White noise is a random signal (or process) with a flat power spectral density. In other words, the signal's power spectral density has equal power in any band, at any center frequency, having a given bandwidth. White noise is considered analogous to white light which contains all frequencies.

Who am I?

Neo-hippie cinephile. Follower of the great Jim Morrison who once said "If the doors of perception are cleansed, everything would appear to man as it truly is, infinite."

Monday, September 10, 2007

English Arani – an American Story?

As I finished the last few pages of “English, August, an Indian story”, I found myself feeling exactly as I would during the twilight hours of a great high. I didn’t want it to end, yet I couldn’t stop to keep it for later, all the while without the luxury of rehashing on the same influence in the future. It was turning into a tragedy but ended on a rather pleasant note, which seems a little abrupt if you are not distracted from the surprise. The fact that I have been reading this book for quite some time now, as companions ready to hear out my ‘Augustian’ rants would attest to, is a testimony to the consistency of brilliance that Upamanyu Chatterjee has managed to produce in his virgin novel though not always through a consistency of mood, as was the desired effect, I am sure.

The first time I heard of this book during adulthood was when a friend copy pasted a particularly funny excerpt from the book in an email that he sent a couple of people. To this day, I do not know whether I was in subconscious depression at the time, or whether the erstwhile planet Pluto had aligned itself to my birth planet. Whatever the reason, I decided to buy the book based on that excerpt. Those who know me well, would be extremely surprised by this very unmiddle-class like act which mainly involves buying second hand books and selling them right back. In hindsight, it was a good decision shattering my initial apprehension of doing a book report for fun.

From the very first few pages, I started identifying with the protagonist – a city boy newly instated in the Indian Administrative Service having to move to a smaller town which was a mecca of loneliness. Our worlds were poles apart or at least on the surface. Here I was – a gulf kid still reveling in the hangover of his liberation during the latter two years of college packed away into the heart of the American landscape. Maybe I was reading more into what truly was real, with what I like to refer to as the lovey dovey audience syndrome, and the only things common between us was really our last names and our first initials. Not that it matters, but his mother was Goan Catholic and my Mum is a probashi Bangali having grown up in Bombay and that we both have unpronounceable Bangali names with complex meanings that would appear exotic to the average non-Indian. August is a loner and has absolutely no problems spending days and days on end by himself and usually blocks out ‘irrelevant’ conversations with the most hilarious of inner thoughts, something that I practice from time to time too. There are differences as well, as you would imagine. He seems to be clutching to his ‘Bengaliness’ with both his hands, certainly not the case with me. He is also a lot more philosophical than I am which might be because he is able to get high more often but I cannot be a hundred percent certain. Right about the time I was moving to San Jose, August moved to Jompanna, which was smaller than his previous location Madna and he disliked it even more. I, on the other hand, quite like San Jose, which is of course bigger than Boise (my Madna).

What I really liked about the book was whenever Chatterjee dealt into heavier philosophical wonderings; he always preceded and followed such sequences with those with uncanny humor. There is no place for political correctness in ‘English, August’, which is probably what endears it to most of its fans, trapped in a politically correct world. He shamelessly uses August to tell us that it is okay to fantasize about your boss’ wife or to fib a little about yourself with respect to needless details to people who only exist for a few trivial minutes in your life. Chatterjee never preaches, but uses more subtle techniques to speak his mind through August, thus running the risk of appearing crazy to his readers. I quite like his idea of giving the otherwise silently rebellious August ‘conservative’ interests such as affinity to the mainstream Bengali Rabindrasangeet and Nazrulgeeti (thus an affinity to his Bengali roots) and an interest in the Geeta to go hand in hand with Ella Fitsgerald and Marcus Aurilius. Even though he seems to criticize the policies of the Naxal movement showing them under the glow of pseudo-intellectualism at times, there is an underlying, almost grudging respect for the same and the work they have done with the tribal people of India.

He also does a great job of selling the work of an IAS officer using a round about yet effective approach. Almost throughout the book, he keeps complaining about the job with all its affinity for protocol and pettiness, but towards the end, there are a couple of very nice segments that show us how much power an IAS office actually wields and can engineer a lot of change in the rural areas. Maybe it is a sort of justification for Chatterjee’s own career choice. He also gives us a couple of characters who are honest despite being in this profession, which is rare. Again, you will not find Chatterjee screaming this fact from the rooftops, but mentioning it more subtly in passing. An interesting point to note is that the novel was written in 1988 and yet, people today can identify with it, leading us to believe whether all that jazz about India having changed considerably over the years is really true. I am obviously not talking about the country, but rather that of her best and even worst asset – her people.




aroon said...

I have started reading the book and will collaborate with your views only after finishing it; otherwise I will be biased.

Anonymous said...

you should update yr blog more often!

secret reader (though you'll prolly figure it out from the IP address)

ArSENik said...

Na, I am not going to check the IP (actually, I don't even know how to do that!), but only you ask me to update the blog more often and your penchant for 'shoo-sha' (the secrecy in this case), it can only be you, Mr. Lawyer.

Anonymous said...

well deduced! i am surprised that it was so easy to figure out. btw, howz yr new workplace?

RustyNeurons said...

The tag citing the author's name caught my eye - and yes, I vouch vehemently for Upamanyu chatterjee's amazing skills to tickle the funny bones of even the the most cynical reader. (that, in no way makes me a cynical reader though)
Have you read his sequel to English August, 'The Mammaries of the Welfare State'?
If you get a chance to grab the book - DONT EVER miss it.
And, nope, I dont think he sells the work of an IAS officer.

ArSENik said...

RustyNeurons: I have 'Mammaries of the Welfare State' on my bookshelf. Will get to down to reading it when I finish Satyajit Ray's 'Talking of Films'. You are the first person to say anything nice about the book, at least from my experience, but I bought it anyway since I am such a huge August fan.