate his birthday on Jan 16:

seated - Pamela, KumKum, Hemjit - standing Joe, Thommo, Zakia, Sunil, Saras, Meera