Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Animal Instinct

Vegetarianism is a topic I have spoken about, written about and done something about - when people ask me what difference one person could make, I speak passionately about the Power of One, about how animals shouldn't have to die because of our savage, acquired diets. I think I've also been a factor in a couple of people I know turning vegetarian. But most of the time, I meet people who give me excuses - for example, ecological balance. I can always explain to them that this doesn't hold water when animals are bred to be slaughtered, but at some level, most people seem to be fooling themselves into a comfort zone. Here's something that portrays the harsh reality. To those people who come up with excuses to themselves, I ask: What's your excuse now? What service are you doing to the world by being a patron of this cruelty? And to those who don't consider this a subject worthy of an excuse, because it "isn't wrong", because "animals are food", I ask: Did you watch the whole of this video without a shudder?


Is that enough? Well, if you decided to convert to vegetarianism after watching this video, let me know.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

J.K. Rowling and the Rape of Fantasy

(Spoiler Warning: Plot Revealed Below. Do not read this unless you have:
a. Read the book
b. Desire to lose the only motivation to persist with reading the book)

In that one moment, her green eyes met his hazel ones, and they both moved as one, and one sinewy brown arm tightened around her slim waist, as the other curved around her pale, white, slender neck, couched in thick curls of her long, honey-blonde hair. She tilted her head backwards, and her long lashes fanned her eyelids, as his mouth closed over her full lips. It was complete surrender, and it felt wonderful. His heart beat faster as this powerful woman lay limp as a silk scarf against his arms, and he kissed her like he had never kissed anyone before.

“Oh, Clara…my darling Clara Whitestone…I love you!” he breathed.

Tears pricked her green eyes as she looked into his hazel ones, “and my darling Raul del Rio…I love you…I love you like I have never loved anyone before!”

He did not reply. He couldn’t if he had wanted to. But the tears in his own hazel eyes were answer enough.

- Parody of any Mills and Boon one might pick up

“There’s the silver lining I’ve been looking for,” she whispered, and then she was kissing him as she had never kissed him before, and Harry was kissing her back, and it was blissful oblivion, better than Firewhisky; she was the only real thing in the world, Ginny, the feel of her, one hand at her back and one in her long, sweet-smelling hair.

- Faithful rendition of passage from p. 99, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling, J.K., published by Bloomsbury, 2007

One of my favourite critics, Harold Bloom, once spat out, “there is not a single adjective that Rowling does not like”. And while I was labouring through the latest edition of Harry Potter, the memory of the quote made me smile every couple of lines. It took me a month to read the whole of The Lord of the Rings, and that was because I could not get past passages like the description of Lothlorien without reading them thrice over, and the elven hymns were so beautiful I had to understand them, even if it meant looking up the Silmarilion for references, while the dwarf architecture and armour had to come to life in my mind, and I was also teaching myself to read runes and Elvish, and the entire series was about 1300 pages in small print. It took me a week to read Harry Potter, where no arduous task awaited me aside from wading through the writing, and I forced myself to finish it only because there had to be an end somewhere, and it was best that I came to it quickly.

There are those writers whose work is flawless, where every sentence woven into the fabric of a book makes one imagine the mating of the writer and the writing as that of two snakes – quiet, intense, secluded, oblivious to the rest of the world. In Harry Potter, the words and sentences seem to be thrown together in a sort of amalgamation that is possibly caused by the fact that so many characters and ideas are borrowed from superior works of fantasy. The plagiarism is as black and white as Dumbledore trying on a ring, seeking power, and having his hand charred, and then deciding that the Hallows and Horcruxes should be borne by someone who does not know their power, and who would not misuse their power because he had no desire to do so, being a bastardised version of Gandalf taking on a terrifying, power-hungry form the moment he had slipped on the “one ring to bind them all” and then gently telling a shaking Bilbo that he is too powerful to bear the ring, and the ring-bearer must be someone far gentler, far less powerful. There is even a confrontation-of-sorts between Harry and Dumbledore that parallels that between Frodo and Gandalf. But there is little point in explaining the plagiarism charge further, because it is pretty much plain for all to see. The Patronuses parallel the Daemons in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, the Dementors parallel Ringwraiths from The Lord of the Rings – and all this aside from the parallels in characters.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is possibly the most tedious read of the entire lot, with the possible exception of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which hardly had a climax, and where all the hype about Dumbledore revealing a big secret fell as flat as a bad wicket. Here too, there was a lot of hype about one death that would be very hard to write. So many characters die randomly in the book that it is hard to discern which one Rowling meant when she made that statement. The plot has been twisted and turned enough for it to be illegal, and yet the turn of events is almost completely predictable. The only unpredictable element was brought in by quick changes in character (though that aspect of Rowling’s writing is not new to her readers – most of them have shown remarkable inconsistency in behaviour and moral systems, to a much larger extent than normal human beings, while others have shown an unbelievable consistency in demeanour), and even the one character who promised to show signs of more than one dimension, and ended up showing signs of borderline schizophrenia through the series – Snape – ends up being rather a disappointment – one doesn’t like to think of someone with a strong enough character to play double agent successfully as having been a simpering lover from the Mediaeval Ages, whose unrequited love persists despite constant spurning after a point.

It is hard to decide which form the worst part of the book – the romantic interludes and descriptions of passion and protectiveness, or the epilogue. The epilogue was hilarious enough to be entertaining – it was like watching the ‘Iruvathu Aandugalukku Piragu’ (‘Twenty Years Later’) sequence of a black-and-white Tamil movie. Besides, if “snogging” were to remain a popular part of British slang nineteen years from now, well…it would pretty much mean the world had stagnated. Which brings me to another aspect of Rowling’s writing – the book weaves into and out of various time periods, but the idiom does not seem to have changed. There was no “gosh” and “golly” forty years ago; strangely enough, “blimey”, “mate”, “you a’right?” and “cheers” seem to have been in vogue all that time back. And, like I said, “snogging” will apparently persist nineteen years from now.

And I wish I had a rupee for every time the sentences, “Tears filled Hermione’s eyes”, “Harry looked away, not sure what to say”, “It was love”, “She threw her arms around his neck” and “His brilliant blue eyes twinkled behind his half-moon spectacles” made an appearance.

The Final Word: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may be described as JRR Tolkien meets Philip Pullman meets James Hadley Chase meets Danielle Steele meets Stanley Kubrick, directed in Hindi by Karan Johar.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Single in a Relationship

Your entire family's in a dilemma, and so are you. They're wondering whether you're seeing someone, whether you should be seeing someone, or whether they should be finding someone for you. You're wondering whether you're the marrying kind or not. From "confirmed bachelors" having been a byword, the world seems to have moved to a new Sex-and-the-City-empowered generation of women, who seem to have realised that you can't have it all, and you might as well retain your marital (or unmarital) status.

This does not mean we're all feminists...oh, no - far be it from me to claim that I can live without men flitting in and out of my life - or that I cannot take one (or more) constant presence(s) in my life. I've always been a champion for anti-feminism. (Honestly, burn your bras and you're left with out-of-shape breasts; to whom have they been of any use???) But what I've often come across is a sense of claustrophobia, of too many shared spaces.  Couples who do everything 
together, share each other's email passwords and know each other's histories...well,
 that's a little too close for someone who believes each member of a couple should have a room of his or her own.

I've often spoken to some of my like-minded, equally emotionally claustrophobic friends about whether we're designed to be single or part of a couple. Most of the conversations ended with
the conclusion that long-distance relationships were the best. You had someone to fantasise about, and you had your own space to go to movies alone, eat alone, take vacations alone and indulge in some harmless flirting when you had the mind to. There are times when we want no
strings attached, and times when we find the pull of the string comforting.

And then I realised that it was all about one thing - being single in a relationship. It was about retaining all the freedom you had while being single, while moving into the comfortable camaraderie of a relationship. And since this is 2007, I'm not talking about being 
tied up in chains (unless, of course, you're into that sort of thing!) But, in all seriousness, how 
often is it that women nag at their partners and ask them who that was on the phone, when 
they will be back, where they are headed to, how long it's been since they had some alone
 time together...and men nag their  partners about the same issues? Perhaps some of us
need to resign ourselves to not being the committing kind...or at least, the marrying kind. Perhaps some of us need to realise that we will only be happy with partners as neurotic as we are. And - perhaps - we all need to be open to the fact that a marriage, or any long-term relationship can work as long as we can all accommodate each other's singledom within it.  
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