He touched a chord and I read on
Coffee Stains in a Camel's Tea Cup - Collection of Short Stories by Deepak Unnikrishnan. Publisher: Vijitha Yapa. Reviewed by Nilooka Dissanayake
There are books and books. And not being a professional literary critic puts me at a disadvantage. This is a new feeling. I feel rather intimidated to review this little collection. Yet I must. I must.

The writer has touched places in my subconscious mind that I'd rather not have anyone touch. He has reminded me of things I wished to forget and in fact succeeded, until I read his book. My initial reaction after finishing the first story was to put the book down. To try to forget. But that was impossible. Who knows what else he had to say. So, I read on.

His style makes it impossible to put it down anyway. Thoughts flow like sharks in a feeding frenzy, thrashing this way and that, moving, chasing, gnawing at scraps. Passivity and mindlessness abandon you and run; to the other end of the universe, even. As far as they can from you. You cannot read inactively. So you get involved. It makes you think and wonder. Even simple things feel as if they have a bigger meaning than you thought before.

This style reminds you, surprisingly and uncomfortably, of great writers, of Nobel Prize winners like Knut Hamson and Saul Bellow. Especially Hamson in Hunger.

This is a dangerous assertion, coming from one who claims to be no literary critic and given to the first published work of a young writer. But that is what he reminds me of. That is what made me write this review in the first place. I wanted the writer to know how I felt upon reading his book. I think a writer of any sort wishes to have that. And of course, the reading public needs to know about this little book. It is one of a kind.

Did I like the book? My liking or dislike is a non issue. I read it through. And I do that only with writers I respect. From whom I feel I can learn, either about the way they think or the way they write. This book was too close to my subconscious for personal enjoyment. Hence I reacted. Isn't that what a good book is all about?

Speaking of likes and dislikes, let me also say I absolutely positively hated Hunger by Knut Hamson. So did I hate Mysteries by the same author. Bellow is a bit more palatable. Well, as palatable as bitter medicine may be. The frenzied pace at which thoughts move make you uncomfortable. Still you read on because you cannot put the books down till you know the worst.

And you do not skip a single sentence because you do not want to lose even a bit of what the writer has to say. I had this very same gut reaction to Coffee Stains in a Camel’s Tea Cup, time and time again. His style hooks you in multiple ways that prevent you from giving up. As far as I am concerned, Unnikrishnan did that perhaps even better than Hamson did. And Hamson had his Nobel prize to back him!

To say the writer is observant is an understatement. And the choice of situation is unusual, to say the least. This writer can spin any common yarn into an uncommonly valuable piece of cloth. You have to read and judge for yourself. A review can only do so much. He touched a chord in me. Chords - many chords. What follows may give you an idea.

In "Travelogue" he describes the laments of writers all over the world. There cannot be a single writer great or small, who will not be moved. "Many times I have tried to capture a style, if not steal it by churning a brew of bits and pieces I have admired over the years - starting from Blyton, all the way to a stranger's story I recently read in The New Yorker. I had never been published, and every time I saw someone who had finally captured someone's eye, I frowned, then smiled, before reading it."

His characters live mostly in an inner world while they bodily move through the physical reality. It is his ability to describe that inner world, and his views and observations of what is happening around that makes the reading interesting. I must frankly admit, reading the book made me jealous of his powers of observation and description.

And then, he describes a dilemma any writer knows only too well: "Was I any good?" he asks. Isn't that what all writers ask, time and time again? "No, I couldn't be" he concludes. "Reading various manuscripts made me realize that I didn't have the gift for stories. Neither could I invent characters. I had trouble writing in anything other than the first person. Yes, I also described anything and everything as they were, no conditions or imagination attached."

Little though the book is, with 40 pages containing seven short stories, it made a great impression upon me. Great in terms of impact; in how much it moved me. It is a must for writers of any sort. And for those who observe life, as opposed to merely flitting through it mindlessly.

He communicates his message clearly and well. Isn't that what a good writer should do? He does this with a remarkable style I can only describe as unmatchable. Lastly, great talent stored in a little book - the first two tender leaves of a large tree, peeping out of the earth, probably. Coffee Stains in a Camel's Tea Cup surely is a great beginning. And I am already looking forward to Deepak Unnikrishnan’s next book.

An epic in itself
A commentary on Sri Aurobindo’s poem Ilion by V. Murugesu. Reviewed by Gertude de Livera
This book is a literary study of 344 pages of Sri Aurobindo’s poem “Ilion”. Hard bound by Dipti Publications it is printed at All India Press, Pondicherry, India. It is a valuable work to be studied by those interested in literary pursuits.
The author is an eminent lawyer, who celebrated 50 years at the Bar.

Ilion was really Troy and the Trojans considered it to be inviolable because of the presence of the Palladium—the shrine of the Goddess Athene, the Goddess of reason and skill. According to Murugesu, the poem has an allegorical significance—the fall of Troy due to pride and arrogance.It is also Sri Aurobindo’s experiment in the English language of the Greek hexameter.

Murugesu says “Ilion” is a magnificent work of nearly 5000 lines. It is a narration of events and a depiction of Troy – the whole drama of a nation before its destruction – the events of the last day of the fall of Troy.
The “Ilion” deals with many themes – Nature, Beauty, Ambition, the Gods, Love, Death and Destruction etc. The Trojan War lasted over ten years and the “Ilion” narrates what occurred “just before the culmination of the final battle”. The events and episodes narrated in “Ilion” all took place in one day.
According to Murugesu, the “Ilion” is also a poem depicting the play of the Gods in human affairs, of nature, and the life of man in interplay of forces.”
In the poem Aurobindo shows how the Gods aided both sides in the Trojan War.

Murugesu brings out the view that “Men are the tools of the Gods, who can veil themselves behind the movement of impersonal forces.” To illustrate this I quote from the poem –
“The gods are at work ----
We are their puppets
Always our voices are prompted to speech for an end we know not
Always we think that we drive, but are driven.”

Murugesu explains the references to the Gods in the poem. He also details interesting legends. – How Troy was built and then later Rome. He states that when Troy was built Zeus, the King of the Gods threw down from Heaven the mystic palladium, as a pledge for the safety of the city. It is said that this pledge had been carried off to Rome by Greek warriors thus making the capture of Troy possible. Penthesilea is one of the female characters “beautifully portrayed in “Ilion” as the ideal woman “Noble tall and erect in a nimbus of youth and glory”.

She was finally killed by Achilles and Murugesu says , “When her helmet was removed, Achilles beheld her face, fell violently in love with her and was filled with remorse”. In Aurobindo’s poem Troy is depicted as a beautiful woman who wakes now, but is Doomed to wake no more.

“All her marble beauty and pomp were laid bare to the heavens
Kissed her leaves into brightness of green. As a lover the last time
Yearns to the beauty desired that again shall not wake to his kisses.”
Murugesu remarks that “Everybody has been intoxicated with military strength, resulting in death and destruction, moral blindness, infatuation and ultimate destruction.”

In Aurobindo’s poem several orators speak for peace but there are others for war, including Paris whose action in abducting Helen was the initial cause of the war. Murugesu’s commentary on the poem is indeed very helpful as it relates the legends about each character and also points out many poignant scenes which are important.

In Aurobindo’s poem from which Murugesu quotes, we get the parting of Helen from Paris before he goes to the war. “Calmly he looked on the face of which Greece was enamored, the body
For whose desire great Troy was a sacrifice.”

Helen is perturbed that Paris might be killed in the war, so Paris says –“Then in whatever beyond I shall know how to take thee O Helen Even as here upon Earth –“

Thus Love is one of the themes in Aurobindo’s poem. This theme is again brought out in the dialogue between Achilles and Brisis. Murugesu also explains in lucid language the powers of the Gods and their actions.

Often mountains are regarded as the abode of the Gods and hence the reference to Olympus and Ida. “From his luminous deep domain, from his kingdom in the blue sky,
Zeus cast his gaze and saw the Earth and its play.”
He further pinpoints a philosophic theme expressed by Aurobindo.- “Blinded are men’s hearts by desire and fear and possession.”
Murugesu also analyses the poetic features of the poem.
He points out instances of personification, alliteration, onamatapoeia, synecdoche, metonomy, paradoxes and other figures of speech. Therefore his is a very useful book for students of both literature and language.

Royals ain’t her cuppa
An explosive new book, Tony & Cherie: A Special Relationship, reveals in embarrassing detail Cherie Blair’s rift with the Royal familyCherie Blair denounced Princess Anne as a 'bitch' in an extraordinary feud with the Royal Family, an explosive book claims.

The British Prime Minister's wife, an ardent anti-monarchist, is said to have upset the Royal family with her 'prickly and aloof' manner during stays at Balmoral and a staunch refusal to curtsey to the Queen when they meet privately.

She is said to despise the royal corgis, which bring her out in a rash, and finds it 'disgusting' that the dogs are allowed to sit at the Queen's feet being fed titbits at mealtimes.

She also allegedly loathes her annual stay at Balmoral with the Prime Minister, describing one of their visits as guests of the Queen as 'too unbelievably horrible for words'.

Author Paul Scott makes the claims in his book Tony & Cherie: A Special Relationship. Downing Street has pointedly refused to deny any of the allegations made in the book. Among Scott's claims are: Mrs Blair regarded Princess Diana as 'an airhead'; Her unexpected fourth pregnancy at 45 came after she submitted to New Age sexual techniques;

She told her lifestyle guru Carole Caplin intimate details of her sexual relationship with the Prime Minister in preparation for 'sexual exercises'; Before important meetings she uses a practice from white witchcraft known as 'casting a circle'; Tony Blair keeps a velvet pouch in his breast pocket containing a red ribbon and a piece of rolled-up paper, the significance of which is a mystery even to his closest aides; Alternative healer Jack Temple kept Mr Blair's toenail clippings in a jar, claiming he could detect the Premier's health problems by swinging a crystal pendulum over them; Downing Street staff have monitored Mrs Blair's personal emails ever since the disastrous Cheriegate affair involving two flats she bought with the help of a conman; She stunned Labour Party staff by presenting them with a bill for £8,000 from her hairdresser who attended to her on a daily basis during this year's election campaign.

It is the details of the Blairs' strained relationship with the Royal Family which will cause the most embarrassment at Number 10. Mrs Blair's rift with Princess Anne is said to date back to 1997, when they met for the first time at Balmoral.

The Princess Royal appeared to take an instant dislike to Mrs Blair after the Prime Minister's wife suggested she call her 'Cherie', the book claims. Princess Anne allegedly replied: "Actually, let's not go that way. Let's stick to Mrs Blair, shall we?" At the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002, the Blairs are said to have irritated the Royal Family by muscling in with an unscheduled walkabout. Mrs Blair saw the Princess Royal and said Hello, but Anne turned her back without saying a word. A furious Mrs Blair is said to have responded by saying: "That bitch completely blanked me."

According to Scott, neither of the Blairs looks forward to their annual visit to the notoriously cold and draughty Balmoral. But while Mr Blair maintains a diplomatic show of 'bonhomie', his wife struggles to disguise her displeasure. She is said to despise the Balmoral rituals of a 6 a.m. reveille by a bagpiper, a strict dress code which effectively outlaws trousers for women (the late Queen Mother was said to be ' mortified' when Mrs Blair wore trousers to lunch on her first visit) and the requirement of all visitors to curtsey to the Queen.
Although Mrs Blair, who turns 51 this week, has reluctantly agreed to curtsey in public, she refuses in private.

According to the book, Prince Philip, in particular, is 'hopping mad' about this. She also suffers an allergic reaction to the fur and feathers of the stuffed animals and hunting trophies which adorn Balmoral's castle walls.The Queen's corgis also set off her allergy.

Mrs Blair, says Scott, developed an almost equal loathing of visits to President Bush's ranch in Texas after a trip there in 2001. She was said to be infuriated by the President's 'appalling manners'. More recently, Labour Party staff were said to have been 'amazed' when Mrs Blair passed them an £8,000 hairdressing bill after her Mayfair stylist, Andre Suard, took a month off from his salon to follow her on the campaign trail.

Scott also suggests the Royal Family believed Mrs Blair had been close to the Princess of Wales. In fact, he writes, Mrs Blair found she had little in common with Diana, who called at Chequers with her sons soon after Labour came to power. She is said to have told friends she found the Princess to be 'an airhead'. -Daily Mail

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