Thursday, 30 July 2009

Absence & Books

The camera has been lying idle, the fingers busy writing for a living and the blog un-updated. But in the forced absence, I have been reading. 'My Friend Sancho,' the debut novel of Amit Verma, a journalist turned blogger, funny, but as described by one critic, a good airport read. Then two books by American journalists. The first one, 'The Geography of Bliss' by Eric Weiner has an interesting premise, trying to find if there is a relation between the place you inhabit and your happiness number. Yes, your happiness can be computed like your income and a number can be put to it. There is an institute of Happiness Studies in Holland that is dedicated to studying happiness (and its lack) but according to 'The Geography of Bliss' the people working in the institute take their work very seriously; no one laughs. The part I liked most in the book is not written by Weiner, but is a poem about the Icelandic language by Bill Holm:

In an air-conditioned room you cannot understand the

Grammar of this language,

The whirring machine drowns out the soft vowels,

But you can hear these vowels in the mountain wind

And in heavy seas breaking over the hull of a small boat.

Old ladies can wind their long hair in this language

And can hum, and knit, and make pancakes.

But you cannot have a cocktail party in this language

And say witty things standing up with a drink in your

hand.

You must sit down to speak this language,

It is so heavy you can't be polite or chatter in it.

For once you have begun a sentence, the whole course of

your life is laid out before you.

What put me off when I was a few chapters into 'The Geography of Bliss' were the attempts at humour. I remembered thinking to myself, 'Hey, here's a wannabe Dave Barry'.

The poem apart, I did get something from the book. It does have a point there about the relation between a place and the happiness of its people if you extrapolate it to the culture you inhabit and the kind of person you are.

The second book, ‘I am a Stranger Here Myself’, is a collection of weekly articles about life in the USA written by Bill Bryson for readers in the UK. A couple of pages into the book it hit me: Weiner was not trying to be Dave Barry. He was just writing in what can be loosely called the American style of humour. I guess it’s an American thing. On my only visit to the USA (in 1998), one thing that struck me was that everyone there, whether you knew the guy for four minutes or four years, tried to say something funny. It is disconcerting, but that’s the way they are. The articles by Bryson swing between downright mushy to ‘Hmm, insightful’ and, ‘Oh, is that so?’

Between these two books I read a memoir, again a debut, ‘The Girl from Foreign’ by Sadia Shepard. But that deserves a separate post.

2 comments:

  1. actually, I have noticed more and more how humor, or something funny, depends totally on who you are and where you are. Met a recent immigrant from Mexico who was a standup comic there but can't do her stuff here at all. Its either lost in translation or not at all PC.

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  2. So true Sush. When I started telling stories to my first kid, I realized something that had escaped me all these years: Most Western stories have animals as villains, whereas most Indian stories have animals as either heroes or victims of human villains. It's a cultural thing, but I wonder why...

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