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Category Archives: Books

Beatrice and Virgil

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After reading this second novel by Yann Martel, I was left confused. I could hardly manage to pick a side. This happens very often with most of the people who have adored people and respected them for their work, but later on they regret to have liked those awful things in the past. I was in a similar situation. I liked the novel for its first half, but then I found it really difficult to follow. I think the novel could have done a great job even without the animal characters, Beatrice and Virgil. The Author tries to invoke sympathy from the readers but he has failed there too as both the characters are laconic and at the same time repetitive.

The novel revolves around Henry-the taxidermist, Henry-the writer, Beatrice-the monkey and Virgil-the donkey. At the end, we came to know that taxidermist also happens to be a Nazi. Before we come to know about this, the author never gave us a clue why the taxidermist was so introvert and rude. Henry goes to taxidermist, helps him by giving some writing tips and came back wondering why the man is so much thankless! In between all of these, Beatrice and Virgil talks to each other in a way that makes no sense. Blabbering bores.

So, why you should read it? Well, only for the first half that offers some witty lines and narrations that form the cream of this novel. Too much animalization of the characters has made this novel more of a comic book rather than a good piece of fiction. The author makes an impact on the readers only when he talks about himself. Repetitive narrations and clichés are very much evident in most parts of the book.

From ABCD to FOB: A Summer Humbling and a Closer Look at the Rhetoric of Labeling

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Via Muneezeh Kabir at Nazar:

Much has been written, said and discussed over Indian Diaspora living abroad, especially in US and UK. You will also find many fictions and non fictions in this category. By reading Vikram seth to Salman rushdie to Kiran desai to Jhumpa lahiri, you will learn a lot from their Novels, as each has its own established and unique taste for every reader. This time I have an Article originally written for a magazine named ‘Nazar’ by Muneezeh kabir. Let’s take a look at her profile:

An activist, feminist, and proud Bangladeshi, Muneezeh Kabir is a second year student at The University of Texas at Austin pursuing a degree in English Honors and Women’s and Gender Studies with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. She is Co-Director of the UT Women’s Resource Center and Producer of The Vagina Monologues as well as Organizer of the campus V-Day Movement.

Here is that Article which will give you an amazing feel and hunger to read more.

Though a single word could never do it justice, my summer can best be described as unexpected. An internship at the National Accounts division of the nation’s second largest trash Company may not immediately elicit perceptions of severe culture shock and a Desi rebirth, so to speak, but don’t worry—I’m getting there. I re-entered the waste world after a year’s hiatus.

My internship the previous summer was fairly mundane. In between phone calls to third party haulers was the occasional coffee run punctuated with the latest break room gossip—hardly eventful. This summer, though, I was immersed in Patel Nation and baptized by the Gujarati brand. I walked into the office with what I’m told is a hint of a Southern drawl with Chicago-style pronunciation, but seldom was English spoken around me, much less to me. The linguistic clamor of Hindi and Gujarati hit me about the same time as the smell of fresh dhokla1 being opened in the neighboring cubicle. I was very perplexed by what I’d dubbed “Little India” in my mind. With the latest Bollywood songs blaring from their headphones and with the constant exchange of one spicy snack for another, I was mesmerized. Besides mentally noting their cluster of desks as “Little India,” I’d also done them the disservice of grouping their characters as one. I readily assumed that they’d all done their schooling in India then came to the States for college, that they were all strict vegetarians that they could all banter fluently in their mother tongue. But the minute I mentioned I like Sonu Nigam and someone accused me of not really knowing who that was, I realized the misjudgment was mutual. I was offended, to say the least. Did my birth certificate and accent really make me so different? I too was raised on Zee TV, Shan masala, and Maaza juice. My parents sent me to Sunday school to learn about Allah and His prophet and dance practice to learn traditions and play with other little girls. Unlike many South Asian-Americans, I have always been able to speak my language. Since when was there a cultural paradigm of acceptability? And who was in charge of grading my “desi-ness?” I put my feelings aside—after all, I would have to work with them for an entire summer. Sooner rather than later, we all began talking. And I realized they weren’t all the same. Some had done all their schooling in India; others had come to their senses in the States. One actually arrived as little as 2 years ago, and his English was absolutely impeccable though accented. Upon my mentioning this observation, he laughed and said he’d attended an English-medium school his entire life. Two of them were cousins and considered the ABCD’s of the group despite what looked (at least to me) like they meshed fairly well with the others. And some, to my great surprise, ate meat! (I stuck particularly close to these two so as not to feel guilty about my carnivorous diet when eating in front of the others.) Though among them they could speak Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi, and Spanish, and I only had Bengali, Arabic, and French in my linguistic arsenal, we began to understand each other. “Fork che?” in Gujarati, “Do you have a fork?” is very similar to Bengali’s equivalent: “Fork achhe?” I started eating their dhokla1 and papad2 and watched in amazement as they doused everything in chili sauce. (I also learned that one particular member of the group did not, blasphemously, like very spicy foods.) With one person I could talk Indian and American books and politics, and with another our conversations surrounded topics of American fashion and “Gossip Girl.” I asked a few to help me learn Hindi and Gujarati, and in turn they asked me to correct their English. I gushed over Satya Paul’s designs with one of the boys because he liked the designer’s ties, and I perused Gap.com with one of the girls who was also obsessed with their curvy khakis and summer scarves. Eventually, they adopted me. I earned new names: Mango (from those who had trouble pronouncing my actual name), Chhoti Behen (from those who saw me as a ‘little sister’), and Baka (from the one who thought a Gujarati term of endearment would best address his new best friend). I tied a rakhee3 for the first time. I began seeing movies at Bollywood Cinema 6 instead of AMC 24. But in a way, I’d like to think I changed them too. Some eliminated the word “gay” as a pejorative from their vocabulary. A few took me up on my book recommendations. Some even learned a little Bengali! (Even now, one is very fond of telling Bengali strangers that he loves them.) Despite my remarkable transformation, not everyone was privy to believing in its existence. When I mentioned that the “Unforgettable” concert featuring Amitabh Bachhan, son Abhishek, daughter-in-law Aishwariya, and other Bollywood superstars was less than satisfactory, someone retorted, “What do you know? You’re an ABCD.” And that’s when I realized how utterly meaningless these labels of “fresh off the boat” and “American-born confused desi” are. I’m absolutely not an ABCD. Yes, I am an American-born Desi, but I’m really not confused about anything except why this label has been assigned to me and what exactly it defines. It’s hardly fair for those with more of an attachment to South Asia than America to tell me I’m not in tune with my culture; likewise, it’s not my place to criticize someone for poor English despite having moved here from India over 10 years ago. Frankly, South Asians alienate one another by creating a class of ‘the other’ within their own demographic. Alleged ABCD’s display condescending behavior towards alleged fobs for not being American enough, and fobs accuse ABCD’s of turning their backs on their culture.

Footnotes:

1. Dhokla: A traditional Gujarati snack made of steamed chickpea paste spiced with chili, ginger, and baking soda

2. Papad: A spicy Indian cracker or flatbread

3. Rakhee: A thread bracelet tied by sisters worn on their brothers’ wrists celebrating their relationship and the promised protection of the sister by her brother

4. Naan: A round or oblong flatbread made from white flour