Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

Set in post-apartheid South Africa, Nobel Prize winning author J.M. Coetzee’s second novel ‘Disgrace’ won the Booker Prize in 1999, the same year in which it was published. Such illustrious credentials and sheer curiosity prompted me to pick the book up from a local book-store a few months ago. What I did not expect was a hard-hitting, no-bones-spared story of a Cape Town University College professor, David Lurie, whose life would take a sudden dip into the murky waters of ethical conflicts, post-apartheid violence, and insecurity, finally sinking into a vast lake of disgrace before emerging stronger and more resilient.

David Lurie, who has long been planning to write a chamber opera on the life of the poet Byron, is fifty-two, divorced, lonely and bored. His classes evoke no response from his students and teaching is a mere means of livelihood. A chance meeting with an attractive student in his class leads to an affair, which upon discovery provokes a suspension from the university on grounds of misconduct. As the news spreads round the university campus and makes it to the newspapers, the disgraced professor leaves town to join his young daughter Lucy in the town of Salem where she has chosen to live alone and raise a farm. Life in the farm is sedentary and un-eventful until an incident of unimaginable terror rips apart their lives. Father and daughter are attacked by a band of natives who rob the house, nearly kill him while raping the daughter and leaving her pregnant.

As they struggle to pick up the remaining bits of their lives, David Lurie is tormented by Lucy’s indifference to the incident. She knows the culprits and yet neither she nor her neighbors try to denounce them. As the father of a daughter who has been subject to such a heinous crime, David Lurie is helpless because he was unable to protect her then and avenge the atrocity now. Instead, he watches impatiently, as life gets back to normal in the farm and Lucy decides to go ahead and give birth to the child she is carrying.

Disgrace portrays the angst ridden world of the white population in post-apartheid South Africa. Once the powerful class, they are now the centre of a backlash which they cannot withstand. David Lurie’s inability to come to terms with the power shift and his daughter’s acceptance of the ways of the new country is the totem pole of the novel. The novel examines the sentiments of the native population that is friendly with the white on personal terms but has no generic empathy for the community. Coetzee’s novels typically push the protagonist with their back to the wall only to watch them fight or come to terms with the humiliation and indignation of their circumstances. In this novel, Lucy’s rapist turns out to be the fifteen year old brother-in-law of her neighbor. After the incident, the neighbor offers to marry Lucy even though he has two other wives. He wishes to own her land in dowry and in exchange, protect her from such miscreants in the future. David Lurie who has sufficient money to send his daughter to Holland where she can go back to a normal civilized life has to reconcile with this unusual situation when his daughter accepts the offer.

The analogy between strange twists and turns of David Lurie's life and that of the poet Byron influences the opera that he is composing. Where he once planned to write about the eternal love between Byron and his mistress Teresa, he now depicts pain and agony as they separate and their desires remain unfulfilled. As Allegra, Byron’s five year daughter lies dying of malaria and cries for her father, David Lurie’s own helplessness and frustration at his daughter’s condition creeps in front.

Disgrace is an excellent novel written in a mere two hundred and twenty pages. Coetzee’s deep understanding of Romantic literature and lucid language ooze the right emotions and provide the perfect setting for the story of a father and daughter who learn to put the past behind, after their lives have been shattered by disgrace.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The good, the bad and the desi.

Whoever thought that a silly movie like Dostana could be called 'entertaining' should be refunding me Rs490 for watching it. I was certainly not entertained and more so embarrassed by the excesses of the movie. The sensivity with which they handled the issue of homosexuality reminded me of Michael Jackson dangling his newborn infant on one leg from the top of his hotel window.

Came back completely bored, hungry and almost injured. We were there to watch the movie on the opening day and we literally had to jump ropes and push people to make it to the theatre. And when we finally made it to the hall, the smarter desis who got there before we did, had reserved all the seats. Consequently, all of us friends who had gone there had to sit separately, and that made the movie further unwatchable.

Two days later, I made it again to watch Quantum of Solace. Whoa! I loved the near empty hall and the fact that I did not have to jostle for seats. We got to choose which row we wanted to sit and because it was all empty, we could even decide whether we wanted to sit towards the left of the screen or towards the right. Whatarelief! I loved QoS and I think it had much more to do with the ambience of the hall than with the movie alone. Anyway, Daniel Criag was outstanding as the killing machine and our 21st century Bond isn't looking at women unless it is absolutely necessary. Haa haa haa.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

No solace in USA

Now this one's a rib tickler.

The latest Bond movie 'Quantum of Solace' has had a 'world wide' release, but apparently the USA does not count amongst the countries of the world.

The movie's out and here are some verdicts:

Rajeev Masand

The Sun, UK

We decided to go to the theatres this afternoon after reading the reviews, only to find that the movie would be released a week later.

Friday, November 07, 2008

So a nation comes of age.

Much later than India where a Prime Minister is foremost a learned man and then a Sikh or that a President is more a scientist than a Muslim or that our President finally admitted that she is over 35.

Just watched Pulp Fiction - the movie and loved every moment of it. The profanity included. Maybe, because I am changing or maybe because its such a well-thought of movie.

I once wrote an essay in school and my teacher graded it 'well-thought of'. To this day, I don't understand what that meant. Rumour had it that her highest grade was a 'Wow' which she gave only to one student in her career. ( I don't think my teacher is retired yet.) Since then, I always reserve a 'wow' for things that truly amaze me and even though many of my friends like to joke about the wow, they don't know I spent every moment of my time in the English classes, waiting for the 'wow' which never came.

I went to study in a very conservative convent school. Always the brat, I was often in trouble for "breaking rules" because I didn't know that we were in school and not in Shawshank. Aimlessly roaming on the school grounds after sports practice was against the rules. Waiting for a friend to pack her bag after school, so that we could walk home together was against the rules and fighting with the teacher's favourite girl was equivalent to an afternoon standing on a tool in front of the class. So, when they asked me to do this play, where I was a vagabond who would whistle at the sight of a girl, I practised nothing but the whistle. And on the day of the performance, I whistled a long clear one into the microphone in front of all the staff and children. They called me into the teacher's room that day and the strictest of the teachers congratulated me on the "fine performance". I took a deep breadth and told myself "wow".