The Babu’s back from his vacation and the first thing he learns is that neither L K Advani nor the NCERT chairman can count. This week, the Indian Express reported that a key NCERT history textbook appeared to have plagiarised generously from a more venerable US source. The story cites at least six clear examples of egregious plagiarism; NCERT chairman Rajput got a clean chit from L K Advani by suggesting that “only three lines” had actually been copied. It’s “opinions tallying”, says one of the authors. Yeah, right–word for word? Anyway, as a patriotic Indian citizen, the Babu feels it his duty to offer Shri Advani and Shri Rajput remedial math classes–and of course, as a true patriot, he promises not to charge them a single paisa.
“No, I really thought the Peter Carey was inferior Carey, that the Pat Barker was inferior Barker, that Anita Brookner was brilliant for 50 pages and then so terrible, I could hardly bear to finish it. I wasn’t trying to be a giant-killer.” An honest Booker judge. Really.
“The metaphorical bleaching of Monica Ali was a considered marketing strategy.” Swapan Dasgupta pulls too many punches to be genuinely provocative, but at least he tries.
“They lived in a small house on La Loma, and in their living room Mercedes had someone build a wall up to the ceiling to avoid the noise, with a door. She put a pine table and a typewriter in the room. The room was very, very small. There was room for his table, a chair, and some sort of little easy chair. Those were the only things that could fit. Above the easy chair there was kind of a picture, something that resembled a calendar, a very tacky calendar that Gabo had hung there. Gabo went in that room and wrote all day. She built that room because Gabo had said, ‘I have to withdraw for a year, and I’m not going to work. See what you can do to manage.’” The making of One Hundred Years of Solitude and other episodes from the untold life of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
This profile does little to shake the Babu’s private conviction that authors as obviously private as Jhumpa Lahiri should be left alone, not made to jump through the hoops of the celebrity mill.
Reviews are another matter, and The Namesake has drawn scant praise in India. Here’s Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta: “Control is one thing, but The Namesake is filled with indirect speech and slanting narrative, relentlessly telling, telling, telling instead of showing, showing, showing, until we long to hear a voice, any voice. The prose has an exhausting blandness to it — indeed, a New York Times review calls it the ‘Power Point voiceover’.”
And in Outlook, here’s Amitava Kumar: “The original Gogol wrote masterpieces like The Overcoat, the story of a poor clerk who buys a new coat which is then stolen from him. Gogol mixed fantasy and satire to mock the pettiness of bureaucrats. It is difficult to guess whether he would have relished his own transformation, thanks to Lahiri, into his namesake who shares none of his social vision and whose private rebellion amounts to turning his back on learning ‘that one does not grate Parmesan cheese over pasta dishes containing seafood’.”
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