India, India

Indian rail image

I promised to say more about my trip to India, especially on the wildlife. There is too much to say. My foremost interest was the birds and they were utterly fantastic, the numbers, the colours, the variety. At this time of year India has not only its resident birds, but many winter visitors, some familiar to the British birder (Hobby, Tree Pipit, Little Stint) and others less familiar from Siberia (Siberian Rubythroat, Marsh Sandpiper, Black Stork). I was interested to see many Indian birders. At the main wetland reserve, Bharatpur, most visitors go round in rickshaws (the rider/drivers really know their birds) and I saw one very attractive young Indian woman with binoculars leap from her rickshaw, guided by the driver, to see the Siberian Rubythroat.

 

Sinerian Rubythroat

The tiger reserve – Ramthambore – was similar in that there was a mix of European and Far Eastern tourists with Indians among the visitors. This is obviously good for conservation. We did see a pair of tigers, but since about twelve vehicles – jeeps and boneshaker ex-army trucks – were clustered round them, there was a bit of circus about the drama. The leopards sighting was entirely different. No-one else was there. The leopards – an unusual unit of dominant male, young female and hanger-on male – seemed unaware of us. I don’t think we felt like peeping Toms when the couple proceeded to have sex.

The politics? In the small towns and villages, I noticed many banners hung up with head-and-shoulders pictures of series of people, maybe ten to a banner. I had my suspicions, but I asked the tour leader. They were for local elections. Bad point: the party lists were either all-male or had one woman included. Good point: in a village, I saw a poster for what appeared to be an independent candidate whose appeal, judging by his symbol, appeared to be agrarian. He included his website address and email.

Oh, I haven’t even started.

Back to literary matters next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The silence is ended: India

Yes, it’s a long time since I’ve posted. Like a lot of bloggers, I find after a while the motivation flags. Also I’m being more cautious about posting my poetry. And like most people, I’m a bit lazy.

A poetic post of some sort will come quite soon. But I felt I should post about India.

I’ve known many people in the UK of Indian subcontinent origins and one in the US. I suppose because of the colonial link most British people have India in their consciousness somewhere and maybe not just consciousness: it was a shock to many to find that the Glaswegian comedian Billy Connolly was Anglo-Indian (European-Indian mixed race). I’d wanted to go to India for some time; after all, I’d been to Africa and North America, but not Asia at all though I’d seen it from Istanbul and Lesvos.

I was to travel with the nature tours group Naturetrek, but the tour was cancelled because the numbers weren’t enough. I booked on another tour nearly a year later…and the same thing happened, but an alternative tour just a bit later (February 2016 instead of November 2015) was OK.

It was aimed at wildlife with a bit of culture and architectureTaj group

(some Indian government building in the background there. Come on, I’m in that group, so which one?)

A few impressions:

Delhi’s fabled traffic is less disorganised than it first seems. The huge noise is partly because, in passing a slower vehicle, you’re supposed to sound your horn to warn the other driver. There are far fewer accidents than you’d expect and few cars show signs of damage. In India generally, there are few real driving rules and very few traffic lights, but drivers are not aggressive.

The contrasts are huge. Posh hotels with plenty of prosperous Indian guests are not far from people living in groups of old tents by huge expanses of rubbish (trash) and stagnant pools. Then again, Delhi International Airport is well-organised and well-provided and the trains are rather impressive with the latest technology on some telling you precisely where you are (not only the next station, but how far away it is) and we arrived at one station, among the people sleeping wrapped up in robes, to hear a cultured female voice over the intercom informing us that the train was four minutes late: “inconvenience caused is deeply regretted.”)

Advertising is everywhere. The most popular products, judging by the amount of advertising, are EDUCATION, CEMENT and BEAUTY PRODUCTS in that order. One company in the second category had the slogan “cementing relations”. Oh, and underwear adverts are rather different. Getting off a train, we were greeted by a picture advertising “Innerwear”: a filmstar heart-throb kind of guy sitting in his vest wearing dark glasses. What he was doing wearing vest and dark glasses was a matter for speculation. A soldier we chatted to as we waited for our bus thought that advert was funny too.

We visited Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh – Ranthambore, Bharatpur and Chambal River reserves or wildlife areas.

The Taj Mahal? Everything you’ve heard is understated.

More on that, wildlife and even politics next time. I think this post is long enough.

 

 

Book Reviews: Aravind Adiga: Between the Assassinations; Laurence Sterne: Tristram Shandy

So time to rest from posting poems and do some reviewing of books I’ve just read again.

ARAVIND ADIGA: BETWEEN THE ASSASSINATIONS

Adiga is well-known as the author of “The White Tiger”, but he was new to me. Here he invents a town in south-west India – Kittur – and strings together a series of short stories around a short period in the town’s history. Short stories are famously out of fashion (why is a bit of a mystery) and this is one way of overcoming this trend, by providing a common thread between the stories. It works well. We come to know the town well, and once informed about some aspect of it, the author doesn’t need to do the work all over again. He prefaces each story with a short tongue-in-cheek tourist guide entry on some aspect of the town featured in the story. This is both amusing and revealing.

The people he highlights are mostly near the bottom of society and all are struggling. They are credible characters who grow as he describes them, but he manages to say a lot about Indian society and, like Dickens in England, he finds a lot wrong. The book is not satire, but a few touches show Adiga would be a fine satirist. That’s all admirable, but here comes my criticism. Clearly in the society he describes, some people with hopes do realise them. For some people, life does get better. But Adiga’s characters all fail. After a bit, the reader realises that if someone has managed to get a good job or find a new friend, it will all go horribly wrong. It has to. This does not make the book a gloomy read, but I did begin to feel much the way I feel about Thomas Hardy, that a malign influence was making sure that everything ended in disaster, and that malign influence was the author. I should stress that Adiga is clearly a compassionate man and one with a lively sense of humour. I just wish the failures were more nuanced sometimes.

LAURENCE STERNE: THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF TRISTRAM SHANDY, GENTLEMAN

Well, I’ve read it at last. I’ve been meaning to for a long time. I’m reviewing it some 250 years after it was written, but better late than never. Partly it was that I’m prejudiced against the 18th century until the political upheavals from the 1770s on and the rise of the Romantic poets. Mea maxima culpa. This is a hilarious, riotous, lovely book. I suspect a lot of visitors to this blog will at least have heard of it, so I’ll keep the basic description short.

Laurence Sterne was a mid-18th-century clergyman, more conscientious than many, who wrote a book widely condemned for being bawdy and immoral. It’s the account by the main character, Tristram Shandy,  of his life and origins (starting before he was born – in fact it opens by noting that at the moment of his conception, his mother asked his father if he’d remembered to wind up the clock). In many ways it’s astonishingly modern. Tristram Shandy is a man of endless curiosity and volubility. The book is one great stream of consciousness burble – deliberately – but it is never boring because Shandy reveals things he doesn’t realise. He seems to be utterly humourless, yet the book is extremely funny.

Most modern readers will find the bawdy bits quite infrequent and mild, even with the aid of learned notes which point out all sorts of double entendres, some of which would not otherwise work for a modern reader (for example, that the long digression on hobby-horses should be read knowing that in Sterne’s time these were not only children’s toys and obsessive passtimes, but also slang for prostitutes). The book is full of richly comic characters, yet with the exception of the hatchet job on Dr Slop, they are tragi-comic and drawn with compassion. Tristram’s uncle and his servant, for example, engage in endless war-games, building and demolishing fortifications on the uncle’s land; but we can’t forget that these are two brave and able soldiers both robbed of their military careers by wounds.

The humour is often Pythonesque in its improbability and its way of turning one comic disaster into a chain reaction. I find hilarious (as some might find bewildering or frustrating) the way narrative and argument are constantly interrupted by digressions, as with the story of the King of Bohemia, which doesn’t get further than “There was a certain king of Bohemia” (several times repeated) over several pages.

I’m two-thirds of the way through writing a first draft of a fantasy novel which includes time travel, people with multiple identities and different bodies, parallel comic worlds, repeated invocation of all kinds of other works (Sherlock Holmes, Dr Who, The Thirty-nine Steps, Alice in Wonderland, The Magnificent Seven) – and yet when I got into Tristram Shandy, I found Sterne had done it before me.

The chapters are many and very short, which is probably a good thing as the book is so jam-packed with thought and wit that I found I preferred to read it in short bursts. IT IS FUN.