Posted in Book Reviews, Thoughts

An appreciation of Hitchhiker’s

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. Perhaps the most remarkable…

-The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

Things you might want to keep in mind-

  • I LOVE THIS BOOK
  • I will gush my heart out. Honestly, I am a voracious reader and I’ve never found a book that I connected to or enjoyed more

So, the Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy. The book is about a hapless and very British human, Arthur Dent, as he pinballs across the galaxy after his home and planet are destroyed by construction crews (different ones, of different scales and scopes). It mostly involves him being blown up, shot at or having something unpleasant happen to him every few paragraphs.

I will digress now.

I had been staring at my wall for the past half an hour and now I will tell you what I am thinking about. On my wall, I had written, in an attempt to personalise my room, “Cogito Ergo Sum”. It’s my favourite quote. “I think therefore I am”, by Rene Descartes. A very neat little piece of reasoning. He wanted to arrive at some fundamental intrinsic of the universe and his method to arrive at that was to question everything, and not believe in anything that he thought wasn’t true for sure. He ruled out sensory input, you may hear or see wrong and so on. He ruled out his own thoughts, as he may make errors. And so on, and he ended up with pretty much nothing. There was apparently no thought or idea, that he could think of, which was perfectly, intrinsically correct. And then he realised he was thinking. That was impossible to deny, that he was thinking. Thus, his mind, hence his brain, head and body existed, else it would be very stupid to have a thought without a mind, a mind without a body and so on. Thus, Descartes, for sure existed, since he thought. He thought, therefore he was.

“Cogito ergo sum.”

That had absolutely nothing to do with Hitchhiker’s. I just felt like writing it, so I did. I will now return to what I was doing. Trying to review that godly piece of perfection. Now the thing is, this book is very different from almost any other book, so it makes it pretty difficult to dissect and analyse. Quoting Stephen Fry on Wodehouse, “You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour”. Pretty much sums it up.

There is so so little plot that it won’t satisfy a three year old’s demands from a bedtime story. On second thoughts, it would, but that’s about it. As far as just the storyline goes, it’s the bare minimum necessary. Just a set of highly improbable things happening one after the other. But that plot is supplemented by the most brilliant language, and extremely British humour.

And it is full of very weird sciency things, absurdly plausible, but absolutely impossible. An example-
How do you fly?
You fall, aiming for the ground and miss. The missing part is difficult, it involves distracting yourself so completely that you forget that you were supposed to hit the ground, and before you know it, you’re flying.

Another such example would be the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, a most dangerous creature who is also mind bogglingly stupid, so much so that if you cannot see it, it assumes it cannot see you. So if you are cornered by the Ravenous Bugblatter, all you need to do is put a towel over your eyes and it will leave you alone. There is also a bit about how, given the Universe is infinite, everything, no matter how improbable, must occur naturally. So out there somewhere is a planet of mattresses (all named Zem, for some reason), which are harvested, cut up and dried out and sent off to the markets. Fresh mattresses from Squornshellous Zeta. There is also a tree which grows screwdrivers as fruit. And a planet of ballpoint pens, introduced in an entirely different context. There is also an infinite improbability drive, which allows for practically instantaneous transport. One of my favourites is the Babel fish, which feeds on brain waves, and acts a universal translator. So it absorbs all your brainwaves, feeds on the unconscious ones and excretes the conscious ones telepathically. The practical implication of this is that if you put one in your ear, all your conscious thoughts, that is whatever you’re saying, are relayed as pure brainwaves to everyone else in real time. Pretty neat.

Yes, this isn’t proper science. It is nonsense, and the author had absolutely no intention to appeal to common sense. But at first glance, it does seem plausible. And no matter how nonsensical, it’s funny. It’s sort of like one of the crazier XKCD comics, humorous and doesn’t take itself seriously, while it makes sense on some level. SMBC too, for that matter. Actually, it’s closer to SMBC than XKCD.

Incidentally, there isn’t much character development either. After 5 books of being an occasionally heroic wimp searching for tea, at the end of it all, he’s… well, he’s still that, with a daughter, obtained via surrogacy. Ford Prefect is still in search of the fountain of alcohol at the end of the Universe. And so on.

The very broad storyline of the thing is this. At least, this is the part that might sound familiar to some of you who haven’t read the books. So millions of years ago, there lived a race of hyperintelligent pandimensional beings. Lets call them mice. You’ll understand why. So the mice made a computer, the greatest of all time, that would answer the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything. So this computer of theirs, Deep Thought, ran for 7.5 million years and came up with the answer 42. This didn’t really satisfy the mice. They wanted something a bit more deep and meaningful. Then, Deep Thought gently reminded them that they didn’t know the ultimate question, and that he’d build an even greater computer, a device so complex that organic matter would form its physical structure. And so the Earth was made, to find the ultimate question, and its program ran for 10 million years. And 5 minutes before the read out it was destroyed by a Vogon constructor fleet. Here onward, it’s Arthur and Ford and other people who don’t always stick with them stumbling across the Universe, getting into some kind of trouble or the other.

The actual Hitchhiker’s Guide of the Galaxy features in here as a literal Guide to the Galaxy, a sort of encyclopaedia of worlds and attractions and interesting people. It has, apparently replaced encyclopaedias as the standard repository of all knowledge since it is cheaper and has DON’T PANIC written in large letters on the cover.

There are pretty weird side characters. My favourite three, in ascending order, are:
Fenchurch, Arthur’s love interest with whom he gets to spend a month after which she goes missing. She was sort of the mouthpiece for the grand readout of the ultimate answer, it is implied. Nice character, overall.
Wowbagger, the Infinitely Prolonged. An alien who had immortality thrust upon him as a result of an accident with a time machine and some rubber bands. Getting completely bored of his immortality after outliving everyone for a few hundred years, he decides to insult every creature in the Universe (in alphabetical order).
Agrajag, a being who keeps getting reincarnated in various forms, only to be killed by Arthur every single time. He is born as a rabbit, whom Arthur kills to make a bag, and then as a fly, whom Arthur kills with the same bag. And so on. He’s later (or earlier, depends on how you look at it. “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so”), transfigured into existence in the place of a missile as a bowl of petunias and thus, falls to the surface of the planet and dies.

So, in a sort of TL;DR, I’ll say this. The plot ain’t much to speak of. The characters are well, they are ragdolls being tossed around as and when the author decides to blow up stuff around them. The language is beautiful, purely humorously English in every sense of the word. And the humour, at least for me, is spot on all the time.

I think you’ve sort of formed an idea of the book by now. Again, you can’t really analyse this thing. You either like it or you don’t. There is no partial, no sort of. It’s no cup of tea, it’s a swig of some heady drink. And you can take it or leave it.

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Posted in Book Reviews, Random

Intermittent Moonshine of a Spotty Mind

It has come down to this. I have a set of examinations in four days. Three, if you’re picky about it being the next day once it’s past midnight. Personally, tomorrow comes when I wake up, or the sun rises, whichever happens later. Also, there is an assignment I need to start on, about World War II from the Russian perspective. And there is more to do. Miles to go before I sleep. And promises to keep. You get the gist.

This post is more or less what the title says. Also, I recently watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and this had been stuck in my mind for sometime. Random background music YouTube is playing from my recommendations. Seven Nation Army by White Stripes when I decided I should start (https://youtu.be/0J2QdDbelmY). Good song, it is. The Arctic Monkeys’ Do I Wanna Know is on now (https://youtu.be/bpOSxM0rNPM). A friend actually recommended it way back. About two years ago or so. Intriguing song. Sparse but oddly impactful.

I’m basically writing whatever is flitting through my head. Which, suddenly subjected to close inspection decides to think smart stuff, gives up, and settles back down on my to-do list. Like I am trying to prepare a sort of analysis of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. That’s one book that fits the title rather perfectly. I wish I could say I thought of that beforehand and all this chit-chat was just an artful lead up to the book review, but no. It just struck me. And before anyone who knows tells me Douglas Adams was far from spotty (for the uninitiated, he wrote the book. Books, to be exact, the full trilogy of five [I do not count the sixth][Also, yes, trilogy of five, I made no mistake there]). That was a very messy parenthesis. Do bear with me. Anyway, Douglas Adams was far from spotty, but anyone who knows that will know he thought of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the first time while he was drunk out of his mind in a field in Germany, and then forgot about it for quite a few years until he started writing for BBC. Which classifies as somewhat spotty.

Plini’s Cascade on now (https://youtu.be/7m5XvO0Y2-Y). I don’t like it now. Not at the moment. Not in the mood for music this involved and energetic at 3:52 AM. I’ll change to Clapton performing While My Guitar Gently Weeps at George Harrison’s memorial concert. (https://youtu.be/rj4J6i_vw0w?list=WL)

Beautiful music. This is probably Harrison’s most famous song from his time with the Beatles. Impassioned lyrics about apathy, and probably some of the most heartfelt guitar work ever. But, one thing that remains unknown is that Clapton played the lead guitar for the album version too (https://youtu.be/mgIbPzGNhIM). Not that it matters all that much.

Anyway, going back along the rails of the train of thought, I encounter Hitchhiker’s. Brilliant book. No plot, some half-boiled characters and yet, what a read. Anyhow. Mind goes back to Clapton and Harrison. It is a very interesting relationship they had. Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd, the subject of several of his songs, was one of the most admired women of her era. Later, when Clapton and Harrison grew closer, Clapton fell in love with her, and eventually won her over. However, Harrison and Clapton remained close friends, appearing with each other on stage and working on each others’ albums, which is pretty cool.

Current song is Hey Jude, by Paul McCartney, Elton John, Sting, Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, among a lot of other people. This is a very, very beautiful version of the song. Please do listen, even if you’re skipping the others (https://youtu.be/PgJQ6LQ8x1E?list=WL).

Following was a period where I stared off into the distance because you cannot write “Nothing”, or “Mind is blank”, and so one whiles the time away, revelling in the music. And then https://youtu.be/r8C2Tm-r0V8 comes up. No spoilers, but it forced me to change tabs and watch the whole thing. Very fun, it is. And brilliant actor, that guy.

Well, I will start reading up on my Russia and WWII assignment. Very thought provoking, since they suffered the greatest and harshest losses in the war. www.fallen.io. This pushed me to pick the topic. Please do watch, it is a very well made, informative and educating site. I will not end by saying that “War is a horror”, that we must not repeat those past mistakes. We all know that. It is not something that needs explaining. I will end with nothing. Just a silence, to let your thoughts fill the void.

PS: I know the change in tone is very abrupt. I said I’d follow my mind where it goes, as it goes. I did. I take your leave now.

Posted in Book Reviews

My Beautiful Shadow

During my primary school years, all I really cared about, academically, was the library period. That was probably the only class in which the teacher remained as quiet as the students (rather, as quiet as the students are supposed to be), so when she did speak, she had my undivided attention. I suppose twinkling-eyed, large-hearted Ms Dolasha did tell us to “never judge a book by its cover”, but oh well.

 

My Beautiful Shadow – Radhika Jha

 

Undoubtedly, it was the cover of this book that caught my eye. My fingers brushed across the spines of books, shelf after shelf, hesitating occasionally while I peered at the titles. I had picked seven out of the eight allowed books and was on the lookout for something different, something that would stand out in my bundle of ‘Robin Cook’s and ‘Agatha Christie’s. And so, yes, I judged this book by its cover and the Asian woman gazing into the distance called out to me, my hand pulling it out, seemingly of its own accord and adding it on top of my neat stack of books.

 

It started off as a rather engaging read, light and simple, the chapters not too long, (am I the only person who prefers books having chapters that don’t exceed 10-12 pages? I feel like it’s the same as when you have two small pizzas as against one medium pizza and somehow you can eat six slices of the entire medium pizza, yet eight slices of two small pizzas seem too much even though they probably amount to the same thing. I digress.) and characters not too many. (Again, am I the only person who forgets character names within a day? I finished reading this book yesterday and the names are already fading out of my mind like a drop of ink dissolving in an ocean. I digress yet again.)

 

The book follows the story of Kayo, her obsession with shopping, her eventual stumbling into the pitfalls of debt and the extent to which she goes to recover the money. Only to fall deeper in. One would think that knowing that her father had died precisely for the same reasons, owing money and being unable to repay the loan sharks, she’d know better than to spend without second thoughts, but as the author so aptly puts it:

 

The problem with beautiful things is that when you have one, you want two and when you have two, you want three. For the eye’s hunger has no limit. Unlike the mouth which has a bag, the stomach attached to it, the eye is simply an opening. Behind it is the bottomless cupboard of the mind.

 

The story is simple. So simple, in fact, that I wondered quite a bit as to what I would write in this book review. I’ve pretty much summarised the book two paragraphs above. But it’s not so much the story, as it is the words, the underlying meanings, the hidden implications that are left between the lines, that make this book so intriguing. I can quote a dozen sentences that made me stop midway and ponder, but I’m writing a book review, and not a book so…

 

For, peace and happiness, I realised, were two different things. Happiness was like the bubbles on the surface of dirty dishwater. Peace was the water itself. Water washed away all dirt, it made things pure and whole again. If I let the water run out of my life, there would be no bubbles. And then what would be left?

 

A year ago, I’d have scorned at this. Among the other “deep” stuff that I came across while reading. I didn’t get some grand enlightenment or anything, I’m still grumble-y, lazy, self-centred me. But the subtlety with which these things are interspersed among the story, just scattered among the words, leaving you to pick them up at your own leisure, left me hunting for these so-called pearls of wisdom.

 

The book has a very Asian tinge to it, some of their values echoing those of mine. A strong family bond, for instance. The desire to keep your loved ones happy, at any cost. Kayo refers to her family as her garden, the place she turns to for peace. One questions her decisions, especially the one of selling herself for money, and wonders why she wouldn’t simply confess to her husband and ask him to clear her debts, but I suppose nobody’s perfect and maybe we think we would do the “right thing” were we in her situation, but who are we to say, really.

 

The end is predictable, yet abstract. No, she does not clear all her debts and live happily ever after. After all, this novel is about consumerism in Japan, portraying the people as constantly desiring more – more clothes, more shoes, more successful children scoring better grades, and yet everyone around the protagonist, including herself, fits perfectly into this mould of elegantly dressed, high-heeled women projecting wealth or power. She mentions how everybody is so similar that they cook the same meals on the same days, buy the same vegetables, carry the same bags and lead almost identical lives. In stark contrast, there is a chapter or two in which she stays in the countryside, where everyone is happy with what they have; a garden, a bird, nature itself fulfilling the hunger that she always felt.

 

You hope that maybe she’ll go back to her house after that and everything will be okay, but the book strives to be realistic, and remains slightly open to interpretation. There is no spoiler, for maybe what I took away from the last few pages may be poles apart from what the next person would. But the slight disappointment that struck me at the lack of clarity towards the end dissipated, eventually leaving me with the essence of the book.

 

In conclusion, if you’re apprehensive about reading Robin Sharma but want something to question or muse over, give this book a read. Or you could just go over and read: https://karmaspeak.wordpress.com/2016/07/16/kolkata/

It’s shorter than a book, but just as satisfying.

*hehehehehe Suchit, I can shamelessly plug too*