All About The Absence

Hello! Hello! I know I have been away for nearly two weeks without a word, and some of you have been wondering where I have been! To begin with, a big Thank You to those who have been checking up on me; I really really appreciate the concern and feel blessed to have people who watch out for me!

I was away on a road trip all across what is considered the Himalayan Desert at about 15000 ft from the Sea Level. The region around 10th century used to belong to the then Tibet empire and still retains many of its culture and practices, which are especially evident in the Monasteries that are dotted all over the region.The place is called  and is a unique natural phenomena of a desert at a very high altitude,  located in the north-eastern part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. “Spiti” means “The Middle Land” in Bhutia language, i.e. the land between Tibet and India.

While Spiti River surrounds the valley, the region is in a rain shadow area and is devoid of the lush green vegetation that usually forms the landscape of the Himlayas. However the barren brown mountains in the backdrop of the clear and deep blue skies are absolutely awe inspiring and in their presence you are intensely aware of a power at work, which is much greater than those of the mortal man. And then after range and range of imposing brown mountains, there would be flash of green and all kinds of wild flowers and it would seem like some one had taken a crayon and painted the whole natural canvass.No wonder, Buddhist monks chose this region to deeply meditate and some of the most powerful monasteries of the Buddhism is located here!

I took this trip again with the absolutely brilliant Shibani and her team at Wonderful World and only they could have managed to infuse a sense of comfort when the conditions were anything but, provide luxury when none existed to begin with and ensure we get a feeling of truly experiencing Spiti and her culture with a well thought through and extremely considered plan. For 10 days, managing 12 women across adventurous terrain, Wonderful World, this time led by Pooja Sharma, ensured that we all got to do what we wanted and keep calm in face of crisis including when my flatmate and cousin decided to take photos anywhere and everywhere  delaying the scheduled arrival time. Pooja was also wonderfully patient in helping me navigate some of more challenging trails, which became challenging thanks to the 224lbs that I carry with me! This team remains a girl’s best travelling companion!

This trip was not meant to be  relaxing vacation, a day at the resort; it was arduous and difficult. Every day we would drive about 8 hrs or so and then hike some more km. As the altitude increased, air became thinner and simple tasks required more effort and sleeping at a different place each night and living out of the suitcase for 14 days was anything but easy! But this was one of those truly life changing epic trips and the majesty and the brilliance of the landscape sears your soul, until you find yourself introspecting and come away with a heightened awareness of self and the surroundings!

I know I will go back there and at some point, move to the valley to spend the rest of my life there. Until those grand plans materialize, I leave you with some pictures of its grandeur!

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P.S. None of the photos have been Photoshoped and the play of colors and shadow that you see is a complete natural capture!

Some Goblins, Some Songs & A Birthday

For somebody enormously fond of literature and passionate about readings, my adventures in Poetry are next to none. Despite majoring in English Literature for my undergraduate degree, I could not develop a liking for this form of writing. I always felt that it takes a very developed and highly sensitized brain to truly appreciate poetry and somehow, I seemed to lack both in the right measure to really become a connoisseur. So I remained in the margins, reading up what others wrote about the texts assigned to me and managed to get the degree with honors, largely because I loved prose and drama. Anyway since the dismal tryst with poetry, I have usually kept such reading limited and at bay;however this year like I keep harping and I am trying to do things differently, as in reading Woolf and Zola, both of which I had dreaded and ended up loving, that not to venture forth with this other albatross seemed silly and I decided to plunge ahead. Since I was planning to take baby steps in reading poetry, I decided to start with someone whose works I have read in the past and enjoyed and did not not struggle through – Christina Rossetti fitted the bill to a T and her Goblin Market and Other Poems seemed the thing that slid very nicely into my Women’s Classic Literature Reading Event as well The 12 Month Reading Challenge, March theme being, A Classic that has been recommended! Goblin Market has been recommended to me for like FOREVER and now was a good time to start!

The Penguin Edition of Rossetti’s works is a collection of the poet’s 20 poems, the most famous being The Goblin Market. The poem describes the coming of the Goblins to sell their wares – the most delicious and freshest of fruits apples, cranberries, peaches, apricots, pears, grapes, pomegranates etc. Two sisters, Laura and Lizzie who live together hear the coming of the Goblins; Laura is tempted by the descriptions of the fruits, but Lizzie cautions against going and purchasing the fruits from the Goblins. Laura however is tempted and one evening lingers around the stream waiting for the Goblins to come and bring their fruits; when the Goblins arrive, she realizes she does not have any money to buy the fruits but the goblins offer to take a piece of her golden hair instead. So Laura gives up some of her hair, gorges herself on goblin fruit, and heads on home to her sister.The next day Laura and Lizzie go about their work in the house, Laura dreamily longs for the coming evening’s meeting with the goblins who will come again with their delicious fruits. But at the stream that evening, as she strains to hear the usual goblin cries of their fruits, she realizes that although Lizzie still hears the goblins’ voices, she no longer can. She slowly begins to fall ill and starts to waste away.  A worried Lizzie has to act soon and decides to confront the Goblins in an effort to save her sister!

This is the primary poem of the collections consisting of 28 stanzas and provides much food for thought! There is of course a vast deal of analysis that is available on this poem and they range from feminism, to sexual freedom to anti-Judaic character treatment etc etc. There is no denying that there is a sexual element to this composition, however, my take is that simply, Rossetti was rebelling against the social mores and restrictions, especially the ending, where the Victorian fallen woman, instead of dying away in oblivion, is resurrected and lives to a ripe old age! There is also the creation of Lizzie as a “hero” noble and brave who goes out to find a cure for her sister – there is no Prince Charming to the rescue here, but rather a theme of how woman must stand by each other! Then there is the aspect of being cautious against things we seem to little understand and letting them be.The poem uses an irregular rhyme scheme and irregular meter and allows some time to pass before the word finds its partner, which makes for a very unique reading experience and is best if read aloud. Apparently this poem was written for children, but I am not quite sure, if that was the only purpose of Ms. Rossetti.

I loved the collection and I completely  “besotted” is the word is guess, by the images and the themes that Ms. Rossetti uses to bring forth in her poems. While I really enjoyed the revolutionary spirit of Goblin Market, I also loved her “Song – When I am dead, my dearest” I cannot help but feel that though this particular poem bespoke of sadness of departing in death, there is also the same element of rebelling that was present in the Goblin Market, where the narrator ironically and iconically points out that the ‘dearest’ will not remember her! Yet another poem, a memorial for Keats called On Keats. Keats was a poet she greatly admired is as beautiful in its lyricism as much as its in its ode to the master poet “Here lies one whose name was writ, In water: while the chilly shadows flit, Of sweet Saint Agnes’ Eve; while basil springs, His name, in every humble heart that sings, Shall be a fountain of love, verily”. I also loved “A Birthday“, a poem where the narrator celebrates and expresses her joy at the upcoming birthday of her love. I loved the simple innocence of a true love and the brilliant way she weaves the words to create a lasting imagery! There is so much I can say, yet all of it will be insufficient to accurately describe the brilliance of this collection! Therefore, I leave you with only one thought – Please read it yourself!

 

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 Joy of “Living”…

I first heard of “The Blue Castle” by L.M. Montgomery from Jane. The fact that Ms. Montgomery has written anything outside of the “Anne of Green Gables” series was in itself a revelation, but the fact that she wrote adult novels was a whopper! Any girl who ever read Ann of Green Gables in her pre-teen years must become a lifelong devotee of Ms. Montgomery (some even later- my flat mate for instance read “Ann of Green Gables” just recently in her mid -30s and now she is convert! Imagine Ms. Montgomery’s effect then on adolescent youth!! ) and when you are a devotee, you stick by your Icon in all their shapes and forms. Naturally, to not read “The Blue Castle” was out of question and I finally wound down to do all kind of indulgent reading over this holiday and this book was lying among the top, HAS TO BE READ label!

The book is set in early 20th century and located in the fictional town of Deerwood, in Ontario. The novel opens with Valancy Sterling, our protagonist, waking up on a cold May morning, shedding copious tears, on her 29th birthday, reviewing all the have-not-dones in her life. She has lived her entire life among the large and formidable Sterling Clan, who have set narrow standards of how life ought to be led and by those standards, Valancy is a failure. She is 29 and has never been sought by any young man and is going to spend her whole life living as an old maid, living with her mother and cousin. She is neither good-looking, nor rich and therefore no man has even been interested in her and is completely dominated by her mother and constantly compared to her more beautiful and more socially acceptable cousin Olive. On top of all this, she is nicknames Doss and no one seems to be interested in addressing her as Valancy. Things however take a turn when, constantly bothered by a chest pain, Valancy consults a doctor, who tells her unequivocally that her heart is in a dangerous state and she has only one year to live. Finally realizing that the sands of time are slipping by, Valancy decides to shed her old life and live for this one year on her own terms. This includes moving out of her mother’s house, getting a job working for a town outcaste and falling in love with the town’s reprobate and living a thousand life times in a year. However, the fateful year is up and it’s time for Valancy to face the truth…

It is a lovely, slow-moving funny and soothing book. The characters are well defined and everyone’s role is cut out. Valancy Sterling is a very much a flesh and blood creature, inhibited by circumstances and when those circumstances become difficult, she discovers an inner courage and resilience that makes her a wonderful heroine. Barny Snaith completely answers to one’s idea of a hero –the reprobate with a heart of gold. The Sterling clan is exactly what it should be – horrid to live with, but absolutely laugh out loud funny when one reads of them.There are many hugely humorous moments and a strong sense of everyday fun, which keeps you smiling through the very end of the book. There are not too many wisdom nuggets or profound life truths in the book; but I think Ms. Montgomery was exactly doing that – writing a simple book, that highlighted the simple and therefore often overlooked pleasures of life. The plot is linear and everything kind of rushes in together headlong in the end, but it does not really effect the book. It’s got a lovely, absolutely marvelous Mill’s and Boon touch to the story, without being ekky, clichéd, kitschy and tactless, something most of today’s romances are. It is indeed a lovely love story of not only a man and woman, but also about loving life and loving nature. There are gorgeous descriptions of Muskoka region of Canada and the wilderness is described in all its splendor and beauty through the four seasons. There is some lovely lyrical portrayal of Southern Canada that makes you want to take the first flight to visit the place.

It’s a book you take out with you when you have the whole day stretching ahead with no plans you can sit soaking the winter sun, and multi task at reading this book in a unhurried manner and watch the squirrels play. Trust me this book is best read in natural surrounding!

The Old World…

Finally Finally, the vacation has cometh!!! Oh!! How I love these holidays…birthdays, Christmas, New Year etc. etc. this is indeed the season to be jolly!!! My plans for vacation are naturally reading and reading and reading!!! But I thought it would be nice if I began this vacation blog series a little differently and share with you all some photographs and a quick historical snapshot of Old Delhi, where I went on a walking tour yesterday! Old Delhi, initially called Shajahanbad was built by the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan in 1639. Situated on the bank of river Yamuna, this red sandstone fortress encompassed an entire city with its wall enclosing upto nearly 1500 kilometers. The main street is known as Chandni Chowk, literally meaning the moonlit square. This was established by Princess Jahanara, the eldest daughter of the Emperor and served as the center of old Delhi trade and society in 17th century. Its street food is still famous and the restaurants have been run by the same families for the last 300+ years.  The Jama Masjid is the main mosque of this region and serves as the spiritual center of all Muslims in India. This Walled City is also home to one of the premier poets of India, Mirza Ghalib, whose songs are still sung and poems still revered. I will now actually stop being garrulous and just share the photos instead!!

Photo Courtesy : mentallynailbiting (AKA my flatmate and most awesome best friend)

Ahh…The Glorious Autumn is Here….

I think by now one and all are aware for my love and obsession about Autumn – Winter. Like the true winter child that I am, I thrive in these 6 months, while I wither and die in Spring/Summers. (Yes! I know it’s unnatural to be depressed about spring, but in my mind, it heralds summer, which I CANNOT tolerate!) Therefore I take a break from my bookish musings to scribble some of my all-time favorite poem/film/music/book about autumn. I will do the same exercise in the month of December to celebrate winter. Without further ado, here goeth the list –

  • Poem – I have already mentioned this in one of my posts, but I love the lyricism of William Blake’s To Autumn

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain’d
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

  • Film – ‘Autumn in New York’ is to clichéd, besides, I did not like Winona Ryder in the film, not to mention, I had a lot of difficulty in digesting Richard Gere having a fling with the mother and then many years down line, falling for the daughter!   So my choice is choice and I LOVE this film is Autumn Tale  – a sometime funny and sometime heartwarming tale of widowed 30 something Magali, a lonely winemaker, whose friends secretly set out to find a husband for her. The film has the most breathtaking shots of France in Autumn, especially the acres and acres of vineyards!
  • Music – Simple, classic and elegant…Viva Vivaldi

  • Books – I realized when I was surfing the net, before last week’s post that “Rebecca” is a much looked upon as a perfect autumn novel, why, I sit and question. Anyway, my favorite autumn book is a toss-up between (I know two is cheating, but this is MY game) “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott and “Ann of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery. Classic coming of age books, set at the start of autumn, which till dates teaches us much about courage, kindness and faith!
  • Thing – While this is true for all seasons, the big mug tea and the blanket, aah…that just adds perfection to the book and the bed!

Bs

So what are your Autumn favorites?

P.S. We got some press today for our project – http://www.mid-day.com/articles/reclaiming-a-forgotten-food-culture/15712156. Our website is also up – http://cogitofilmsindia.wix.com/idenityonapalate

I would again urge all to please help us in supporting this project, that will ensure preservation and continuation of a now practically extinct culture – there are many ways to support this cause –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website (The project is called Identity on a Palate)
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

Please do help and Thank You again!

A Universal New Zealander…..

I just finished reading Katherine Mansfield’s The Collected Stories and I am sitting in awe….there is no other word except awe! Actually I take that back, I am in awe and at the same time kicking myself for being stupid – why the hell did it take me soooooooooo long to get around reading her work????? I remember trying to read her works, way back as a teenager, and then I do not know what happened!! Where the hell did I pick up the idea that she was of the Kate Chopin (The Awakening makes me want to never ever awake!!) Or my bigger reading albatross Virginia Wool (Shudder! Shudder!! One day I will bravely tread those choppy waters, but not now!) While it is true that Katherine Mansfield did interact with Virginia Woolf and was for a time a believer of Fauvism, her writings are her own – original, poignant and completely realistic.

The Complete Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield is an all-embracing assemblage of her short stories, including – Bliss and Other Stories, The Garden Party and Other Stories, The Dove’s Nest, Something Childish and Other stories and In a German Pension. This collection also contains her unfinished stories. How do I describe out nearly 100 short stories, which are my favorite? I just love them all – I love Bliss for its heart wrenching end, the broken pieces of illusion; I love The Garden Party for it generosity and sensitivity and I felt such sadness for the The Daughters of the Late Colonel, for their servitude, for their devotion and lack of independence. I love all the stories of the German Pension and though Katherine Mansfield called those stories “immature’, I loved the irony and the subtle mockery of mankind and its pretensions. Stories like Je ne parle pas français and The Dolls House made me cry, especially the latter for its brutal portrayal of weakness of men and women and the pain they inflict on innocents because of their own failures! I absolutely admire the way she speaks of children and their loneliness or attachments or fears, whether it’s the Prelude, or How Pearl Button was Kidnapped or The Little Girl! I cannot decide, I like all her works!

How do I define her work? I can only use adjectives …ok maybe some verbs! Her language is sheer poetry, whether describing a new house or the sea. It evokes such wonderful imagery in the reader’s mind and some of my favorite passages are of her nature descriptions, especially of New Zealand. Her stories are however anything but colloquial or restricted in New Zealand; though they are based in as far flung locales as New Zealand, France, England and Germany, her stories are universal. Her portrayal of marriage, both good and bad kind is real and hard-hitting. Despite being a “bluestocking” , she gives a very rational portrait of men and women, though being a woman, she does bring out the various nuances of a woman’s character far more adeptly than her presentation of her men. Her women are all kinds – brilliant, loving, sparkling, lonely, independent, deprived, unkind, courageous and humorous. They are extremely humane. Long back I had read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex where she said that only three female authors have explored ‘the given’ – the disproportionate struggle for women to seek what is given for men – education, economic power, political platform; the three woman who have managed to question this were Emily Bronte, Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield. I now understand what Simone Beauvoir meant; Mansfield through her stories constantly challenged and questioned the unequal struggle that women had to go through for those basic things in life, which men so easily took for granted – independence, economy and security. But to call all Mansfield writing as feminist is a narrow and unidimesional categorization that is absolutely inaccurate; while she wrote a lot about women, she also wrote about things like love, relationships and some marvelously succinct and astute insight into the lives of children. It’s a tragedy that she died so young, for even her unfinished short stories had such promise of richness.

In the end, all I can say is that one cannot truly describe Mansfield and do justice to it. One has to read her work, sit back and savor it and only then does her brilliance completely sink in!

A humongous Thank You to Dr. Joan Bouza Koster, for reintroducing me to Ms Mansfield in the best way possible!!

Come September……

Yay! Finally fall is on its way! Goodbye to all the heat and dust….no more summers for at least the next 7 months!!!

Oh! How I hate and I mean HATE summers! I love Fall/Winter seasons – cannot get enough of them! You can dress whatever you want, go out in the sun and not melt, eat what you want and of course like I keep saying, it’s the seasons of celebrations – the entire world celebrates their most important festivals during these months! These are just hands down the best part of the year! Give me 12 months of September to January! (Don’t like February too much, it begins to remind me the on coming summer!)

However for now, the summer of 2013 is over and done with! I am so glad that it’s OVER!!!!! I love these days….I see so much beauty, the early morning mist that comes over the valley where I stay, the feel of the warming sun the smell of wood smoke from the small hamlets around the valley; the smaller days and cooler nights – a season of festivals and beckoning of more joy to come!

I am not being poetic; I will leave that to a gentleman named William Blake who himself eulogized this season in a marvelous poem in 1783 and whose words capture the very essence of the season and leave me spell bound!

To Autumn by William Blake

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain’d
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

At-tempting Madam Bovary…….

It’s always difficult to start when you have come to a halting skating stop. But you have to start again, especially if it is important to you! No, I am not in for a philosophical debate, so do not stop reading as yet! What I referring to was the two weeks hiatus that I took from blogging and the lethargy that as result set in and prevented me from taking up the pen again….in  this case, typing keys again! I did plan the hiatus; come to think of it, I did not even want one, but what with another weekend spent being sick and the next weekend going away for a long-planned getaway and then coming back to work with three business reviews in a row….let’s just say, there has been no time for any writing. Unless you consider making PowerPoint presentation on business strategy as creative writing and considering some strategies, well truth is stranger than fiction!!

Anyway, I am back in driving seat and I am going to write about a subject that was long overdue. The Classic Club’s Spin April 1 deadline for a classic was completed by me well before the required deadline – I in fact finished reading it by about 15th March but for reasons aforementioned, could not get around to writing about the same. Some would argue about the futility of blogging about something well past its deadline, but then for me it’s always the journey that matters and not the end, though the end does decide the journey! (Don’t give up on me yet – I promise this is the last of prosaic philosophy for this day!)

After all the ado, I present to you my review of Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

Flaubert published Madame Bovary was published as a serialized novel between October 1856 and December 1856. The plot was fairly simple, focusing on the adulterous affairs of Emma Bovary, who seeks romance and adventure away from the provincial life. Apparently, after the publishing of the last episode, Flaubert was brought to trial for the eroticism of the novel, but was acquitted soon after. The book became an instant bestseller and is considered one of the most influential literature of 19th century.

Now many are already aware that I was not particularly overjoyed on getting this book as my Spin read. I had read it in my late teens and quite disliked it. However many of you and my sister insisted that I give the book a second chance in my more “advanced” years and my sister had spent one good lunch explaining to me how the beauty of the novel lay in its details and descriptions.

madame-bovary-coverThus with such encouragement and support, I valiantly ventured forth in the Bovary land! I must admit that there was a lot of truth in what all discerning readers of the novel were trying to tell me – there is enormous beauty and poetry in the description. The French countryside comes alive under the word images of Gustav Flaubert – the land, the flora, the rivers and countryside are wonderfully captivated and described that in your mind eye, you can see this part of France come alive all over again.

There is again so much originality in life and habits of a provincial 18th century French town and its habitants. The book throbs and brings to life all the characters of a typical French town – Monsieur Homais, the self-aggrandizing town chemist, Leon Dupuis, the petty town clerk whose pretense for sophistication leads to endless ruin and Monsieur Lheureux, the sly merchant and moneylender. The descriptions are correct and bring to light the frailties of human nature. Towering above all of this are the characters of Emma Bovary and her ordinary husband, Dr Charles Bovary and it is around then that the novel really develops.

My only ire was that I could not once again warm up to Emma Bovary’s character. I could not bring myself to empathize with her nor could I relate to her feelings of misery and discontentment. True, it was stated in the novel, that she was a woman of great accomplishment and education, but there was no evidence of her accomplishment in the book, unless one counts playing piano, decorating the house and reading novels as great achievement. I could not understand how a woman who had apparently been so well-educated could be so vacuous or frivolous – so frivolous that she sees herself getting more and more entangled in emotional and financial quagmire , but is unable to manage or improve her state of being. I mean she just does not seem to get the point, despite being unceremoniously abandoned by Rodolphe Boulanger, she again engages in a disastrous affair with Leon Dupuis. And all this, because she had married what she believed was an ordinary man???? A man whom she choose to marry to get out of the daily grind of running her father’s farm…I mean this woman needed professional help and instead the reader is supposed to feel empathy for her through 300 pages!!!

Dr Charles Bovary was also difficult to digest – he starts off as competent doctor and seems to disintegrate into this mass of low self-esteem and ridiculousness. How can a man be so completely be oblivious in a small town of his wife’s adulterous propensities is beyond me! And on finally discovering her affair,  and giving oneself up to complete despondency, when you still have a daughter to care for is again something I could not fathom or understand.

In the end, it’s all so depressing – Emma Bovary’s painfully self-inflicted death; Charles Bovary dying and their daughter being left destitute! I need a glass of wine and couple of Saki stories to restore a more tranquil phase of mind!

I know there are some wonderful tragedies that have been written, but Madame Bovary is just plain painful. I do not like it….not even in my advanced years!

200 years of Pride with a sprinkling of Prejudice….

So I have been really ill for the last couple of weeks – I mean really: high fever, fatigue and no rest. Whoever heard of getting a break from gulag???? Anyway, therefore I did the disappearing act on the blog – one can only do so much – manage the never-ending expectations of a Boss, take on extra work load especially since most of your team is out with …yup you guessed it: Flu and balance needs of a sister in a mid-life crisis, a best friend who has professional issues with her workplace and a non-existent love life, who only needs your attention, when you really do not have any to give; all the while one is running a 103*C temperature almost every alternate day for last two weeks. But do I complain???? Hell no – I just neglect blogging, one of the most relaxing and joyful things in my life!

Now after digressing for some 13 mins, (Yes! I am aware I am exaggerating, but after what I have described above, everyone should humor my indulgences, which in the greater scheme of things is really minor!) let me get to the point – what I was trying to say through all this muddle is – I could not let this day go by …..after all it is the bi-centennial celebration of the greatest feminist-turned mills and boons  – turned literature-turned comedy of manners-turned brilliant critique of society-turned a dam good story!

On 28th January 1813, T. Egerton, Whitehall, published a novel, that was “written by a lady” and English Literature would never be the same: The name of the book was Pride and Prejudice.

For over 200 years, this book has shaped the understanding of the power of women and the little control that a gentle woman brought up with education and morals has over her marriage in absence of fortune, as well as shaped and honed idealistic beliefs that marriage should not be made for economic reasons. My grandmother read it and swore she was Lizzy Bennett. Might have been true in her case – she left her relatively richer perspective groom on the eve of her wedding to marry my well to do but hardly rolling in wealth grandfather. My mother too swore by the book and she herself could have made much wealthier and glittering match, for she was the belle of the town, but she settled for my brilliant and kind, albeit low-key father. As for me, well, I am not sure of the brilliant match I could potentially make – all I can say is that he is very different from what I am – chalk and cheese, library and sports bar, subtle and flash and dash…..but would not change it for the world. So my family is a living proof of the incredible debt that we all owe to this publication, two centuries ago!

What can I say that has not been said before, how can I describe the immense joy I feel, even now reading that book for like 456,452 times. I know each phase, I know each character and I know exactly what will happen next – but never for a moment, does this lessen the joy of my reading. Never for a moment do I waver in declaring this book to be one of my all-time favorites, though I know it’s very fashionable anymore. And I am always surprised (rolling eyes smiley) when I get asked such innately dumb question – you reading this book again? How can you read the same book twice? Duh!! That’s why it’s called a classic!

I know there are celebrations world over, to mark this occasion – the New Yorker ran a special column, CBC is also running some special series and all Jane Austen societies are going into overtime to honor this day. But I tumbled across this cartoon version of Pride and Prejudice, by Jen Sorensen which made me think that Ms Austen herself, had she been alive would have approved.

Do check it out!

http://www.npr.org/2013/01/27/170253360/pride-and-prejudice-turns-200

In the end – Viva Jane Austen! Viva Pride and Prejudice!