Saturday, May 9, 2009

Crime and Punishment and The Hindu

I am reading Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment now. I had read the book in part some years back, but could not complete it due to some other reason. So I am rereading it from the beginning. I must admit this is the first "classic" book I am going to complete - Dicken's Great Expectations was left at 200 pages 4 years back. But I am sure I am going to complete Crime and Punishment, because it is such a great, deep book.

It is really a deep book in that it shows us the state of life and ideas in Russia and St. Petersburg in the 19th century with remarkable clarity and more than everything, it explores the inner most layers of the human mind, its emotional and rational side. It is so deep because, some of the current unsettled questions (in public sphere, may not be by science): like whether greed is good, or if science says man should be greedy, or if all of us are greedy and does not harm others everything is going to be al right and everybody will be happy, things like that, is discussed in the book. Even though it was written more than hundred years ago, its content is not old at all. When Luzhin says, I am paraphrasing - "Science wants us to be selfish", "I am a man of Science and modern ideas", "She is old, having some old, romantic ideas, not to my liking", or when Razumukhin says about the self-proclaimed Progressive publisher who entrusted to him work to translate "Natural Science" and "Progressive" books from German to Russian:
He's doing publishing of a kind, and issuing natural science manuals and what a circulation they have! The very titles are worth the money! You always maintained that I was a fool, but by Jove, my boy, there are greater fools than I am! Now he is setting up for being advanced, not that he has an inkling of anything, but, of course, I encourage him. Here are two signatures of the German text—in my opinion, the crudest charlatanism; it discusses the question, 'Is woman a human being?' And, of course, triumphantly proves that she is. Heruvimov is going to bring out this work as a contribution to the woman question; I am translating it; he will expand these two and a half signatures into six, we shall make up a gorgeous title half a page long and bring it out at half a rouble.
When we have finished this, we are going to begin a translation about whales, and then some of the dullest scandals out of the second part of Les Confessions (Rousseau's autobigraphy) we have marked for translation; somebody has told Heruvimov, that Rousseau was a kind of Radishchev.
things like these bring to my mind some of our newspaper editorials and publishing houses, who are still acting like Luzhin and Heruvimov.

Or the below conversation:
'He's got round her,' Nastasya murmured, smiling slyly.
'Why don't you put the sugar in your tea, Nastasya Nikiforovna?'
'You are a one!' Nastasya cried suddenly, going off into a giggle.
"putting sugar" - which is a common expression even now, I did not know that it was there so long back even, in such an alien country!

Many of the things discussed in the book are so eternal, I can quote the whole book as an example. And this is not just about ideas: the whole emotional landscape described by the book appear eternal to me. Current fiction works can never hope to match the depth of such books.

Thinking in these lines, about how poorly current literature bestsellers compare with C&P (and perhaps other russian classics), I could see another parallel: The Hindu vs other Indian newspapers. The parallel is about thinking in terms of global, eternal ideas than some short term idea that might give way to something else in future, but that might disguise itself as though it is eternal. When all other newspapers - Times of India, Indian Express, Hindustan Times - along with the rest of the mainstream media choose to celebrate and cheerlead "greed is good", "end of history", "cut government, more free market", "US is the king - an eternal reality- and we better be its servents" , "world is flat", and "leftist ideologies have been buried" as though everything had been proved mathematically, as though we have seen the end of ideological battles in History. The Hindu choose to follow the middle path, reporting news as it is, giving perspectives from all sides, not mis-judging the local extrema as the final, universal extrema, strongly believing in its left-of-center conviction. The Times had climate change deniers among its senior editors and had advertisements disguised as news and preferred showing tits over publishing news on farmer suicides. It has a loyal set of followers who call The Hindu old, leftist and boring.

When the financial system - cheerleaded by the likes of TOI - is in peril, when the land of Bush and imperialism gave way to the land of Obama and liberalism, when Mr. Obama says that uncontrolled greed is not good, when YV Reddy asserts that it was the RBI's steps to regulate the banking industry strongly in spite of protests from the private banks and free market cheerleaders that lead to the remarkable survival of its industry, when Obama goes about the world batting for peaceful coexistence and talks about thawing the ice with Iran, Cuba, Turkey and Islam, I can see the chubby cheeked China lover, or the editor-in-chief of the boring, South Indian, "Communist" daily, laughing.

Update: On second thoughts, I doubt if the "putting sugar" expression is the result of the translation to English, done in the second half of 20th century.

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