Thursday, August 04, 2005

Pishoo! Ctunk Ctunk Ctunk (A paragraph for your evaluation)

I got interested in reading more Zulfikar Ghose after my post on Pakistani novelists a few days ago. So I've been reading parts of The Triple Mirror of the Self, where I'm mainly enjoying the final section of the novel -- the part set in India. (As with Rushdie, Ghose seems to be most alive with details and characters when he goes 'home'. The other sections of the book -- in native American Texas, and in Latin America -- are solid, but they don't carry quite the same spark.)

Ghose's style owes something to Joyce, especially of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but it strikes me as pretty distinctive in some ways as well. Below is one paragraph from The Triple Mirror of the Self (1991) for your evaluation. Keep in mind that it's the voice of a child-narrator, who grows up as the story moves forward. In that sense it's very similar to Joyce's Portrait, which starts with the famous "Moocow" sentence: "Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo..."

Here, though, is Zufikar Ghose:

He climbed up the balcony again. His ears had caught the sound of the train before he saw it. Not the clattering suburban trains that went past every five minutes. But the gliding, sweeping motion of the electric locomotive that produced a smoother sound as it pulled the red carriages of the Punjab Mail, still some ten miles from Victoria Terminus, slowing down for its penultimate stop, Dadar. He stared at the train and was filled with a feeling of magic. Lahore one minute and shoo-shoo clickety-click tucka-tucka-tucka pishoooo you're gliding into Bombay. And there he was in the women's compartment with his mother and his sister Zakia looking out of the window at the long Lahore platform at last disappearing. The huge steam engine down the curving track heaving, throwing out a great cloud of black smoke. Choocho-sho choocho-sho and over the river ctunk ctunk clack-clack clack-clack through the iron bridge. Fast then across the vast green plain. Delhi. Agra. Names from memory, from history lessons, stories told by his father with a huge illustrated book in his lap. Domes in the distance, minarets, sandstone, marble, ghosts of armies charging across the plains the horses of Moghul kings kicking their heels. English soldiers at the railway stations, marching down the platform on steel-tipped boots. Clack-clack tock, clack-clack tock, the metallic sound drilled to be precise, efficient and powerful. Crowds of people. Turbaned men. Veiled women trailing children. Now across the middle of India. So much dust. Cough cough. But then the steam locomotive is disconnected, along comes the square-faced electric engine and we're gliding down the mountains whoopie with the air now moist and the breeze coming from the ocean, the magical Sindbad-the-sailor ocean, the Arabian Sea. Full of pearls it must be, emeralds and rubies. One minute Lahore and then Pishoooo you're gliding through forests of coconut trees and the little bits of blue glass shining in the distance are bits of the Arabian Sea like little presents wrapped in blue paper hanging from the trees.

I'm not sure. There are some things I like such as the overall sweep of the paragraph, and the way it gives a sense of the massive space of the country, with the railroad at the dynamic center. But there are also some things I'm not so crazy about...

What do you think?

2 comments:

sepoy said...

I think the child and the grownup voices jar:

"He stared at the train and was filled with a feeling of magic. Lahore one minute and shoo-shoo clickety-click tucka-tucka-tucka pishoooo you're gliding into Bombay."

vs

" Domes in the distance, minarets, sandstone, marble, ghosts of armies charging across the plains the horses of Moghul kings kicking their heels."

Prithi Shetty said...

As a reader I wont give much mark to this para, for clarity or creating a vision. If it is an opening para, I might drop the book. Or maybe, let me reserve my opinion, till I actually checkout his book.