Twenty years ago this day……………………..

On June 29, 1992, we got married. It was a Monday. Time has just flown by. We’ve hardly had time to look at the wedding photo album over the years  but a few days ago I decided to get a colleague to copy some of them and put them on my blog on our 20th anniversary day.  So here are a very few photos taken on that day.

Tis one of my favourite picture of me

Happy Birthday to George Orwell & me………..

Orwell at work

I was browsing through the internet looking for literary figures that are born in June, the same month as I was and to my delight found I am in good company.  Pearl S. Buck (1892 – 1973), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778), William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939),  Yasunari Kawabata (1899 – 1972) and Salman Rushdie (1947 – ) are among them.  An added bonus for me is the fact that one of my favorite writers George Orwell (pen name for Eric Arthur Blair) (1903-1950) happens to be born on June 25, the same day as I was.

So I’ll dedicate the post written on my birthday to George Orwell whose books Animal Farm and  Nineteen Eight Four (1984 ) are  two of the most politically relevant books  , not only in context of the times they were written in but up to this very  day.

Animal Farm

Animal Farm

Animal Farm was first published in August 1945 .In it Orwell characters are animals who are used to  give a biting political narrative. Many have interpreted the story as that of what was unfolding in the Soviet Union under Stalin where the communist state imposed one set of rules for the masses to abide by while the leaders flaunted the rules. The rules in Animal Farm are made by way of seven commandments which are put up for all animals to follow after the humans, who are labeled the enemy, are driven out and the animals take matters into their own hands. The original commandments are:-

1.    Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.

2.    Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.

3.    No animal shall wear clothes.

4.    No animal shall sleep in a bed.

5.    No animal shall drink alcohol.

6.    No animal shall kill any other animal.

7.    All animals are equal.

However as time passes, the commandments are secretly rewritten leaving the majority of the animals in a state of confusion. Soon they are unsure of what the original commandments were as nightly the commandments get revised.  The changes take place as the leaders begin to indulge in vices and execute other animals who oppose them. The revised commandants are meant to justify their wrongdoings and read as follows:

1.    No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.

2.    No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.

3.    No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.

As the book draws to an end, the final salvo is fired with all the commandments replaced with one which saysAll animals are equalbut some animals are more equal than others“.

Nineteen Eighty Four

Nineteen Eighty Four was first published in 1949 and tells the bleak story of a totalitarian state known as Oceania. While 1984 has come and gone and while most of societies have managed to live within systems that guarantee individual freedom to a large extent, Orwell’s dire predictions in the book are a reminder of the ever present threat of what is at stake if state control grows to such an extent that people are left as puppets on a string, moving and thinking only to the dictates of authority.

1984

Phrases such as “Big Brother is watching you”, which is what the people of Oceania are told on a regular basis via huge billboards put up in the city, have passed into common English usage today.

The brilliance of the writer is the manner in which he has coined so many new words that are now widely used. The Thought Police, Thought Crime, Double Speak, New Speak” are some such words while the term Orwellian itself  is used to describe totalitarian societies where people’s individual freedoms are scarified for the survival of the dictators who seek to control very aspects of people lives from  the manner in which they think,  love,  speak,dress.

Orwell was also a newspaper columnist and wrote both political and literary commentaries. His biographers feel that much of the pessimism reflected in his writings had to do with ill health that he suffered most of his life. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 46.I am 46 today.

A cartoon on Orwell
Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007 “When will politicians realize that George Orwell’s 1984 was a warning, not an instruction manual? ”  DEREK CLARK – member of the European parliament, on a proposed law to question women about their sexual history to improve census data. 

Sri Lanka’s poetry of rebellion………..

Sri Lanka has had its share of rebellions and uprisings, youth unrest and civil unrest for which the country has paid a heavy price in the past. While it’s nice to refer to such matters in the past tense, it’s not something we can lock up and throw away the key thinking it will not recur. Until the social injustices  that  are so marked and blatant in  our society do not  even  out, the most optimistic among us will have to agree that  as long as a large segment  of the population are  being   deprived of  the right to live in a society that treats all its  citizens equally and allows them to live in dignity,  it’s not a question of if but when  another insurgency takes place.

These are just some thoughts that came to my mind as I was reading the English translations of some Sinhala poems that are rife with the voice of rebellion.

This is one by Parakrama Kodituvakku, a Sinhala poet noted for his radical poetry, many of them set in the background of the 1971 insurrection.

The World of a Disobedient   Son or Akikaru Putrayakuge Lokaya has been brilliantly translated by Ranjini Obeysekera.Here it is.

 (School Report)

Doubts all teachings.

Questions Continuously.

Thinks individualistically.

Disregards discipline.

Works as he chooses.

Conduct unsatisfactory.

 (Religious Instructor’s Report)

Disbelief verily, signifies a sinful mind.

His horoscope too indicates a lack of merit.

Choleric humours have become excited, turbulent.

Hath no knowledge of the doctrine of the gods.

I take refuge in the Buddha. He should do so too.

(Court Report)

  1. Attempted to break the law
  2. Destroyed the peace
  3. Should be given a whipping
  4. Be made into a good citizen

 (Statement of the Accused)

Mass rehabilitation

Turn me not into a snail

My feelers chopped off

Turn me not into a coward

By preaching of gods.

Turn me not into a buffalo

Burdened with false views.

Make me not a “good boy”

With hands and mouth gagged.

Allow me to question like Socrates

Doubt like Descartes.

Crash through like a gushing river

cut clean as a knife.

Let me rise, erect

Like a penis.”

Cry, The Beloved Country – a remarkable story on race relations

Alan Paton

Race relations are difficult in almost every society  be it in Asia , Africa, Europe or America  but  none have been more pronounced and institutionalized  as it was in South Africa  where under Apartheid or a legalized system of racial segregation, the natives were subject for several decades to the worst forms of discrimination.

It was a reality that was largely ignored, knowingly or un-knowingly by the world at large but  amidst the worsening relations between the White and non White people of South Africa, there were a few brave voices that tried to show the world the true nature of a dangerous system that was taking a hold in that country.  One such voice was that of Alan Paton (1903 – 1988) whose book, Cry, the Beloved Country, first published in 1948 became a landmark novel that explored and exposed the painful nature of race relations in the land of his birth and was an eye opener to many outside South Africa on the conditions faced by non White citizens of the country. Paton used the central characters in his book to give a human face to what was unraveling in South Africa but it took more than four decades after the book was first published for Apartheid to be abolished and for   a real change in race relations to take place.

Cry, The Beloved Country

“Cry, The Beloved Country” (A story of comfort in desolation), revolves around a Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom who is accused of killing an innocent white man. The story also highlights the manner in which non white people have to let go of their dignity and self-respect to survive in their own country and also that the pain of losing a child, a parent, a spouse is non discriminatory whether one is born with black or white skin.

Paton in a note on the 1987 edition of the book revealed how the title of the story came about.  He had given the typescript of his work to be read by two friends and after they finished reading it; they asked the author what he would call it.

“We decided to have a little competition. We each took pen and paper and each of us wrote our proposed title. Each of us wrote,” Cry, The Beloved Country,” Paton disclosed.

The title comes from three or four passages of the book and here is one of them.

“Cry, The Beloved Country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.”

It’s a book now termed a classic but more than 60 years after it was first published,” Cry, The Beloved Country” ,  is a story that can be applied in context of troubled race relations in any part of the world. Apartheid may be gone and institutionalized forms of racial discrimination may no longer be there, but racial tensions, discrimination and hatred remains world over.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNNfAuMq-M0

Maya Angelou’s inspirational poetry

Maya Angelou is a living legend, especially when it comes to her poetry but her other writings

Her best seller ” I Know why the caged bird sings”

too are heart wrenching. Her memoirs   titled  “I know why the caged bird sings” is a no holds barred look at her growing up years in a rural American community in the 1930s.  Here are two of her poems which I am sure all women will love. They are also very inspiring.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

Maya Angelou in her younger days – Always inspirational

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered

Phenomenal Woman

What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,

Being honoured by President Bill Clinton

The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,

She is one of Oprah Winfrey’s greatest role models too

That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

What every woman should have and know …………….

Maya Angelou

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE  
enough  money within her control to move out and rent a place of her own,
even if she never wants to or needs to…

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE 
something perfect to wear if the employer, or date of her dreams
wants to see her in an hour…

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE
a youth she’s content to leave behind….

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE  
a past juicy enough that she’s looking forward to
retelling it in her old age….

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE  
a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra…

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE 
one friend who  always makes her laugh.. and one who lets her cry…

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE 
a good piece  of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in her
family…

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE 
eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems,
and a recipe for a meal, that will make her guests feel honored…

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE

a feeling of control over her destiny..

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW… 
how to fall in love without losing herself..

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW… 
how to quit a job,break up with a lover,
and confront a friend without; ruining the friendship…

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW… 
when to try harder… and when to walk away…

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW… 
that she can’t change the length of her calves,
the width of her hips, or the nature of her parents..

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW...
that her  childhood may not have been perfect…but it’s over…..

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW… 
what she would and wouldn’t do for love or more…

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW…. 
how to live alone… even if she doesn’t like it…

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW.. 
whom she can trust,whom she can’t, and why she shouldn’t take it personally…

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW… 
where to go…be it to her best friend’s kitchen table..
or a  charming  Inn in the woods…. when her soul needs soothing…

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW.. 
What she can and can’t accomplish in a day…
a month…and a year…

In the land of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales – Denmark

Andersen sits overlooking a busy Copenhagen street

When I was selected to go for a training program to Denmark two years ago (June, 2010), I was excited at the prospect of visiting the land of Hans Christian Andersen whose fairy tales I have loved since my childhood. The Little Mermaid, the Ugly Duckling, the Little Match Seller, the Princess and the Pea, Thumbelina and the Emperor’s New Suit are among my favorites.

I knew little about all of Andersen’s (1805-1875) writings before I left for Denmark but in a nice cozy bookshop in Copenhagen, I came across and bought a bound copy of the collection of all of his 169 fairy tales. I have yet to finish reading all of them but each story carries me into another world and transports me back to my childhood days  when I would curl up somewhere with a book in hand.  Many of his stories carry a sense of poignancy and rarely end with “…..and then they lived happily ever after….” like many of the other popular fairy tales do.

I’ll include a few paragraphs from each of my favorites from HCA’s fairy tales for those of you who adore this man’s writings as much as I do.

Chandani & Nayana with Andersen

 The Little Match Seller

The little Match Seller always made me feel so sad and still does whenever I read it. Here’s a paragraph which is so very moving.

“The Christmas lights rose higher and higher, till they looked to her like the stars in the sky. Then she saw a star fall, leaving behind it a bright streak of fire. “Someone is dying,” thought the little girl, for her old grandmother, the only one who had ever loved her, and who was now dead, had told her that when a star falls, a soul was going up to God.”

The Little Mermaid

There is a statue of The Little Mermaid in the Copenhagen harbour which has become a national symbol in Denmark. The Mermaid sits looking longingly out into the sea waiting for her Prince Charming to come and get her. Sadly when I was there, the statue had been taken to China for an exhibition and I hence missed out on seeing it for real even though I’ve seen so many photographs of it. Here’s a paragraph from The Little Mermaid.

 “The little mermaid lifted her glorified eyes towards the sun, and felt them, for the first

The statue of The Little Mermaid sits on a rock in the Copenhagen harbour.

time, filling with tears. On the ship, in which she had left the prince, there were life and noise; she saw him and his beautiful bride searching for her; sorrowfully they gazed at the pearly foam, as if they knew she had thrown herself into the waves. Unseen she kissed the forehead of her bride, and fanned the prince, and then mounted with the other children of the air to a rosy cloud that floated through the aether.”

The Emperor’s New Clothes

The Emperor’s New Clothes has become a story that has a lot of political undertones. It’s a story that exposes the blindness of rulers all over the world who live in a vacuum, detached from the citizenry. Here‘s a telling paragraph from that story.

 “The emperor marched in the procession under the beautiful canopy, and all who saw him in the street and out of the windows exclaimed: “Indeed, the emperor’s new suit is incomparable! What a long train he has! How well it fits him!” Nobody wished to let others know he saw nothing, for then he would have been unfit for his office or too stupid. Never emperor’s clothes were more admired.”

“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last. “Good heavens! listen to the voice of an innocent child,” said the father, and one whispered to the other what the child had said. “But he has nothing on at all,” cried at last the whole people.”

The plaque at foot of Andersen’s statue

The Ugly Duckling

The Ugly Duckling is one of my favorites too. It gives hope of those of us who are far from perfect.

 “Then he felt quite ashamed, and hid his head under his wing; for he did not know what to do, he was so happy, and yet not at all proud. He had been persecuted and despised for his ugliness, and now he heard them say he was the most beautiful of all the birds. Even the elder-tree bent down its bows into the water before him, and the sun shone warm and bright. Then he rustled his feathers, curved his slender neck, and cried joyfully, from the depths of his heart, “I never dreamed of such happiness as this, while I was an ugly duckling.”

HCA’s writings show us the genius of the man whose stories remain household names in lands across the world.

He sits with book in hand

Life of Pi – an adventure of a lifetime

 

“To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”
Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Imagine being a 16 year old boy stuck on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for

Life of Pi illustrated version

227 days with a hyena, a zebra, female orangutan and a giant Bengal Tiger for company? Well if it’s beyond your imagination, then it’s time to read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.

From Croatian artist Tomislav Torjanac’s illustrated version of Life of Pi

The book won Martel the coveted Man Booker Prize in 2002 and revolves around Piscine Molitor   Patel, an Indian boy from Pondicherry who is the lone survivor when the ship carrying his family, who are migrating to Canada, sinks.  His father had owned a zoo in Pondicherry and after selling off many of the animal in it, they decide to take a few with them to Canada.  And it is with some of these animals that Pi finds himself stranded on a life boat in the middle of the ocean

The plot of the story may not seem like much but the style in which the author has gone into intricate details of the day to day happenings on a life boat is just fantastic imagination. For a long while I was convinced the story is a true one because of the manner in which it is told.

The story is narrated through Piscine Molitor   Patel who is now a middle aged married man with children who is settled in Canada.

It’s a book that both children and adults can enjoy.