- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The mischievous boy rings a chord across time. The characters are laden with foolish childhood acts that define fun and envy of the age.
The backdrop of the story set in the 19th century America inhabits superstition. Illiteracy ruled various societies and science was still searching answers for so many unexplained truths. People had the desire to understand, foresee and control the real world and irrational beliefs prevailed.
And so when Tom and Huck have a conversation about curing warts by a cat and spunk-water by chanting an incantation, it doesn’t come as a surprise and makes the story authentic.
Twain laid significance on the simple acts of childhood which could include something as raw and uninitiated as ‘skylarking’ - a supremely universal, quintessential childhood conduct, considered natural and healthy by him.
Issues touched upon
Twain’s narrative has touched on racial integration as in the line - “white mulatto and negro boys and girls were always there waiting their turns, resting, trading playthings, quarelling, fighting, skylarking”
Portrayal of people of color is more a function of the characters' views than the author's.
Mulatto – having one white and one black parent.
In his signature style philosophy, Twain has added – ‘Often the less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it.’
Highlights of the story/writing style
- The wild and vivid imagination of a teenage psychology and the deeply felt young emotions thus reproduced.
‘ The convulsion of delight that swept his system shook him to his foundations.’ (convulsion – uncontrollable fit)
The current happenings in Sawyer’s emotional world has been live-reported by the author so well, it is as if it has been served piping hot, right from the psychologically fertile mind of our teenage hero. It is evident in the following line, like in many others –
‘This picture brought such an agony of pleasurable suffering that he worked it over and over again in his mind and set it up in new and varied lights, till he wore it threadbare.’’ (When Sawyer‘s petty quarrel with his girl-friend makes him wander alone and contemplate his feelings in extremes. He thinks of death and the responses from his loved ones over his dead body.) There is also the paradox of a suffering that is pleasurable in Tom’s emotions.
(Threadbare – frayed)
His emotional descriptions are elaborative and he has at many occasions pitted sentiments against sentiments. For example considering pain a sacred feeling and any feeling of delight too harsh and worldly for this pain.
“And such a luxury to him was this petting of his sorrows, that he could not bare to have any worldly cheeriness or any grating delight intrude upon it; it was too sacred for such contact.”
The use of oxymorons like – dismal felicity (bliss), the agony of pleasurable suffering.
Other expressions that I liked in the story -
‘prayers…for the heathen in the far islands of the sea.’
‘He became the centre of fascination and homage.’
The part that I loved – Huckleberry’s taking to the stage. He has been introduced after quite a few pages to let Sawyer’s character build and take space into the hearts of his privileged readers.
This is how the legend marks the entry of Huckleberry Finn, Sawyer’s soul brother and the hero of Twain’s next series -
‘The social pariah of the village, son of the drunkard, cordially hated and dreaded by all the mothers of the town, because he was idle and lawless, vulgar and bad – and because all their children admired him so, and delighted in the forbidden society and wished they dared to be like him.’
- Sawyer’s incantation he teaches to Huck to cure his warts – ‘barley-corn, barley-corn, injun-meal shorts…’
The urban dictionary defines ‘injun meal’ best –
Injun was for ‘Indians’ or the indigenous population of native Americans or earliest Europeans who thought they had landed in India. The term was used in later years only by children. It might not necessarily be derogatory always but can be used in a light-hearted, if politically incorrect fashion.
For example in the sentence –
‘A deluge of water and the maid’s discordant voice, drenched the prone martyr’s remains,
‘The sun beamed down upon a village like a benediction’ (blessing)
Idioms (not commonly used) – ‘Girded up his loins’ – to summon up one’s inner resources in preparation for action.
‘He was about to take refuse in a lie, when he saw two long tails of yellow hair hanging down a back that he recognized by the electric sympathy of love…’
‘Peppering fire of giggles.’
- Heathen –
· of or pertaining to heathens; pagan.
· Irreligious, uncultured, or uncivilized.
' She called us all heathens and hypocrites.' (savage)
A heathen temple (Godless temple)
To disappear into the cold heathen north.
"heathen: a benighted* creature who has the folly* to worship something that he can see and feel" [Ambrose Bierce ‘The Devil's Dictionary’]
*Benighted – overtaken by night or darkness, *folly – lack of good sense.
Twain has advocated his liberating philosophies and their satirical inscriptions – (when the minister read out the sermon)
“The minister…droned along the sermon monotonously…and yet it was an argument that dealt in limitless fire and brimstone and thinned the predestined elect down to a company so small as to be hardly worth the saving.”
It’s only human for a child to wander away from the morality of principles burdened upon him. Tom finds recluse at this moment in a fly that he desperately wants to hold prey.
“The gap in his upper row of teeth enabled him to expectorate in a new and admirable way. He gathered quite a following of lads. The guy who had cut his finger was suddenly shorn of his glory.”
Writing Style -
- - Satirical,
- - vivid imagery
- - Careful about diction and vernacular dialogue –
“They shoot a cannon over the water and that makes him come up to the top..and they take loaves of bread and put quicksilver (mercury) in ‘em and set ‘em afloat, and wherever there’s anybody that’s drownded(sic), they’ll float right there and stop.”
For summary of the story –
- https://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/read/94940 .
- for a detailed study of writing style - https://sites.google.com/site/marktwainauthorstudy3/home/writing-style
Saturday, May 23, 2020
Saturday, May 2, 2020
The story in general –
Can death be ever made into a story? A story that takes away the hearts of millions?
One might argue that it’s the ideas of Morrie and the philosophies of life that he has preached in this book but it is also undeniably the style of narrative – simple and so authentic which makes it appear like a song, as if Morrie the coach is sitting beside us and whispering the secrets of living straight into our ears. It’s soothing and warm and so very personal.
If Morrie’s lessons make the book what it is, it’s Mitch’s narrative that makes us feel them.
The author has in the entire story made the silence speak. From noting the gestures and ever-changing moods and expressions of his beloved professor to capturing something as small as public expression at the Logan airport with no air-conditioning, or Morrie’s kitchen counter having all kinds of notes and medical instructions, he has made every effort to make the story sound natural.
Mitch is observant. He realizes how a human touch is a therapy for comfort.
‘A slightest human contact was immediate joy.’
It’s also a moment of pride when the philosophies of the father of our nation touches human hearts worldwide and also finds mention in this book –
‘Each night when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning when I wake up, I am reborn.’ – Mahatma Gandhi
In Mitch’s own words – it’s a story of a ‘dying man talking to living man, telling him what he should know.’
The novel unfolds the beauty of a teacher-student relationship which doesn’t always need to be serious or preachy but can be friendly, humane and fun –
Like when Mitch is trying to aid his professor in his physiotherapy, he had to hit his back and Morrie says – ‘I knew you always wanted to hit me.’
Mitch jokes along – ‘yeah, this is for that B you gave me sophomore year!’
The author is curious in questioning nature with its miracles – ‘how could there be life in his beard when it was draining everywhere else?’
In the end the story leaves us in tears thinking how lucky Mitch has been, wondering if we had somebody in our lives to guide us like that, a mentor who would call us ‘Dear Player…’!
But then Mitch still misses his coach, after his death. Were all his questions seeking meaning of life addressed? I don’t think so as in the end he witnesses – ‘the teaching goes on!’
If we aren’t so lucky to find one mentor in life, we can still seek to make a community. Like Michelle Obama says in her speeches, how it served her well or can learn lessons from everyone around us – friends, parents, children, ourselves, our mistakes and life in general. We just need to listen.
The Message -
The story dares us asking some basic questions involved with death – when it comes, are we ready for it? Are we living in self-denial? What are we doing to value our life of which death is the inevitable destination?
The professor of Mitch’s story has a unique approach to death. Unique it is, not because the Budhhist philosophy that he preaches about a bird on the shoulder reminding of death is unbeknownst but because Morrie practices it with utmost sincerity, every single day of his life as death closes in on him and tells us why it is important to practice it also when we are young , when death might not be as close.
His lesson makes Mitch ponder - “I tried to see what he saw. I tried to see time and seasons, my life passing in slow motion.”
He teaches his student how close we become to nature when we are dying slow, that grieving has the healing power, how family is all about love and support, a firm ground we can fall back on, ‘a spiritual security’. The impermanence of all things makes it important for us to practice detachment, by allowing any emotion to fully penetrate our beings and leave us detached.
“Without love, we are all birds with broken wings”.
Morrie says and quotes Aden the great poet –
“Love each other or perish.”
“Love each other or perish.”
And the crux Mitch draws from the last thesis of his life with his old professor –
· To be more open
· To ignore the lure of advertised values
· To pay attention when your loved ones are speaking, as if it were the last time you might hear them.
· There's is no such thing as ‘too-late’ in life. Morrie was changing until the day he said good-bye.
Sunday, April 19, 2020
Titles and reviews
THE BRIDGE IN THE MOONLIT NIGHT AND OTHER STORIES - Manoj Das - Book Review
The lock-down led many of us to search for good reading material available online. And though, reading and writing are the two rocky mounds I would compulsively go to when I wish to stare into the stars, or book a date with my thoughts, and with many a ‘to be read’ books already in stock (courtesy my father), I still decided to wash my hands in the flowing stream of these free reads and hopped on the bandwagon. (blame it to the word ‘free’ and the associated psychology!)
NBT (National Book Trust) along with many other sites are offering good reading material to be downloaded on their sites free of cost specially for this period - The material that definitely wasn’t on my reading list, but judging the book by its cover(rather title), I decided to indulge.
I didn’t regret.
‘The Bridge in the moonlit night…’ by Manoj Das is a collection of short stories that would easily find resonance with any native Asian. It is set in the era of diminishing British rule in India and consequently the royal culture of Raja-s and Rajmata-s; Gods, Goddesses and their innumerable demi-forms and awkward superstitions, had ruled this transitioning spell of the ever-changing face of the country – from enslavement to independence.
But the lingering Raj-dom didn’t touch the lower cadre of its overwhelmed servants for a pretty long time it seems, who stuck to their loyalty towards their masters like the old rocky remains of royal palaces, refusing to break down even in doom, to remain a symbol of the extravaganza of the ancient rulers, to be awed and revered later by generations to come.
One such narrative in the book is 'The Naked’, a short story of an Ex- army commando, Bhanu Singh and his turmoil within emerging out of the embarrassing order of the Rajmata that he feels obliged to obey. In a rather witty turn of events he finds empathy, submission and relief – all within a short range of time.
The star of this country collection remains the title story – ‘The Bridge in the moonlit night’. How gullible are we in our endeavors with love not reciprocated; we are convinced that love has finally left its precious abode of a human heart and would only linger in the memory of a beautiful past.
We often dismiss it as a soft emotion for the harder truths of life – by burying our minds in the rush and din of our vocations. This story transcends the meaning of love beyond its face value and makes even the most philosophically forward-looking, now forgetful old man into his 80s, Ashok Bhai, go soul-searching for the remains of a part of his life that had somehow dearly remained locked in his memory forever.
It presents an account of a traditional Muslim Bengali woman called Jhumur who survives through an emotional ordeal of subjugating her choices to the whims and dominion of her husband and in—laws. She finds herself of the stature of no more than the maid of the house only that she is married to the eldest son of the family who has blanketed the responsibilities of his parasitic relationships with his siblings and his mother.
Eventually her subdued desires to deserve an authentic, undiluted love from her husband and to become financially independent, are mushroomed into a vile revenge – she decides to keep her illegitimate child and give him her husband’s name and legacy.
The story effortlessly portrays the strength of a woman in spite of all her vulnerabilities that lies in the fact that she can architect her own ways of leveling out with people around her – which can be manipulative, vengeful and bold.
Monday, April 13, 2020
Morrison stood by her ideology that we all must use our unique gifts to add our perspective to the world, to enlighten the world with our observations and leave it even more enlightened.
Ode to Toni Morrison - Huffington Post (click to read the full article)
Sunday, March 1, 2020
As I reach to the last speech of level 2 of my Innovative Planning Learning pathway at Toastmasters Intl, here’s a sample speech of the third part of level 2 for those who need to understand the structure and content.
Duration: 06 min. 15 secs.
This level requires me to discuss about my leadership style and/or the leadership style of my favorite leader.
First, a few aspects of my leadership style - as a leader my experience has been limited. I led a few college projects that I hardly remember; I was the class monitor of 8th A and yes the Whatsapp Admin of a nerdy joint family. Ah! I anchored two big live shows; that was tough! But that’s about it.
When I got married and became a mother I realized I have to lead a family. I have to lead my kids through learning, in forming relationships, inculcating good habits and living a healthy happy life. And honestly, in this context I can feel the heat of being a leader.
When they say ‘Some Leaders are Born Women’, they can’t be more virtuous! Some leaders are born women. Men can challenge themselves to become a leader, but you cannot take a leader out of a woman. It’s inherent to her. She has to and she must step forward, her true self as a leader at some point of time. She isn’t only a mother, she’s a teacher, a caretaker, the backbone of the family, a juggler of work and home– I am a woman and a leader. I think I better say – I am a leader who is born woman.
And did I say juggler of work and life?
Balance is the fundamental of all things fighting gravity. Woman, the leader trudges every step with care or she might fall this side or that side. That would be a big fall according to her as she stands up high on the pedestal of her own benchmarks, in spite of being accused of missing out - on work if she’s a homemaker or on family if she’s a working woman – on the pedestal of a patriarchal society.
I am a proud juggler. I am a leader who is born woman.
A woman wants to make Hercules out of her children and also Einstein and for that she knows she has to be a meticulous planner. She has to make optimum utilization of resources – her limited energy, notwithstanding that she’s a super-woman without a cape.
I plan the activities that I’ll do with my kids, the meals of the week, the creative activities, and the books to read. I plan my lectures I have to take up with my students. I am a strategic planner. I am a leader who is born woman.
Coming to my favourite leader, my pick today is Michelle Obama.
Michelle writes in her bestselling book ‘Becoming’ about a lesson her mom taught when she was in first grade. A boy once punched her in the face. Her mom spoke to that boy and then told her daughter - “Michelle, the guy was angry and fearful but it had nothing to do with you.” This lesson came handy to Michelle when she was campaigning for her husband.
So lesson 3 of leadership –
Not letting another person’s actions change or influence you. Because most of the time It is not about you.
Lesson 4 –
Build a community.
She says it is important for a leader to have a community. Here the community means a) a network of mentors that you build throughout your work life and b) the people who support you unconditionally – they can be anyone from your friends or family. They help you navigate the many bumps in your journey.
Now a few leadership lessons I learnt from my grandmom, my Dadi. My father has a humble background. His family was financially deprived and many times he studied his school lessons under the light of a lamppost.
Today he is at the topmost level of his field. Like him the rest of his 7 siblings (yes my grandmom had 8 children), too are all well-settled in their respective lives. Who made this possible? It was the leader amongst them - their mother, my dadi.
She was a true leader who nurtured not only the lives of 9 other individuals including her husband through frugal means but also never forgot to take care of herself!
At sharp 4 am each day, dadi lit up the bulb of our room to get ready for her unbreakable morning routine, doing ‘jaap’ with her rosary. She would have already taken a bath by that time with ice cold water even in extreme winters. And the best part was she didn’t know how to read a clock and yet every step of her routine fell into perfect time slots unfailingly, each day!
She filled her plate with salads and loved tomatoes. Her molars were intact at the age of 99 - the grinding teeth!
And if she hadn’t slipped in the bathroom that fateful evening she would have lived to be a 100!
So lesson 5 –
A leader takes care of her physical and mental health.
My dadi was uneducated but her death was a celebration of her life as a leader beholding the wisdom of having a great physical and mental health.
So let’s end it on a note to compliment the father of a daughter. For he is a blessed man who has an intense caregiver by his side, he has by his side the womb of the universe that would nurture a life beyond. I am a mother of two amazing souls whom I willingly commit to care for. I am a nurturer, a guide. I am a leader who is born woman.