Man Booker International Prize 2007

                                              (courtesy: REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski)

Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian novelist, was awarded the Man Booker International Prize 2007. He surpassed the nominees like Margaret Atwood, Dorris Lessing, Michael Ondaatje, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie. The judging panel consisted of Elaine Showalter, Nadine Gordimer and Colm Tóibin. This prize is an international literary award given every two years. It is bestowed upon a living author of any nationality for fiction published in English or one available in English translation. The cash prize for this prestigious award is $120,000. Achebe himself was not present for the award ceremony held in Oxford on June 28, 2007.
Achebe, now 76 years old, is best known for his first novel. 'Things Fall Apart' written in 1958. The other of his famous novels is 'Anthills of the Savannah' published more than 30 years later.
Achebe is pained at the misrepresentation of Africans in literature and he has desire to change it. He was in news for his criticism of Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness', in which he claimed there was racism and misrepresented the Africans.
Achebe says on being awarded the prize: "It means what I have written has made some impact somewhere and I think this is why we're in the business of writing. We want to tell our story."

Knighthood - the title of 'Sir'

Salman Rushdie, the controversial author, had been knighted earlier this month. This decision had incited protests in some parts of Muslim world but the judges of the Man Booker International Prize have condemned this attack. They have said that the "appalling reaction" has threatened "the principle of freedom of expression as a basic tenet of justice".

The concept of knighthood goes back to the Middle Ages. Today the designation of 'Sir' is conferred upon the person who is knighted. The French use the title "Chevalier" and the German "Ritter" .

'The Good Earth' by Pearl S. Buck

The main character of the novel 'The Good Earth' is Wang Lung, a poor peasant farmer. He marries a slave. And after that he gradually rises from being a poor, humble farmer to being a wealthy, landowner. Having support of his faithful wife he multiplied his wealth. His faith in the capacity of the good earth.

The novel begins with the lines:
"It was Wang Lung's marriage day. At first, opening his eyes in the blackness of the curtains about his bed, he could not think why the dawn seemed different from any other. The house was still except for the faint, gasping cough of his old father, whose room was opposite to his own across the middle room. Every morning the old man's cough was the first sound to be heard. Wang Lung usually lay listening to it and moved only when he heard it approaching nearer and when he heard the door of his father's room squeak upon its wooden hinges."

Pearl S. Buck

Pearl S. Buck was born on this day, that is, June 26 in 1892. She was a prolific writer. Her father was a missionary. She was born in West Virginia but her family was sent to China when she was three months old. Buck began writing in 1930 and her first publication was 'East Wind:West Wind'. She wrote her famous novel 'The Good Earth' in 1931. She experienced a flourishing career in writing. Before winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1938, she won the Pultizer Prize for the Novel in 1932 for her story of the farmer Wang Lung's life.
In 1934 her family returned to United States as they were forced to leave China because of political tensions. She also won the William Dean Howells Medal in 1935.
She wrote over 100 literary works. She is best known for 'The Good Earth' in which she had described the life of the farmer Wang Lung. She died March 6, 1973.
What I believe that a writer never dies, he continues to live through his words. Literature continues to live on and on.

Characters of R.K. Narayan

The novel 'The English Teacher' by R.K.Narayan is autobiographical. The protagonist of this novel Krishna is a lecturer in English at the Albert Mission college. Earlier he had enjoyed many years of bachelorhood but later his wife and child move in with him. Later one day his wife, Susila is taken ill with typhoid and dies from it. Same was the reason of death of Narayan's wife, Rajam.

The death of Krishna's wife in the novel 'The English Teacher', just as Raju's meeting with Rosie and his subsequent term in jail in 'The Guide'(another novel by Narayan), in the most important event in the protagonist's life that changes his perspective about life forever. In most of his novels, through various characters, Narayan has tried to depict the vision of life, how we look at life, how the events of life influence us no end.

Narayan has in his novels depicted his characters in different circumstances as a common man. The character of Raju in 'The Guide', Savitri in 'The Dark Room', the headmaster in 'The English Teacher' and Jagan in 'The Vendor of Sweets' all are justifications of this concept.

R.K. Narayan

R.K. Narayan, one of the most celebrated Indo-English writers, was born in 1906 in Madras. He graduated from Maharaja College, Mysore in 1930. His father was a humble school teacher and had a large family to support, so Narayan had to contribute to the family income soon after his graduation. He tried several jobs but his ambition was to become a writer.
After about a month he left the job and devoted his time totallyto writing. He created the imaginary town of Malgudi, where realistic characters in a typically Indian setting lived amid unpredictable events.
He married in 1935 but his marital bliss was short-lived. His beloved wife died of typhoid fever in 1939, after barely four years of marriage. After this incident he achieved inner enlightenment which increased his knowledge of life. He did not write a novel for six years after this personal loss. His earlier novels were: 'Swami and Friends' (1935), 'The Bachelor of Arts' (1937), and 'The Dark Room' (1938).
After the death of his wife, his first novel published in 1945 was 'The English Teacher'.Among his other famous novels are: 'The Financial Expert'(1952), 'Waiting for the Mahatma'(1955), 'The Guide'(1958), 'The Vendor of Sweets'(1967).

P.S. Next post will be about his characters.

We have no time to stand and stare

How many of us ever spare a minute to glance at the clouds changing their shapes? Sit in the moonlight for a while? Keep a pot of water in the garden for the birds? There would be a selected few who would answer in an affirmative. While watching clouds once, I gave it a thought that it actually sets the reigns of our imagination free. And is indeed an exercise of our brain.

W.H.Davies in his poem 'Leisure' wrote:

WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

The sight of the full moon is thought provoking and entertaining as watching the birds come to your house to drink water from the pot. Then there is the "never ending line" of flowers in the garden. But things have come to such a pass that small kids take the planetorium to be the original thing and the star-studded sky, just a facsimile copy. This is bound to happen when the kid has seen a planetorium first and not the starry night's sky.

The Divine Music

The blaring of horns, the ear shattering noise of the loudspeakers, the deafening of the generators is a part and parcel of the general humdrum of life. These artificial noises have overpowered the sensitive sounds, which could have otherwise fallen upon our 'soft-conched' ears and provided solace to our distressed nerves. Getting up early in morning, and visiting a grove of trees is a heavenly experience. And what could be better than having one or two haunts for birds in your own garden. We have a hibiscus tree in our garden which serves as a safe haven for birds. One simply feels as if transported to another world when listening to the incessant chirping of the sparrows in the mornings. The hibiscus suddenly seems to be all the more full of life.
I am reminded of the poem 'This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison' by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, addressed to Charles Lamb. In it he writes sitting under the lime tree:

...I watch'd
Some broad and sunny leaf, and lov'd to see
The shadow of the leaf and stem above
Dappling its sunshine ! And that walnut-tree
Was richly ting'd, and a deep radiance lay
Full on the ancient ivy, which usurps
Those fronting elms, and now, with blackest mass
Makes their dark branches gleam a lighter hue
Through the late twilight : and though now the bat
Wheels silent by, and not a swallow twitters,
Yet still the solitary humble-bee
Sings in the bean-flower!

The poet mentions, apart from the sights of Nature, the sound as low as that of a humble-bee.
John Keats in his phenomenal 'Ode to Autumn' describes the sounds of the season of Autumn. The Autumn season, which is otherwise associated with death and decay, comes to life with vivid imagery and the sounds of the 'wailful choir the small gnats', bleating of lambs, song of hedge-cricket, swallows twittering in the skies.
There are countless examples of Nature's music in poetry. What we need to have is a discerning ear. We are at this juncture that we have to act fast to save Earth, to save ourselves. Let each one of us plant a tree, may be even in your own garden. Let us make this earth a better place to live in, a place that produces the divine music and not the mechanical sounds.

'Three Men in Boat'


Another memorable book I read when I was in school is Jerome K. Jerome's 'Three Men in Boat'. I still have so many quotations from the book with me. The author writes:

"They awe us, these strange stars, so cold, so clear. We are as children whose small feet have strayed into some dim-lit temple of the god they have been taught to worship but know not; and standing where the echoing some spans the long vista of the shadowy light, glance up, half hoping, half afraid to see some awful vision hovering there.
And yet it seems so full of comfort and of strength, the night. "

Fred Uhlman's 'Reunion'

Fred Uhlman was a lawyer by profession. He was a German and of Jewish origin. He was born on January 19,1901 in Stuttgart, Germany. 'Reunion', his novella was published in 1977. Arthur Koestler in his Introduction to the book called it "a minor masterpiece". His other books include: 'Captivity: twenty-four drawings'(1946), 'The Making of an Englishman'(1960). I was reminded of his book entitled 'Reunion' when my eyes fell on a paper in my file on which I had written a quotation from the same book. I had read it when I was in school, probably in eighth standard.
I am producing his quotation from 'Reunion' here for all of you:

"I don't know where I read that 'death undermines our confidence in life by showing that in the end everything is equally futile before the final darkness'. Yes, 'futile' is the right word. Still I musn't grumble: I have more friends than enemies and there are moments when I am almost glad to be alive. When I watch the sun set and moon rise, or see snow mountain tops."

This book is about the loss of innocence in pre-war Germany. "Reunion "is the story of intense and innocent devotion between two young men.The two boys share their personal thoughts, their trips to the countryside of southwest Germany, discuss poetry and the past and present of their country, and discuss the existence of a benevolent God. In the end he is one of them is united with his friend when he sees his name in the list of dead people.

"Hundreds of bulky tomes have now been written about the age when corpses were melted into
soap to keep the master race clean; yet I sincerely believe that this slim volume will find its lasting place on the shelves."-- writes Arthur Koestler in the "Introduction".
Fred Uhlman died in London on April 11, 1985.

Poem 'Choices' by Nikki Giovanni - My interpretation

The poem 'Choices' by Nikki Giovanni is very beautifully written. The overall impact of the poem is that of reconciliation to whatever life offers. It seems there is only one choice and that is accepting one's fate. But at the end of the poem there is a note of defiance in the cry of a human being. This is the only way a man differs from an animal.
The poem presents a very poignant and reality of human lives. We too can identify ourselves with it. Each day, every moment, everytime we have to make a decision we are at crossroads because social constraints weigh heavy upon our minds. So I feel this poem is a cry of a 'imprisoned' human soul.

Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni,an African-American poet & civil rights promoter, was born on this day, that is, June 7 in the year 1943. she was a student of the all-black Fisk University. Later she was actively involved in the Black Arts movement under which African-American intellectuals wrote radical poetry aimed at creating awareness for the rights of the blacks. She is currently teaching English at the Virginia Tech, where she is the University Distinguished Professor.
I am posting one of her poems here.


if i can't do
what i want to do
then my job is to not
do what i don't want
to do

it's not the same thing
but it's the best i can

if i can't have
what i want . . . then
my job is to want
what i've got
and be satisfied
that at least there
is something more to want

since i can't go
where i need
to go . . . then i must . . . go
where the signs point
through always understanding
parallel movement
isn't lateral

when i can't express
what i really feel
i practice feeling
what i can express
and none of it is equal
i know
but that's why mankind
alone among the animals
learns to cry

P.S. Tell me what you think of this poem. Make an attempt to interpret it from your point of view.


This is one of the most beautiful poems in English literature. He feels the urge to return to the sea. The imagery used in the poem is scintillating. He refers to 'the call of the running tide'. He is able to hear what human ear cannot listen. I was reminded of Lord Byron's following exquisite and meaninful lines:

"There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more."

John Masefield

Today, that is 1st June, is the birthday of John Masefield. He was born in 1878. For some people he is the poet who wrote about seas but in reality Masefield spent only a little part of his life aboard a ship. The sea life actually did not suit him. One of his best known poems is 'Sea Fever'. I would like to produce it here for all of you:


I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

By John Masefield (1878-1967).