of literature, language and playing the game of life

We Indians have this sublime ability to see the pain and misery around us and yet remain unaffected by it.

Actually, we Filipinos share the same thing. We actually have a word for remaining unaffected by pain and misery: manhid.

There is a core of melancholy that surrounds her.       Even in her smile I detect a hint of sadness.

The contrast with my own imperfect life pinches me with the force of a physical hurt.

I like the way Vikas phrases thoughts. And not surprisingly, India and Philippines share many things in common when it comes to the literary world — from writing in native languages vs. writing in English, getting published internationally, “friendly conflicts” between English writers and non-English writers, you get the drift. He shared all these in a panel called “Writing the Asian Experience in English” during the National Book Development Board’s Lit Out Loud International conference last year (November 2010). From that panel, what I got out of that is his insight on adapting English as your own, regardless of its colonial heritage, and then do whatever you want with it. Hence, we have “Asian English” as he expounded.

fangirl mode with Indian author Vikas Swarup (November 2010 Makati)

But I guess having different colonizers who have different approaches to the English language also matters here. I think it also comes with the culture of the people that invaded us. While Vikas was telling us about how Indian writers who use “Hinglish” (Hindu+English) or “Indian English” have re-appropriated the (British) language to suit their cultures, we here in the Philippines still try ever so hard to still sound like Americans when we speak in English (twangggggs and all, y’know), hence our own brand of re-appropriation called “Filipino English” gets laughed at or mocked, usually by snobbish societies. As if they have great command of the foreign language, right? But that’s beside the point. Some other time.

And that re-appropriation is clear in Vikas’ 2005 debut novel Q&A which was the basis of the film Slumdog Millionaire, the Academy Award-winning film by Brit Danny Boyle. But I also know now why, in another panel at that same conference, Vikas confessed that he kinda didn’t wanna associate his name with the screenplay version of his book hehe. But of course it also has something to do with “Hollywoodizing” literature, or in his case, “Bollywoodizing” perhaps, to a certain extent, in terms of heightening the drama for an audiovisual medium and all that adaptation stuff. But yes, that’s another discussion altogether.

I just finished his book and I guess it was a good thing that I saw Slumdog first, just to get it off my mind. I was able to enjoy Q&A better as I tucked away the movie from my mind. The basic premise of the film was still lifted from the book, but I think I liked the circumstances depicted in the book better. It’s not as manipulative as the film of course, and we know that for a fact since film is all about manipulation in varying degrees anyway. The novel gives us breathers in the sense that you get to pause for a bit and enjoy the rich scenes after each chapter, and yes, each chapter has very, very rich and tightly-plotted scenes. I guess this is kind of reflective of the way you would eat Indian dishes — one at a time, pause in the middle of different courses, to savor the flavors in each dish, each bite.

Comme ca:

and this is just the appetizer tray (at Vatan vegetarian Indian resto in Manhattan / March 2010 New York)

The story is still the same with the film: Ram Mohammad Thomas, an unschooled streetwise orphan teen, joins an Indian fictitious version of the TV game show Who Wants To be A Millionaire and answers each question correctly, up to the top spot. The novel shows how he got to know each answer correctly, and how each question had a direct (and always deeply emotional) relevance to his life. The game show question and answer structure gave an easy plotting structure to the story as it unfolds, and I think that’s one strategy that really works well here. It’s now easier for the writer to craft meaty scenes in between, appearing as some form of flashback of Ram’s life. Easy.

What makes or breaks this story is what is narrated, and how. Much of the hardships that Ram undergoes in his life could very well be gotten straight out of melodramatic TV soap operas or films, easily dismissible as predictable in very few moments (like Ram losing 50,000 rupees in a train ride from being ratted out by a kid; I saw that coming) but emotionally engaging as well in most (the death of that teen Shankar who speaks gibberish; also the whole episode with the fallen actress Neelima Kumari). But the way the author wrote it — with direct-to-the-point witty language without consciously being witty, laced with humor and subliminally enveloped with pathos — was the key element that makes this novel work. Doubled with the given structure and then combining that with very interesting characters having very colorful lives circulating in very interesting parts of their cultures, then you really have an internationally translatable material in your hands. Never mind if it took me a while to understand the goings-on of their worlds because of the way Vikas inserts words and interjections there in non-English (which is always a welcome device as long as it’s not used too much that it alienates readers rather than makes them curious about the details), but I had a good time reading it and just going with the flow, since the writing style is not heavy-handed as well,because of the aforementioned humor+pathos treatment. Plus I guess I am biased because I am interested in Indian culture so while it took a while for me to understand how much lakh rupees are, I already knew what samosas and chapattis are, since I love Indian food and I just ate those two like last week in Baguio hehe.

because India, like the Philippines, has an interesting culture of contrasts, as seen from this viewpoint of the posh Neemrana fort pool and a rural village at the background (March 2007 / Rajasthan, India)

Here are other quotes from the novel I like:

Is an existence without desire very desirable? And is the poverty of desire better than rank poverty itself? I think about these questions but do not arrive at any satisfactory answers.

Same here, Ram. Same here. What’s also good about this novel is that Ram’s soliloquy and inner thoughts appear deep and philosophical without being so highfalutin. In short, they’re simple but they’re important truths.

She arouses a hunger in me unlike anything I have ever experienced before. I may have entered her body, but now I want to enter her mind.

Hm, I could relate to this! Especially since last November 2010 — the moment I started reading this novel (life got in the way :)) — I have been feeling the same way.


Love doesn’t happen in an instant. It creeps up on you and then it turns your life upside down. It colors your waking moments and fills your dreams. You begin to walk on air and see life in brilliant new shades. But it also brings with it a sweet agony, a delicious torture.

Yes, I am also there right now. Delicious torture. I taste it everyday.

She made the fatal error of dreaming beyond her means. The bigger the dream, the bigger the disappointment. That is why I have small, manageable dreams.

Maybe I should, too.

I try to comfort him as best I can, but it is difficult to give strength to another when you yourself feel completely hollow inside.

I know how this feels!

I realized a long time ago that dreams have power only over your own mind; but with money you can have power over the minds of others.

Haha true that!

collector's item


~ by leaflens on July 4, 2011.

One Response to “of literature, language and playing the game of life”

  1. […] Culture Popper Leaflens: Of literature, language, and playing the game of life. […]

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