Saturday, December 20, 2014

Should Writers Respond to Their Critics?

By James Parker

Getting a bad review is no longer an elite experience. We’ve all been trolled, oafed, flambéed in some thread somewhere.


Photo
James Parker Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson 

To answer the question directly: No, no, a thousand times no. A writer should not respond to his or her critics. A writer should rise above, in radiant aloofness. Sometimes that’s not possible, of course. I was drinking with a friend in London when he spotted, on the other side of the bar, a man who days before had reviewed him cruelly in a national newspaper. My friend grew agitated. “I’ll punch him in the face!” he said. “No, wait. I’ll buy him a drink!” He paused. “What should I do?” He had no idea, and neither did I. Aggression, under the circumstances, seemed quite as promising/­futile as magnanimity. I don’t even remember what he did in the end. The point is: You can’t win.

“Sometimes you are the pigeon,” Claude Chabrol said, “and sometimes you are the statue.” Wonderful, Gitane-flavored words. But we are not statues — we are not made of stone. Anointed with guano, do we not feel it? And right now everybody feels it. Getting a bad review is no longer an elite experience. Writers and non-writers, mandarins and proles, we’ve all been trolled, oafed, flambéed in some thread somewhere, at the bottom of some page. Scroll down, scroll down, take that Orphic trip into the underworld of the comments section, and there they are — the people who really object to you. Their indignation, their vituperation, is astonishing. It seems to predate you somehow, as if they have known and despised you in several former existences. You read their words and your body twitches with malign electricity. You must get out of this place immediately, run toward the light. Let the dead bury their dead. And don’t look back — because if you do, like Orpheus, you’ll lose what you love the most.

What are the avenues, anyway, whereby the writer can respond to the critic? Letters to the editor are hopeless; they always sound either querulous or insane, with horribly writhing syntax. And swatting at each other on the Internet does no good; round and round you go, in a troll spiral. You can make the critic a character in your next novel and give him hemorrhoids. You can talk loudly against him at parties. Or, rarest and most blessed of all, you can pay attention. In his memoir, “Prince Charming,” the great poet Christopher Logue, in mellow old age, dives into “a chocolate-liqueur box filled with dated clippings of every review that my books, plays or radio programs had received since 1953.” He makes a discovery. “How differently they read now. At the time, oh, the complaining: That fellow failed to praise me for this, this fellow blamed me for that. . . . Now, how fair-minded their words appeared, how sensible their suggestions for my improvement.”

But there remains that feeling — that feeling of being misunderstood and misused. That subtracted, sad-child feeling. You may be wondering how it is that I, who have written derisive and destructive reviews of books I considered not good, who have taken pains to make public, in as amusing a way as possible, the inferior qualities of this or that author, can be so terribly thin-skinned. Is it the case, you ask shrewdly, that I can dish it out but can’t take it? To which I reply: It is absolutely the case. I can dish it out endlessly, and I can’t take it at all. I believe I share this characteristic with most members of my species.
I’m learning, though. We’re all learning. The hatchet job, at the dinner table or in print, is a decreasingly admired form. So to the authors I have injured with my criticism, I say this: Your book may not have improved, but my moral qualities have, slightly, and I regret the pain I caused you. And if we happen to meet one day, punch me in the face and buy me a drink.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Facebook after death

So what happens to your most prized possessions online such as social media sites; e.g., Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, etc. after you die? The quest to answer this question has been haunting me for weeks and terrifying a friend of mine who is addicted to it. She spends around seven hours a day on these sites. She wakes up, eats, sleeps, and breathes—the Facebook. So after my friend’s death (who is now hysteric, I will be able to ‘post’, ‘comment’, and ‘like’ her status from school days. And, what would she think if I post something nasty on her wall? Right now, she thinks that it won’t matter because she will not be there; therefore, she will not care. 

A few decades ago, people were merrier listening to one national radio station, and most conversations happened by reading real faces. Nowadays, however, the digital society appends more complexity and disorder. In the present climate, everything real and personal happens on Facebook or social media sites in general.


According to the Huffington post report, 30 million Facebook users have died since 2012. People live as though they have another life stored in a safety deposit box of a bank. However, it is good to constantly remind oneself that our time is limited and it is good not to waste time on Facebook. After death, we won’t be here to watch our real or virtual melodrama, but we may contemplate ahead. Don’t worry. The Facebook provides two simple solutions: a) your account will be deleted permanently based on your family’s request; b) your account will be converted into a memorial profile. The Facebook will change your profile settings, and only friends would be allowed to post on your wall. But, nobody will be allowed to log in your account; not even your family members.

Though digital footprints are extremely difficult to erase, it is still frightful that Facebook will keep your profile active, even if you are no longer here to use it. In other words, Facebook won’t delete your account without notification by your family members. Additionally, not all sites on the Internet have implemented a death policy for their beloved users. 

Therefore, it is solely up to the family members to decide and provide death proof and documentation to these popular sites.Time is ticking, and your online twinkling is limited. Thus, if you have something important in your mind, do it now. You might not get a second chance, after all. Consequently, what happens to my friend’s most prized possession; i.e., the Facebook after she dies? The Facebook will serve as a virtual graveyard to mourn from anywhere, anytime. 

Published: The Himalayan Times

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Orphan House

SEP 27 - 
Buwa is dead. He was only fifty-five years old. I am not sure what to do with this painful, remorseful life, or the life that I am creating. Buwa’s body might be lying there. He should not be dead. Who will give me all the advice and inspiration for getting out of my own issues and overcoming hurdles? Should I be worried 
that Buwa is dead or should I just look for a job? Shouldn’t I be working or actively looking for work? Shouldn’t I be also doing those cleaning jobs in that Seven Stars Indian Dhaba near Wankenda, Mumbai?
I am young, very young, and feel lonely like many thousand others, and soon I’ll have a family to look after. I’ll be married, and have children, maybe a daughter.
My daughter, Sheela, will be sick, after staying here for too many years, like Buwa, who was sick and is now dead. She might even suffer from cancer or some other severe disease. I might not have money to purchase medicine. Every time I see this seashore and waves that dance along with the wind, I am terrified. I don’t think anyone has a choice in life.
I am just thinking some random thoughts, and these thoughts might not be very appealing to the viewers or readers. You know what they tell you in Painter Uncle’s rule book—that your art must be touching and sensible; it has to speak to the reader, at much greater length, far more than a human’s emotions and feelings.
I don’t know what I will do with my life now, or perhaps, after this moment, in this dark wood, across the sea, near the skyscraper trees that give me these 
feelings that everything is limited, even my time here, or the time of those I loved.
Should I just go to Chitwan and do Buwa’s last rites? I don’t know.
Wait . . . look at that pink sparrow! What?
A pink sparrow? Isn’t it beautiful? But why is her body pink?
Maybe she is just ready to die; or is it because someone coloured her body? Why is that pink sparrow looking at me? Life is difficult for a pink sparrow as well.
“No . . . no this is not the right way to paint a canvas,” Painter Uncle said.
“Then, what is the right way?” asked the child.
“Look what you have drawn. You have drawn a pink sparrow. And do you know that a sparrow is not pink?” the Painter Uncle further said. “Stop delineating antiquated people. They are 
of no use. You cannot make painful art, so very painful that it becomes difficult for the observer. You have to make it ebullient and inspiring. And who is this beautiful doll? But she is also drawn as though she is having a heart attack.”
“She is a cancer patient; she will be my daughter, Daddy”, said the child.
“Am I hearing it right? Did you say ‘Daddy’? Stop calling me daddy. I am not your daddy; I am your uncle, the Painter Uncle. Your daddy is long dead. Don’t you remember?”
“No, I don’t remember,” said the child.
“I don’t know what your problem is. You always paint dead people. What is wrong with you? Are you suffering from some mental issue? I shall take you to Doctor Premji tomorrow. He is a child specialist, also a well-known psychologist, and I hope he will explain your situation in detail. Go home. I’ll throw away this painting. It is of no use,” said Painter Uncle rudely.
“Do you remember the appointment with Doctor Premji?” Painter Uncle asked the following day.
“Doctor who?”
“Doctor Premji,” Painter Uncle repeated loudly.
“He must be a doctor of love. Why do they call him Premji?” said the child.
Painter Uncle was silent.
Ghorle happened to be ready to visit Doctor Premji.
“Doctor Premji, this child is really having some serious mental issues. Could you please check him?” Painter Uncle suggested.
“Okay . . . don’t worry. Please leave us alone for a while, I’ll check him,” Doctor Premji said.
“Your Painter Uncle is saying that you have some serious issues. Are you sure?” Doctor Premji asked the child.
“What issue, Doc?” the child asked.
“Your uncle says that you cannot paint properly. You always paint antiquated pictures, images, scenes and people.”
“What is death and what is life? I only portray what I feel most, from the bottom of my soul. Whatever comes to my mind, I paint that, and yesterday like every other day when he asked me to paint near the seashore, near our house, I closed my eyes for a few minutes, and then I started painting on the canvas what I saw. I saw that my father was lying dead on his deathbed; I saw the sorrow of my future wife who was thinking of getting a divorce, also my future daughter, Sheela, who will be suffering from cancer and so on,” the child said, delineating his symptoms.
“So, I believe you are just normal,” Doctor Premji said reassuringly.
“Who cares what you believe? Painter Uncle never believes 
what I say.”
“I guess, you’re a normal child. You have these visions because of your medical history. I’ll talk with your Painter Uncle soon.
“Ghorle, can you give us a moment please,” Painter 
Uncle said.
“Yeah, sure.”
“This child’s medical history seems very interesting to me. He is suffering from schizophrenia—a rare form of mental disorder, and his mental state is very critical. I wonder why you have stopped giving him those prescribed tablets. I know he will not remember to take his tablets, but it is your duty to give him those,” Doctor Premji said.
“Doctor Premji, you are right, but I don’t have enough money to buy those tablets. I recently lost my day job, and I make enough to put food on my table and this child’s. Besides, I also have to look after the child’s mother, who is married to me,” Painter Uncle said.
“Where is his dad?” asked Doctor Premji
“He is dead.”
“When?”
“Last fall.”
“Where is your wife?”
“I divorced her.”
“And, do you have kids from your previous wife?”
“I have six. But, I left them back in Chitwan. They don’t live with me anymore. They live with my previous wife. My new wife is Ghorle’s mother.”
“This is a little confusing and disturbing for me, Mr Painterji,” said Doctor Premji. “Now, I understand why Ghorle is having such visions. Are you mindful of what goes on inside a child’s brain/mind when his father dies? When his mother marries immediately after her husband’s death? Listen . . . never ask for this child to come back to me. I cannot help him anymore. You and your newly wedded wife are the cause of his psychological issues. If you cannot look after the child, you must take the child to the orphan house,” Doctor Premji angrily said.
My life is filled with buckets of tears; thousands of people shouting in my ears; the humming and chirping of hundreds of Himalayan birds, which are irresistible to hear. I don’t have choices. I feel lost in this bubble of emotions, melodramatic relationships, and chaotic feelings that seem so obscure—as if these black clouds, in my canvas, will never leave the purple sky.

fiction park section
Published: The Kathmandu Post

Posted on: 2014-09-28 10:13 

Friday, September 26, 2014

JUSTICE DENIED

Nanda Prasad Adhikari’s death in pursuit of justice for his murdered son is a dreadful event (‘Adhikari’s cry for justice dies down,’ September 23, Page 1). An innocent old man seeks justice for his cherished son for more than 300 days and nobody cares. Dr Martin Luther King said precisely that “justice long delayed is justice denied” and the justice denied to Nanda Prasad is intolerable. Both our judiciary and political system are non-functioning, as their only motivation is their vested interests. 



This tragic incident shows how ordinary peoples’ voices go unheard against the political elites of this country. This incident also clearly depicts what Vijay Kumar Pandey wrote in Kantipur daily, aptly pointing out that ‘judges see nothing but t-shirts with prints and t-shirts without prints.’ And, if I may assert, politicians see nothing but politics with power and politics without power. Nanda Prasad had no luxury, like our elitist politicians have today. This tragic and painful incident should never have happened.
- Santosh Kalwar, Chitwan
Letter to the Editor
Published: The Kathmandu Post

Posted on: 2014-09-26 10:04

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A road block

SEP 16 -
Kathmandu city is full of chaos, with horns honking all about, drivers rushing, and people crossing streets haphazardly. Few months ago, I lost a friend in a bike accident, and I kept wondering whose fault it was? Was it the fault of the driver who had been drinking at Kanchhi’s hotel that night and ran over my friend? Or, was it my friend’s fault, who speeding at more than 100 km/h on the highway was trying to stop the bike when he saw a child crossing the street? Or was it the child’s fault, crossing the street without looking sideways first? God knows. Still, for everybody else, it was a common road accident.
We often hear, and sometimes fear, that someone always drives irresponsibly and so it is better for us to drive carefully. We also hear that people should never drink and drive because it puts their lives as well as that of others at risk. What we do not talk enough about are traffic reforms. Thousands of licenses are granted every month to drivers who are unfamiliar with Kathmandu’s busy traffic and its constantly-under-construction roads.
The problem is not that we do not have any rules, but that our drivers do not follow them. Hundreds of people die in road accidents every year because we continue making rules that nobody follows. What if instead of making way too many rules that everyone virtually breaks, we keep only a few and make sure that they are implemented and respected?
The European way
I once happened to visit a European city, where traffic rules for pedestrians are opposite to ours. When I was getting ready to cross the street, I was astounded to see several cars suddenly stopping to let me get across the street. Apparently, a driver is obliged to give way to pedestrians first. Very polite, isn’t it? This never happens in any city in our country. The idea is simple; yet, demands a deep reform of our current traffic system.
Information technology can play a major role in traffic management. Just as we switched from hand-written to machine-readable passports, we could digitise our bus routes and traffic management. The Kathmandu metropolitan city must start to digitise tempo, bus, microbuses, taxis routes in order to allow fellow travellers plan their journey beforehand. The municipality would also save millions if they published roadmaps for city dwellers. This would not only curb traffic jams but also make the flow of passengers from one place to another smooth. For example, people should be able to plan their journey from point A to B (inside and outside the Valley) via an app on their mobile phone.
Tapping young brains
There is no easy solution to the problem of managing a swelling traffic. Nevertheless, universities and colleges could launch ‘code camp’ contests where student ideas could be developed into app prototypes. The best ideas would then be selected for further refinement. An app to plan a journey is an example. Ncell has recently launched a similar initiative, soliciting participants for ideas on mobile phone apps in four different thematic categories. More of such initiatives should follow.
Recently, traffic management is getting stricter with drunk driving, mostly in the Valley. My aspirations are that someday, like in European cities, all vehicles will give way to pedestrians first. More than that, if we do not come up soon with excellent digital solutions to our burgeoning problems of traffic jams, road accidents and traffic management, we will get ourselves in even more serious troubles.
Kalwar holds a PhD in Science from Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland
Published: The Kathmandu Post
Posted on: 2014-09-16 08:54 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

CURE AGAINST DEPRESSION

I appreciate your recent editorial (‘Mind matters,’ September 10, Page 6). Life is not the same for everybody as some people’s minds are too fragile to handle stress, anxiety, and depression. A short time ago, I defended my doctoral thesis, ‘Measuring human anxiety on the Internet’, where I managed to show, for the first time, that certain internet contents cause humans anxiety, irritation, frustration, loneliness and grief. Suicide and mental health problems have no boundaries. 

Lately, a popular Hollywood comedian, Robin Williams, struggled with depression and committed suicide. There are some well-known approaches for assistance, like family support, therapy, medication, yoga, exercise, and to constantly remind distressed people that there are people who love them.
Santosh Kalwar, Chitwan

Published: The Kathmandu Post
Letter to the Editor
Posted on: 2014-09-14 09:08

Thursday, September 11, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: THAT’S MY LOVE STORY

“That’s My Love Story”, by Santosh Kalwar published this year is a story of a young man and his search for true love. I started to read the eBook and was so engrossed that I finished it within a day. The author has given a completely new perspective to the story by sharing the life of Prem that is depicted as “the protagonist” in the novel. Initially, I felt that it would be a love story with up and downs in the relationship. But this story had a different flavor to it; Prem tries to commit suicide as he did not find true love in his life. The story is like a conversation of Prem with and old man and during his journey to climb the mountain cliff, he remembers various incidents in life about love and finally he narrates the story of his life to the old man.

After reading around 15-20 love stories till date, I found this rather interesting and inspirational one. Traditional love stories have a hero, heroine and a villain but here the story starts in which “the young man”, Prem shall die. He challenges to climb to the top of mountain and jump off the cliff and he encounters himself with an old man. This old man has great wisdom and teaches him an important life lesson and changes his thought of committing suicide. The old man also teaches that love of women is temporary and a new definition of love is explained.

I am sure every reader will find this novel different from the traditional love stories by other authors. Prem and his journey in search of love prove to be inspiration for all the people who have fallen in love or experienced the feeling of love in their life. His character is sad, lonely, depressed, suffering from mental illness. He cannot handle failures related to love and relationship, life-problems that he encounters in everyday life situations. Prem in search of true love and relationships narrates his experiences and makes the novel an interesting read. The interesting incidents, twists and turns move the story forward.

Prem’s relationships with various people in his life right from his father, mother, sisters, women have been show cased in lucid manner. His overall character in the novel depicts his way of living life and moving on to new avenues. Through life’s journey, Prem fell in love with four girls (viz. Shrisha, Pooja, Vrinda and Sharmila) meeting them directly or indirectly.

The incidents narrated in Prem’s story lifts life to a new level and give a better understanding about various emotions in a person’s life. The lesson to move on in a relationship and think on the relationship from different point of view leads to happy life is learnt.

Published: Spectralhues

Posted on: 2014-09-10