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May 232007

George Orwell is a name familiar to Indians.

Besides his prowess as an author, he was after all an Anglo-Indian, born in Motihari, Bihar as Eric Blair (George Orwell was actually his pen name).

Some of Orwell’s books like Animal Farm and 1984 have also found favor with the English-speaking literati in India.

Much as we love Animal Farm, Burmese Days, 1984 and other Orwell works, one of our favorites remain his 1936 essay Shooting an Elephant.

Set in Moulmein, Lower Burma where Orwell worked as a police officer, the author beautifully describes how the imperialists are driven by the natives’ expectations to explain why he shot an elephant.

Although the elephant had turned violent and killed a Tamil Coolie earlier in the day, it had subsequently quietened down and was calmly eating grass when Orwell came across the pachyderm a few yards from the road.

Like the placid elephant, Orwell calmly pondered the situation and the elephantine problem he is confronted with, literally and figuratively.

To kill the elephant would be murder; but to walk away would be worse because he would become the object of ridicule and laughter from the side of the natives.

And suddenly I realized I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I grasped the hollowness, the futility of the White man’s dominion in the East.

Orwell casts the White imperialists in the role of puppets marching to the tune of the Continue reading »

May 232007

Of course, there are plenty of nice books.

But let’s admit it. There are very few books that move us.

And fewer still that move us to tears at the end of it.

About Alice is a petite book (just 78 pages). Truly in this case, we can say less is more.

Written as a loving tribute to his late wife Alice who died of cardiac arrest in 2001, About Alice by Calvin Trillin is a joy to read.

Calvin Trillin writes beautifully. With a light touch. And with a humorous tone always in the background.

Well, Trillin’s been writing for the New Yorker for more than four decades. Since 1963, if you insist on knowing the exact year. And you don’t stay at the New Yorker for four decades by being a bad writer.

As Trillin writes, Alice was:

the voice of reason, the sensible person who kept everything on an even keel despite the antics of her marginally goofy husband.

Trillin met Alice at a party given by the now defunct publication Monocle in late 1963.

Monocle’s parties seemed to grow more elaborate as its financial situation became increasingly bleak.

In just 78 pages, we get to know Alice well – the tough childhood years, the parents whose smoking ultimately caused her lung cancer, her work as educator, author and Trillin’s muse,  the children and, of course, her husband. We see them all and more.

Of course, there are rough winds in every relationship.

But Trillin glosses over their disagreements except a fleeting mention of a disagreement involving Continue reading »