Archive for December, 2006

Going Postal

Posted in Fantasy, Humor, SF on December 25, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

Terry’s loyal guild of fans and disciples needs no introduction to the Discworld. Going Postal is performed by Stephen Briggs.

In Going Postal, an enterprising conman Moist von Lipvig finds himself first hanged (to half an inch of his life) and then coming round in Lord Vetinari’s office. Vetinari is Ankh-Morpork’s Patrician, described by some as a tyrant. Others simply question his parentage. He is also incredibly resourceful, fantastically well-informed and a graduate of the Guild of Assassins. He knows Moist’s real name, his profession and has identified Moist as a fraudster by vocation, a habitual liar and totally untrustworthy. As such, Vetinari has realised that Moist is ideally suited for a job in government and offers him the position of Postmaster General.

Moist could turn the job down; the decision would only cost him his life. However, largely because he doesn’t fully realise what he’s letting himself in for, he accepts the job offer. Although Moist would rather disappear under another false name, Vetinari has wisely appointed a parole officer to him – a very determined golem called Mr. Pump. Neither Moist nor Mr. Pump are going to have an easy time in their new positions – for a start, the Post Office is a mess. There hasn’t been a letter delivered in twenty years – all of them are still in the building, leaving very little room for people and golems inside.

Moist only has two members of staff – an ancient Junior Postman called Groat and Apprentice Postman Stanley (a little odd, though an expert on pins). Mr. Pump indirectly leads Moist to Adora Bell Dearheart, a tall dark-haired woman who works for the Golem’s Trust. She dresses severely, chain-smokes and, and by her own admission, is utterly lacking in a sense of humor.

Moist’s biggest problem is going to be the Grand Trunk Semaphore Company and its new Board of Directors. The Grand Trunk provide a high-speed communication service, better known as the clacks – the Discworld’s version of telegrams. It’s pretty clear the new board have cheated, embezzled and stolen their way to the company, are mistreating the workforce and are generally running things into the ground. Although represented by Mr. Slant (not only a zombie, but also a lawyer), the most dislikeable and dangerous member of the board is Reacher Gilt. Like Moist, he’s obviously a very gifted con-artist. However, it’s his willingness to use buzzwords that really send shivers down the spine. Anyone who has been at a meeting and heard phrases like “core competencies”, “synergistically” and “striving for excellence” will know.

This is not a reading – it is a performance. And it is a tour de force of a performance by Stephen Briggs. It needs a strong constitution to not fall on the floor in gales of mirth when the quavering voice of the geriatric Junior Postman Groat pipes up “I shall leap sir, leap into action, sir.” However, Briggs’ genius finds its pinnacle in the upper-crust tones of Lord Vetinari.


The Bartimaeus Trilogy: Ptolemy’s Gate

Posted in Fantasy on December 19, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

The Bartimaeus Trilogy is a towering edifice among mainstream fantasy.  An alternative London is divided between ruling magicians and oppressed commoners. Nathaniel is an apprentice magician who calls upon the 5000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus for assistance.

Bartimaeus suffers Nathaniel’s ineptitude with sardonic wit and wisecracks.  Questions about Bartimaeus’s past are answered. All comes together in an absolutely satisfying conclusion, but not before chaos threatens everyone and everything.

Though this is technically a young adult work, the main characters are complex and intriguing enough for mature readers, and Bartimaeus himself is a delight.  Stroud plausibly ties in most of the accepted norms of summoning demons / djinnis, and in this one also seamlessly incorporates possession.

The Golden Gate

Posted in Fiction, Verse on December 16, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

Dear friends, do not be intimidated
By this novel written in verse
Perhaps you have anticipated
That it will be obscure, or worse
Solemn, pretentious and “poetic”
Relax. You’ll need no anesthetic
Our author tells his tale with style
And effortless charm. Before long I’ll
Bet you’ll find yourself engrossed in
Each stanza of this narrative
Of love and lust, of take and give
Of modern times. So let’s raise a toast in
Honor of the nerve it took
To invent this outrageous book!


Dushyant did a great review of The Golden Gate here.

The Hero’s Walk

Posted in Diaspora, India / Indian on December 9, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

In a few hours that heat would hang over the town in long, wet sheets, puddled behind peoples’ knees, in their armpits and in the hollows of their necks, and drip down their foreheads. Sweaty thighs would stick to chairs and make rude sucking sounds when contact was broken. Only idiots ventured out to work and, once there, sat stunned and idle at their desks because the power had gone off and the ceiling fans were still.



It is Anita Rau Badami’s second novel, the winner of the 2000 Commonwealth prize for fiction. Disappointment hangs over the characters like heat that chokes the small town of Toturpuram. It’s so oppressive that only something as brutal as a monsoon can free it. Sripathi Rao is 57, worked hard all his life to do his duty and has very little to show for it. He shares his deteriorating ancestral home with his wife Nirmala, his activist son Arun, his unmarried sister Putti, and cantankerous Ammayya, whose heart was “full of the rage she had accumulated over sixty of her eighty years of existence.”

Sripathi and Nirmala, over the many years of their co-habitation are dulled to mostly friendly bickering. Arun is a continual disappointment to his father, for at 28, rather than engaging in a profession and marrying well, he lives a “hermit-like” existence. Working on a doctorate while engaging in protests and other things that are entirely mysterious to his father.

“What are you involved in now? Henh? Some other saving-the-world project? Why are you wasting your time trying to be a big hero instead of getting a job? Here I am, head full of grey hair, going to work everyday like an ox, and my son sits at home dreaming useless dreams.”

Putti is sweet, loving and badly misused by her mother. At 42, she laments the many suitors that have approached her mother and her brother over the years only to be dismissed on one pretext or another by Ammayya, who wants only to keep her daughter with her until she dies.

Into this quietly desperate family portrait, desolation is dropped. Maya, the beloved and brilliant daughter who went away to the United States, and her foreigner husband are killed in a car accident in distant Canada. In a desperate attempt to convince his daughter to abort what he sees as a social and spiritual suicide mission, Sripathi – in flashback – tells his daughter that if she insists on marrying the foreigner, she will never again be welcome in her father’s house. “If you persist on doing this foolish thing,” he shouts into the phone long distance, “never show your face in this house again. Never.” But never is a long time. Nine years later, Maya and her foreign husband are dead. Their 7-year-old daughter Nandana is alive and her grandfather takes her from Vancouver to a new life in India.

Although the story is compelling, Badami succeeds even more in her lush evocations of Indian life. She finds a wicked absurdity in the traditions of India, though the comedy masks larger, much more pervasive social conflicts. Relating the story of Sripathi’s birth and his parents’ high expectations of him, Badami tells of the visit of the astrologer whose predictions of grandeur Indian parents so desperately cling to

“He shuffled his feet and became ingratiating – a signal for his clients to pay him for his services. The priest found it demeaning to ask for money for himself … After all, he was a Brahmin, not a trader-caste fellow who had no shame asking for this and that.”

The India Badami describes is one in which anything can happen. A hospital stay results in missing organs. Apartment buildings won’t have an elevator because the power likely won’t be on when needed anyway. Politicians are hand in glove with the mafia, if not ex-gangsters. They commision 60-feet hoardings of themselves and will not pay the impoverished artist who paints them. Cows graze in people’s front yards. Old men show their genitals to passing children. Retrieving your bike from a parking space involves having to bribe a cop. There is humor in the descriptions and a clear ring of authenticity. India is vital, recognizable, sad, funny, dramatic and absorbing, without Bollywood melodrama or romanticized exoticism.

Badami has a good ear for local rhythms and dialectal variations. A personal laugh-out-loud favorite from the book is when Sripathi absconds from work and bumps into a colleague at the movies:

“Blood Pressure, eh?” smirked Shyamsundar. “And after watching this sex bomb going tingi-tingi, finished, your blood-pressure machine will burst itself!” He jabbed an elbow into Sripathi and continued. “And thunder-thighs Madhuri, giving all those kissies to hero with her wet sari sticking everywhere… Ayyo! Where will your blood-pressure be, saar?”

“The whole business of living, I think, is an act of heroism,” says Anita Rau Badami, and there are many acts of heroism. Nirmala’s helping Putti to marry Gopala, the milkman’s son. Arun’s social activism in the face of ridicule from his father and opposition from the authorities and the local goondas. Maya’s marriage to a foreigner, without a caste or station. Putti’s dutiful devotion to her mother. Nandana’s silent struggle to overcome her trauma, and struggle to adjust in an completely incomprehensible environment. Sripathi himself.  And even the hateful and termagent Ammaya’s pride is in the end, cast as heroic, when secret of the jewelry she has clung on to is revealed as fake.  in Ultimately, they find heroism in small gestures and in their own courage to move on, and let go of their regret.



Posted in Uncategorized on December 5, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

“tried to talk to the senior officers, explain some of the problems and She  picked up her pack and planted her bottom on the wall, swung her A big fat red slob! I shouted. A hairy conman. There was no answer. I rose and brushed off my shorts.”

Don’t you just love spam?

Posted in Uncategorized on December 1, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

Evil is by nature easy. Because good is a wholeness, whereas evil is a deficiency, and because evil does not act through itself but through the good it preys upon, it takes but a small amount of good to succeed greatly in evil, whereas it takes a great amount of good to succeed but a little in good.

“Some Reflections on Religious Art”

appendix to Jacques Maritain’s Art and Scholasticism