Tag Archives: books

The Real Hunger Games

22 Oct

For anyone who has access to cinema, internet and books probably recognises what this is about:

Peeta and Catnip. The last survivors of the hunger games, a book which is essentially about kids in a ring running and killing for their lives. They need food. They need to survive, whatever it takes. Some might think it mindless, but I don’t think this subject should be censored, in fact I think the opposite. I love books that cause an outrage when they have effectively managed to poke at the sore spot in our society, to point out something that needs discussing and improvement.

Except these books don’t do that. So it is indeed pretty mindless. They became a massive hit, as did the film, and yet it barely ponders over the questions the plot should raise, such as killing to survive, the value of your life against someone else’s or dealing out death. No, it became a massive hit because the two main characters fall in love. And then there is the jealous third wheel. Wait, why does this have a familiar ring in the history of love stories?

Indeed, the focus of the book seemed to be the gorgeous eyelashes of Peeta, the heart-breaker, and the dazzling outfits of the kids. But if you wanted to read about love drama and clothes you could just buy The Sun, magasine with a reading age of seven, costing you only a quid and the loss of few brain cells. I actually thought the book might ponder over and criticise living in a society where killing has turned into entertainment.

Then there’s the added bonus of the name. The Hunger Games. But the polished faces above are not what should be associated with the word ‘hunger’. The real hunger games are fought elsewhere. In India. In Africa. In Asia. In many sad parts of the world. This is what real hunger games look like:

https://i0.wp.com/flairpix.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/bathing_poverty.jpg

https://i1.wp.com/flairpix.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/poor_girl_lost.png

https://i2.wp.com/flairpix.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/poverty_starving_kids.jpg

They need food. They need to survive. And there are millions of them. It is not fiction, not some romaticised love story carelessly spiced up with death. It is real, real death and suffering. Looking at the above photos might have hurt your eyes, made you gulp down sadness, it did me. It’s hard to face. But think about what it does to the people experiencing starvation, how it hurts them, how they have to face the possibility of life leaving their body, slowly.

I will try to help, more than I have done so far. If I don’t know how, I will find out. I will appreciate what I have. I will hope and pray and beg that these hunger games end, for forever.

What about you? Or the question should actually be,

what about them?

870 million people do not have enough to eat  and 98 percent of them live in developing countries.     (Source: http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/i3027e/i3027e02.pdf 2012

Undernutrition contributes to five million deaths of children under five each year in developing countries. ( Source: UNICEF 2012)

The photos from: http://flairpix.com/41-heartbreakingly-beautiful-poverty-pictures/

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What makes a good book?

20 Oct

I think there are as many definitions for this as there are readers… and writers:

I agree with Oscar Wilde above. I think a good book is one that changes with you, not one that you grow out of. One of these for me has definately been the Little Prince by Antoine De Saint Exupéry. As a child I enjoyed the mystery of the Prince, the boas and wild planets and Bonsai trees and definately chuckled at the mockery of adults, and now that I’m older I notice: I still enjoy all of the above, and can never get enough of the wisdom behind them.

Maybe a good book, then, isn’t one that just changes with you but also one that changes within you. One that gives you lines which you can twist into new thoughts in your head, endlessly, and into new stories. Maybe the best stories are the ones that don’t finish when we finish the book but live on, to be finished by us in our own time.

But I also think that, while there are those books that we return to over and over again, sometimes what defines a good book is simply giving it a second chance. I know there are many who would beg to disagree with this, arguing that good writing makes the book good straight away, on the first read. But I think that, above all, what makes a good book is that the good writing doesn’t just sit there, between the covers, but that it is experienced. That it reaches the reader. Or more crucially, that the reader reaches for the writing themselves.

I realised this recently while I was waiting on some books I had asked to be ordered in to our library. Impatient, I grabbed few books from my shelf that I had already read but weirdly, not properly formed an opinion about. They were The Great Gatsby and The Bell Jar.  Both of them had remained totally ambiguous in my head the first time round, but now that I picked them up the second time they transformed from sort of good into amazing. But the books hadn’t changed, the dots hadn’t danced around and the words hadn’t been swopped while they rested on my bookshelf. I had changed, as a reader.

So I think, what is needed to make a good book is both a devoted writer and an open-minded reader.

And an advice I have found helpful, when I’m struggling to write because my heavy expectations on myself weigh me down, is this: To write something good, you first have to write something.

What do you think makes a good book? What books do you think are good or even, the best?

Aside

Why is one death a tragedy and thousand a statistic?

5 Oct

” LONG LIVE KIM IL-SUNG. KIM JONG-IL, SUN OF THE 21ST CENTURY. LET’S LIVE OUR OWN WAY. WE WILL DO AS THE PARTY TELLS US. WE HAVE NOTHING TO ENVY IN THE WORLD.”

“North Koreans learned to swallow their pride and hold their noses. They picked kernels of undigested corn out of the excrement of farm animals. Shipyard workers developed a technique by which they scraped the bottoms of the cargo holds where food had been stored, then spread the foul-smelling gunk on rooftops to dry so that they could collect from it tiny grains of uncooked rice and other edibles.

On the beaches, people dug out shellfish from the sand and filled buckets with seaweed.When the authorities in 1995 erected fences along the beach (ostensibly to keep out spies, but more likely to prevent people from catching fish the state companies wanted to control), people went out to the unguarded cliffs over the sea and with long rakes tied together hoisted up seaweed. ”

Do I dare to say it? Yes, the book above helped me to restore my faith in humanity when I felt like I might bend double and snap from the weight of all the ‘catastrophe-crisis-death’ headlines we see in the papers everyday. Why, you might ask?

Why would a country where spying is encouraged, where your leader is your religion, where propaganda is the only accepted art form, do that? Why would a country that is synonym for famine, help me to believe in something good?

Yes, I was shocked by the book. I stopped reading it for five months because I had to digest what I was reading. Because frankly, the realisation  and factual evidence that complete oppression is not some Orwellian imagined dystopia but a living thing affecting millions was a shock to me.

But then I realised that the shock was exactly what I needed. I needed to feel the weight of all the headlines and had to be reminded of the suffering. Because there is something more dangerous than violence and cruelty and oppression. It’s violence and cruelty and oppression becoming normal. Because when all we feel is numbness facing something horrible, we lose the will to do anything about it. Abnormal becoming normal is paralysing.

“She often felt sick over what she did and didn’t do to help her young students. How could she have eaten so well herself when they were starving? It is axiomatic that one death is a tragedy, a thousand a statistic. So it was for Mi-ran. What she didn’t realise is that her indifference was an acquired survival skill. In order to get through the 1990s alive, one had to suppress any impulse to share food. To avoid going insane, one had to learn to stop caring. In time, Mi-ran would learn to walk around a dead body on the street withouth paying much attention.”

I hope the day comes when that is a survival skill no-one has to learn.

And yet, every time people question my belief in altruistic actions and unconditional, unselfish love as naiive and dead, I recommend them this book. Why? Because it assured me that love does exist even in the darkest places. Oppression can kill many things, but it cannot kill love.

Quoted extracts from Barbara Demick’s Nothing To Envy, Real lives in North Korea.

Photo: Wikipedia