August 25, 2005

A Suitable Boy

I have read "A Suitable Boy" by Vikram Seth a couple of times now. Via Sepia Mutiny, I found out some interesting trivia about some of the characters in the book.

Apparently, the main characters of this saga, Lata and Haresh are modeled on Vikram Seth's mother (Leila) and father (Prem). Kakoli is biographically similar to Vikram Seth's sister Aradhana, who ended up marrying an Austrian diplomat. The story of how they met is supposedly true. Apparently, they have had a wonderful marriage of nearly 60 years and approaching 80, are an adoring couple. He is, as implied by the book, the godfather of leather shoes in India, having become the chairman of Bata Company and Sons. She was the first woman high court chief justice in India.

Leila Seth also was the first woman judge of the Delhi High Court and the first woman to top the Bar examination in London. Her autobiography is called "A Life On Balance". She seems to be quite a fascinating woman and the chapter in it, "A Suitable Boy" is about meeting her husband. An interesting article about her and her book can be found here.

Shogun, by James Clavell

I have been reading this book for quite some time now, and find it to be quite interesting. As a brief introduction, in Japanese history, a Shogun was the practical ruler of Japan for most of the time from 1192 to the Meiji Era beginning in 1868. A Shogun's administration is a shogunate, or bakufu in Japanese. The term Shogun means "general".

Bakufu originally described the dwelling and household of a Shogun, but in time it came to be generally used in Japanese to describe the system of government of a feudal military dictatorship, exercised by the shoguns. The system of bakufu was originally established under the Kamakura bakufu by Minamoto no Yoritomo. The military wing of the government came to dominate the civil (imperial) government, so that while the Emperors of Japan still technically led the government, all practical (and especially military) power rested with the shogun and the daimyo. The system was feudal in nature, with lesser territorial lords pledging their allegiance to greater ones. Samurai were rewarded for their loyalty with land, which was in turn handed down and divided among their sons. The hierarchy that held this system of government together was reinforced by close ties of loyalty between samurai and their apprentices.

Shogun is set at such a time when five daimyos are fighting to become Shogun. The story starts with John Blackthorne, an English sailor captaining a Dutch ship, bringing his ship to 1600 AD Japan. Almost immediately, Blackthorne finds himself in conflict with the precarious Japanese government, the alien Japanese society, and the jealously influential Portugese traders and mercenaries who have staked a claim. In order to survive, Blackthorne must adopt elements of Japanese culture, while making himself valuable to Toranaga, the most powerful daiymo of Japan.

Blackthorne's transformation from English "barbarian" into a "civilized" samurai is one of the most interesting and realistic progressions in fiction. The change in the Anjin-san (as Blackthorne is called, meaning "Pilot" in Nipponese) is gradual. He finds it tough intially to cope with the strange new language and customs, especially the extreme politeness and clealiness (for eample, taking frequent baths, a custom which was not practised at that time in Europe) in everyday life. But slowly, he begins to accept the better elements of the Japanese society, while becoming more disenchanted with his own heritage. Yet at the same time he clings to the possibility of returning to England, covered in gold and glory for opening the door to the east for his native land. He never quite realizes that there is only one route truly open to him. Philosophy intertwined with the narration of events does get you thinking at times.

I am sure many readers are familiar with the movie "The Last Samurai" with Tom Cruise in the title role. What many may not know is that it is loosely based on "Shogun". Replace the pilot Blackthorne with the renegade soldier, the American War Captain Nathan Algren, and the essence of the rest of the movie is the same as the book. New mercenaries arriving from Europe bring guns to this peaceful land (as they do elsewhere in the world), in turn leading to war, and destroying the old way of life.

The book is an interesting read, but what other readers of Clavell's books will perhaps agree to is that most of his books explore the same theme, only in different settings. Sometime back, I read Tai-Pan, set in Hong Kong/China (and also enjoyed watching its mini-series on Star Plus in India with Pierce Brosnan in the title role). But now when I read Shogun, it seems to me that the material is not new, but rather very similar to Tai-Pan. Yet, finally, it does combine historical fact with a well written story involving people and a country you grow to care a great deal about.

References: Wikipedia, Amazon and IMDB.

Cross posted at Hail! Mount Helicon

August 22, 2005

Don't Click It!

Try this.
I am not really sure about the objective, but it certainly is fun to try it out.
What I can say though is, old habits certainly die hard!

August 12, 2005

Euro English

The European Union commissioners have announced that agreement has been reached to adopt English as the preferred language for European communications, rather than German, which was the other possibility.

As part of the negotiations, the British government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a five-year phased plan for what will be known as EuroEnglish (Euro for short). In the first year, "s" will be used instead of the soft "c". Sertainly, sivil servants will resieve this news with joy. Also, the hard "c" will be replaced with "k". Not only will this klear up konfusion, but typewriters kan have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced by "f". This will make words like "fotograf" 20 per sent shorter.

In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of silent "e"s in the languag is disgrasful, and they would go.

By the fourth year, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" by "z" and "w" by " v".

During ze fifz year, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou", and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.

After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubls or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech ozer. Und ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst place....

Ze drem vil finali kum tru.

From ETNI (The English Teachers Network)


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