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Posts from the ‘Crazy’ Category

India Through The Ink….

It cannot be easy to write about a country or a people, not your own. It becomes even more challenging if you have not lived in the country you are writing about or not interacted with the indigenous population of the same country. Even when you belong to the country, it is becomes difficult to capture the all encompassing details of the land and its people; therefore for someone not belonging to the same land, it remains an arduous and difficult task. And should that country be India, with it melting pot culture, checkered history going back to 7000 BCE and more than 100 languages, this task becomes infinitely more complex, difficult and challenging! And yet, authors, scholars and travelers around the world insist on writing about this country.

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If they have the brilliance of a William Dalrymple then, they settle down in the country and write prodigiously about it. Scholars like John Keay and the late AL Basham study the country for years before penning something so profound as India – A History and Michel Palin treks all over Himalayas before writing a book with the same name! I may not always agree with what they put forth, but I do respect the amount of love, patience and sheer effort into putting together, factually and not fictionally, that is not intrinsically their own. And this is key to the appreciation of these works; these authors do not have the luxury of editing something that they do not understand or cannot explain, into a “creative license”. The nature of their genres makes this impossible and hence my love and respect for these authors increase manifolds, especially for those writing non fiction, even if some of them, get the picture completely wrong!

Fiction however is whole different story; for years, now, India and her people have continued to fire the imagination of the world and especially the West. We have had many authors writing about India for a while, but with the British Colonial empire, India literally exploded into English literature like never before. Rudyard Kipling with all his love-hate for the the country, gave the world Jungle Book and Kim, both novels rooted in every essence to what this country is and stood for. EM Forster brought forth the racial divide, and the mounting tensions in the early 20th century India, in his polemic A Passage to India and Paul Scott captured the pain and the violence that tore apart a nation in the wake of partition of India, in his seminal, A Jewel in the Crown. And then, there stands, my personal favorite and the one author who despite her hereditary, truly was an Indian at heart, for she wrote of this land and her people, like she was one and her books resonate with the very feel and smell of India, as the country comes alive and grabs the reader – the inimitable Ms. MM Kaye. Not all her predecessors or even successors could write like Ms. Kaye wrote nor feel the power of her love, that made her stories authentic and Indian in spirit. But most of these authors belonged to an era where the understanding of the world and all her people was still limited; race and color still made a difference and there was significant paucity of information, which makes one more tolerant on the misses or the misinterpretation, and in case of Mr. Kipling, appreciate the story, without delving too much; not quite easy, but can be done!

This fascination with India in fiction, seems to found new resurgence in the 21st century and suddenly, I am astounded by the number of books based on India, has Indian protagonist or has roots in some way or form to this country. I was presently surprised by East of the Sun by Julia Gregson , tracing the lives of three young memsahibs to India as they set out as part of the “Fishing Fleet” to find suitable husbands. While historically, the book did not always jive, it did capture the society and morals of 1920s India beautifully, but the number of Indians were limited in this novel and I am not sure how the author would have fared with India and Indians as the main theme instead of a backdrop! Let me illustrate my point –  Life of Pi by Yann Martel and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, despite their astounding commercial success, left me cold in so many ways! And herein lies my irritation with modern authors; in these days of easy travel and access to all kinds of information, to constantly cater and pander to what is obvious crass commercialization of the traditional stereotypes of India is just astoundingly disappointing, if not downright infuriating! The first one has Spirituality and Tigers and a peace loving protagonist (gosh! what surprise!) and the second one goes to the other extreme of spirituality and slums and poverty! I am not even getting into books like The Art of Inheriting Secrets, by Barbra O’ Neil that has a Indian woman following her Aristocratic English noblewoman lover to England and then marrying an Indian man in a remote English countryside in 1940s England. In a country where woman are struggling to get their basic rights of education and independence established in 2019, that flight of fancy in 1940s is really taking the “poetic license” to fantasy. I am not denying the existence of strong women in 1940s, several existed including my grandmothers, nor am I denying the existence of homosexuality or marrying a man to keep up appearances, but all of that together in that time and age; that is way far out even for the West, but for the East, that is an impossibility of infinite proportions! Then of course we have the male modern Indian protagonist, who of course has curly hair, as Indian men never have straight hair and his brown ageless skin…what?? Also conveniently, the protagonist sprouts Rabindranath Tagore and his most cliche poems at the drop of a hat, because, of course our author never bothered to find a poet beyond the only one known in outside of India or even his other famous poems, besides the first one that comes up in Google. And just to add more spice, (of course its India so it has to have spice!) we have Indian restaurant and India food popping up every two pages! What really gets me is that even established and justly popular authors like Lucinda Riley fall into this trap of taking on a shallow understanding and wrapping up the story in all the trappings of exotic India. So in her, The Midnight Rose, where we of course have princesses and a handmaiden who has an affair and an illegitimate child and whose grandson again falls into the cliched curly haired brown skin hero. Ms. Riley took the lives of two real life Indian princesses, Princess Indira and her daughter, Princess Gayatri Devi and mercilessly intermixes and changes their lives, which in reality would have changed a very strong fabric of Indian history and Indian feminist movement. Again her protagonist while strong and strong Indian women were a reality but illegitimacy in 1920s India was not something that would have dealt with aplomb that Ms. Riley deals with, especially if the child has mixed parentage. In India where caste and affinity to your ethnic heritage, still form a large part of every day lives, a child of foreign parentage, in the early years of 1920s would have caused a havoc,  no matter which remote hilly village you hide in; infact more so there than in the bigger cities. These nuances, which are critical to understand and then portray the socio-cultural-historical narrative based out of this country is unfortunately getting more and more trampled in the competition to build a intriguing plot line with an exotic enough setting to seduce the reader. These books continue to impress upon the audience of the world, what has been stereotyped a thousand times about this country – tea estates, princesses, animals, slums, spirituality and such like! These books at then end of the day fail to bring forth, the actual India, which is a mix of all these things and so much more – there are good and bad people, there swaths of deserts and snow capped mountains, there is spirituality but there are also scholars, and while we love animals, we also can be kind and mean in equal measures and this has nothing to do with any of us being related to royal ancestry or not!!! To end, if you really want to read to about India, stick to non fiction or Indian authors or English authors circa 1850-1950s!

The 7 Views of the Death

Mary Robert Rienhart defined the genre of detective/mystery novels as  two stories, saying – “The mystery story is two stories in one: the story of what happened and the story of what appeared to happen.” As I read through the Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, over the Christmas weekend, I could feel all the truism of this statement and more. It seemed to be a regular whodunnit from the era of Golden age of mystery; the very usual setting of several guests, visiting over the weekend, in a English Country House in the initial decades of 20th century where a murder happens and there are the usual suspects, with a plausible back story, linking each guest to the victim in one way or another, until the protagonist finds the actual murder. Usual stuff, except Mr. Turton, takes all of these ingredients, and turns everything on its head an to write, what I can unequivocally say is one of the best mystery novels of modern times!

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Lord and Lady Hardcastle, the owners of Blackheath, an estate, in England, have invited several guests, over a weekend, to celebrate the return of their daughter, Evelyn Hardcastle, to England after her 19 years stay in Paris. The guests are all friends of the family and the only unusual fact of the celebrations is it’s dated on the 19th anniversary of the death of Lord and Lady Hardcastle’s elder son, who was killed as a boy of 7, by the then gamekeeper of the Estate, after he was fired by Lord Hardcastle. The other strange fact, is that all the guests invited are the one who were present 19 years ago, on that fated day and while the then children have now become adults, and the adults, now senior citizen, in essence most seem to stay the same. There is also one uninvited guest at the gathering, unrelated wholly from the family who, is also seeking a closure on an injustice. Then there are maids, butlers, gamekeepers and host of other who live in the premises and who all are in some way connected to the murder that is going to happen.This then is the background of the event, which will see the death of Evelyn Hardcastle, and the quest to find the killer.

My friend Helen, when reviewing this book, wrote that she could not even begin imagine how much time and effort must have gone in writing this book! I not only agree with her, but add that as an aspiring writer, I cannot even begin to fathom, how I will keep track of the times, the threads and the characters. Very often, we find novels, with great style but no real plot or a great plot, but a dull narrative, that it simply does not come together! It is a testimony of the incredible brilliance of the author, that not only could he manage to create a narrative, that is absolutely unique and totally untested until now, but somehow hold on and make all the voices come together, all the while, sticking to the basic ethos of writing a cracking good thriller! At the core, there is a murder, but whose murder and how do we find the killer and the journey with author through the eyes of several characters and their own histories, makes for a fast paced read, where, each page gradually unfolds and adds anew new layer to the story. This plot as it evolves is anything but normal, and makes the mind do all kinds of gymnastics, without slowing for even a minute, and each chapter closes with one shocker after another, each exceeding and heightening the excitement from the previous chapter! In fact, the reader from the very beginning joins the journey in the middle of the events and therefore is able to join in the narrator’s confusion and agony, as they try to piece together, the full picture. The scope of the novel, the richness in the details and how the details, integrated further and further to become one new whole, is simply scintillating. Even in mapping out the characters, nothing was left to the chance. They are all full flesh and blood creatures, who while not being all good, have their own redeeming qualities and despite not liking them, you cannot help but feel empathy and even respect for many of their qualities. This ability of the author to be able to build a connection with not wholly positive characters with the readers, in yet another point, in praise of this work! There is so much, simply so much I can write about this book, but one must read it, to actually understand what I am talking about. It seems like a chunkster, but once you start, there is no way, you cannot finish it in the earliest possible manner, in the way it draws you in!

I had read somewhere, that all stories are the same after a point; on on surface, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle does seem like that,  but with it’s narrative style, the fine tuning the nuances of the usual Golden Age mysteries and a wholly innovative perspective, Mr Turton has taken a “same story” and made it into a masterful, ingenious, novel.

When Alice Went Wondering

Everybody knows that I often keep **complaining** about all the reading adventures Cleo gets me dragged into! But heart of heart, I know that life would be one mundane boring reading if it was not for friends like Cleo, who make you read everything from Beowulf to The Histories to The Metamorphosis. Naturally, this year is no different, and after swearing off on doing any read along on account of being crazy busy at work, I was soon signing up to read with her several works!! What do they say about, road to hell being paved with good intentions??

Anyhow, Thanks to Cleo, I got to know that Amanda at Simpler Pastimes, is hosting the Classics Children’s Literature Event 5 and not only that, the suggested book was Alice Adventure in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll! Now I have always wondered about Alice in Wonderland; as a child when my Dad got me that huge pop up book with some lovely illustrations, I remember loving the colors and pictures but not putting in too much tuck with the story! As I grew up, I read a lot of Carroll’s limericks and puzzles and I was moderately impressed but hardly blown away, As a student of English Literature, I read a lot of “analysis” on Alice in Wonderland and when this event came along, it was as good a time as any to revisit the book and decide once and for all, do I like Lewis Carroll or not??!!

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The story is too well known to everyone; nevertheless, here goes a brief summary. One summer afternoon, Alice finds herself bored and drowsy, sitting by her elder sister who was reading, near the riverbank, when she noticed a rabbit in a waistcoat and a pocket watch hurrying off. She follows the rabbit and falls a long way, until she reaches a hall with many doors. She spies a beautiful garden beyond the doors, which she wants to visit, but is to big to get through the door. She finds a drink which shrinks her to enable her to get through the door but then she realizes that the key was still on table and now she was too tiny to get it. Thus begins her adventures of growing big and small and of meeting rabbits and the Duchess and the Cheshire cat and the King and Queen of hearts. She drinks tea with Mad Hatter and his friends and plays croquet with flamingos, until she ends up in a most strange court room case!

I have read a lot of essays attempting to de-code this tale. Its been called a sarcastic commentary on  the education system of 19th century to the author’s word play with French. I am sure there are other many interesting interpretations – but to me it is still a very good yarn for the children. Imagination and fun flows through the tale. It’s like an adventure where you let go of reality and let the author take you places for he would. I loved the quirky crazy sense of humor. I loved how from one tale to another, we jumped characters and situations without any need to justify the previous occurrences. I loved the characters – Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat were my most favorite, but I quite loved the King of Cards trying to run the court! I thoroughly enjoyed Carroll’s mockery of “moral tales”. But it was Alice herself that left be in her language “Curiouser and curiouser”. I am not sure what to make of her – true, she is only a 10 year old but I found her quite annoying 10 year old and while she does display a lot of spunk, but she seems to come across as someone completely oblivious of others. I get it 10 years old is very young, but 10 year olds can be as sensitive and kind as any adult, in fact more so. While Alice seems to be just a bratty kid!

Overall I am so very glad I re-read this book! I am still not too fond of Carroll, but that still did not diminish my complete and thorough enjoyment of the book!

This and That….

Its been an absolutely couple of miserable weeks. Work was killing because of the stupendous dumbness on part of so called “partners” which led to chaos and damage control that needed non planned and additional work to be done by team for more than 20 hrs a day for practically 2 weeks. Just when I began to recover from what can be termed as inevitable stupidity of the mankind, God or whatever Superpower gave me yet another sign, that Einstein was correct when he said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” Policies and government across geographies and nations, are going out of their ways to prove the above! The one who is sacrificed at the alter is the common man and I am not even talking about the US elections, though that is something I DO NOT understand either!

I have been and continue to be  completely frustrated and exhausted by circumstances beyond my control which in turn has ensured that my reading naturally has takes a nose dive. Where is the time??!! I am in the middle of The Brother Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky and you can imagine the state of mind, when I say that I find solace in reading this epic. I am almost done with One Hundred Years of Solicitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and I am holding on for now in my review of the book. The only thing  seems to suit my mood is The Book of Snobs by WM Thackeray; his biting sarcasm soothes my ruffled feathers and helps me realize that stupidity of majority is a phenomena that transcends ages and something I should be more zen about! I am also struggling to complete Dombey and Sons by Charles Dickens and I cannot seem to make any headway into Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy. I seem to be in middle of everything and near completion of nothing!!

As this post is doing everything, but spreading good cheer, I stop and break off to share some fun memes/posts with you all that has made me laugh and kept me going past couple of days –

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See ya all next week, hopefully in a better place!

 

All About Gs

I know I have stated this many a times, but one of my biggest inspirations for blogging and reading is Stephanie. Like a younger sibling, looking up to her elder sister, I look up to Stephanie for all great books (including books I would have never read had it not been for her review), blogging discipline (though I am nowhere as diligent as her) and of course adventure (online courses and carrot soup to name a few!) Naturally when she posted this, I had to give it go, only I did not realize just how difficult the alphabet G was!!

The task and I quote verbatim from her post is –

Say your favorite book, author, song, film, and object beginning with a particular letter. And that letter will be randomly assigned to you by me, via random.org. If you’d like to join in, comment in the comment section and I’ll tell you your letter! (And then, of course, the chain can keep going on your blog.)

Here goes, my love affair with finding the right “G”s –

Favorite Book – I racked my brains and racked it all through the week before I concluded on this one. It’s off beat but perhaps one of the most sensitively written novels on racial discrimination, equality and traditions. It’s a novel by Rabindranath Tagore and it’s called “Gora” literally meaning someone who is white, i.e. of European descent. The story of “Gora” an orphan adopted by an orthodox Brahmin family and his journey of self-discovery set in the late 19th century Bengal, India, transcends borders, time and cultures to make one question the common understanding of religion, caste and patriotism

Favorite Author – I was not sure if “G” had to be the alphabet in the first name, middle name or last name; so like always, I choose three with “G” being placed in different places in the names:

  • Gaskell, Elizabeth – Well, what can one say about this brilliant and sensitive author from Victorian England. Whether it is her sensitive portrayal of the trails of the factory workers in “North and South” or her humorous take on the “genteel” lives of a small Victorian town in “Cranford” or her bone chilling “Gothic Tales”, she was a mistress of all that she wrote, infusing all her works with a succinct understanding of those with lesser fortunes and abilities
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Nobel Prize winner, author extraordinaire and humanitarian. I cannot think of anyone who wrote with such imagination or depth of understanding of human feelings and relationships than this great man; the man who wrote about a beautiful love affair in the golden years of ones lives or decried the violence and mourned about the loss of freedom of his fellow countryman in the aftermath of the Columbian Civil War that affected so many lives
  • G.K. Chesterton – Humorous, contradictory and witticism personified, G.K. Chesterton was an author of wide ranges, whether he wrote about Father Brown stories or satires about modern materialistic lives like The Man who was Thursday, he was a modernist who understood traditions and mocked it, while capturing the gentleness of the lost era

Favorite Song – This was easy! My grandmother used to play this on the loop – Ella Fitzgerald was her favorite artist and the ever optimistic person that’s she was, this naturally appealed to her, though the religious aspects of the song she ignored, being one true blooded agnostic that ever was there ….(yes! Optimism and a love for Ella Fitzgerald run in the family and are DNA type of things, passes on from one generation to another!)

Favorite Film – Sigh!! I know this is clichéd and god knows, I am not really fond of the book, but I do love the movie – Clarke Gable, brilliant period costumes and sets, some lovely shots, awesome music and of course, did I mention Clarke Gable? Of course, I am talking about Gone with the Wind

Favorite Object – Dang!! Most of my favorite objects start with a B (Books) or F (Food and Friends), but finally, I came up with this one – God!! I know this one is not an object, and I have probably committed 989 blasphemy by quoting the Great one as an object, but here’s the thing – I am not particularly religious, (not with agnostic grandmother and father DNAs) and I am not at all into pious rituals or orthodoxy, but I do believe there is a greater force at play. Like I always say, I will never have the luck I want but I will always have the luck I need, and someone somewhere is taking care to make sure that I get the luck I need. It’s good to have someone to be thankful to and of course rant and rave and blame at when things do not go right and I think, selfish being that I am its more for the latter than the former, I keep “the great one” close to my heart!! The other “G” related object very close to my heart right after “God” would be my girlfriends – where would I be without their crazy adventures, disastrous love lives, existential crisis, all night gossips, ice cream binge sessions and shoulders to cry on – thank god for the crazy, lunatic, brilliant and lovable bunch of girls, I have the privilege to call friends, life is so much more worthy and wonderful, because I have them in my life!!

Phew! Finally all done; kind of exhausting but oodles of fun, especially vis-à-vis making those choices to select “the final one”…try it and do let me know if you need an alphabet to help you around!!

Just a Bit More Than Usual

I thought it was a good day to sit back and think just how many things I have gotten myself into for the month of November and muse over the fact about why do I take on more than I can manage and why do I keep making myself a guinea-pig for all Sadistic Gods who take great pleasure in laughing at me – considering there is no one else to blamed for the soup I get myself into except ME!!

Therefore without further ado, let’s all sit back, put our feet up and review my projects for this month, and please feel free to choose a drink of your choice – tea, coffee or something stronger. I now am feeling a strong tendency for something stronger (wringing my hands! I think there should be a smiley for wringing hands and wordpress should have a smiley drop down!)

The list does not reflect any order of preference or importance

  1. The Project Manager side of me has to pull off two projects before month end which means minimum 16 hrs at work.
  2. I am again (woe is me!) attempting NaNoWriMo so 50,000 words in one month, 11669 words a week, 1667 words a day – piece of cake!!
  3. I have also enrolled myself for the MOOC – Plagues, Witches and War (Thank You Stefanie!!!). While I love the class and it’s a lot of intellectual gymnastics and makes the academic me very happy, It is an intensive course with exhaustive reading and fast paced courses and while Unit 3 is already posted I am struggling to finish Unit 1 (Running to catch up and do it fast; but kind of difficult when hyperventilating)
  4. Social commitments – every weekend for the next 3 weeks is booked. Plans made way earlier and committed without a thought and now we pay the price. Dinners, weekend trips and more dinners. Of course, one cannot back out of any for the fear of offending; besides I really do like most of these people whom I had made plans with and besides it’s not their fault if I DO NOT THINK BEFORE I LEAP!!
  5. The reading list – My flatmate gifted me (no reason! She is just generous) J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit. How in the world could I resist that? My sister also decided that she was fond of me and bought me Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowlands. In between, because I had no idea everybody will suddenly start gifting me, that too nearly two full months before my birthday, I bought myself Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter Trilogy, Willa Cather’s My Antonia and Arnold Bennett The Grand Babylon Hotel.  Of all the months, this month I had to win Penguin’s First to Read effort and now I have to read and then post a review for Being Josephine by Heather Webb. I am not even getting into the re-readings that I do like Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova which I do for fun or the novels I have to read for my MOOC!

There, life could not be simpler!!!! I mean really except for my day job, no body compelled me to take on all these tasks at one go…..I just decided to bring all of this on myself! All the best to me!!!

P.S. I can hear the Gods laughing as I type!

In the society of Friends and other such mortals…..

As a child I was very lonely and did not make too many friends; in fact I downright hated going out and the thought of party – any party whether my own or my parents filled me with foreboding. I absolutely hated the social gatherings that my parents organized or attended. I was bored out of my senses and the constant feeling of inferiority, did not help in my making friends with the very small number of kids from my age group.  As it is, I was born very late to my parents and most of their friends had kids who were more than 10 odd years older to me, making me feel even odder. I think I was the only kid who ever went to dinner parties with her books….my only get away from being forced into companionship of much older or much dumber companions. Anyway, I grew up hating socializing and swearing to become a misanthrope and never troubling with company of anyone!  That is what I though until I went away to college ……

And surprise surprise……I was suddenly a social butterfly, albeit an intellectual butterfly, who chose to go to only selective dance through the night parties, but hell, I had a choice to pick any I wanted and what’s more, I was always flooded with invitations! (I am not going to dwell on why this change happened!! I do not know and one day I have enough money, I will have a psychologist go over my case and post his diagnosis on the blog!)

rmon664lThings did not change as I got myself a job and moved in with my best friend. Despite her being a more or less confirmed and declared recluse, our house over the weekend bursts with friends and going outs etc etc. She does not per se like so many people coming over, including Mr Soulmate (she does not approve of him….like I do not approve of her men and we both think we can do much better and deserve so much better and all the nine yards! Sound familiar?), but she has developed a certain amount of tolerance from being forced to attend the gatherings that I organize and has even deigned to become friends with some of my friends.

As for me….I love it! I love being surrounded by people, especially friends who make me laugh and are completely crazy! I love surprise visits even at 4:00 am in the morning when I have read for hours and am about to drop off and suddenly the bell rings and I open the door to see some of my closest friends giggling and screaming surprise!! I love breaking out the drinks and cooking impromptu Spanish omelets (I defy you to find Spanish omelets of the type I make anywhere!!!!) and instant noodles for food and then settling down to talk for hours broken only by interludes for more food.

corp friends.It’s not like all my close friends have the same level of intellect or same literary interests.  I have one set that can talk about books, music and Renoir for hours and they have nothing in common with the other set who embody the very core of corporate life style – dining out, spas etc; but the thing is that each of these sets are such fun in their own way that the two parts of me – the writer and project manager is equally entertained and refreshed by these gatherings! And at the end of the day, all the conversations moves in the same order regardless of the set – intelligent, argumentative, food breaks, witty, silly and then just funny…..a testimony to friendship; in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

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