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Defining Style – An Alternative Perspective….

Now my regular readers know that I have NEVER ever blogged about clothes/fashion etc. That’s not me and besides, when there are so many books to read, why spend time on clothes. We all know that my maxim is what the brilliant Diderius Erasmus enunciated more than 500 years ago “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes”  and in exactly that order! Clothes are to be worn and yes one did attempt to look neat and maybe nice; but that’s just about it. It has an importance but there are more important things to talk about! That is until, my all in one best friend/roommate/wisdom tree convinced me to write a blog on Style as a part of defining one’s sense of style in ‘A Style Of My Own’ blogger contest by Women’s Web and Trishla emart. I was as usual not particularly keen about it, but then this was about style and from someone who has gone from a zero to a hero and still battles preconceived notions of fat and dowdy in one sentence, this was as good as any opportunity to break some myths and re-define style, especially for those of us horizontally challenged.

I don’t want to go back in time, but to really understand what my idea of style is, I have to re-visit my childhood and adolescence. Born as a fat chubby baby, my parents could have easily made a fortune by making me model for baby food. Fair, fat with head full of black hair, when I look at myself aged 5 month, I must admit at the cost of sounding pompous, I was ADORABLE! However one realizes as one gets older that fat chubby Johnson’s baby model does not necessarily translate to equally adorable “Fat, Chubby Adult”. I spent practically all my teenage years in a miasma of insecurity and discomfort, always feeling out of place, with all the honor of a wallflower! As years went by, I became more scholarly, primarily because I loved books and studying; but also because books increasingly became a substitute for dressing up; a way of being superior to the generic “others” as well the route to escapism. Besides growing up in late 1990s, we still lived in a society where brains and looks were incompatible and if you had one of two, you could not possibly have another, and because by then I had understood every nuances of intellectual delight, I was happy to sacrifice style for academia!

Life however was set on teaching me an excellent lesson wrapped up in a surprise package. Graduate studies took me to at a bohemian university, where for the first time I began to realize it was ok to be me – eccentric, intelligent and fun! I met gorgeous women with brains of a genius who cared for their appearance but were no less brilliant! I met men and women, who looked ordinary until they spoke and became the most attractive people in the room. Most importantly, I became best friends with my flatmate and my style mentor who told me to look inside and beyond the 5ft 7 inches 120 kgs heavy girl and bring forth the funny, intelligent and confident kid! She asked me for the first time “Who says fat is not stylish??!!!”

Thus began my transformation with some very basic changes that would eventually became my mantra for style –

  • To begin with get rid of specs and let the eyes show – In today’s world of advance contact lens technology, it’s a shame to hide behind spectacles, especially if you have big eyes. Eyes are the reflection of one’s soul and heart and if you are a what you see what you get person’s, your facial asset will always be eyes. Bring out the luster of those eyes with natural color but do not overdo them. Highlight but not EMPHASISE!
  • Beautiful skin is the best make up – Trust me, no regulated beauty treatment is required for this one. I don’t do face packs or facial regimes. I try and eat well (preferably with some fruits in the diet) and get enough sleep. Meditation for 10 mins before the mad rush of the day does not only wonder for your inner soul, but also reflects in your skin! Add a bit of bright lip gloss and your are all set for the day!
  • Earrings make it happen – If you are going discreet, uncluttered look and that too with a round chubby face, then earrings are your thing. Long danglers with chic cuts, gives an illusion of having cheek bones on face with a long neck and taking focus away from potential double chins. (If you are chubby/fat/obese/horizontally challenged, you will know the importance of “the neck”!)
  • Get those colors – Black may be slimming color but it’s boring and it’s the pattern and not colors that bring attention to the weight. If you are even remotely plump, you should say no to stripes, circles, and bubbles and all kinds of geometric patterns. Simple elegant cuts with minimalist embroidery or print on bright colors take attention away from the body circles and hide the tires, giving an appearance of gracefulness and chic!
  • Saree is “The” thing – I wear sarees to work atleast 3 days a week – Saree is THE garment that highlights all that’s best in the Indian woman’s body structure and drapes away all those bulges. Come on, you all you South Asian ladies, our mum’s used to wear sarees to work, catch buses, do shopping and manage homes! One generation later, we feel they are cumbersome! Give it try and you will realize, nothing makes you feel as beautiful as nine yards of gorgeous cloth!
  • Feel the style inside you –Physically, I am still the fat adult weighing 120 kgs but I believe I am the superstar of my show. It’s not because people tell me that (and trust me! They doooooooo!) But it’s because I feel it deep down inside! 🙂

The Scary Barn And Then Some….

I had a really exhausting and infinitely dorky work week and by Friday, all I wanted was comfort food and a good, gripping but easy read. Food came in form of wonderful Prawn Coconut Curry and White Rice (one of my most favorite dishes ever, cooked by an indulging and tolerant best friend cum flatmate cum Masterchef!) There was also some lovely red wine for indulgence and now all I had to do was select a good book and escape from the real world! I was not in a mood to indulge into a Byatt  or a history of Byzantine or World War II based fiction; I needed needed a good old yarn – a dam good story. Therefore, I picked something which has lain quietly in my Kindle for some time – The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James.

Sarah Piper is leading a lonely existence in 1920’s London, working as a secretary on temporary assignments, residing in a boarding house. She is now out of job and soon shall be out of all her money, when she gets an assignment to work as an assistant with a writer named Allister Gellis. In her very first meeting with Gellis , a rich, handsome war veteran, Sarah realizes that her new work would be more than just taking short hand and typing letters. In fact Allister Gellis is academic researching ghosts and other such supernatural phenomena and his current assignment specifically requires a female assistant, since this ghost – Maddy Clare, seems to get violent in the presence of men. Sarah’s task is to understand the reason for Maddy’s haunting and gather evidence about her presence to enable Gellis to write his book. With the strongest skepticism and doubt, Sarah agrees to the assignment and travels with her Gellis to small town where this haunting happens. On route she discovers that Allister Gellis usually has his regular assistant Matthew Ryder help him research his work, but he is currently away and it is Ryder who manages all the equipment during the field study, including operating the sound recorder, which the later has created. On reaching Worikshire, Sarah meets Mrs. Clare, whose barn Maddy is haunting and learns that 7 years ago, a 12 year old Maddy had showed up on Mrs. Clare’s doorstep dirty, grimy, severely injured and completely traumatized. Mrs. Clare and her house keeper had taken the girl in and nursed her. It seemed that initially the traumatized Maddy could not even speak, but would go into fits in the presence of any man. Enquiries were made to understand who was Maddy and when no one came back to claim her, the kind Mrs. Clare kept her in her home and slowly trained to be a maid. Over the years, Maddy had grown into a quiet individual, she still had her moods and fits, but mostly she was obedient and obliging girl, until two months ago when she hung herself from the rafters of the very barn that she was now haunting. Mrs. Clare was convinced that the rage which was manifested from Maddy’s departed soul could be fathomed only by a female expert and hoped that Sarah would be able to fix things for her, so that things could return to normalcy. With deep doubts, Sarah starts to reach out to Maddy, with frightening revelations of latter’s past, and devastating consequence, for Allister, Matthew and herself, unless Maddy’s soul can be avenged!

The book was gripping, almost! It began very well and the scene of first haunting with the fire in the barn was SCARY!! The thump-thump noise that Sarah hears is enough to give the reader hibby jibbies. The sleepwalking episode and the invasion of the crows was enough to make me sleep with the lights on for two days running! Unfortunately that were all the promise Ms. St. James had shown begins an ends. As a mystery narrative, the revelations falls flat; it’s clichéd and you can figure out the whats preety much my page 100 or so. More importantly, the author fails to answer the more critical questions of who is Maddy? Why did no one claim her? How did she manage to show up at the Clare’s house? You are kind of told the ending but not how the ending came about. For instance, In The Book Thief, Markus Zusak tells you up front that Rudy will die, but as a reader, it does not take anything away from the story, because the journey leading to Rudy’s death is more absorbing and complex! I could not feel any sympathy or any liking for the characters – Sarah Piper is a whinny mouse who keeps telling us that she was tall and slim with curves in her body and she is plain! Now let’s go over this – the protagonist is tall and slim with voluptuous curves and she is plain!! She keeps droning about her beauty until the male protagonist tells her she is beautiful! Wow! That’s innovative and completely non regressive! Matthew Ryder has a chip on his shoulder and one does not know why except for war trauma, and goes around scowling and being curt to one and all and that I guess is a wannabe Mr. Darcy prototype. Allister Gellis is the all-star, blonde, rich and handsome and war scarred as well, but he can be polite to even horrible strangers, but since he is not I will protect my itty bitsy assistance from being forced to drink a glass of whiskey in rude insulting manner like Mr. Ryder, he is not the hero! Point to be noted – our heroine has lived a difficult and independent life for last 5 years in London and cannot tell an over bearing stranger in the middle of the afternoon in a pub filled with people and in the presence of her employer who is a gentleman that she does not want a second glass of whiskey until the knight in shining armor shows up! Ye! Gods! The romance is flat! We had two chapters worth of “make love” scenes, and I skipped them completely. The clichés abound – if you are new rich, you are without class. You are a bully, because your wife left you!

In the end, it is an easy read, but it is not a gripping read and while the hauntings are truly and extremely scary and this where the author shows pure brilliance, it is all lost in the miasma of banality of the plot and mediocrity of the characters.

Reading and More…..

Alas  February commeth and winter almost goeth!!Woe is me!! My heart breaketh and tis another 10 months before the cold winds toucheth me again! Farewell! Farewell! Kind friend!! How thine shall be missed, thine knoweth not!!!!

Yes! I will stop now! I think I will lose almost all my readers if I DO NOT stop NOW!

Well despite the coming and goings of seasons, books persist and I have a LONG reading list for a relatively short month! Primarily there is significant spill over from January, which turned out to be a really bad reading month, especially in the latter half as my work got to me and spun me around and around. But to paraphrase Erasmus, If I have money, I buy books and then food and then clothes, but for that money, I need to work! Such is life!

Going back to me reading plan, I still have Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms” by Gerard Russell; I am simply not making any head way with the book, despite all my obsessions about Middle East and Religious politics. I will give it a try for next couple of days and if I do not hook onto it, I will give it up. I am making great progress with John Norwich’s “The Short History of Byzantium”; big and scholarly book but very much worth the investment. I have also added another book to my nonfiction reading for this month – “Mythologies” by Roland Barthes. The book is something of a legend and much recommended by all my friends from the sociology department, during my university years!

In Fiction, update, I am planning to finish reading “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. I began this book last week and so far, very good. I also on a whim picked up A.S.Byatt’s “Possessions”; I am not much of a Byatt fan, but am so far liking what I have read, which barely two chapters! Thanks to Jane I have “Enchanter’s Nightshade” by Ann Bridges,downloaded and ready for reading on my Kindle. I also have in my to read list “The Enchanted April” by Elizabeth Von Arnim (I need enhancements around me!). Finally as part of Goodread’s Women Literature Enthusiast’s I am  all set to read Nadine Gordimer’s “July’s People”. I was also planning to read something as part of my Reading England Project, but considering the old proverb about biting and chewing, I decided, I will keep this one hold for next month!

Well, that’s all for my bookish news. I will end this post with this really cool Jacob Creek’s Personality Quiz….it’s fun and highly unusual from run of the mill personality quizzes. I got Made By Heart….Ahem! Ahem! “You know the strength of your moral compassion is a defining feature and you’ll almost always choose loving over fighting. You often wear it on your sleeve, you’re made by heart.” Chardonnay and Shiraz and Martin Luther King and Oprah Winfrey all rolled into one!! So what are you – Determined, Creative, Intuitive or By Heart?  Do let me know!

Discovering the Abbey

I finished reading, actually re-reading,  Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey” as part of my Goodreads Women’s Classic Literature Enthusiasts January Reading Event, a couple of days back. “Northanger Abbey” has always been really low on Austen charter and was saved from my personal ignominy by the more morbid “Mansfield Park”. Naturally, it took me a while to get around to finishing this book and the fact that I at all participated in this event was attributed to two factors – 1. It was a Austen novel and for a dedicated devotee of Austen world, one cannot pass up a chance of re-reading her work, even if it’s one of your least favorites. 2. I have since my last reading of “Northanger Abbey”, read a lot of “Gothic Romances” including quite a few Ann Radcliffe books, and therefore was interested in now rediscovering the actual parody and thus I set off!

Northanger Abbey opens with a rather non-romantic description of our heroine Catherine Moreland, who unlike the heroines of Gothic romances has had a normal, happy childhood with well-to-do generous parents and now at the age of 17 has been invited by the Allens, their wealthy neighbors to accompany them to Bath. In Bath, Catherine soon discovers new alliances and friendships – the Thorpes and The Tilneys. The Thropes are a mother and daughter pair, the former being Mrs. Allen’s schoolmate, and flowing from this relationship; Catherine and Isabella Thorpe soon develop intimate friendship, especially considering their fondness for Mrs. Radcliffe’s works. This relation is further strengthened when it is discovered that Isabella is engaged to James Mooreland, elder brother to Catherine. The Tilney’s are the offspring’s of General Tilney, the present owner of Northanger Abbey. Catherine soon develops a friendship with Ms. Tilney and an increasing liking for Mr. Henry Tilney, the younger son of General Tilney. Her intimacy with the Tilney’s soon reaches an epoch when she is invited by them to join them at their residence at Northanger Abbey.  Finally, Catherine is all set to be happy, for here is chance to visit an actual Abbey like a true heroine of her favorite novels, and that too which is home of the one for whom her liking increases every day. However in the true spirit of Radcliffe heroines, Catherine’s faith has more in store and she will have to overcome her own folly and has to act with integrity and generosity before she can find her much wished ending.

I remember not liking “Northanger Abbey’ because of the protagonists – I found Catherine to lame and Henry Tilney lackluster, especially in comparison to a Mr. Darcy, or Captain Wentworth or even Colonel Brandon. But re-reading is such a blessing because it forces you to see things that you had previously missed and appreciate nuances you had been absolutely oblivious off! Catherine is no Elizabeth, or Emma or even an Eleanor or Marianne; but she is exactly what she is a young girl brought up in a sheltered but principled environment, who sees the big world , so to speak for the first time.  She is taken in, discovers her folly and acts with integrity and finds her happy ending. She is intelligent, without pretensions, perhaps a bit naïve and under confident, but she has enough sensitivity to know the principles of honor and honesty and is capable of much kindness. While she will never be one of the trail blazing heroines of Austen land, not all heroines are same, and yet have great value in being just what she is; just like real people. I am not sure why I felt Henry Tilney was such a flat character; may be because I saw everything through a Darcian prism. But Henry Tilney is a wonderful character, honorable, well –read, fond of his sister with a dry irreverent humor and a thorough understanding of the foibles of human nature that serves as a perfect foil to Catherine’s naïve nature.   The book is funny, Austenian funny – witty, sarcastic and impertinent. From the heroine discovering a laundry bill in the secret chamber of the chest to the imagined Mrs. Tilney being kept a prisoner by her cruel husband, Jane Austen takes on her favorite author, Ann Radcliffe and her likes through a maze of all that is silly and incongruent. The novel is at the end of the day a brilliant hybrid of “Comedy of manner” and a parody at its best!

Brilliant, forever brilliant, Ms. Austen….even you’re what I always assumed to be a mediocre work turns into a a masterpiece! Viva Jane Austen!

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