The Rivered Earth

the-rivered-earthThe Rivered Earth

by Vikram Seth | 120 Pages | Genre: Poetry | Publisher: Hamish Hamilton | Year: 2011 | My Rating: 9/10

Recital of the poem ‘Fire’ by Vikram Seth HERE

Vikram Seth has written 4 libretti for 4 musical performances conducted over 4 years (2006 – 2009). A mix of original work and translation, they draw from three cultures – Indian, Chinese, and European – and are set to music by the composer Alec Roth and violinist Philippe Honoré. Titled ‘Songs in time of war’, ‘Shared Ground’, ‘The Traveller’, and ‘Seven Elements’, each of these four librettos in this book is presented with a foreword that provides a backdrop for the particular work. Exquisite pieces of calligraphy by Seth, in Chinese, English, Hindi and Arabic, prefaces each text.

In the first libretto, Songs in time of war, most of the poems are set during a terrible rebellion in the Tang dynasty, which caused vast devastation and famine. In the second libretto, Shared Ground, Seth moves from the Tang Dynasty to the Stuarts, to Salisbury, England, to the very house where the idea of the book of libretti was first born. In a delightful poem titled Host he recounts his admiration for his favorite Anglican poet, George Herbert,

“He’ll change my style.”
“Well, but you could do worse
Than rent his rooms of verse.”
Joy came, and grief; love came, and loss; three years –
Tiles down; moles up; drought; flood.
Though far in time and faith, I share his tears,
His hearth, his ground, his mud;
Yet my host stands just out of mind and sight,
That I may sit and write.”
 
 
The third libretto, The Traveller, which is about the stages of human life – unborn, childhood, youth, adulthood, old age, and death, is influenced by Rig Veda. Suitable texts for the stages were taken from various Indian languages – Tamil, Hindi, Brajbhasha, Urdu, and Bengali. And therefore the tone of the poems are playful, philosophical, contemplative, passionate, reminiscent, and yielding. The final libretto,Seven Elements, is inspired from all the three cultures, and thus its seven poems are based on seven element in nature, air, water, earth, fire, space, metal, and wood.

This deeply sensitive, appealing and seductive book about friendship, love, loss, drama, history, geography, literature and music is my Read of the Week.

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The Man Who Knew Infinity

200px-Ramanujan_biography_coverThe Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan

by Robert Kanigel | 438 Pages | Genre: Mathematics/Biography | Publisher: Penguin Books| Year: 2000 | My Rating: 10/10

“Dear Sir,

I beg to introduce myself to you as a clerk in the Accounts Department of the Port Trust Office at madras on a salary of only 20 GBP per annum. I am now about 23 years of age. I have had no University education but I have undergone the ordinary school course. After leaving school I have been employing the spare time at my disposal to work at Mathematics. I have not trodden through the conventional regular course which is followed in a University course, but I am striking out a new path for myself. I have made a special investigation of divergent series in general and the results I get are termed by the local mathematicians as ‘startling’. I would request you …………….. Being inexperienced I would very highly value any advice you give me. Requesting to be excused for the trouble I give you.

I remain, 

Dear Sir,

Yours truly,

S. Ramanujan”

– Excerpts from a letter dated “Madras, 16th January 1913” to Cambridge Mathematician, G.H. hardy.

This brilliantly researched and well written book by Kanigel is a biography of an incredibly genius and among the greatest Mathematician of all times in the same league of Jacobi or Euler, Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar, commonly known as ‘Ramanujan’. Ramanujan independently compiled nearly 3900 results (mostly equations and identities).  Most of his claims have now been proven correct even after 90 years of his death inspiring a wide range of new research, which is still continuing.

In 1913, while working as a clerk at Madras Port Trust, Ramanujan wrote a letter to the premier English Mathematician of his time, G. H. Hardy, and thus began one of the most productive and unusual scientific collaborations in history, that of an English don and an impoverished and unparalleled genius from India. Hardy arranged a fellowship for Ramanujan to sail for England and come to Cambridge University, leaving behind his wife and family in Madras. Ramanujan’s isolation from his family and the intensity of his work eventually took their toll, and within seven years of leaving India he was dead due to tuberculosis at a young age of 32. Ramanujan was creative and an original thinker, more so than perhaps any other mathematician in history. Hardy had said for his formulas, “They must be true because, if they were not true, no one would have the imagination to invent them.”

This biography with all the drama, the richness with an insatiable love for numbers, and the cultural sweep of a fine historical novel is my Read of the Week.

The Shadow Lines

shadow-linesThe Shadow Lines

by Amitav Ghosh | 288 Pages | Genre: Fiction| Publisher: Penguin Books India| Year: 1988 | My Rating: 8.5/10

“He said to me once that one could never know anything except through desire, real desire, which was not the same thing as greed or lust; a pure, painful and primitive desire, a longing for everything that was not in oneself, a torment of the flesh, that carried once beyond the limits of one’s mind to other times and other places, and even, if one was lucky, to a place where there was no border between oneself and one’s imagine in the mirror.”

— Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines

Amitav Ghosh captures the lines connecting time and events, and people with each other bound by ties of blood and history. This work of fiction is narrated by and follows the life of a young boy growing up in Calcutta with his grand mother and parents, and later in Delhi and London for his higher education. His Grandmother and Mayadebi are sisters, who grew up in Dhaka pre-partition. After the death of her husband, grandmother works at a school to raise her son without depending upon any charity, while Mayadebi marries a Diplomat and lives a life of luxury. Two characters plays pivotal role in the narrator’s life are Ila, a distant cousin of his from Mayadebi’s side to whom he is attracted yet his yearnings go unrequited, and Tridib, who’s Maya’s son. The story unfolds through flashbacks, then progresses occasionally in the present.

This book with numerous characters and intricate web of memories moving back and forth, is my Read of the Week.

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