The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence
Me with my Mother

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thanks, Wall Street Journal, But I Think the Goa Option Sounds Better

I was amused to see this link, in which the Wall Street Journal suggests "Five Things to Do in India This Weekend."

Other than that the description is a bit too literal and brief, thanks, WSJ ... but I defer to the holiday in Goa being the better option, if you can afford it.

As I am engaged in the business of "tooting my own horn", as my editorial client (television writer) Bill Taub puts it (advising all writers that it needs to be done), here is another link that might interest you. It's from the late Khushwant Singh:

Meanwhile, just to note this moment in time, the countries where this blog was viewed:
United States
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom

Romania? Why, possibly? I do often get many views from Russia, and am not sure why, either. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Decline of Indian Independence

Sixty-seven years after India's independence from Britain, the freedom of Indians has suffered ... and often, at the hands of Indians themselves, even though a few of these work for foreign-owned corporations. For me, 1993 and 1994 represented the height of Indian independence. March 1993 was when Penguin India's David Davidar accepted my novel, The Revised Kama Sutra; in early 1994, it was enthusiastically welcomed by most of the media, despite using language and daring that had not been seen before in any book published in India, in any language--possibly since the original Kama Sutra itself, which is completely clinical and unembarrassed about sex. In 2000, Impressing the Whites received considerable attention from the media--and considerable sales. And then, the Indian Ayatollahs went to work, suppressing their own author. Impressing the Whites disappeared from the shelves, the debate (even the criticism) stopped, and there was no welcome for any Richard Crasta book, past or present: it was as if selective amnesia had descended on literary circles (or worse ....).

I regret to say that, in 2014, I feel that the decline of Indian independence continues (and not just with the takeover of independent newspapers and media organization by tycoons); few dare to question power, especially the power of publishers: mostly, this silence is for selfish reasons, and the result of cowardice. And so, if you write a courageous book that dares the Big Boys ... you're on your own, kiddo.

But if you do care about freedom, and equal freedom, four books I would recommend--my contribution to resisting the invisible limits to  freedom: all of these books, directly or in their execution, argue for the right of Indian writers to write like any other writers in the world, without being pigeonholed, typecast, and restricted to the ghetto of "exotic" writing: The Revised Kama Sutra; Beauty Queens, Children and the Death of Sex; Impressing the Whites; and The Killing of an Author. All but the fourth are available on Amazon. The fourth, and the rest, are available from most other platforms. By the way, a few of these books are available, in their paperback/hardcover first editions, at:
Writers and Books, University Avenue, Rochester, New York.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Why Father's Day, Mother's Day ... Matter

I, for one, am grateful for "Mother's Day," which did not exist when I was growing up in India, and which I was introduced to only in America, where it has near-religious significance. Though nowhere as religious as Mother's Day (and possibly that's fair, because we don't spend nine months in our father's "womb", straining his resources and eating his food), Father's Day has begun to mean something to me too. Why? Because I'm a father--a proud father of three sons, whom I think of with love especially on this day. If you think Father's Day ought to be abolished, ask any father for his opinion. Fatherhood does not get the attention it deserves, and here is a day when people at least spend a few moments to take time off from the current obsessions of their culture, the media pap--nip slips, wardrobe malfunctions, stained dresses--to think about their fathers, and perhaps to wish them. (Other than that no father has ever given birth to a child, every father is unique, and all generalizations--including mine--are silly.)

Besides, why not fathers, since we have a Groundhog Day and a Secretaries Day, and so on? As for me, rationalist though I may call myself at times, just the words, "Happy Father's Day, Dad!" coming from my sons ... lifts up my spirits, makes me feel loved, is worth more than gold. If I can make someone immensely happy by just saying four words, why deny them that pleasure?

Besides, it's only because of this silly, acquired tradition that I managed to speak to my mother just before she became sick and was admitted to the hospital, only to die a few days later. So my last conversation with my mother, which was a lucky conversation--my mother had not been in the best of health, and sometimes, the connection wasn't clear, or she wasn't fully lucid--was full of love, dollops of tenderness, a dash of humor, real feeling, and her blessing. I had no idea it would be our last conversation, and I might not have called but for the almost unshakable feeling within me that if there was one person I ought never to miss calling, every New Year, Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, Nativity of Our Lady (a very big feast day among Mangalorean Catholics) and on her birthday (in addition to once every couple of weeks, when possible)--it was my mother. A very intelligent book I'm editing (I can't say more than that it's by an American author who's an Ivy League graduate of some distinction) suggests that the silly things matter, because they show that we care; little gestures show our consideration, function as reaffirmations of continuing love (which should never be taken for granted).

In this connection, I have published a few books relating to the theme of fatherhood (some serious and passionate--"Fathers and Sons, War and Love," for example; and a few that are playful), and you can find them at Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. My father's World War II Prisoner of War memoir, Eaten by the Japanese, also contains a few essays by me, at least two of which express my feelings as a son towards a father I began to fully recognize and honor when he was closer to the end of his life.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Railway Man, Forgiveness, and "Eaten by the Japanese"

I just saw Railway Man, the movie based on the bestselling book: the true story of Eric Lomax, a former British prisoner-of-war who decided to confront his nightmares by confronting his Japanese torturer, Takashi Nagase, in the flesh. It's a fascinating movie, with a surprising ending. In fact, most reviews of this movie do hint at the ending, so the story is actually in the telling, in the progress of Lomax from fury and terror to forgiveness and understanding.

In Eaten by the Japanese: The Memoir of an Unknown Indian Prisoner of War, my late father, John Baptist Crasta, tells his own story. For him, the only possible therapeutic outlet was the act of writing the book. He, like thousands of other Indians, some dead, never got to meet the Japanese who ill-treated him.

However, the Indians did engage in a form of forgiveness, as shown in this section from my father's book:

On 27 August, we were taken to Romali, about thirty miles from Rabaul, to be “handed over.”

Romali turned into a collection point for all Indians in the vicinity. The Japanese left us there and departed — for good. Our three-and-a-half-year connection had finally ceased.

The Japanese who were in charge of our group HQ were stationed in Romali. Among others, they included Hiroshima Thai, Oobayashi Juni [Warrant Officer Oobayashi], Nakamura Socho [Sergeant Major Nakamura], Kabutha Chuui [First Lt. Kubota], et al. As an old revenge, Indians robbed their belongings and beat them up. The Japanese fled in fear of their lives, but as they had nothing to eat, they returned on the third day. They pleaded with the Indians to spare them, expressing profound regret for having ill-treated Indian prisoners. They were again beaten, but before they left, they were given food and assured that in future no harm would be done to them. The Japanese, having no clothes, bedding, or food, visited us again and again. Indians were by now moved to pity, and treated their former enemies with hospitality. [emphasis mine]
My father once told me that he was one of the people urging his colleagues to forgive and to be generous in their victory.

What happens in Railway Man [where the sadistic scenes are extended well beyond my taste--I would have gotten the point with 70% less violence] is much more profound. The British POW, Lomax, finds that his Japanese torturer has already been suffering for his crimes, and has been engaging in a form of atonement by being a tourist guide to the Kanchanaburi War Museum. When Eric approaches Nagase with a knife, and with the intention of killing him, Nagase's response is humble, accepting, and deeply remorseful. In the process, they both discover the larger forces that had made them behave as they did. The surprise ending is this: They become friends for life.

Forgiveness is a good thing, but it needs to be preceded by a modicum of giving witness, of acknowledgment, atonement, and regret. As for the tens of thousands of Indians, and other Allied soldiers, who were either killed, tortured, or imprisoned in the Pacific theater of World War II, particularly in the area of Papua New Guinea, very little regret has been expressed, and most people are still unaware that it happened at all. Even a distinguished and senior American journalist, who knows quite a bit about the world and its recent history, was surprised that Indians were taken prisoner to Papua, New Guinea. Most of the survivors returned to India to have their contributions or their sufferings unacknowledged, and lived hard lives till they died. Therefore, the only thing I, as a son, can do, is to continue to tell my father's story and to make it available to those who wish to read it.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why I Write

After a 15-year period, during much of which I have been disconnected from great literature and art, I found myself been listening to Shakespeare. Not reading, but listening to a few of his monologues, thanks to You Tube. And I am totally awed by the greatness of such speeches as "There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow." Or: "Now is the winter of our discontent . . ." and poems such as "The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock."

Shakespeare, Dickens, Joyce, Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eliot--so much greatness, such beauty--one sometimes wonders, is there any point in writing? Has it not all been written before?

The answer: I write because I must. It may have been written before, but it is not my inner voice, and it's not the way I would write it, or have written it. Everything I have written has my personal stamp on it. It has my DNA all over it (which is why I don't think I am ever likely to be accused of plagiarism). Because, even though my writing, being more an act of self-expression than aimed at any specific "market" (most of it is thus--and all of it would be, if I had the financial freedom to write with zero compulsion to earn some money at it), has failed to contribute towards more than a fraction of my livelihood, that has not stopped me.

It would be nice to be fully funded by my royalties, of course, and I am compelled to devote a portion of my time to "hack work" (so long as I recognize it for what it is, and know I am going to stop the moment I have enough for rent and food, it is something that one must do--as Henry Miller did, writing pornography for a private client, or Wallace Stevens did, working for a bank--it's okay). But I continue to be inspired by the passion of a William Faulkner quote in a "Paris Review: Writers at Work" interview:

“The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' is worth any number of old ladies.”
― William Faulkner

Not exactly in the spirit of The Ten Commandments, but an indication of the passion and commitment that must possess a writer if he is to bring out his best. A passion, ultimately, that is irrational, because the very best writers have been subjected to criticisms such as these:

4. Mark Twain on Jane Austen (1898)
“I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”
3. Virginia Woolf on James Joyce
“[Ulysses is] the work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.”
2. William Faulkner on Mark Twain (1922)
“A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.”
1. D.H. Lawrence on James Joyce (1928)
“My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

And this from Philip Roth: "Writing for me was a feat of self-preservation. If I did not do it, I would die. So I did it."

I feel the same. And also this: If I hadn't written The Revised Kama Sutra and The Killing of an Author, there would be no books like them in existence. Nearly 20 years after the former, and six years after the latter, no one has even tried to imitate these books (to my knowledge). Seventeen years later, HarperCollins India republished The Revised Kama Sutra as a "classic," but sales have been anemic, possibly because it received little publicity in the right places this time around. However, one reader wrote to me a few weeks back saying that "your book changed my life." The pleasure of having created something original, that moves someone, or that is beautiful to just one person (and that could be the writer himself): only an artist can understand it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Franz Kafka is Alive and Well in Latvia, and Madris is his Name

As a writer who puts his heart into his writing, I am delighted to be published in Latvia, and grateful to the people who found me and published me, in Latvia, in the Czech Republic (there was a second Czech publisher interested, but could not get my novel), and in countries such as Austria, Italy, Israel, and so on. I am even in correspondence with one of my Latvian readers, who found me on the Net. There are authors who give their books away for nothing, and there are other authors who do not even mind that they are pirated, so long as it means that they are being read, preferably by poor people who cannot afford to buy books.

However, I don't think of modern Latvia as a particularly impoverished country, and doubt that my Latvian publishers, who profited from my book (and deserve to), are either that contemptuous of writers and ethics, or so poor that they have holes in their socks and just one pair of shoes.  So I would really appreciate it if they paid me what was fair and due: for publishing me. Apparently they paid some con man, some completely unauthorized person I have never met, and argued that, therefore, they had paid me. Publishers wouldn't exist without writers, and should make it a principle not to hurt or cheat writers.  (A quixotic hope, given that it has also been an honorable publishing tradition to cheat authors--ever since the publisher of the Part I of Don Quixote cheated Miguel Cervantes of all of his royalties.)

So here's what I wrote to my Latvian friend, after being subjected to Madris's Kafkaesque logic, once again relayed through her back to me:

I can't believe that Madris is making less sense than a 5-year-old. If, one evening, you were to return to your home and find it occupied by strangers and say, "Why are you in my home, and why are you barring me from entering my own home?" And they say, "Well, we just bought your house from your agent, so we now own it." And you say, "Which agent? Who?" And they say, "Well, xxxx, who said he was your agent."

And you reply, "But I have never even heard of anyone like this xxxx in my life. Just because you paid this so-called agent money and he ran away with it, it does not mean that you own my house."

And this is exactly what Madris has done, and I tried to explain this to them, but they don't understand. I have never heard of this agent, and he never even contacted me, let alone paid me. So how can this man sell my book to Madris? And how can Madris say they paid me if they paid some stranger in some bazaar in Istanbul or Cyprus?

I don't think that any publisher in the world would fail to understand this simple logic, but Madris does not seem to: the book has been published without due authorization from the rightful copyright holder, and therefore they still owe the rightful owner the royalties. If they trusted some con-man and purchased the Brooklyn Bridge from him, it's not fair to make me (or Brooklynites) pay for it: we all make mistakes, and many of us are occasionally cheated by some crook, but we cannot demand that others pay for our mistakes.

I end with a prayer:

Our Kafka,
Who art Alive and Well in Latvia
Madris is Thy Name
May Thy Royalty Advance Come
To This Author on Earth
Before His Departure for Heaven.