Friday, June 10, 2005

Here's a Glimpse of My Book Universe

So now, finally, is my chance to insert myself into the self-referential loop of blogging. Thanks for the tag Vishkanya, I rarely take a expansive view of the books I've read, but I guess here's my chance to do so in a nutshell.

Total Number of Books I Own: I have a modest collection in Delhi, and a fairly piddling one in LA. This is a rather dangerous confession to make and would invite the wrath of every budding author who ambles by my blog, but I decided at around age 17-18 to make libraries my primary source for the bound written word. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t buy books on a regular basis, just that I avoid buying books I can easily access in a library. Hence, I have read far more than I have owned, but if I were to count what I have at present (and they are all boxed up as a consequence of moving), they’d probably be around 50 odd in number. They are fairly eclectic, a History of Numbers, Lorca's poetry, bunch of cookbooks, some self-acquired, some gifted, and of course a copy of Tagore’s Gitabitan.

Last Book I Bought: Actually I bought two together, the two volumes of Marjane Satrapi’s Perspolis. They were a fantastic read, a great buy. Highly recommended. I have friends who lived through the early years of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and it was incredible to see all of their experience brought forth in such vivid visual detail.

Last Book I Read: I finished reading two this morning. One was about the development of the Indonesian language and the other about the Batak people of North Sumatra. Part of my procrastination plan as I figure out how I worm my way back to going full throttle on the theory part of my dissertation. The first book was interesting as it provided a glimpse into the Indian influences on language in a part of South-east Asia, though it was riddled with inaccuracies with respect to meanings and translations of Sanskrit words. The second was a great overview of the history and society of a significant ethnic minority in the nation-state of Indonesia. The similarities between them and some of the tribes of North-eastern India are striking (not the cannibalism bit though) and in the past I have read speculation regarding their common origins.

I’m also reading A History of Modern Greek Literature by Rodrick Beaton that provides a fantastic introduction to some amazing Modern Greek authors (thanks for getting me on this Kathryn) and a poetic translation of The Iliad.

Five Books that Mean a Lot to Me: Oh dear, this is so hard – can we not do this please, pretty, pretty please? Alright, this is really tentative, and of course I’m free to retract whatever I say now at any moment I choose. So here goes:

Diwan-e-Ghalib – A collection of the extant Urdu canon of Ghalib. Some of the most sublime and sophisticated verse written in any Indian language. The fact that many of them have been set to music as well enhances the joy of lingering on every exquisite line, metaphysical at one moment, utterly irreverent at another.

Gitabitan – Rabindranath Tagore – Selections from the Gitabitan were what fetched him his Nobel Prize, but of course the emotionally ornate verse looses its character in the English rendition. This is what makes me eternally grateful for facility in the Bengali language, the pleasure of reading Tagore’s poetry/songs in the original.

Homer’s Odyssey and Jon Elster’s philosophical treatises, Ulysses Unbound and Ulysses and the Sirens – It’s been more than ten years since I read a prose translation of the Odyssey. In hindsight, I don’t think it was a particularly competent translation, and yet the power and the imaginative hold of the work were tremendous. The episodes that mark Odyssey’s journey back home revealed to me a mythical universe that was unfamiliar and yet enticing. Two years ago, when I sought theoretical direction from Elster’s political philosophy, his reworking of Odyssey’s encounters alerted me to the moral and ethical questions embedded deep in these mythical tales. I look forward to revisiting the Odyssey in the next few days, hopefully in a far superior verse translation.

Delhi Between the Two Empires by Narayani Gupta – This was the book, along with David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity that got me interested in the idea of exploring urban spaces. I have all but abandoned any ideas of becoming an urban historian of any kind, but love Gupta’s work for presenting me with a sophisticated, urban milieu that shall perhaps never return to the city of Delhi.

I reserve the final space for my dissertation, which by the time it takes any recognizable form, would have preoccupied 6 wonderful years of my life and have given me experiences and adventures that are very valuable to me.

So let’s see, who should I tag? Here are the obvious candidates:

Urmi

Kathryn
Would love to know what they come up with!

7 Comments:

Blogger Gati said...

I have a pet peeve - so many Indian bloggers, and in the book tags, not a mention of any non-English book. At least someone mentioned Rabindranath....

4:13 PM  
Blogger kathryn said...

Cool! I'll do this! :-)

12:13 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Sad isn't it? But I don't think the bloggers are being deliberately dishonest, just that they haven't really been reading much in any non-English Indian language.

I was lucky to have parents who encouraged a reading habit in Bengali and friends who introduced me to excellent Hindi and Urdu books.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Gati said...

It's really sad - that one has to count oneself lucky to have had parents and friends who encouraged Bengali, Hindi, Urdu etc.

Even I dont think that there is any dishonesty involved in not naming Indian language books. It's worse. No one seems to be reading Indian languages, at least among those who are on the internet - those in literary and journalistic circles. At best this reflects a selection bias, a disconnect between vernacular readers and the English readers (and it just so happened that the English readers are on the net), but it can indicate something far worse - that the educated people have already moved away from reading Bengali or Hindi or Urdu.

7:59 PM  
Blogger kathryn said...

ok, i answered the tag. that was a nostalgic experience! thanks. :)

1:08 PM  
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