Arivu – A parable about an endangered culture

Once upon a time in the present day there lived a Retriever named Arivu. Arivu was a smart mongrel that was owned by a wealthy human who sheltered him in a plush kennel.  The dog would walk about the bungalow and flop down at will. His master was a man who had travelled the world and knew a lot about many things. Often times, Arivu would snuggle down at his master’s feet while the latter would softly stroke his head while discussing animatedly on a wide range of subjects with his visitors. The master would often take his visitors to a large room filled with books, and Arivu would perk up and follow the conversation intently.

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One day, a visitor had brought his German Shepherd along to visit the master. As they entered the study, Arivu darted in lest he missed the conversation. But in no time he was attracted to Naasha, the Shepherd. The latter was a tease. Both the canines started chasing each other and soon were lost in merriment.  Before long, it was time to part. But to Arivu’s delight, she was back the next week. It was a new found love for Arivu. As they rollicked around, they fell outside the bungalow. Both were so lost in their world that they didn’t realize that they had long left the house and beyond reach. They never bothered to find their way back either. But their love barely lasted a day.  The following  afternoon, Arivu woke up to realize Naasha had given him the slip. The Retriever couldn’t manage to stay alone however. In no time, he found himself gate-crashing into other canine settlements and picking up bitches.

A week later, Arivu started missing his master. He was sauntering about when he saw another Retriever being taken for a walk. He started following the dog and its master, whose left hand held the leash and the right, locked in the arms of a woman. The woman turned and saw Arivu and got excited. She wanted her companion to take him too. In a few minutes, Arivu was riding an elevator, up 15 stories, and presently entered the apartment the couple lived in. The house was all of five rooms, none of which appeared to have held a book ever.

It was one month now since had moved in. He ate well and stayed put, save for a customary morning walk.  One day, a lady came visiting. She looked at Arivu curiously for a minute, and then asked him “Arivu, run and fetch that magazine, will you?”  The dog looked at her with a blank expression, and yawned!

-A reader

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‘From Hell’ – disturbing and awe-inspiring

‘Jack the Ripper’, the one with the conveniently ascribed name in the wake of a set of horrific killings in Victorian England, the one with bloodied hands and a knife to the cadaver of an unfortunate woman he won’t rest till he’s mutilated every inch of, finds himself transported to a scene at a place of work in the midst of the next century.  While going about his slashing and ripping, he looks around and expresses his consternation at the sights he gets, and utters a soliloquy: “Dear God, what is this Aethyr I am come upon? What spirits are these labouring in what heavenly light? No, this is dazzle, but not yet divinity. Nor are these heathen wraiths about me spirits lacking even that vitality. What then? … Are these the days my death shall spare me?… shall man be given marvels only when he is beyond all wonder?.. with all your shimmering numbers and lights, think not to be inured to history….how would I seem to you? Some antique fiend or penny dreadful horror, yet YOU frighten me! You have not souls, with you I am alone!”

This bit of monologue in Alan Moore’s ‘From Hell’, should serve to summarize the indifference of the generation that ushered in the new century, to the likely legend of the fiend that terrorized late 19th century England. Given the identity of Jack the Ripper has never been established, the question of his relevance may raise more eyebrows when we witness an exotic dancer in the year 1998, slipping out of her thong at a downtown club in London, and swinging to a techno beat ‘Jack Jack!!’

Despite himself, why is the serial killer discussed in literary circles to this day? If the scenes above ever so slightly attempt to bring vividness in the reader, then one must wait till they finish the 576 page reflection on the monstrosity that occurred in Victorian England towards the close of the 19th century. ‘From Hell’ by Alan Moore is easily one of the greatest achievements in the medium of graphic fiction, and a painfully researched one at that. Throughout the book, the one recurring thought in my head was ‘it is a ‘graphic’ novel alright’! Moore’s ‘V for Vendetta’ and ‘Watchmen’ are more accessible and universally revered. His retake on superheroes and vigilantes appealed immensely to the sceptics in us and gave a most plausible interpretation of anarchism. ‘From Hell’ however posits itself on the other end of the spectrum, so to speak.  We are not even presented with an anti-hero, but the utter lunacy of a deeply meditative mind. The perpetrator was never apprehended and no one had claimed with conviction to have seen him. What Moore serves us is one of the several versions of the legend, which appears palatable to the reader given the involvement of the royalty in the messy affair. A word on the research. There are exhaustive notes explaining the rationale behind each chapter, and they are anything but blind assumptions about the events.

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In Moore’s version, a member of the royal family is smitten by a shop-keeper girl and fathers a child from her. The queen intervenes and gets her surgeon to ensure that the woman doesn’t ever squeal, and save the throne from embarrassment. However one of the woman’s friends, a prostitute who’s creaking under a huge debt, decides to make fast money by blackmailing the royal family with a letter threatening to make the affair public. When the letter reaches the queen, she summons the royal surgeon, William Gull, again. What follows is a series of murders of unprecedented gruesomeness, perpetrated by an individual with deep surgical capabilities. The victims, all belonging to London’s East End, are chopped to pieces, their abdominal organs plucked out. Coupled with varying theories about the identity of the murderer and a largely incompetent Scotland Yard, the menace becomes palpable across Great Britain.

Eddie Campbell’s black and white artwork accentuates the grimness of it all – blood in black still gives the shudders. The lines are sketchy, and for me, they served to heighten the expectation of sombreness from every plate. The language in the book couldn’t be more apt.  Queen’s English, cockney accents, colloquialisms, you have it all. As for the narrative, any self-confessed anglophile will be sure to relish the proceedings, though he or she could so much as even begin to realize that a romantic Victorian England is but an illusion.  Dr. William Gull’s character is brilliantly crafted – a wretch who talks the most sophisticated language, who displays a keenness for history and the arts,  but doesn’t ever let things happen other than on his terms! Some character study this!

While the theory of the identity of Jack the Ripper may be suspect, the story effectively mirrors the moral depravity that was so rampant in the London underbelly during the late19th century.  Jack or no Jack, the commentary on evil and politics will continue to be relevant for a long time to come.

5 Reasons Why You Should Read a Lot (better stuff than crap like this!)

But of course, you will have come across any number of write-ups extolling the virtues of reading. Some of them sounding really grave, many of them of downright patronizing, and a bigger chunk absolutely driven by motives!  Say, urging you to read whitepapers, available for free downloads! They want you to read, they want you to be knowledgeable, they want you to apply thought, but also want you to do business with them. Choose to ignore them, and they will bombard you with many more such samples. Content blitzkrieg eh? Heck, you even have books on why reading will transform you!

So, if there has been a barrage of literature on why reading is good, there sure must be some good souls lapping them all up and resolving to walk around with a book in hand the very next minute on. So, I guess there’s no harm in adding my two cents (or five?).

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Here are 5 reasons why I believe one needs to be read like crazy. And no, I’m not including reading on the fly, or simply, online reading.

  1. The last line above.  Everyone accesses the internet where anything goes in the name of writing. Read a paperback or a hardcover edition, and you automatically get a brand of erudition. Some invisible tattoo sort of thing.
  2. Reduce degrees of separation. For all the ridiculous ideas you may harbor, there is surely one other individual at least in this world, who does more than merely think like you. And who doesn’t like to feel vindicated anyway?
  3. Get a sleeping aid.  Now please don’t throw the obvious question at me. ‘If you like reading so much, how can you slump over a book?’. Well that’s the beauty of books my friend.  More importantly you need to have an eclectic set of books on standby at any given time.  Books that suit your mood. Sample prescription.  Prop yourself up by a cozy pillow and try ‘Idea of Justice’ by Amartya Sen, every night.
  4. Give flight to your imagination. Now seriously, ask yourself what arouses you more. A detailed narration of how people got into each other’s pants or a steamy movie that lasts a whole minute. Oh, have I really swallowed my foot? Before you nod your ever ready  heads in agreement, spare a thought for long lasting impressions. Now, may I excuse myself from ensuing talks of fondling the flagpole?
  5. Be a quote machine. If you think you have a great memory, you should really consider reading  A LOT. You could reel off snide one-liners by conceited jerks, with equal flourish and gusto.