Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a series of books, (11 books so far; 13 are planned all-in-all) about the Baudelaire children, three rich siblings heir to a sizeable inheritance after their parents die in a mysterious arson attack at their mansion.

The first three books of the series have been adapted by screenwriter Robert Gordon of Men In Black II fame, starring Jim Carrey as the villain, the beastly Count Olaf, a distant relative of the Baudelaires who, in the story, is an actor by profession.

The author, Lemony Snicket, is a pseudonym of Jewish author Daniel Handler. He graduated from Wesleyan University in Worchester, majoring in English and American Studies, and is now a fulltime author.

The Series of Unfortunate Events is distressingly true to its title. It is indeed, a series of extremely unfortunate events that come tumbling down ruthlessly on the Baudelaire orphans almost at a regular interval of 10 pages. Dark and depressing, important characters are brutally murdered, and the cruelty the orphans face almost brings tears to your eyes.

In an interview on, he says:

"I think you learn something from any good book, and I think that one's education comes largely from literature. But over and over, the message of children's books is, 'If you behave well, you'll be rewarded.' Which is not a very Jewish message. It is just not an interesting message to me, and not a true one."

"Judaism doesn't really promise any reward, they just emphasize that good behavior is more or less its own reward,"

Amid the terrible circumstances faced by the orphans, they remain tremendously resolute, never despairing and always doing the right thing. And so, Handler introduces humour in the dark and dreary context of the story, never forgetting to keep at least one sympathetic character in every book.

Handler talks to the reader in a conversational first-person tone, and describes and explains "difficult" phrases and words in the context of the story. As such, after reading the first 6 books in the series, I would suggest these books to any adult or child, because there is actually much to learn from Handler's narration.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Chronicles of Narnia on the Silver Screen

After the sweeping success of the screen adaptation of the Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien, I learnt somewhere on the internet that the Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis, were also being adapted for the silver screen. Having not been much of a reader for most of my childhood, my only experience at fantasy was Raymond E. Feist who took for his own much of the concepts introduced by the fantasy of Tolkien.

So, upon seeing a single-volume version of the Chronicles of Narnia, I immediately picked it up, without hesitation and took it with me to Bangladesh, to read over the vacation. After having read the first four books of the Chronicles, including the prequel "The Magician's Nephew," I feel that adapting these books to the silver screen should be immensely difficult.

Lewis unabashedly includes talking animals in his narration, which may be wonderful for the mind's eye but I believe quite difficult for a cinematic treatment. Whether chosen to be fully actor-driven or the more technically demanding computer graphics-driven, the talking animals of Disney will no doubt haunt whatever semblance of awe and reverence a director may try to endow upon a talking lion, Lewis's deity figure, Aslan.

Speaking of deities, I also find the religious themes quite blaring and bluntly presented, when the White Witch kills (crucifies) Aslan and Aslan rises up again (is resurrected) in "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe," and how the lion makes Shasta and his friends feel for his whiskers and nose when they disbelieve he is indeed a lion, much in the great Christian tradition of insisting on Jesus's diophysitism, his simultaneous humanity and divinity.

In addition to that, Lewis doesn't do as good a job as many of his latter-day heirs like Raymond E. Feist and Robert Jordan when relating battle scenes. His narrative, at least in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" seemed to purposefully omit a refined treatment of the melée in the battle scenes, which left me somewhat disappointed.

The film adaptation of the Chronicles of Narnia are being undertaken by director Andrew Adamson who has both Shrek movies in his directorial resume, and the special effects are being helmed by the genius of Weta Workshop, owned by Peter Jackson and the magic behind the Lord of the Rings. Seeing the featurette they released recently on the creatures of Narnia, however, I just might give the movie a fighting chance now.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Suffering of Minorities in Bangladesh

In the December 10th issue of the Daily Star Weekend Magazine, they put up a cover story on the plight of Hindus in Muslim-majority rural Bangladesh.

"[...] the community that was subjected to merciless beating, humiliation and [continuous] persecution by a group of miscreants out to grab their land, saw no signs of empathy from the local authorities. [...] I ask her how old she is. 'Four kuri and five,' a villager chips in. This means four into twenty, plus five; which makes her 85. At this age she has enough reason to worry over the safety of her community. The land the usurpers are out to grab is the sacred cremation ground that has been a part of this village for as long as she remembers.

"[...] during the atrocious attack, the whole community found itself at the receiving end of a premeditated aggression. Some received severe beating and some ended up with near-fatal injuries. Gouri Das, around fifty, was brutally attacked. On the palm of her right hand, she bears the deep gash of being struck by a sharp weapon. There is another cut on the right side of her head. As she speaks it becomes clear that there is little she remembers of the mayhem, as she was knocked unconscious from the first few blows [...]. She does however, remember her first attacker. "It was Kader, son of Mafizuddin, who struck me on the head with a sharp weapon," she asserts. She cannot tell "who else beat her up later". As she gained consciousness, she found her sari missing.

"Hari Dasi, another 40 year-old villager, found herself in the same predicament. She was literally trampled by a bunch of men, men who knew no mercy. [...]

"The patch of land, the main cause of the atrocity, lies [beside] a pond. [...] For the Hindus of this region it is a sacred ground, as it is their final resting-place. Broken earthenware is scattered all over the ground, signs of cremation punctuated by mounds of earth, under which the remains of the dear ones are buried. [...]

"[The] girls of the Hindu community at Gopalpur village have stopped going out of the house in fear of these miscreants who openly harass them on the streets.

"Malati Rani [is] a seventeen-year-old girl. [...] Faced with the question of why she stopped going to school from which she received a stipend, Malati is hesitant. Her answer to why she quit school is short: 'they swear at me.'

"In the face of the worst attack on the Hindu community by the group of land-grabbers and their henchmen, not much has been done by the authority to mitigate the victims.

"Lakhshan recalls the previous year's incident. 'When they scooped out all the fishes out of the pond beside the cremation ground and the temple, a case was filed. Even the newspapers took it up. At first the law enforcing agency seemed very active, but soon everything died down,' laments Lakhshan.

"[...] a group of people installed a water pump to siphon out the water from the pond next to the cremation ground. The ground is only 27 acres, but it has been a source of a lot troubles since the day the land grabbers targetted it as the next piece of land for usurpation. The miscreants consisting of Lal Miah , Ibrahim, Jahangir, Kader, Mojibor, Zohurul, Ziaur, Malek [and] Hashem [...]. There was a string of women who stood in a circle, guarding the water pump. When the people of the community rushed to put a stop to the siphoning, one of the men said, 'charaler po (son of a commoner), don't cross the limit; if you do, we will file a case for repression against women and will throw you out of this country.'

"They waved off the threats [...]. 'If we cannot protect our own religion what's the use in keeping on living. This small patch of land has been our cremation ground, it has been so since the time of our ancestors.'

"What followed after that was something no one from Subhash's community ever anticipated. The band of men, who installed the water pump and were trying to siphon the pond, rushed toward the paddy field, where they kept their weapons hidden. Armed with machete, sticks and lances, they swooped on the community that had little protection from the authority, let alone any influential group or men.

"The invading men went looking for women and children. They scrambled inside their houses. They beat them up, slashed them and plundered their homes [...].

"Sixty-five families have categorically being victimised by this 'land-grabbing clique.' It is more a case of wresting properties from the weak than of religious persecution. As Hindus of the locality are the weakest, they keep losing their lands to aggressors who reign the localities with their muscle as well as social and political clout. This is the reality of Bangladesh, and the village of Gopalpur is no exception."

I find little solace in recognising this as not so much a religious issue as it is merely an issue of victimisation because of one's locus on some pecking order. If being weak is tantamount to welcoming oppression, then we are no better than animals.

Bangladesh's human rights records has plumetted in the past few years and chronic lawlessness fanned by gusts of misrule and irresponsibility has become the law of the land.

All of the names of the perpetrators were Muslim names.

"Do not oppress and do not be oppressed."

- The Prophet Mohammed, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.


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I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)