28 November 2009

Midnight's Children

I'm having one of those lazy Saturdays in which the only decision-making that takes place is which fastfood to order for home delivery. McDonald's usually wins, because of its hot fudge sundaes.

Anyway, a free Saturday with no plans gives me enough opportunity to catch up on reading. While I still have a ton of new books to read, I still indulge in re-reading some of my favorites.

Am currently re-reading Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, which I truly believe deserved winning the Best of the Booker Prize twice--the second win being in 2008, which cemented its status as one of the best English novels of all time. I'm eternally fascinated with the premise of this book. It can even translate well into film, if some fan-slash-director really cared enough to make a movie out of it. (And I believe there ARE plans to make a film adaptation.)

People who are woefully ignorant of Rushdie's works (some assume The Satanic Verses, is, well, satanic) or never bothered to read him, thinking he's a difficult read, may be surprised to know his books are actually reader-friendly.

Not as reader-friendly of course as the drivel that writers come up with these days (Paulo Coelho and Twilight and chick lit whatnot). What I mean is that Rushdie's pretty accessible without dumbing you down. He's not as easy to read as Garcia Marquez or de Bernieres (who both tackle magical realism like Rushdie) but he's definitely more fast-paced than say, A.S. Byatt or Thomas Mann. He may not be my first option when I enter a bookstore with an intent to buy a novel, but he's usually a solid choice.

I love trying new authors now and then, but it's great to go back to old favorites. Reading Midnight's Children just brings me back to the time when I did first read it, the excitement of discovering how beautiful the plot was, how I raced through the pages, reading it wherever I went (in the MRT, at Starbucks, at the office during lunch breaks), how I stayed up late to finish particular chapters until my eyes hurt, etc. A few years back, I had more time to read, and Midnight's Children was one of those books I devoured and finished in less than a week. Even Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories is associated with particularly happy memories; I was reading it in October 2006, when I found out that I won the fundraising post in UNICEF Philippines.

The Midnight's Children edition I am reading now is the 25th anniversary release, which contains an introduction written by Rushdie himself. It's a damn good introduction, and I'm glad I bought this edition. Here are excerpts:

.... I had two titles and couldn’t choose between them: Midnight’s Children and Children of Midnight. I typed them out one after the other, over and over, and then all at once I understood that there was no contest, that Children of Midnight was a banal title and Midnight’s Children a good one. To know the title was also to understand the book better, and after that it became easier, a little easier, to write. I have written and spoken elsewhere about my debt to the oral narrative traditions of India; also to those great Indian novelists Jane Austen and Charles Dickens — Austen for her portraits of brilliant women caged by the social convention of their time, women whose Indian counterparts I knew well; Dickens for his great, rotting, Bombay-like city, and his ability to root his larger-than-life characters and surrealist imagery in a sharply observed, almost hyper-realistic background, out of which the comic and fantastic elements of his work seemed to grow organically, becoming intensifications of, and not escapes from, the real world....

.... In the West, people tended to read Midnight’s Children as a fantasy, while in India people thought of it as pretty realistic, almost a history book. (“I could have written your book,” one reader told me when I was lecturing in India in 1982. “I know all that stuff.”) But it was wonderfully well liked almost everywhere, and changed its author’s life. One reader who didn’t care for it, however, was Mrs Indira Gandhi, and in 1984, three years after its publication — she was Prime Minister again by this time — she brought an action against it, claiming to have been defamed by one single sentence. It appeared in the penultimate paragraph of Chapter 28, A wedding, a paragraph in which Saleem provides a brief account of Mrs Gandhi’s life. This was it: “It has often been said that Mrs Gandhi’s younger son Sanjay accused his mother of being responsible, through her neglect, for his father’s death; and that this gave him an unbreakable hold over her, so that she became incapable of denying him anything.”

Tame stuff, you might think, not really the kind of thing a thick-skinned politician would usually sue a novelist for mentioning, and an odd choice of casus belli in a book that excoriated Indira for the many crimes of the Emergency. After all, it was a thing much said in India in those days, had often been in print, and was indeed reprinted prominently in the Indian press (“The sentence Mrs Gandhi is afraid of” read one front-page headline) after she brought her action for defamation. Yet she sued nobody else. Before the book’s publication, Cape’s lawyers had been worried about my criticisms of Mrs Gandhi and had asked me to write them a letter in support of the claims I was making. In this letter I justified the text to their satisfaction, except with regard to one sentence which, as I said, was hard to substantiate, as it was about three people, two of whom were dead, while the third would be the one suing us. However, I argued, as I was clearly characterising the information as gossip, and as it had been printed before, we should be all right. The lawyers agreed; and then, three years later, this one sentence, the novel’s Achilles’ heel, was the very sentence Mrs Gandhi tried to spear. This was not, in my view, a coincidence.

The case never came to court. The law of defamation is highly technical, and to repeat a defamatory rumour is to commit the defamation oneself, so technically we were in the wrong. Mrs Gandhi was not asking for damages, only for the sentence to be removed from future editions of the book. The only defence we had was a high-risk route: we would have had to argue that her actions during the Emergency were so heinous that she could no longer be considered a person of good character, and could therefore not be defamed. In other words, we would have had, in effect, to put her on trial for her misdeeds. But if, in the end, a British court refused to accept that the Prime Minister of India was not a woman of good character, then we would be, not to put too fine a point upon it, royally screwed.

Unsurprisingly, this was not the strategy that Cape wished to follow — and when it became clear that she was also willing to accept that this was her sole complaint against the book, I agreed to settle the matter. It was after all an amazing admission she was making, considering what the Emergency chapters of Midnight’s Children were about. Her willingness to make such an admission felt to me like an extraordinary validation of the novel’s portrait of those Emer-gency years. The reaction to the settlement in India was not favourable to the Prime Minister. A few short weeks later, stunningly, she was dead, assassinated on October 31, 1984, by her Sikh bodyguards. “All of us who love India,” I wrote in a newspaper article, “are in mourning today.” Despite our disagreements, I meant every word.

22 November 2009

The Fists That Rule The World

Oh yeah, that's our Manny.

It was unspeakably wonderful to watch him live (not in freakin' Las Vegas, which I can never afford) on pay-per-view inside an air-conditioned tent-slash-theater with hundreds of other Filipinos to witness his brutal victory over Miguel Cotto.

And be recognized as the first boxer in boxing history worldwide to win in 7 different weight divisions.

I've watched all the HBO 24/7 episodes focusing on the training camps of Pacquiao and Cotto prior to fight night and it was just so obvious that Manny had way more arsenal than Cotto. People just tend to underestimate the little guy, that's all.

2010 seems so far away. Pacquiao-Mayweather . . . can't wait!

08 November 2009

I heart Moleskine Helvetica

My latest love.

I've used Moleskine for years. I use it to list all the books I buy and read on a monthly basis, to write down the books I want to read (and every time I finish one, I tick it off the list), and to make personal daily notes. Even in the age of Blackberrys and digital planners, I still find great comfort in jotting down stuff on my Moleskine notebook's acid-free paper using an ordinary tech pen.

When I saw the Moleskine Helvetica special edition (in celebration of the font's 50th anniversary) in Fully Booked, I nearly had a seizure. I love both Moleskine and the Helvetica typeface, so it just made perfect sense to buy it. I got it though for a pretty hefty price (Php 1,300 for a frickin' notebook?? some would say), but it's worth it.

If you love typography and if you've watched the feature-length documentary film Helvetica, then you'll find yourself wanting this notebook as well.