Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Real Spiderman


With Bare Hands
The True Story of a Real Life Spiderman
By: Alain Robert
Published by: Jaico
Pages: 306
Price: Rs 350


With limited mobility of his hands, smashed bones, and close brush with death (twice), one can describe Alain Robert's escalation of Petronas Towers, Taipei101, Sears Towers, Shinjuku Center Building, Golden Gate Bridge and several other urban landmarks across the world as, “incredible.”
Or perhaps not as Robert thinks that his urban escalations provide him with a different but respectable source of livelihood. And, since he is passionate about scaling cliffs and skyscrapers, a broken bone or two do scare him, but not enough to tie him down to a sedentary lifestyle or job.
For those who do not follow adventure sports, or are not acquainted with the rush of adrenaline, the first few chapters of autobiography, which describe the Robert's transition from a rock climber to an urban climber and difficulty ranges of cliffs, might be a little confusing. One also can't help but wonder, “why risk one's life?”, and “why leave natural cliffs in search of urban summits?”
However, as the autobiography progresses, Robert reveals the limitation of rock climbing as profession and how urban escalations chose him. As for being a foolhardy risk taker, Robert's description of preparing his slippers, coating his hands with magnesia powder and taking note of climatic conditions dispel the notion.
Yes, even with all this preparation, Robert had to cancel a few of his escalations or live them mid-way because of personal fears or climatic conditions or legal tangle. But, he has always returned to complete these half-finished tasks and has succeeded admirably on his second and sometimes even on third attempt.
Written in chatty style, Robert has often used the “F” word to express his frustration, joy and exasperation. Sometime comical, but mostly poignant, Robert has also thrown light on his cat and mouse encounters with the security, police, judicial system and the attitude of authority figures to human rights and dignity.
He also mentions his struggle to stay rooted to his values and mores and not be swept by the media hoopla and being feted by the who's who. That's the reason why Robert decided to scale broken down buildings in Rossigna, flavela (slum) in Brazil. He did it for the kids who befriended him on the streets of Brazil.
And, as for his fellow rock-climbers who accused him of commercializing his skills or lacking pragmatism and maturity, Robert says, “Well, perhaps I am not the one for falling in line. But never have I encouraged the undoing of modern society, nor have I wished anarchy to fall upon it. I merely use the liberties differently, but without playing the social misfit or the rebel. If I can succeed in building the life about which I have always dreamed, to have stuck to my guns and to have followed my dreams, I will have succeeded.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Losses and gains of life


Reportage of Diplomat Pavan Varma's foray into fiction.
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Death. Much as we know that we are born to die one day, we hope that the “one day” is in someone else’s fate and not ours... and, when we realise that we are living on borrowed time, we lose all our bearings. Death or rather how to deal with death is the premise of Indian diplomat and writer, Pavan Varma’s first fiction, When Loss is Gain which is published by Rain Tree, an imprint of the Rupa Publications. The book was launched in Pune recently.
Referring to the theme, Varma says, “It’s when the finality knocks at your door that you suddenly realise that all these years, months and days, you have been engulfed by the minutiae of life, tyranny of the trivia and fail to see the benediction of the feeling of just being alive. In other words, the book asks us how we treat our life.”
The fiction is set in Delhi and Bhutan, where the capital and the nation state are the metaphors for Hinduism and Buddhism.
Having lived in Delhi and now serving in Bhutan as the Indian Ambassador, Varma says, he has had the opportunity to observe the religions and philosophy of the two countries. “Hinduism represents joy, embracing life, while the key word in Buddhism is Dukha or sorrow. The protagonists, Anand, a Delhi-based lawyer stands for joy, while Tara, who is on the verge of renouncing her life reflects the Buddhist thought,” says the author of 16 non-fiction books.
The dialogue between Anand and Tara, interfaced with desire, overlap the dialogue between India and Bhutan. The core is highlighted through Sufism as the book has plenty of couplets written by Mirza Ghalib and Bulle Shah.
Calling it a fast-paced narrative, Varma says, that the book is about each one of us — how we look at life and how concepts like death, life, joy and sorrow are relative and redemptive. What is loss for us could be gain for others...