Truth and Seek

Following my article about the Harry Potter series I have decided to write another summary, this time of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. Before I begin, a few words about books and me. I love books, though I am not obsessed with them. On an average I read around 12-15 novels a year. That translates to approximately 1 a month. Of course, it doesn’t mean that I read one every month – it is entirely likely that all the novels are finished in the span of 2 months. I have a pretty decent collection of books, running close to a thousand.

My foray into fantasy was fueled by a K-Circle quiz in 2003, Harry Potter and LOTR notwithstanding. I decided to try out the books that happened to be the answers of the quiz and took recommendations from my good friend Vishy. Vishy suggested that I try the book Wizard’s First Rule from the Sword of Truth series. And I was hooked. If I might add, Vishy stopped following the series through the middle of the third book (Blood of the Fold), but I went on to read the entire series of 11, plus the prequel Debt of Bones. The series has been adapted to a TV series called Legend of the Seeker. The challenge of adapting a book for the idiot box is that you have to make things formulaic, whack some events out of sequence, introduce your own elements and drop a few others. Keeping these in mind the Legend of the Seeker comes off as an attempt that is not very satisfactory. More of it later. But I must add that they have a rather pretty leading lady in Bridget Regan.

Kahlan Amnell and Richard Cypher / Lord Rahl
Kahlan Amnell and Richard Cypher / Lord Rahl

The Character Universe

  • Richard Cypher / Lord Rahl – The protagonist of the tales. He goes by several titles, the first of which is “The Seeker of Truth”. He wields the Sword of Truth, a magical sword (seen in the picture above). The series focuses on Richard’s growth as a character as well as in magic. He is shown to be free-thinking, compassionate, intelligent, strong and with an intuitive understanding of his power.
  • Kahlan Amnell – The Mother Confessor and Richard’s love interest. As a Confessor she can “confess” any person by touching him / her. This makes the “confessed” persons lose themselves completely and becomes slaves, obsessed with obeying and protecting the Mother Confessor and losing their free will. Of course, she controls her power most of the time so as to prevent people from becoming unwitting slaves. However Confessors cannot control their power throes of passion, which results in people never falling in love with them. Kahlan is an extremely powerful Confessor, who is very beautiful, just, intelligent and dedicated to her cause.
  • Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander / Zedd – The First Wizard and mentor of Richard. Zedd is an extremely powerful wizard, who was responsible for killing Panis Rahl – father of Darken Rahl. Zedd is portrayed as a perennially hungry old man who is friends with Richard from before the series begins.
  • Darken Rahl – The villain for the first 2 books and the ruler of D’Hara. He makes an appearance in the fourth book as well. Richard becomes Lord Rahl after killing Darken Rahl.
  • Jagang – Also known as the Emperor of the Imperial Order or Jagang the Just or the Dream Walker or the ruler of the Old World. Jagang’s role grows as the series progresses. He is only mentioned as the Emperor of the Old World in the second book (without being named), starts driving things in the third book, he shows what he can do with his powers in the fourth book and becomes the chief villain from that point on.
  • Mord-Sith – Mord-Sith are the personal guards of Lord Rahl. They have the unique ability to turn a person’s magic back on him/her. Mord-Sith are created by torturing girls from a very young age and they develop into women who can administer unbelievable amounts of pain using a tool called an Agiel. Two Mord-Sith feature prominently in the series – Cara and Denna
  • Sisters of the Light and Sisters of the Dark – These sorceresses are good and evil respectively. By birth people with the “gift” of magic possess the additive side of the gift. However, the Sisters of the Dark have pledged their souls to the Keeper of the Underworld and have gained use of the subtractive side of the gift. The Sisters getting repeated mention through the series are Prelate Annalina Aldurren (Ann), Verna Sauventreen, Ulicia, Nicci and Merissa.

Each book mentions one Wizard’s rule

  1. Wizard’s First Rule: People will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they’re afraid it might be true.
  2. Wizard’s Second Rule: The greatest harm can result from the best intentions.
  3. Wizard’s Third Rule: Passion rules reason.
  4. Wizard’s Fourth Rule: There is magic in sincere forgiveness; in the forgiveness you give, but more so in the forgiveness you receive.
  5. Wizard’s Fifth Rule: Mind what people do, not only what they say, for deeds will betray a lie.
  6. Wizard’s Sixth Rule: The only sovereign you can allow to rule you is reason.
  7. Wizard’s Seventh Rule: Life is the future, not the past.
  8. Wizard’s Eighth Rule: Talga Vassternich. (Deserve Victory)
  9. Wizard’s Ninth Rule: A contradiction can not exist in reality. Not in part, nor in whole.
  10. Wizard’s Tenth Rule: Willfully turning aside from the truth is treason to one’s self.
  11. Wizard’s Eleventh Rule: The “Rule Unspoken”, the “Rule Unwritten”, “The rule from the beginning of time.”

Each rule is explained in the context of the story. The last rule is particularly interesting and is not explicitly quoted. However Richard figures it out and that is instrumental in his victory at the end.

The books are quite captivatingly written. I recall starting the first book and turning the pages in excited anticipation of what was going to happen next. I didn’t rest till I had finished the book at around 4:30 a.m. That being said, there is a lot of gore and violence at several places, along with talk of rape and abuse in every novel. However, if you are not squeamish about such things then you will enjoy the ride. You have to be careful, though, about giving the books to younger kids. Another aspect of the book is the angst. The lead characters never spend much time happily with each other – they are almost always separated by some machination.

And now for the books themselves. I am keeping my reviews as spoiler-free as I can. As a result I am leaving out key plot details and character traits at several points.

  1. Wizard’s First Rule
    The first book of the series, which sets the tone by introducing the main characters. The story starts with Richard meeting a very beautiful but mysterious lady in white (Kahlan), being chased by a group of four assassins. He takes her to meet Zedd, learns a few very important things about himself and Zedd and becomes the owner of the Sword of Truth, an ancient object of power. He then gets involved in the journey to save the world from the rule of Darken Rahl. On the way he meets a witch woman (not to be confused with a sorceress), gets captured by a Mord-Sith called Denna who tortures him to within an inch of his death, befriends a dragon and eventually manages to prevent Darken Rahl from gaining control of the world by making him open the wrong Box of Orden. And yes, he gets Confessed by Kahlan.

    The structure of the story is like most other works of fantasy – the young hero finds out that he is blessed and has to save the world, the odds are insurmountably stacked against him, he has a kindly mentor to help him in his quest and the villain is a nasty piece of work. However, what makes the difference is Goodkind’s deftness with words. The details about violence are graphic enough and scenes of angst are drawn out to just the right limit, so as to not only prevent the reader from getting bored, but also to paint the correct picture in the reader’s head. What works very well is the way the characters are fleshed out. If anything is wrong, it is the fact that the names are somewhat corny. Darken Rahl? More laughably, Panis Rahl?

    Continue reading Truth and Seek

Ad and Lib

I have always grappled with ways to maintain a library or reading list on my blog. I recently discovered Rob Miller’s rather excellent “Now Reading” plugin for WordPress to meet this exact requirement. The plugin lets you add books that you are currently reading, or plan to read or have already read. In addition you can add ratings and reviews. As a bonus you can also hook up your Amazon Associates ID to every book in your library, so that if somebody reaches Amazon through the book’s listing on your site and purchases the book, you get paid.

Of course, you will need to pretty it up to suit your blog template, but the results outweigh the effort. Rob provides a pretty straightforward way to handle templates, so you don’t risk running into code conflicts.

I have so far put some books in my library. The list is far from complete, but I am glad I have a starting point.

Portraying the Mahatma

At the risk of being butchered, marinaded, barbecued and finally eaten, I would like to state that Bengali pride makes most Bengali people prefer the firebrand nature of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to the more non-violent Mahatma that the rest of the world idolises. I fall in the same bucket (i.e. prefer Bose to Gandhi), which is why I decided to take a shot at writing this.

I have tried to analyze 5 movies, each dealing with a different view of Gandhi. Correction: I have tried to analyze 4 movies movies and 1 play. I have tried to keep my analysis as spoiler-free as possible.

  1. The Perspective of a Biographer: Gandhi (1982)

    Any list on films about Gandhi is incomplete without this biopic mentioned at the top of the heap. The remarkable thing about this movie is that the maker Richard Attenborough is not Indian and Ben Kingsley who plays the titular character is only half-Indian. And yet, this is as good a depiction of Gandhi as possible. So much so that most non-Indians I am aware of got interested in Gandhi through this eponymous movie. I myself use this movie as a refresher-course when I forget some detail associated with India’s freedom struggle.

    As a biopic this multiple Oscar winner covers Gandhi’s life from his days in South Africa up to his death. The whole aspect of India’s freedom struggle with him in the forefront is shown in great detail. The movie publishes a disclaimer upfront, stating the impossibility of recording all of Gandhi’s life in one movie and proceeds to show his journey with great historical accuracy. It seldom sees the need to spice up any event associated with Gandhi’s life, since this was a life where truth certainly was more interesting than fiction. Being more of a homage, it tends to skip over some character flaws, but that doesn’t take anything away from its splendour.

  2. The Perspective of a Relative: Gandhi, My Father (2007)

    This is an exceptional movie directed by Feroz Abbas Khan, which got buried under the more commercial releases of the year. Given the fact that the average Indian moviegoer likes the glamour and glitz that a Khan puts on display rather than a serious look at an unexplored relationship, it was not at all surprising that Gandhi, My Father failed to set the cash registers ringing. Featuring Darshan Jariwala as the Mahatma and Akshaye Khanna as his eldest son Harilal Gandhi, this movie tracks the troubled relationship of Gandhi with his son.

    I like this movie because it is never preachy. It shows how Gandhi favoured merit over relations and gradually became a passive agent of the destruction of his son’s life. Harilal’s relations with his father soured due to several actions on Gandhi’s part:

    1. Preferring to sponsor another young man in the neighbourhood for higher studies in the UK
    2. Advising someone to sue Harilal for cheating
    3. Disowning Harilal publicly

    It shows how Gandhi the father of the Nation always trumped Gandhi the father of Harilal.

  3. The Perspective of a Common Man of Today: Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006)

    Among all movies that I have seen, this was the most novel attempt of making the common man empathize with Gandhian philosophy. For those not familiar with the movie, this is the second (and so far last) installment of the popular “Munna Bhai” series directed by Rajkumar Hirani.

    It deals with a goon Munna (Sanjay Dutt) trying to woo a pretty Radio Jockey (Vidya Balan) by pretending to be a professor of Gandhian philosophy. When he first hears of 2nd October and “Bapu” in the land of the Mahatma around 60 years after independence, his thoughts don’t progress beyond it being a “dry day”. For the uninitiated, a “dry day” is when booze-shops don’t sell liquor. After a bit of fact-finding he figures out that Gandhi is the “guy whose face they have on banknotes”. However, faced with the prospect of being outed he bites the bullet and slogs for 72 hours through every piece of literature that he can find on Gandhi.

    The result is that Gandhi (Dilip Prabhavalkar) appears to him in person and guides him through the essentials of Gandhian philosophy. He solves a variety of complex problems using his approach, called Gandhigiri:

    • He helps people muster courage and speak the truth (while lying about himself!)
    • Fights corruption
    • Shuns class discrimination
    • Protests in a non-violent manner
    • Makes people feel guilty about doing the wrong thing
    • Fights superstition

    The attempt of this movie is to help people start a journey to understand Gandhian philosophy. Of course, to gain a real understanding you would have to devote a few years of your life, but this movie’s refreshing approach really connects with the common man.

  4. The Perspective of a Non-Believer Turned Follower: Hey Ram (2000)

    Many would argue the presence of Hey Ram on this list, because this movie barely showed Gandhi for 10 minutes. However, IMO this is a very deserving pick.

    Kamal Hassan directed and acted in this movie, featuring Naseeruddin Shah as Gandhi. His character, Saket Ram loses his wife to the communal riots associated with the partition of India. In his grief and rage he is recruited by a group of Hindu fundamentalists, who plan to kill Gandhi. They hold Gandhi responsible for the riots and are against his policy of appeasement towards Muslims. Saket Ram is assigned the task of assassinating Gandhi. Eventually though, after the murder of a very close Muslim friend (played by Shahrukh Khan) by Hindus, he sees the error of his ways.

    What caught my fancy in this movie was the gruesome violence and the sheer futility of the partition riots – I was quite shaken after I stepped out of the movie theatre. The interesting thing about the movie is the difference in the portrayal of Gandhi before and after Saket’s change of heart. The dialogue delivery by Naseer before the change makes you detest Gandhi – it is as though Gandhi tried to emotionally manipulate the masses by going on fasts and Satyagrahas. After Saket’s change, however, the portrayal became much more benign. Most friends of mine failed to latch on to the fact that the portrayal of Gandhi varied by the state of mind of the protagonist, and thereby disliked the film.

  5. The Perspective of a Follower Turned Assassin: Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy (1989)

    This one, a Marathi play, is the odd one. This was also a very hard one to write about. Pradeep Dalvi, the playwright was denied permission to stage the play by the government of Maharashtra in 1989. Nine years later an attempt to resurrect the play in theatres failed again. So you can’t catch the play, but the transcripts are available. The play is split into four acts:

    1. An Assassin Speaks
    2. Gandhi Must be Stopped at Any Cost
    3. The Next Moment I Fired at Gandhi
    4. The Assassination

    History is always written by the victor. In this case, though Nathuram Godse was the person doing the killing, the victor was actually Gandhi. So naturally, any viewpoint that opposed Gandhi’s was bound to be put down. The play provides the viewpoint about Gandhi being wrong in his political stance, then justifies his killing as the only way to stop him from destroying India.

    I was hanged. There was only one common factor in Gandhi’s life and mine. We were both the cause of each other’s death. He wanted to live for his principles and I was prepared to die for my principles.

    Nathuram Godse, in Pradeep Dalvi’s play, Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy

So there you are – one man, so many movies. Do catch them if you can – each is worth your time. It won’t matter if you admire the man’s principles or not – his journey has several lessons to teach.

Floored. Completely.

My absences keep getting longer and longer. Luckily I decided to write something today, otherwise I might have finished 2007 without a blog!! Anyway, here is something I actually posted as a comment on Aamir Khan’s website ( about his recent movie Taare Zameen Par. It is tough to do an “Eloi & Morlocks” analysis for this movie, so the comment is general. Aamir’s blog has a limitation of 1000 characters per comment and my first draft was 3772 characters long! So I decided to split it into sub-sections and tried my “precis-writing” skills. I eventually brought it down to 3 sections from 4 and posted it. Here is the content.

(Here is a really long comment that I have split into 3!)

Part I

My wife and I would like to first thank you for making a splendid movie. We sincerely hope that the movie makes a lot of money otherwise the message will not go to the masses. That being said, the movie set us both thinking.

I have, for the past few years, been a contributor to a group called Parivaar in Kolkata. Parivaar takes complete care of destitute and vulnerable children. Two things stand out when you visit Parivaar – the children and the administration. The children are in many ways like the ones at “Tulip”, but they are not suffering from Down’s Syndrome or autism or other congenital ailments. Instead they have been given up by parents who couldn’t take care of them. The founder is a young man in his twenties with degrees from both IIT and IIM, who chose not to pursue a life of luxury and dedicated himself to helping the underprivileged.

(Continued …)

Part II

My point in the above is that most of us lack the courage and conviction to do something so radically different. We forget that the smiles on the children’s faces are often a greater reward than any other. Why is it that most of us want our kids to grow up and become doctors or engineers? It is due to our conditioning. An average Indian is by nature more conservative and risk averse than say, an average American. Not our fault – there are more jobs and benefits available to a mediocre engineer than to a good artist. So the parents feel more secure if the child is in a low risk track. To that extent I sympathise with Ishaan’s parents – how is a child to survive in the rat race without the 3 R’s? After all, no parent wants his or her kid to do badly. It is just that in India our inherent nature really narrows down the range of “doing well” to academics. Come to think of it, even TZP’s ending shows that Ishaan has become better in academics.

Part III

I think that for the movie to make a tangible impact to society, everyone has to accept that there are more choices than becoming an engineer or a doctor. Moreover these opportunities really have to be available, profitable and visible. Our taxes should be used better to build a good infrastructure for handling unemployment. Once this happens TZP can go down in history as the movie that kickstarted a progressive society.

High points:
– Darsheel. It was astounding how he conveyed so much by speaking so little. Besides the “3 x 9” sequence, I believe he has less than 30 lines of dialogue, which goes to show how well he emotes with his eyes. The scene where his mother tells him that she cannot visit was top notch.
– The song “Maa”. And the music in general.
– The script and the direction. I now fully understand your comments on “Black”
– The research. “Solomon Islands” was a gem

Sorry for the rather long-winded comment. I hope I haven’t worn you down!


Coming soon – a tribute to our soon retiring generation of great cricketers.