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Austenian Manner at the Manor

I have always been a creature of impulses – going mostly by what my heart dictates and not my head with inevitable disastrous results. But there are times when things turn out quite unexpectedly successful even when you have not used an iota of rationality – I think it’s the law of averages …I mean there can only be so many calamitous outcomes without some being extraordinarily successful. But as usual I am digressing from the core to the periphery!

An unexpected three day weekend came our way (My best friend and mine) late Thursday evening. A three-day weekend at any cost is a rarity in the gulag that we both work in…so it was far too tempting to let go of this opportunity and spend it in mundane tasks like – electrical fittings (Our bell as well some lights have gone bust requiring some serious electrical rewiring), going to the library (my books are a week overdue) and visiting the parlour ( I hate going the parlour…yes I know I am a weirdo and all women love to indulge themselves but I do not like it and consider it a task that needs to be performed so that I can fit into  the stereotypical idea of womanhood….said I was a weirdo)…Anyways this and grocery shopping (we are out of everything!) needed immediate attention and had I been a sane and rational creature, I would have gone ahead and completed my to dos. But instead my best friend and I quickly looked up weekend gateways and booked a room for two nights three days …all within 20 minutes of realising that we have a Friday off along with the weekend!

We left really early in the morning, making only one pit stop at McDonalds for a hurried breakfast and reached out destination in just under 7 hours of drive. Our destination was a 170 year old manor house nestled high up among the hills. (Read my earlier post – I LOVE MOUNTAINS!) The Manor built in very British colonial style is a huge affair of wood and red bricks with traditional and clichéd red tiled roofs, large French windows and fireplaces. It was owned by several illustrious personages who used it as a getaway before being turned into a private boutique hotel.  Our room is an affair of oak and teak wood with some lovely woodwork and a magnificent view of the mountains. I believe the first viewing of the room is important and I fell in love with this room as I opened the balcony door and the mist from the mountains wafted in the room and I could catch the very clouds in my hands. You can spend hours looking out of the balcony or the windows to the distant mountains with the mist floating in and out sometimes covering and sometimes when the mist clears, you can see distinctly the view across the ridge where stand the red roofs and the white ionic columns of the local Christ Church Cathedral. Fortunately for us, there were not too many guests at this time of the year and we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

After a quick shower and sumptuous lunch, both my friend and I agreed that we have earned our right to a siesta after the long drive. Post the siesta, in the spirit of the place, we had high tea, after which we indulged in some completely mindless and bizarre television watching.  I had previously mentioned that I do not own a television nor am I tempted to get one. When out on vacations I usually catch up with telly watching quota, but it just convinces me more and more that it’s a good thing that I do not have an idiot box!  After a light dinner, we turned in really early…I mean back home I would never sleep at 23:00 hrs…not here…oh! Well

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Naturally I was up at 5:00, all fresh and active. It’s funny how I always struggle to get up on time to go to work but on vacations, my body seems to program itself to get up on time and do all things in a regular logical manner. Anyhow, I wanted my coffee, but this being an exclusive but a small establishment; I was told that the kitchen will be open only after 8:00 am. But when you get so early, your body requires sustenance and so I made myself some coffee from the electronic kettle with the coffee/tea ingredients that come in as complementary. After that, they day turned into a day in the life and time of Jane Austen heroines. I got up and got dressed. I wanted to go for a walk but it has rained constantly since yesterday so I kind of dumped the idea and instead explored the manor with its old furniture and some absolutely marvellous photographs and paintings. Following this I indulged in a hearty breakfast – again very English: Toast, baked beans, bacon and Eggs, coffee and juice. I love long and leisurely breakfasts and this meal turned out to be a pure pleasure. After breakfast, we read by the hour in the Manor Library and then moved to the parlour for some writing. In the afternoon, after a light luncheon, we went downtown and spent some time exploring the local locales and finished our promenade with yet another high tea. Back in the manor, we spent the evening reading and playing Mahjong (I know Austen was for card games, but let’s allow for some evolution!) Dinner was a 4 course affair and again it was an early to bed and early to rise affair! We left for the city after breakfast, bidding adieu to our much-loved and tranquil Regency lifestyle and embrace the life and times of the millennia….Sigh!!!! The upside, the drive was magnificent as the mist came down over the mountains and we literally rove through the clouds!

Goodbye Manor House, we will miss you!

Photo Curtsey: Mentally Nailbitng

On the banks of Thames……

I want to share an amazing piece of historical fiction that I have just read (Yes! I hear you groan and I promise to write about a modern-day set novel soon….I was about to say next week, but I have the Alexander Trilogy lined up…so it will be soon and yes too much of historical fiction does not fry anybody’s brain!) Now that I have stopped digressing, let me get on to core of the matter – I have just finished reading Edward Rutherford’s London and it its MAGNIFICENT!!!Edward Rutherford was born in England in 1948 and was educated at Cambridge and Stanford Business School. He worked as a publisher for couple of years before settling down to write Sarum that traces the lives of the Wilsons, Shockleys and Porters from the time of Stonehenge to the close of War of Roses, covering 10000 years of history of the land. It became an instant bestseller and this self-confessed disciple of James Michener settled down to write a couple of more such bestsellers including Russia, The Forest, New York and London

I liked Edward Rutherford’s writing ever since, one day generally drifting through a library shelf; I picked up his The Forest. It was a pleasant surprise and a wonderful read – written in the style of James Michener’s The Source and Poland; it traced the evolution of the New Forest from the Norman Conquest to the modern-day. I was impressed by clean, simple style of writing with amazing plots and well researched material, but nothing prepared me for the brilliant work of London.

We have all read pieces of writing that become an old friend that you are loath to part with. London is one such work – it’s an epic and a mammoth work (only 1300 pages), but I rushed through the whole thing and then somewhere at about the 700 page mark, when I knew that I had read more than half of the book, I began to drag it out, because I did not want it to end. The book covers more than 2000 years of history, beginning from the very antiquity and the life around River Thames, touching upon all the key events from the coming of Romans and eventually Christianity, to the rise and fall of various royal houses of England and the establishment of such institutions/buildings that give the city her identity – the Parliament, the Lincoln Inn, St Pauls and Westminster Abbey. Rutherford’s style is simple- he creates his six fictional families and tells the stories of their descendants entwining them in and out of historical situations that gave an impetus to the development and growth of London, making them intermingle not only with each other, but also with significant historical figures like Thomas Becket, Bishop Cramer, Shakespeare, Sir Christopher Wren and of course, a whole gallery of English monarchy. The story traces the rise of one of the greatest metropolis of the world from the Celtic era to the modern-day dockyards of London through the families of Duckets, Barnikles, Flemings and Bulls as their lives and fortunes intertwine with each other and the rise of London. The most wonderful part of this book is while this work is an epic saga, he never loses his grip on the plot and with the close of each era, I was left wondering, so what happens to Lord Bocton, what will Ducket’s son do now?, especially since today’s hero’s grandson can be tommorow’s villain and a minor incident that as a reader you glossed over could have unfathomable effects as you go down another 300 years.  It’s a well-researched work, historically accurate – I especially love such small curios like how the rhyme Ringa Ringa Roses or how the term Cockney came about and many such historical nuggets.

I believe Lisa Jardine of the Times summed it up very aptly when reviewing the book – Rutherfurd’s is a marathon task… I think that he pulls it off. LONDON: the Novel could hook you on history for life.’ I so agree with that…read it…..the book will make you want to go back revisit your English History classes again!

All that Drama and Music…..

I am not too much of a movie buff…..I mean I watch movies but I would rather go out of my way to avoid them.(My best friend/flatmate on the other hand lives, breathes and dreams movies….I think you can guess what we fight about the most!) I do not like television and only form of creative visual media I really really like is Theatre. I love it…the booming voices, the minimalistic sets (I mean there is only so much you can do with your background when your audience is staring at it!) and of course the acting – a very erudite friend once told me that acting on stage is far more difficult because there are no re-takes; you get it right or you don’t get it right; however at the same time the actor often derives a high from his audience who is sitting right in front of him and from whose expression he can fathom the quality of his performance as he performs.

Anyhow, this weekend I went see an amateur production of Mario Pruzo’s The Godfather. It was a great production and the entire ensemble did justice to Mr Pruzo’s work.  However as I watched the play, a realization dawned on me that while I love plays and dramas, I must confess, I really get a kick out of musicals! (I can see Euripides turning in his grave! Did he have a grave? How did the ancient Greek dispose their dead body…must Wikipedia it!!!) I know that musicals are not perhaps the epitome of highbrow culture; most of them have weak plotlines, but boy!! They are ENTERTAINING!!!!

I think I can blame my love for such ‘common’ form of art on my mother. (I can see her raising her eyebrows and saying in a soto voice “Yes dear! You can always blame everything on your mother. I believe it’s the “in’ thing!) But seriously, my love for musicals stems from my mother, who is a trained Classical singer and for many years had performed live. As far as my memory goes, I can remember her trying to inculcate the love of music in me. It was a great disappointment to her to know that I had no musical capacity – I could not sing and I could never manage an instrument. It was only when she saw me become a proficient dancer (I trained for 22 years…one by force has to become proficient after that!) that she decided I was a worthy daughter. But this maniacal focus on songs and music that my mother imbibed in me and the love of dance that I have, would naturally lead me to love the form of theatre that combined both these elements at its very core – musicals!

I was only 4 when my parents took me to watch “Sound of Music” and my life would never be the same. I think I have watched this production both on stage and the movie more than a 100 times. I have been told it’s a clichéd choice and the work really does not merit any marks on intellectual creativity and ya da ya da ya da! I do not care. It remains without comparison my all-time favourite. Of course, since the age of 6, my tastes have evolved and my list of favourite musicals has grown – The King and I, South Pacific, West Side Story, The Phantom of the Opera, A Chorus Line, Fiddler on the Roof and Hairspray. I love the grandeur, the ta-da effect, the hundred odd dancers lifting their feet to the same tune at the same moment. It’s just an overpowering experience.

Musicals have evolved since they first made their appearance in 1860s and a lot is due to the Irving Berlin, Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart and Leonard Bernstein, but of course my favourites, Oscar and Hammerstein. (Yes! I know I am going for the clichéd) I know many scholars and theatre enthusiasts have claimed that with the introduction of Oscar and Hammerstein works, the musicals underwent a revolution.  The song and dance routine was combined with tight cohesive plot, which in many cases dealt with serious subjects like spousal abuse in Carousel! Or the struggle to bring modernity in a land steeped with superstition – The King and I or even the concept of inter-racial marriage – South Pacific. But it might be my hypocrisy but when I watch these musicals, I never watch them as political/social drama. In fact that is the last element when I want to judge the merit of the musical. Something like Carousel, actually scores low in my list as does the concept of education overcoming the defects of a low birth …remember My Fair Lady (Yes! I know the original idea was Pygmalion by the one and only G.B.Shaw, but I guess some subjects make better plays than musicals). That’s not to deride the merit of any of these works…..but for me, give me a song with 100 dancers with some snazzy moves in gorgeous costumes and a plausible storyline with a happy ending and that is the quintessential musical that I love. Thank you Roger and Hammerstein for enriching my life!

Urgent Help Required for the Inspirationaly Challenged

Inspiration has left me and for once mu hyper active brain is completely devoid of subjects to write about. This usually does not happen to me, but this lack of creativity could be stemming from the fact that I slept I think 18 hrs of the last 24 hrs which is highly unusual in someone who is an insomniac and then spent the rest of time in complete mundane tasks like laundry, grocery etc. I am not saying that these tasks are not essential but sometimes I feel that these necessary but absolutely mindlessly boring tasks actually blunt one’s minds!

Jane Austen observed as much in Emma, when Mrs Elton complained of her giving up music because a married woman has much to do, despite Emma pointing out ample opportunities for her to pursue her interest. In today’s world I feel the same holds true – we get so wrapped up in what’s petty and banal, that we lose sight of bigger and more important things. The problem is when you try to look at the bigger picture and let go of the smaller things, the other will think that he/she has an advantage over you and can exploit you for his/her own needs . And because you are looking at the bigger picture, you let the other win because in the wheel of life everything will balance out. Bollocks!!

I am rambling…..I need help!!!!!(Yes I am aware that for you have thought so for some time!)

Seriously, I am completely without an idea on what to write…. I thought I will write about the Conn Iggulden’s The Conqueror, but I have not finished the book and want to hold off until I reach the end! (So many books start with a promise and end up being a disaster, so I will not shoot off until I reach the end!) I thought I could share my thoughts on 50 Shades of Grey…but 1. I have not read the book…am not sure am liberal enough to read it either….(Yeah me a prude) 2. What can I possibly say that not already been said…I mean the book is selling because of the publicity and not because it’s a great work of literature and to write about I believe will inadvertently give it more attention than necessary. I thought inspired by Eggton, who I consider one of the bestest of best of HA HA bloggers, I would do a take on my journal….Unfortunately, my youth was anything but interesting….I just filled pages and pages of whining about how I never got any attention and wrote in a pedagogic fashion because all my friends were having fun while I took a high moral ground on how fate left me down …re-reading it made me want to throw up my dinner…me thinks me will burn the journal…I am surprised my parents did not murder me for being such a crybaby…They should have and no one would have blamed them, least of all the adult me!!! I Maybe my prudiness is a result of my whinny adulthood…I also  thought about writing on friendships which can be picked up from any point, but it’s such an exhaustive and poignant topic, that I was drained of my energy before I began… (Maybe I am so tired because I slept so much!!!!)

So, finally, I decided to ask all my wonderful patrons – What would you like me to ramble on? What is the first thing that I can talk about, which will in turn make you raise your eyebrows – tell me and the words will floweth…..name the book (if I have not read I will read it via kindle or in the good ol’ fashioned way!) you want more quirkiness from my flatmate and my life – name a subject and we will both dive in to give diverse versions of the same… maybe there is an old blog you want me to a blogquel on (Yes I invented that…it’s a sequel for blogs!!!! I am bored, but still a geniusJ) just name it!

Think of this as a charity project to prevent someone from growing absolutely prosaic…sob sob…HELP!!!!!!

Love and Mutiny in the times of British Raj

I think I have already mentioned in one my previous blogs that I LOVE Historical fiction. If it’s a historical romance, even better (Oh! Come on! I am a girl after all!!). So when I decided to write this post I thought I would do a quick survey of some of the top historical romances before getting down to the particulars. Unfortunately, the moment I Googled, I realized that my understanding of a historical romance and that of the world at large is very different.  To give an example of the same, Amazon list of top 25 romances consists of innumerable Judith McNaught and Jude Deveraux novels. While both the writer are very talented and I myself when I was somewhere in between the age of 15-20 have devoured all Ms McNaught ever wrote, one must admit in all honesty, that these are romances with no history. They are love stories set in a forgone period which adds all the dash and glamour of the bygone era to the story.

So what is my idea of a historical romance?…..Have you read a book perhaps little known called “Shadow of the Moon”  by MM Kaye?

Ms Kaye was born in colonial India in 1908 and spent her early childhood and much of her early married life in the same country. Born into a family that for generations had served the British Raj, her love for the country and her people was clear in her writings. Though after India’s independence, she would travel the world with her husband, Major-General Goff Hamilton of Queen Victoria‘s Own Corps of Guides and write about those places including, Cyprus, Berlin, Zanzibar, her heart would always hold a special place for her adopted nation, and from this came her most successful works – Shadow of the Moon 1957, revised in 1979 and The Far Pavilions 1978.

Shadow of the Moon is set in India during 1856-1858, tracing the rise and fall of the Indian Sepoy Mutiny. Being the daughter of the land and the great-niece of Sir John Kaye, who wrote the first standard account of the Indian Mutiny, her book is an exact and empathetic description of two races and nations striving to do what they believe is right, (though the author’s sympathies are clearly with the conquered race than the conquers!) without completely understanding the other’s view leading to one of the most horrific rebellions in the annals of British-India history. The book captures the politics, customs and economics that went into the making of the Indian mutiny, besides vividly portraying the characters of some of the greats of history who were instrumental in the event Lord Canning, Sir Henry Lawrence, Major William Hodson etc. The books gives a moving account of India with the heat, the bazaars, the winding rivers, the small hamlets, the acres and acres of cultivated land and her British India society with its balls, social rituals and moonlight picnics! At the heart of the book however is the heart warming love story of Winter de Ballesteros and Captain Alex Randall. Winter, the orphaned daughter of an English aristocratic mother and a Spanish nobleman, sets off from England to marry Conway Barton, whom she was betrothed to as a child. Alex Randall, Barton’s junior and an officer of the British Army, who is now working as an administrator in the fictional town of Lunjore, whose Commissioner is Barton, has been tasked to bring Winter to Lunjore. Winter’s journey to India, her marriage to Conway Barton, her flight during the Mutiny and finally uniting with Alex Randall makes the core of the story around which the politics, the battles and the history of India play out. While it sounds sordid, the love story is anything but so…it’s tender, moving and completely accurate in terms of social observances of the era. The country, her people and her heroes leap from the book and come alive as they grab your attention and force you to imagine an era long gone, in a land far away and love story that reverberates across time!

What so special about the book – it’s a darn good yarn. While the love story plays out, the book also has enough suspense, intrigue and thrills, to make it a good read. These along with the vivid and lyrical description of the land and her customs, makes the novel an all-round winner that would satisfy any genre of readers – romance, descriptive, thriller, historical!!!

Read it…I guarantee that you will at the least enjoy it if not love it!!

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