Dreams of Joy

15 02 2012

Just finished reading Dreams of Joy by Lisa See. It’s actually a sequel to her Shanghai Girls, which I read a couple of years ago and liked very much. Shanghai Girls had been a story about two sisters Pearl and May, set in the 1930s to 1950s. They both are well-educated, lived a stylish life in Shanghai  and used to sit for ZG’s paintings. Pearl loves Z.G. and believes that he too cares about her but is devastated when informed by May in an awkward confrontation after twenty years that it is she whom he loved and that they had been lovers back then (before marrying rickshaw pullers and fleeing to America). The blow felt by Pearl at this revelation is heart-wrenching. Throughout Shanghai Girls, we get to see Pearl as the wiser, patient, compassionate, responsible and enduring person whereas May is depicted to be childish and self-indulgent. But May’s argument in the end of the book that all Pearl did was to attract misfortune and glorify herself as a martyr; that she could have escaped being gang-raped on that fateful day when they left home in an attempt to leave China, the event which scarred her heart for life, if only she stayed where she was instead of trying to play the “big sister” thing in order to protect May. This accusation or rather insight is as devastating to me as it is to Pearl I guess.

It’s interesting to see how Pearl and May perceive each other. Each has completely different and seemingly opposite personalities and they have a certain disdain for each other alongside the sisterly love. The calm and composed Pearl resents the care-free and selfish nature of May, while May scorns the “air” taken up by Pearl.

Coming to Dreams of Joy, it starts where Shanghai Girls ends – Joy, the daughter of May raised by Pearl as hers, decides to leave America and go to China to help build the People’s Republic of China and mainly to escape the guilt of being the cause of her father’s suicide and also shocked and hurt by the fact that the truth about her parentage has been hidden from her and thus been deceived by her mother and aunt. After Joy leaves, Pearl follows her to China to bring her back.. And the story continues.

In Shanghai Pearl meets Z.G and all her old feelings surface. Even after 20 years, she feels the same for ZG, despite knowing that he loves May and not her. As hurting as it is, she still feels for ZG. As the story proceeds, they get to meet often.. And Pearl deliberately avoids writing about ZG in her letters to May, though May keeps on asking about him. Pearl enjoys taking a small revenge against her sister, even though she realizes that it’s a fruitless exercise. At last, there comes the moment – she sleeps with ZG and then, just like that – she gets over him. She finally accepts the fact that ZG loves only May. He doesn’t feel about her, Pearl, as he feels about May. And then all of a sudden she feels free of burden, joy and happiness. She falls is love with a person from her past in a true sense (not like she felt for her husband out of responsibility and gratitude)and marries him in the end.

What got me curious was the fact that it took her so long and so much to get over ZG. Finally, what really made it possible for her? What’s the tipping point? It’s not very clear. It’s just a momentous realization akin to enlightenment, but it’s not easy to come by – it usually takes decades, not just years. At one time she recollects May telling her that she is only infatuated with ZG and weighs that remark later, while in China, – she doesn’t care whether it’s only infatuation..and only seeks contentment in basking in the pleasure of his company.

My doubt is – is hers infatuation or love? Who is the best person to judge?  Is hers considered infatuation because her feelings are unrequited? Would like some answers here. 🙂

Also, I wonder what really makes a person, especially a woman, to grieve over her unrequited love and forever make a place for her lover in her heart? Is it because that gives her satisfaction and approval? Approval of whom? Unrequited love has forever been romanticized in literature and people who agonize for their lovers, or rather their unfulfilled love, till their death are glorified beyond extent. Does she feel guilty to forsake the reminiscences of her first love? Why does she feel it as her duty, more than anything, to be loyal to her love (even though unrequited, or especially because it is unrequited), even though he doesn’t care a bit about what she does or does not feel for him?

In love, mostly it’s the feeling of being in love, that people love most. People love being in love. It’s even more true in the case of one-side love or unrequited love because they have no other base to carry on with their love.

There is one philosophy which claims that – anything between two persons should be two-way. There must be both “give” and “take”. The balance must be maintained in every and any relationship for sustainment . Otherwise, the relationship won’t last for long. The giver just gives up sooner or later. But the one-side lovers have only this “romanticized” view of being in love as the reason to continue being in love with the same person. They refuse to give up hope to get something in return from their beloveds until a very long time.

But to what effect? They will never be able to love any other man in the same way and they just have to wait for that magical moment when they can get over their first love, which usually comes too late in old age or just never comes. What a pity! I believe that- if only the state of being in love is not romanticized so much, people would have easily moved on to find new love in their lives, which is actually a more fruitful exercise. Is the real test of love to be with the person you love for long and still continue to love? In the absence of which, the only love you feel is for the “imagined” or “expected” traits of the beloved and/or nuances of life.

This is all the mind speaking. But the heart goes on its own way. But the thing is the heart is influenced and shaped by the culture, society and literature and media around it. So, ideally the mind should win. But the heart always knows how to sneak in. it lures the mind with promise of instant gratification in certain thoughts.

I’ve had similar thoughts even while reading about Scarlet’s blind love for and fierce devotion to Ashley in Gone With the Wind. What did it all fetch her in the end? It ruined her life. In a way, it was so upsetting to read about it.

Coming back to Dreams of Joy, it’s my first encounter with anything related to communism. It is shocking and sad to know how flawed leadership has led to the great famine that lasted 3 years, killing millions of people. The novel also depicted how despite the lofty ideals of equality, there are certain classes of privileged people  in the Mao’s New China. Hypocrisy is prevalent and common man suffered. I admire Joy for the way she handled things in China, coming to terms of her life, shocking though it was as it unfolded before her, but never losing her courage and spirit.

I must say that the tale of Pearl, May and Joy has cast a deep impression on me and greatly influenced some of my perceptions. I wouldn’t forget the three ladies and their intricate story.





Free software

8 02 2012

I tagged along a couple of my friends this afternoon to a talk on “free software” organized by Swecha. Didn’t have a clue about what it’s all about and was curious to get some idea about it and also may be meet some like-minded people. The sales pitch sounded as if the audience largely conglomerates professionals from software  and information technology. But alas! there was the first disappointment when I saw a huge crowd of college students and practically no one else around. Waited a considerable time for the chief speaker to come and then started the verbal assault of the proprietary software and the people behind it.

The crux is – People behind the proprietary software are committing a sin by restricting the freedom of users in the form of licenses. Thus using proprietary software is a sin.

Within minutes into his speech,  I realize that he is preaching “software communism” . Propaganda is what he is doing, trying to influence the young minds.

I was both shocked and amused by this realization. The audacity to propagate communist ideas, that too about “software”, which is not a basic necessity or primary need, in a democratic country seemed both courageous and preposterous. When almost everything is business here – food, health, education, water, and more – a condition which majority of people have accepted in general, I doubt the fruitfulness of trying to instill red thoughts in people about “software”, which doesn’t really affect day-to-day life as much as many others. But of course from the perspective of the advocates, their effort, despite being just a drop in an ocean, is definitely a step towards their dream destination. And all the left political groups in our country are in the similar pursuit.

Achieving this mindset in a nation is tough enough. But when it comes to “software”, it’s extent of reach doesn’t confine to any one particular nation. In effect, these Swecha people may be trying to bring “awareness” among the users throughout the world in the hope that if they reject or refrain from using proprietary software, that will teach the software capitalists a lesson. The question is, will it work? Any takers here?

The more basic question is – does communism work? I have little knowledge about the actual conditions in the communist areas, but I have a feeling that it’s not exactly a haven as it is being promised to be. I strongly believe that whatever the “ism”, prosperity and happiness result when each one of the citizens feel responsible for the others and the nation. Everything else just follows. However, I believe that I would be better able to comment once I acquire reasonably adequate knowledge about both the isms.





Ranganayakamma

13 12 2011

Bear with a brief prelude before getting into the main topic of the post. Of late, I’ve not been writing anything much other than movie reviews. With research work occupying most of my mind and available time, there hasn’t been much “thinking time” and breathing space to accommodate blogging. I’m enjoying  my research experience a lot. Though technically the research work hasn’t yet started, the groundwork isn’t unexciting. There is so much to do and learn that the number of avenues open to me  gives me a heady feeling at times. I always like my passion to drive my work and research is no exception. The only problem I face now is that I need to channel  my tremendous energy into a narrow stream so that a tangible and worthy output can be delivered. Well, the process isn’t so easy – it’s confusing, bewildering and undoubtedly frustrating.  But of course, struggle is inevitable to achieve any success.

Not willing to have a month pass by without at least one post, I’ve resorted to the easy way. Needless to mention, movies present ample opportunity to dish out a post in no time. 🙂  I’ve read only a few books in the past few months and even less that moved me to write something about them. Of course, I haven’t actually written anything about them “yet” but the intent still holds good. The thoughts are just lurking around awaiting their chance to be penned (typed) down.

It is only recently (to be precise, 8 months ago) that I discovered Ranganayakamma and she already found her place in my list of favorite authors. I’ve read 6 books of her so far and loved each one of them. My reviews on two of them: Krishnaveni, Ammaki Aadivaaram Ledaa? Read 3 of her novels in the past month and found myself addicted to her narration. Finished each of the books at one go. Worth mentioning among them is “Rachayitri”. It is a story of a young writer Vijaya, who is highly individualistic with progressive views, and her husband, with conservative notions and beliefs. The novel depicts the clashes that arise between people of completely different levels of thinking and questions many prevalent practices and roles in the society. These days many women are thinking beyond the traditional confinements and age-old conventions, with education and change in the upbringing. But the rest of the society hasn’t kept up with it. I felt that every husband, who puzzles over the individuality and the questioning attitude of the wife, should read this book. The novel also presents a pragmatic account of married life. Like all her books, “Rachayitri” too is educative.

I like the author’s feminist ideas. In fact they are humanist; she urges people to develop right attitude and individuality, regardless of the gender. For women to achieve them, they need to fight against this patriarch and oppressing society and hence the need for  ‘feminism”. The term raises many a eyebrow and makes many people treat it with suspicion. Some even think it as frivolous and/or stupid. I feel that this is mainly due to the misinterpretation of the intention behind the movement by zealous practitioners with half-knowledge and inappropriate activities and also by the  innocent bystanders.

She is also a communist and atheist. I have no issues with any of her beliefs but she thinks that  a person’s true progress is measured by the extent to which he or she acquires the above perspectives. According to her, understanding and believing Marxist’s theory is the true education; shunning god and idol worship is true wisdom. Developing these convictions is the sign of growing up, in her sense. I’m not arguing for capitalism and theism here. In my opinion, every philosophy is relative. There is no absolute truth. I have trouble with her attitude that those without the knowledge of Marxism and acceptance of atheism are primitive people who need help. For me, this sounds exactly like Christian missionaries whose main concern is to convert people of other faiths to their religion; make them believe in Jesus and thereby save themselves from condemnation. There is nothing wrong about any belief. One believes a certain thing for one’s own convenience and comfort.  One finds solace and courage in one’s faith. I find it silly and arrogant of those who deliberately try to establish the superiority of their belief over others’ and actively seek people to join their cult.

It’s one thing if a person explores that particular knowledge and faith and gets interested in it by himself. But forcing it on someone by simultaneously elevating their belief and  debasing other beliefs doesn’t sound well to me. I have little respect for such beliefs. As long as a particular philosophy or faith doesn’t harm anyone, it can be left alone and let the individuals explore other philosophies by their own quest for knowledge. May be the contention between Capitalism and Marxism isn’t that innocent. Each philosophy favors one segment of people, causing harm to the other. While capitalism is based on the principle of individual rights and in effect  states that the fruits of a tree can be devoured by the one who raised it, Marxism calls for uniform availability of resources and wealth to one and all, irrespective of  the origin/source of the bounty. (Excuse my crude and limited perspective; I hope I’m not too far off the mark.)

But I suppose that this” forcing of your beliefs on others” is a universal phenomenon forever in existence. I believe that if something is worthy enough, it doesn’t need trumpeting. I am not against preaching. Preaching is usually done to a willing audience. But trying to sell the philosophy or faith to unsuspecting and impassive individuals, I perceive it as something degrading. Somehow I can’t view philosophies/faiths as commodities that can be advertised and sold.





Overthrow

24 12 2009

When I first read in some Indian sacred text that one of the duties of a king is to expand the boundaries of his empire, I couldn’t help think about the destruction that results from the wars that are waged to fulfill that duty. I admit that there are advantages for a unified empire as opposed to small independent provinces like efficient management and use of natural resources, for instance. But how much destruction or violence is justified in the process? I fail to impart any greatness to rulers and conquerors like Akbar and Asoka when I read about or visualize their numerous battles and wars.

The powerful oppressing or controlling the weak is a natural phenomenon we see everywhere – be it a playground or a house or markets or world in general. But of course, the fact that something is omnipresent doesn’t make it right. However much is the temptation of the powerful to dominate and control the weak, they must display certain restraint. The powerful should need to recognize and value the individuality – the right of freedom and independence for everyone. When just morals or ideals don’t work, rules and processes are established and there is a need for an overseeing body to enforce them.

Having been from once-a-British-colony, I perpetually get heated up over all those oppressing and ruling nations. Some argue that India has benefited from its rulers in the form of technology, education etc, but in my opinion the loss they caused by looting the resources and amassing wealth at the expense of the country and its people far outweighs any progress they have brought to India.

It’s not with pride that I admit that I don’t usually follow the world events closely and I have no knowledge whatever about the Gulf War of the nineties or any similar happenings elsewhere. But it’s hard to miss the proceedings of the recent Iraq war. So, when I came across the book “Overthrow” by Stephen Kinzer, which is about the saga of regime change brought by America in foreign nations, I was instantly drawn to it owing to the raise in my curiosity level.

From the book, I came to know in a period of little over a century, America has played indirect and often direct role in overthrowing the governments in 14 nations, starting with Hawaii in 1893 to Iraq in 2003. The author honestly exposes the psychology and motivations of American leaders as well as a nation on the whole. In almost all of these operations, economic and business advantage/benefits played the decisive role. Access to natural resources and markets has been the main motive. Fighting against communism or spread of communism was also claimed as a driving force. Of course the sense of being on top, of being powerful is another significant factor. Other less selfish reasons propagated by America are:

  • America has a genuine duty to help the citizens of an nation under dictatorship towards achieving freedom
  • America as an advanced nation has a duty to bring less civilized or uncivilized nations into light aka development/civilization
  • America is fighting for the good – of the world at large, against communism and terrorism

Some of the leaders really believed these Good-Samaritan proclamations and so are most of the citizens of America. But if you inspect closely, all these are just a cover to the underlying real motives.

A striking observation made by the author is that almost all of these regime changes eventually caused more damage, both to USA and also the concerned nations. If America hadn’t acted in certain way, hadn’t taken certain decisions at certain times, things would have been lot better. (You’ve got to read the book to learn about them.) And this is because, Stephen opines, that America doesn’t know what to do after it wins a war. He says that the psychology of America isn’t cut for ruling other nations. Unlike the British or French, it typically refuses to take responsibility for the nation it uprooted and bring peace among chaos, to set the path for development, stabilize the nation, and bestow freedom as per its claimed motives. But America is only concerned with the commercial benefits involved and is just content to put in place a pro-American regime. This inappropriateness on part of America has resulted in greater instability, violence and anti-Americanness around the world.

Overthrow gives an astounding description of the events preceding and succeeding these regime change operations, coupled with observations and analyses of notable historians and of course his own conclusions. At some points, I couldn’t help twitch at the aggressiveness, conceitedness of America. Also there is scheming, dishonesty, arrogance and manipulation. It’s a fast paced book with narrations involving spies, intelligent agents, business people, monarchs, military officers, white-house leaders and lot more. A definite five star book.

Here is the list of those 14 nations whose governments America has overthrown in three eras:

Imperial Era:

  • Hawaii
  • Cuba
  • Puerto Rico
  • Philippines
  • Nicaragua
  • Honduras

Cold War Era:

  • Iran
  • Guatemala
  • South Vietnam
  • Chile

Invasion Era:

  • Grenada
  • Panama
  • Afghanistan