The January Reading Month….

Many moons ago, when I was still young (relatively speaking) I used to do these round up posts for the month. Then life and its complications intruded and everything including my regular blogging commitments fell apart. However, the thing about life is it passes and like I said previously, the only way to normalize things is to go back to the simpler tasks and do it again, as much as possible. So here I stand with a round up of January readings!

Personally January and I am knocking on the wood as I say and write this saw a whole lot of improvement from December. Yes, things continue to be tough, but I felt a growth and a letting go and learning of new lessons, which hereto I was not completely aware off. You would think at the advanced age of 37, I would know it all, but I did not and this month has opened up my mind to new ideas and thoughts and interesting revelations that I never thought existed and it’s all been very educational. With Dad’s health a tad improved and some brighter things on the horizon from the professional front, I can say, that January has been a good start to the year! (Knocking really hard on the wood!)

Reading in Winters
Summer morning by Robert Vonnoh, 1895

From a reading perspective, it seems like, while I have read quite a bit (GoodReads says I am 2 books ahead of my 2020 reading challenge !) it has mostly, actually, completely, been a re-read kind of a month. As I previously stated, I am picking thing’s up on a whim, reading what I feel is entertaining or enlightening and not worrying too much about what-should-be-read! Considering the kind of stress life has lately been under, the joy of reading old favorites has especially been comforting and in some cases even inspirational. I continued on my “selective” Harry Potter journey; while I have read and own the entire series, there are certain parts that I like more than the others and those I re-visit more than often. I managed to re-read The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Half Blood Prince in January. The Prisoner of Azkaban is my most favorite; and among various reasons, this is book that kicked of my Harry Potter love affair! Speaking of fantasy and inspirations, no one did it better than Sir Terence David John Pratchett aka Terry Pratchett. His Discworld series are one of those very few books that teaches all of us to be better, kinder and more generous to our fellow creatures, all the while making us laugh till we ache and also telling us a highly entertaining story in the process. (If you want more details, please read my dedicatory post to him, here!) He was a genius and his words gives many of strength and courage and in year where things were more dimmer than brighter; re-reading Maskerade and Men at Arms was a good reminder of courage, honesty and doing the right thing, even if it’s the hardest thing to do! Vi Va Sir Pratchett, gone too soon! If you have never read his work, please go ahead and buy some, not all books are great, and some are for sure better than the others, but they all teach us something! Finally with all the hype around the new Little Women film, I kind of ended up re-reading this wonderful classic again. And once again was left in awe of the quiet courage of Mrs. March and the sheer goodness of Beth who has always been the role model since I was 11 and read the abridged version. All my friends wanted to Jo, but I always aspired to be Beth, albeit wanting to lead a happy boisterous life! Beth’s death always moves me (Yes! I cry every time!) and I picked up a little know but very funny novel for variation – Kissing Toads by Jemma Harvey. While this book has very few readers and it is easy to categorize it as a chick-lit, 10 minutes into the book you realize that it is anything but one. Sure, there is romance, but it is primarily about friendships and sisterhood and friends who are family that this book really touches upon!

That was my January reading! For February, I already started on Carpe Jagulum by Terry Pratchett ( because once you start, you cannot stop!) Also, I have almost completed this wonderful selection of essays on literary woman and woman authors by Elizabet,h Chadwick called Seduction and Betrayal. Kaggsy introduced me to this brilliant collection and I am ever so grateful to have read this volume. I also have the new Jeffrey Archer novel, Nothing Ventured lined up and while my chunkster reading – The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton has hit a slump, I hope to get started again!

That is all I had for today! Happy February everyone!

P.S. Does anyone know the artist who painted the picture I have incorporated. I have done all kinds of searches but cannot find the author of this wonderful piece of art and I really really want to give the due credit and learn more about their work!

P.P.S. Kaggsy to rescue again; Painting identified and updated with due credits.

 

Tis That Time of the Year…..

Here we are, on the very last day of 2018 and it’s time to reflect and wonder, where did the year go? Of course, you may have already done this and that shows you are more practical, attuned to the demands as well value of time and over all circumspect in your approach. If that is so, then I hold you in admiration, if not, well, you have my company in the last minute reflections!

I cannot quite say I will miss 2018; I have always held the belief that even years are better for me, however 2014 and 2018, seem to really challenge this hypothesis. 2018, was in every possible way a horrid year, filled with all kinds of disagreeable happenings. In fact it was so bad, I went headlong and rushed an event, just so I can get it over and done with it this year, rather than let it fester in what I would like thinks is a brand new page. With an exception of one desperately sought professional movement, this year been blackest of black, with not even a tinge of grey to break the blackness. Thankfully, there were friends and books to see me through, yet again!

And this brings me to what is actually at the heart of this post, the 18 best books that I have read in the year! As is my tradition, based of the year number, I select that many books from my reading repertoire, in what can only be termed as one of the bestest reflections of the year. Therefore without further ado, here we go, in no particular order-

  1. Kathasaritasagar by Somadeva – This 11th century collection of Indian short stories was a significant departure from the traditional scholarly/spiritual texts of Sanskrit. In this earthly collections of tales, Kings and Courtiers, Queens and Maids, Priests and Merchants, Lions and Jackals, all battle it out for material gains of love, money, power, without managing to sound didactic or moralizing
  2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck – I cannot, simply cannot enumerate the brilliance of John Steinbeck or how wonderfully he translated it all in this book – the saga of the Hamilton and Task families in the turn of the century Salinas Valley, where the most vile is redeemed, by the sheer power of choice.
  3. The Diary of Nobody by George Grossmith – My second re-read and what is there not to love about this middle aged bumbling man in his new house and old wife and friends, as he meanders through his own life, while trying to steer the lives of his loved ones, in a most hilarious, uproariously funny writing ever!
  4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf – In this now celebrated and seminal writing, Ms. Woolf put down the very basic needs that remain unfulfilled for women, making them economically dependent and thus weaker, among the sexes.
  5. Scenes of Clerical Life by George Elliot – I have never been a fan of Ms. Elliot and though her novel, Middlemarch is considered by many the best possible English Novel; she is one author, I just could not get through and constantly struggled with. Until on a whim, I picked up The Scenes of Clerical Life and fell in love with the three short novellas that constitute this novel. The prose, the plot and the characters, all wove together, to create one of my best reads of the year. This book was powerful enough to goad me to try another Elliot – Daniel Deronda, through which I am still plodding!
  6. The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield – This funny, ironic and downright crazy narrative of a Lady living in Provincial England in between the two wars, is an absolute delight! While our narrator battles the various requirements of the Lady of the house, to various persons, including her laconic but practical Land Agent husband,the Cook who rules the household and itinerant round of parlor maids/menservants, not to mention her demands at the Woman’s Institute, as a reader, your are swept away by the  everyday life  and challenges which are as real now, as they were in 1930s and cannot help but appreciate Ms. Delafield’s ability to them on their head, and make it all look like one gigantic joyride. This was such a wonderful read that I ended up reading this twice in the year! 

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  7. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith – I discovered Arkady Renko very late in my life but having discovered him, I wasted no time in falling in love with this fictional hero. Set in 1980’s Soviet Union, the story follows the investigation by Renko, an investigator in Moscow’s Prosecutor’s office as he hunts for the identity of the three murdered victims, whose bodies are found in a cold April afternoon in Gorky Part and their killer, taking him across USSR and US, and changing the very complexion of his life so far!
  8. February by Boris Pasternak; Translated by Andrey Kneller – Boris Pasternak was another non favorite. I could not, simply could not make myself like Dr. Zhivago or his unending whining about Lara. But while reading Gorky Park, I realized that Pasternak was appreciated in Russia more as poet than a novelist and that prompted me to try and read some of his poetry. This turned out to be one the best literary decisions of my life as I can now understand, why Russians love Pasternak. I quote directly from my post on this collection, as I simply have no other way to describe the sheer power of these poems – “Pasternak in this collection of 27 poems brought the Russia that he knew, with all its beauty and tragedy to life, painting on a vast canvass, touching upon the key notes of everything that constitutes mankind. And while I am wary of all translated works, simply because one does not know exactly what is lost is translation, even in essence, there is enough in this work to enrich your soul and your mind!”
  9. Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. PearceHelen has introduced me to great many books and Dear Mrs. Bird is one such book for which I will be eternally indebted to her. This novel about a plucky, funny and sometimes clumsy heroine, who dreams of a job as a Lady War Correspondent only to end up working for a woman’s self help column, that brings her success, challenges and one of the ultimate tests of life, is one the best new books of the year, according to yours truly.
  10. The Murder of my Aunt by Richard Hull – This little gem is something I stumbled upon sheer chance and what a find it was! The author in a reverse narrative, actually let’s the reader on who is going to murder whom and then leads us on a merry ride of adventure, fun and a unique take on English life and times in early part of 20th century! An absolute marvel.
  11. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittian – If I had to pick one book which elevated me, made me cry and enriched me as a human being, teaching me some important lessons, it would be this absolutely scintillating memoir by Ms. Brittian tracing her youth, her struggle for education and finally the heartbreak of war. This book is a lesson of things we must NOT do as people and as responsible adults, who should bequeath a better world to the younger generation. This book forces one to think and challenge one’s belief system and then no matter how hard, work to better the world, in whatever small way we can!
  12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – Another book which came very close to Testament of Youth and enriched me as a being! This story of coming of age of Francine Nolan, her struggle for education, the constant challenges of poverty and an incapable, albeit bright father and a fierce mother, to her final tryst to college on the eve of US joining the Second World War, is more than a story of young adult. It is about determination, it is about dreaming and of never letting go what you truly want, no matter how daunting the obstacles.
  13. I, Claudius by Robert Graves – Yet another author I was wary of reading, but I finally managed to read and of course love. I, Claudius traces the early years of Claudius, the future Emperor of Rome, nephew to one Ceaser and brother to another is hardly a typical hero but Robert Graves with his deep research and brilliant writing, makes him a memorable character, with kindness and intellect, who could be a straight arrow or a diplomat as the situation demanded and whose these very skills, and not one of physical poweress will make him survive one of the most difficult and suspicious history of Roman History, to become one of the longest ruling Ceasers.
  14. The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp – There are books, that really do not have a nail biting plot or a sensational character or an epoch making historical event to serve as a background. Yet, in the setting, the characters and in the narrative, things come to together so well, that they are just right and tug at your heartstrings! The Flowering Thorn is one such book.  Lesley , the young woman about town, has everything that she wants, but is somehow unhappy. On a whim, she adopts an orphan and begins life in the country with all the challenges of keeping a cook, managing a house, not becoming and then becoming friends with the Vicar’s wife and of course taking care of young being, leading to a life that comes in an enriched full circle. Beautiful, poignant, and just lovely, I will forever be grateful to Jane for introducing me to this book!
  15. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – One of those highly cried up books of 2017, that I meant to read, but did not want to, because mostly such books are such disappointments. However I am glad I sloughed on this one.This story of Count Rostov an unrepentant aristocrat, who is punished by the Socialist Government in 1917 Russia to be confided in an attic room of the Grand Hotel overlooking Kremlin as the most volatile era of modern Russia evolve, is more than just another historical fiction. It is a deep insight into the Russian society, the changing of the guards and love that comes from the heart, without any blood bonds. I do not have enough words to describe this intellectually and emotionally illuminating book. You have to read to experience it!
  16. Final Meeting by Anna Akhmatova; translated by Andrey Kneller – Yet another book of poetry picked from the reading of Arkady Renko series. Anna Akhmatova’s poetry shines and glitters through the desolation and heartbreak, both at what happens to her personally and to her beloved Russia. It is often said, that the best poets experience pain, to write the very best poetry. I cannot even begin to fathom, the amount of pain, Ms. Akhmatova must have gone through, for such amazing works like Final Meeting, Epilogue etc. Mr. Kneller’s translation as always is appreciable in keeping the integrity and the essence of these poems very close to the originals in Russian
  17. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Torton – All stories after a point are more or less similar, and there can only be so much one can do with a murder mystery….right? Wrong. You need to read this absolutely shocker for I have no other word to describe this completely mind blowing work of Mr. Torton’s. Innovative, twisted, with a punch at the end of each chapter, only a book as this roller coaster could have helped keep me doom and gloom at bay, and help me get perspective back. Very rarely do I use this sentiment, but this book definitely calls out – Vi Va Mr. Torton!
  18. High Rising by Angela Thirkell  – I usually love most of the woman authors and their works who published some of the best pieces of fictions between 1870-1950 and am greatly indebted to many of my blogging friends for introducing me to their work. But Angela Thirkell despite all the commendations, I held back, because of what appears to be slight class consciousness in her writings. However on seeing this book listed by Cleo as a Christmas read, I decided to take the plunge. And am I glad that I did. Laura Moorland is a successful author of paperbacks for woman readers which has enabled her to raise her 4 sons, the youngest of whom, Tony is now the only one in school. Her work has also enabled her to get a flat in London and a cottage in the country, where she is headed with her son, this Christmas, to get some rest, write her book and meet old friends in High Rising. But there is a newcomer who is upsetting the serene settings of this countryside and Ms. Moorland must gather her wits, to ensure, peace continues to reign. In this she is ablely aided by many of her friends, including the village doctor, her publisher, her secretary and her formidable housekeeper Mrs. Stokes.  Unique character, uproariously funny dialogues and a plot that without being outstandingly different, neverthless holds your attention and flows smoothly! Great book to end the year with.

These then are my 18 favorites of 2018. A special shout out to Adam whose challenge,  The Official 2018 TBR Challenge, helped me read a lot of books that have been lying in my TBR forever, but from one reason or another, I did not venture forth. While I was not able to finish the entire planned 12 books, 5 of the 18 books listed stem from this challenge, which goes to show you need a friend to give you a push, always!

I cannot think of better ending for this long post and and even longer year than this piece by Ian Frazier, published a couple of years back in New Yorker  –

Dear friends, this year was not real great.
There’s no need to enumerate
Just how gloomy it’s appearing.
But Ever-better days are nearing!
Though dark nightmares be distinguished,
Still the light is not extinguished
By the darkness crowding ’round it.
Find hope’s advent by the sound it
Makes somewhere out in the distance:
Bells that ring with soft insistence,
Hoofbeats, voices singing faintly,
Hymns unearthly, almost saintly,
Mailmen’s footsteps, babies’ crying,
Wings of angels quickly flying,
News worth calling from the steeple, “Peace on earth, good will to people.” 

A peaceful, happy and bookish or whatever ish makes you happy 2019 to everyone!

All About a Film….

Wener Herzog in his masterful book on art and filmmaking, A Guide for the Perplexed, referring to the filmmaker’s broader cultural responsibility said that, “We need images in accordance with our civilization and innermost conditioning, which is why I appreciate a film that searches for novelty, no matter what direction it moves and what story it tells….”  In an era of increased flash and dash and superimposed imagery, regularly churned from the mills of Hollywood or even from the shores of Bollywood, films which captures such ideals of reflections of civilizations and its conditioning are far and few to come by. If they do, they are often slotted under the broad category of” Cinema” or “Parallel Films” making one wonder, what is the true difference between “Cinema” and a “Movie” and what is parallel to the this parallel films. Rarely, does one come across, a film that combines the reflections of societal norms with a narrative, comparable to the plot lines of the more popular and what is termed as “Commercial Cinema”.

Panchaali, a film made under the flagship  of Pumpkin Entertainment, produced by Shweta Saraf and directed by Saurabh Bali, seems to fulfill this balanced nuance of reflecting the masochist tribal norms that still inflict, the Indian society in many parts as well a gripping narrative, that leaves the viewers breathless with a “what-happens-next” feeling. The film opens with 5 men waiting, for someone, on road, just off the main thoroughfare, of the big metropolis. Through their banter, it unfolds that they are all brothers and deal in land and politics. A white vehicle is then spotted by one of them and within a few minutes, all its passengers’ albeit one are killed due to non-payment of an old debt. This one survivor, the daughter of the family killed is taken hostage by the brothers and taken to their home. There the mother of the five brothers decides the faith of this girl, setting off a chain of events that would forever change this family and its history!

For those familiar, with Indian mythology, the resonance of the Draupadi’s tale from Mahabharata is very clear from the onset; however, that is where the parallel ends! The story then takes on a life of its own, wonderfully combining the details of an ancient myth and the modern day settings and reaction of both society and individual. It conveys the still traditional society of northern India, where a woman count for little and guns and violence still rules the day and makes for what is deemed as powerful.  At the same time, the film smartly in less than 40 minutes takes the viewers through a cataclysmic narrative, all the while clearly delineating the characters of plot, something many fail to achieve even in full length cinema! It is to the credit of the magnificent cast that this nearly impossible feat is achieved and despite an exceptionally talented ensemble, that competes for the viewers’ attention, by turns, outshining one another, with their talent, some callouts are necessary! Manav Mehra, who plays the eldest of the 5 brothers, is an experienced theater actor, who brings all his mastery of the craft to the screen; one cannot quite describe the eerie feeling, every time he looks into the camera. Bhanu Rana is yet another worthy talent and in his portrayal as the second brother, displays such strong raw raging emotions that come through palpably and the viewer feels both sympathy and irritation with him in turns. Nitin Rao as third of brother gives a strong controlled performance as the man, who knows he is better than his brothers and destined to be the king, but cannot quite bring himself to unhinge from the filial binds, though, he knows he stands to gain the most! However, the star of the film remains Nishtha Paliwal Tomar, conveying all the range of emotions that a woman torn from her moorings can convey. She is an absolute genius using  who is able to express a range of powerful feelings sharing with her the viewer her fear, angst and anger, making them cheer her on to survive, as she navigates through the most traumatic experience, that a woman can be forced into. The settings of the film convey exactly what it is meant to convey – vastness, desolation and captivity. The sights and sounds of a semi-rural culture in India, not too far from the metropolis, caught between ancient traditions and modern greed, assaults your senses, in every fine twist of the plot. While, there is much to appreciate in the film, there are some weak chinks in what can be seen as solid armor; most of the cast is tenured and bring all their expertise to camera, but some of the actors fail to emote anything and one wonders, that except for the one standard sly grin, which is expected to showcase everything from anger to lust, what does this particular character want to say to the audience. Also due to the duration of the film, some of the transition and changes of sentiments are not given enough time and the viewers expected to adapt to the changing psychological landscape of the character within minutes, which may make it slightly difficult to follow. But, despite some these minor shortcomings, the film is a brilliant effort, which is a testimony to the fact that with creativity, vision and a talented crew, an old story can be reinvented into a gripping modern tale.

A Room of One’s Own…..

My February’s selection for The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge was, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. I know I have mentioned this previously, but here is one author who actually intimidates me and as a result, I have not read one of the foremost, literary geniuses of 20th century! Back in 2016, I finally mustered up the courage to read To The Lighthouse which blew me away and I vowed to read more of Ms. Woolf’s works but it took me two more years to finally get to her writing again and this time as I went with one her most sought after non-fiction writings!

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I am not sure how other folks have written a synopsis of this amazing work, which says so much and yet cannot be captured in a 4 line summary! The essay kicks off as Ms. Woolf explores the subject on which she has been asked to provide a lecture on – Woman in Fiction! She asks what the title in itself means – women and what they like? Women and fiction they write or the fiction that is written about them or how all these three elements are intrinsically linked to each other! From here on, she goes to explore the writings by men on women and why women have not left money for their daughters to help them find a room of their own where they pursue their art? She draws out parallel’s in form of fictive sister of William Shakespeare who despite being equally imaginative and gifted may not have ever had a chance like her brother because of financial and social limitations which would have either driven her to an early death or confined her to the borderlines of society condemned as a mad woman! She then moves on to examine the history of Women writing from Aphra Behn to Jane Austen to Bronte Sisters to George Sand and her own contemporaries like Rebecca West who are often cast as undesirable beings because of their abilities and intellect! She show how small this history is and yet how one generation of women are indebted to her previous generation for the relative creative freedom, that she has received, because of the efforts of her predecessor! She also visits the fact that men authors often neglect the relationship between two women themselves unless it is in relation to a man! She closes her essay with asking more women to take up writing so that they are able to bequeath a better inheritance on their daughters than the one they received themselves!

To begin with, once again, I am not sure why I waited for ages, literally, to read this work. It would have been great to have appreciated the brilliance of the prose and deep and sometimes disquieting thoughts of this book much sooner than 2018! Anyhow, I am glad I finally did read this work and needless to say, have found so much to like about it! I know this has often be slotted under a feminist work, but I cannot help but think this is so much more. This book tells women, what they know but in way forcing them to see it in the glaring sunlight. It brings consciousness and awareness to women about their plight and the kind of legacy we have been handed down to what will hand down. What really stuck me is that while Ms. Woolf was very optimistic about the future of her daughter’s in a 100 years’ time; today, 100 years later, her essay is still relevant as ever. While we really do have more options, things have not changed much  – West was decried as an errant feminist because of her abilities. Today in our much evolved language a woman is called “bossy” if she displays initiative and ambition; while the very same qualities are applauded in man and shows him to be “hungry for success!” Goes to show the more things change, the more they remain the same. But more importantly, something that really spoke to me in contrast with other gender politics writing was its ending – there is no “down with men” war cry, but rather a strong push to women, to pull their lives up so that they can better their and their daughter’s lot!

100 years ago, Ms. Woolf exploded to give us so many things, and I know I will revisit again and again to take up one kernel and explore it end to end before moving on to another idea. One of best thought provoking books I have read in a very long time!

A big shout to Adam for hosting this great event, which finally giving a chance to read authors and books that I should have read long back and without this challenge would not have gotten to even now!

The End of February…..

The New Year is old and for me, time could not have flown fast enough! One of the most stressful months for me both professionally and personally, all I can say, good riddance! For the first time, I am glad to bid adieu to the winter, which brought more unpleasantness than acceptable and look forward to the new chapters of Summers; yes even hot Indian summers! As, always, I thank the powers that be for granting us books, that helped me tide over home-hospitals-sick dad-at-home-nurses-at-home-professional disappointments- home-job-doctor-job paradigm!

Thus, I bring you my February book wrap up, borrowing and combining from Helen’s monthly post of Commonplace Book post   and O’s ideas of  Wordless Wednesday  –

From The East of Eden by John Steinbeck –

But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.”

From A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well! “

From Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

If to live in his style is to eccentric, it must be confessed, that this something good in eccentricity

From Harry Heathcote of Gangoil by Anthony Trollope

What does a man live for except to alter things? When a man clear the forest and sows corns, does he not alter things?

From The Dairy of a Nobody by George Grossmith

What’s the good of a home, if you are never in it?

That was my reading for the month of February. I am immensely glad that despite all the chaos, I was able to stick to my only Reading Challenge of the year – The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge  and complete A Room of One’s Own as planned for the month, though I still need to post the review. In fact, I need to blog way more! Here’s hoping March brings in that much needed relief to one and all……

 

Help Needed…

I know I have been more often than not missing in action lately and I know many of you are wondering what the hell happened here…let me just start by saying, NOTHING even remotely exciting. As I had predicted at the beginning of the year, it is a BRUTAL work year and while I am extremely blessed to have an awesome team and a wonderful leader, it is still work and it’s getting crazier by the minute! Therefore when I finally get some time, which is far and few, I am too busy playing reading catch up and then there is simply no time left to post about what I have read! However I am trying to find a balance and hope that I will back to my normal weekly posting self soon!

Anyhow some urgent help is required which brought be trotting back to this post. I have always wondered if there was anyway I could do a little more than, you know make a rich company richer and in recent years I have been very fortunate to not only be led by some amazing woman, but with promotions, I have started the process of mentoring some wonderful talents. Many of them also happen to be women and as I mentor more and try and help them, I realize that despite all their advanced degrees and relatively successful positions, many of these extremely talented woman struggle with self confidence and putting themselves out their and just simply  knowing their self worth. As I try to help navigate this journey of self confidence and leadership development I often naturally quote books and authors as illustrations. As the process grew, many of them expressed an interest in reading books again (Yes…some of them have not read anything remotely intellectual since college and some, HAVE NOT read anything at all!) Thus evolved the idea of small book club focusing on women and gender issues and corporate leadership. Naturally because I spoke the most I was tasked with the honor of compiling a list and here is where I am stumped!

There are many many books of leadership and women in leadership and coaching women for leadership and yada yada yada! But I do not think that focusing on leadership or the management aspect alone will lead to a whole rounded and a more deep level development, so I am trying to find books between that and you know hard core Simone de Beauvoir and Gloria Steinem, for which I know these readers are not ready yet. So what I want is an intelligent, relatively deep insight into women and leadership. Do you know how many books I could find? NONE!! And no while I think Ms. Sandberg had many valid things to say, her book is epitome of deep thoughts!

So help….tell me what all would you read or ask your peers to read in similar circumstances? I need all your suggestions and I am open to modern/historical/fiction/nonfiction….all genres! So tell me and tell me all!

Revolution in 19th Century Bengal

As many of you are aware that for this month, I hosted the The Home and The World by Rabindranath Tagore Read Along to celebrate the 100 years of publication of this great novel as well celebrate India’s 69th “new” independence from British Raj. I had the greatest pleasure and honor in reading the novel with Stefanie, Jane, Cleo and Brona and as we close this month, it seemed the time was appropriate to share some of my thoughts and ideas about this timeless classic.

Tagore wrote this novel in the back drop of partition of Bengal (for more information, you can refer to the details here) which led to the rise of “Swadeshi Movement”  –  a nationalist movement that demanded freedom from British rule and was a precursor to Gandhi’s non-violent movement, which would yield much more significant results. The novel opens with Bimala the lady of the house giving us a background of the house and family she has married into and more importantly the character of her husband. The family is a rich aristocratic family settled for generations in Eastern India. Nikhil, Bimala’s husband is the scion of the house, running his business and family to the best of his abilities in modern and enlightened lines. He is kind to his poor tenants and genuinely tries to improve their condition and the state of the country by trying out new agricultural techniques, indigenous factories to produce such daily needs like soaps and pens and deploy modern economics like banks. His schemes are not always successful but his kindness and moral standards have earned him the respect of one and all. He has tried to educate his wife Bimala and has had a British lady come and teach her and he hopes to bring her out as an individual, independent of her identity as his wife. The household also consists of his two widowed sister-in-laws, wives of his older brothers who had died young after a life of debauchery and profligacy, leaving these women without any resources and dependent on Nikhil. Bimla is often involved in petty arguments with her two sister-in-laws in domestic matters, while Nikhil teaches her patience and tolerance for creatures like them who have been deprived of practically all basic human joys through choices that were never theirs. Such are the conditions, when the “Swadeshi Movement” sweeps the country. Nikhil is wary of such frantic nationalism, though he continues to fund finances for Sandeep, his friend who is a leader of the movement. Bimala thinks of him as a selfish creature and does not approve of her husband’s financial support to Sandeep. Soon nationalism comes to their county and Sandeep comes to their house as a guest and his oratory inspires Bimala to step outside the inner sanctums and purdah and meet him. This unleashes a series of events which neither Bimla or Nikhil who always encouraged Bimala to come out of the purdah, foresaw with significant results!

Tagore’s literary masterpiece spoke of 3 important elements at once, through the interweaving of the first person narratives of Bimala, Nikhil and Sandeep. First, it acts as an allegory for the nationalist struggle that had spread across India and Bengal, that presents two opposing forces, that is fighting for the future of Bengal and India. Nikhil is the enlightened humanist who asserts that truth cannot be imposed; freedom is necessary for choice, and is critical to individual growth and fulfillment. Sandeep represents himself as a realist, one who brutally confronts the world.He presents all that is passionate and violent, believing that the end justifies the means and that if something is not given to him amicably, he will snatch it if need be. Secondly, it deals with the question of gender when it proposes the figure of the woman as the representative of the nation. Tagore brings out his woman – the central character of the novel and makes her cross the literal and metaphorical threshold between the world of the anter- mahal or the inner chambers, the private inhabited by women in traditional Indian families, and the world of politics, the public. Finally, the novel raises philosophical questions and brings in Tagore’s ever curious questioning of metaphysical conception of truth and see the world as a constantly attempting to ignore truth and believe illusions to be the truths, which cannot be self sustaining. There are some shortcomings in the novel for sure – too much of rhetoric and some very uni-dimensional characters, especially Sandeep, whose brilliance is overshadowed in portraying him as a complete villain. Amulaya’s character is another example of unilateral creation where his goodness belies everything! However despite these shortcomings, I am still in awe of the brilliance that Tagore displayed not only in the narrative but also in the way he could fortell the future and his understanding as visionary which he translated into words for the common man to understand. Well before the rise of Nazi Germany, well before the Serbian or Rawandan civil wars, Tagore could see the utter and complete destructive powers of the “nationalist sentiment” . He wrote extensively against blind patriotism and spoke strenuously from desisting from violence as means to an end. A humanitarian to the very core, the idea of hurting anyone, Hindu, Muslim or British was appalling to him and he was convinced any results achieved on such principles would not stand the test of time – a key of Tagore’s belief system. Sustainable things and not things of the a moment, were the ingredients for success in any endevour. His foresight was telling when he brought forth the unrest among the Muslim populace of Nikhil and other feudal lord’s territories. This unrest and discontentment would fester leading finally to the partition of Indian in 1947 on religious lines, leading to the creation of Pakistan. His humanism demanded that we treat Muslims no different from Hindus, and religion should be the last condition for understanding the value of an individual – a lesson valid now more than ever.His celebration of humanism and individuality is powerfully brought out in the character of Nikhil – the man who believes that true freedom does not restrict but liberate and who honors those principals even when his wife decides to make choices, contrary to him and his belief system. Finally in Bimala he beautifully depicts the confusion of the Indian woman, who is slowly stepping out in the world to try and take her place again after centuries of oppression and purdah. She is confused and dazzeled by the heading feeling of doing some important work in the arena of men. She is awe of the power, all the men around her seem to attribute to her and she thinks she is finally making a difference to her country. Her assertion of character first surprises Nikhil who, despite being hurt, allows her to follow her own path and later Sandeep who tries to dominate her, finally showing her, his true colors. Bimala is representative of many woman, including many woman of today, who come from a strongly male dominated arena and for the first time discover a world of their own. They lose a bit of ground initially, but are soon able to assert their strength. Bimala in fact constantly reminded me of many of my sorority sisters in college. Thanks to the struggles of my great grand mother and grand mother, the former a contemporary of Bimala , in the same age and same socio-economic background, by the time I was born, my family was liberated, educated and got confused when someone said a girl child was a burden. However many families to this day and age believe in restricting the freedoms of their daughters in this country for the sake of honor or some such imagined masculine pride. These girls, for the first time sent to college away from the domination of parents would lose all control, until their innate sense asserted themselves and some of them went on to become lawyers, lecturers and even politicians. Tagore in writing Bimala seemed to fortell the story of all these girls.

I have read The Home and The World several times before and each time, I find something new to delve into and think about. If this does not define a classic, I am not sure what will.

To end, I would like to thank you all who participated in this read along and stuck around through my tedious history posts and found time to read this wonderful book. Thank you for your time and constant encouragement. No way could I have pulled off this event, if you all were not standing around cheering me on!

Love and Equality in Victorian England

I finished re-reading Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” today as part of my Classic Club November Victorian Literature event. I think besides Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, there is no other book in English literature that is so famous or the by-word of must read lists and whose plot has been copied innumerable times for prequels, sequels, pre-prequels and it central story line used for films, stage and even modernized versions of the original book. Therefore since novel is so well steeped in the public memory, it makes little sense to summarize its story or review the book considering practically almost all of us have done that at least once middle-school upwards. Thus I adopt the same means as I when I wanted to discuss Rebecca and Sign of Four and share with you some observations and thoughts –

I have always had mixed feelings about “Jane Eyre” – as a young girl in her pre- teens, I could not warm up to Jane Eyre, with her controlled behavior and her at times cold approach. I liked my leading ladies to have all the fire in the world and I could not suppose why Jane was always striving to be so what I considered uptight in her actions. This came from the heart that worshipped Elizabeth Bennet and was fundamentally a Marianne Dashwood. However re-reading the book, several times since then, I did realize that allowances had to be made for the age – woman had limited means and character once lost would irrevocably lead to ruin. I did understand that one had to only act correct but also seem correct and one’s passion must be regulated by one’s intellect for the long-term well-being of all concerned. Jane Eyre therefore had long seized to be a cold insipid creature, but rather a courageous and strong woman who did what was right, no matter what the sacrifice and no matter how painful. The idea of what is right versus what makes me happy, is refreshing especially in the modern world of “absolute individualism” and “doing what makes me happy as long as no one is hurt” – perhaps by becoming Mr. Rochester’s mistress, no one would be hurt, after all the wife is mad!! Besides what is right for me may not be right for you and would the modern re-telling of Jane Eyre, actually hold up the value of not living in while the spouse, albeit mad lives? Would the modern readers judge such an action – such “living in the moment” more logical and plausible than the original Victorian moral guide of what is now considered as “prude”. I am very curious, what would be the turning point of should Charlotte Bronte write Jane Eyre in 21st century or is such a story longer possible, since the very socio-political background has changed?

Moving on to Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester – I know why I never liked the “Jane Eyre”; it was because I NEVER liked the hero!! Not in my pre-teens and not now at the age of 32. I mean come on – I am all for anti-hero and all such, but Mr. Rochester is farce and a weakling! Never mind his redeeming stance about trying to save his mad wife from the fire or his utter complete love for Jane. He is pugnacious, cowardly and irresponsible from the word go. Oh! Yes! His father wanted him to marry a wealthy heiress but he did choose to marry Bertha Mason and there is no justification in saying he did not know her well enough when of marriage; really whose fault is that? The fact that he stayed married to her is no absolution for his original fool hardy actions. We have loads of heroes who choose to break away from parental tyranny to make a better life or seek fortunes through means wholly unconnected with matrimony. Cases to the point include Henry Tilney in “Northanger Abbey” and Captain Frederick Wentworth in “Persuasions” and many others. Then this whole business of marrying Jane when he was already married; I do not understand this kind of selfish love – the kind of love where you seek only one goal, your own goal and the justification of the means is that you love the person so completely that this was the only way out!! Had the marriage happened, Jane legally would have been no better than a mistress and he was willing to carry out this ceremony , despite knowing how much faith and belief Jane held to doing what is right and how much weight she gave to the appearance of what is expected of good conduct in the society. I do not understand this kind of selfish self-centered love, where you willingly sacrifice the very principles that are held dear by whom you proclaim you love; and I cannot understand how a sensible a heroine like Jane Eyre could go back to such a man.

The one last thing that I love about this book and I may have mentioned this in one my older blogs is that I believe that this is first book that takes a stand of feminism and equality.

It is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,—as we are

Could there be a more revolutionary statement, especially considering the time it was written in? Here was this young orphaned girl with no money, no relations and no prospects; furthermore she is a mere governess in the house of rich and aristocratic landowner. Yet she demands to be treated as an equal because at the end of the day when all the material considerations are stripped away, we all stand as one and equal. This was a triumphant feminist war cry, that sought equality and that demanded that women no matter what their material situation is treated equal to a man. Jane Eyre the heroine knows that true love is made of respect and of being treated as equal, and this is not something that can be bought with money and in a position of a paid mistress!

Designing in the Australian Outback…

Brona is hosting the AusReading Month 2014 and as part of this event I read Rosalie Ham’s “The Dressmaker”.

The story is set in 1950’s Australian outback, the small town of Dungatar and the book opens with the return of Myrtle Dunnage returning to from Melbourne. Tilly as Myrtle now calls herself, is the daughter of Mad Molly and is an illegitimate child. As a child, Tilly was often abused and harassed by other children and has no pleasant memories of her youth! She is now an accomplished dressmaker, trained in London, Spain and France and decided to makes her home at her mother’s house on the hill, at the very end of Dungatar. Her return is treated with mostly contempt and disbelief – she had apparently left because of an unpleasant incident and neither she nor her mothers are welcomed in the town. There are exceptions who make Tilly comfortable and lessen her loneliness, including Sargent Farrat, the town chief police officer, who loves fabrics and sewing and Ted McSwiney, the football team’s star player and charming loveable rouge. However soon things start looking up for Tilly as her expertise in fashion designing and dressmaking gets around and soon all the ladies of the town are thronging her home to get their version of the latest Dior/Channel gowns. However, on the night of the Ball, it becomes clear to Tilly that though the women accept her dressmaking skills, she will never be accepted as part of the community, leading to tragic events. Tilly now decides that things need to even out and scores need to be settled, before this part of her life is closed.

To begin with, there is a lovely Australian feel to the book – from the landscapes, to the gardens, to the seasons; the reader can see, breathe and live Australia. Beautiful descriptions highlighting the very best of Australian outback, in all their summer/spring glory!! Then there are dresses and designs – I had a fashion crash course. The author so lovingly details each dress made by Tilly copying a more famous brand, that I had to do Google Image searches, to see the actual, so lovely did they sound. I am all set to create a new wardrobe, only I do not have any place to wear such plethora of dresses and gowns. Tilly is a wonderful and warm character, quiet and hesitating, that it takes some time for the reader to figure her out, but once you do, you cannot help but like her. She had a difficult life, but she is not subservient and can give it back when needed. She is smart, talented and brave and takes life as it comes. Sargent Farrat is another absolutely loveable character – logical, kind and sensible; you have to like for his honesty and smile at him for the joy he feels in his secret passion for fabrics. Molly madness reflects more of obstinacy than true lunacy, but she is crazy character and her compassion shines through in the end! That’s where all the good things about this book end. The narrative is linear, jerky and at time abrupt. The taut tension builds and then falls flat – as reader, you are kind of left suspended in middle of a high jump, while the author figures out which direction the book will lead to; though as reader, by now, you have nose-dived into flatland. Events that happen are kind of clichéd and at times completely unnecessary and sometimes some incidents offer no explanation. For instance, why Tilly should all of sudden develop this ardor to come and nurse her mother, when for 20 years she gallivanting across the continent and never looked back at her even then mad mother! True, she suffers a loss that makes her come back to Dungatar, but do we really need a loss to take care of our invalid/aged parents? Is that not our moral responsibility – I mean why do you need to “realize” it??? It’s a fact, it’s love given back to a loving parent, who take care of you when you needed them. I do not get Ms. Ham explanation or her understanding of what is due of filial relationships! There are host of other characters in the books that populate the story including the Pratts, who run the grocery-haberdashery-butchers shop and their daughter Gertrude who dreams of marrying the town’s beau William Beaumont. William Beaumont has been to agricultural college and per the storyline planned to do a lot of things with his land, but I never read where or what or how he did it? His sister Mona Beaumont who is frustrated (I have no idea why), lives in her mother’s shadow and is sex obsessed. In fact sex obsession seems to run through all almost all characters of the town from being unfaithful to exhibitionism to what not. Therein lies my problem, I have no idea why so much sex and that to more it’s more darker aspect spins through the book – in fact that is the main thread that holds this motley crew together – everybody has a dark sexual secret!! Why? I understand the concept of hypocrisy; of being pretentious morally correct than you secret actions, but why do those secrets have to be around sex alone? There are all kinds of sins of behavior and all kinds of things that people hide – corruption, forgery etc. And more importantly, did the author really need guilty secrets to play off good versus bad? Your average bad person is usually a mean minded gossip monger, who suffices as an hypocritical archetypical villain, without this spin of sexual obsession. The whole beauty of such books lies in the variety of such cast and crew and their behavior. Ms. Ham took a butcher’s knife and stabbed it beyond recognition!

This book is tragedy not because of the plotline, but because it has so much promise and none of it came through!

P.S. I heard they are now making a movie, with Kate Winslet as Tilly Dunnage! Why?? Oh! Why???!!!

The Ripping Reads….

I finally finished two of my RIP IX reads and considering both are masterpieces and everything that could be said has been said about them. Therefore I thought of doing a short combined post on both the books and instead of doing the usual reviews, I thought I will just share some observations that have now stuck me, after my re-readings!

The precedence as always goes to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four, featuring the greatest of all fictional detectives, Mr. Sherlock Holmes and his trusty aide, Dr. Watson. The book begins with Dr. Watson trying to convince Holmes to give up his use of cocaine and other such substances with Holmes replying that these are the only stimulants that keep his brain active, in the absence of work. This conversation is interrupted by the entrance of Miss Mary Morstan , a young genteel woman, who has been employed in the capacity of a governess and whose regular life has been disturbed by a note which asks her to meet a certain person that evening at six, along with two of her trusted friends, so that a great wrong that has been done to her can be righted. Miss Morstan also reveals that her father had been a Captain in the British India army and posted at Andaman Islands, from where he returned about ten years ago. He then wrote a letter to his daughter, who at time was in a boarding school, asking her to join him in London; that was the last she ever heard of him and he had since disappeared. Finally she states that for the last 6 years, she has received an expensive pearl anonymously. She then requests Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to accompany her in the evening to meet the man who wrote to her. Thus begins, the adventure of the Sign of Four, taking the reader from the fogs of London, to Cumberland, to Agra and the Andamans, in search of treasure, truth and in a very non Conan Doyle style, love. It’s a great mystery and the art of scientific deduction is wonderful to read – it makes one wistful and wish that if only one could think logically and deductively as a habit and at all the times. The narrative style is as always in a memoir of Dr. Watson and for once, some of the ending is given away, with allusions to what happened in future. However this does no harm to story in itself and it is a thrilling and nail biting narrative to read (especially the steam boat chase chapter) which has not lost even a tenth of its shine, since being published in 1890. Like I said, I can say nothing more about the novel than what has not already been said and shared; but this time two items stuck me as, well, a bit non-palatable. One was the portrayal of Mary Morstan, sweet, gentle, supportive, fragile, disdaining treasure for the sake of love – I mean Ye!! Gods!! Help me from such virtuous role models; for that’s exactly what she is – a model of ideal womanhood from Conan’s point of view. I know allowances need to be made for that particular time and the social-political rules that governed the society; but Victorian era produced a number of strong women who would disdain any namby pamby portrayal of their characters – these were women of blood, sweat, substance and strength, and while possessing a lot of compassion, they also were practical and sensible. I mean, England was ruled by such a woman at that time, not to mention, other wonderful women like Elizabeth Gaskell, Christina Rossetti, Millicent Fawcett and Elizabeth Fry. This concept of the ‘household angel’ was enough to throw me off the book, and I cannot believe that I had been so oblivious to this angle during my earlier reads! Sir Conan Doyle wrote of a much better woman, at least vis-à-vis character in Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Bohemia“– who is intelligent, loyal and practical to a T! Hard to believe the same man wrote about Mary Morstan. The other item that hit me was the portrayal of non-whites – whether it is Mohmet Khan planning a cold-blooded murder or Tonga the indigenous tribal from Andaman, the natives can kill with no conscience, the only redeeming characteristic being their loyalty! Thank Heavens for that!! I mean as it is the brown man/woman are “savages” but imagine the greatness and generosity of Englishmen, in inspiring loyalty among this unworthy people!! Kipling was a unaplogetic and unashamed imperialist, but to think Sir Conan Doyle also sang a similar tune, is kind of unsettling; as I mentioned before allowance have to be made for the age and I do, but with Kiplings, and Doyles and Haggards, at times, it becomes difficult not to be prejudiced! Everything apart though, it is a great book and Sir Doyle does what does the best, proving time and again he is the master of “detective fiction”.

The second book that I read for RIP IX is “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier. I had originally read this novel when I was 15, through the night, when I was racked with fever and could not sleep. I had deep impressions from that read – all very gothic and creepy. The story is too well-known from me to write in detail – Maxim De Winters, the owner of the Manderley, an estate on the Cornish Cost, brings home a young wife after the accidental death of his first wife Rebecca, in a boating accident, a year ago. The second Mrs De Winter, is a young, shy woman who has great hopes of her future, that come to standstill, as she grapples with the presence of Rebecca in Manderley, whose presence is overwhelming and who continues to run the house from her grave! It could be that fever had induced my brain to be more sensitive, because, when I had read this book the first time I had felt the terrifying presence of Rebecca, I was afraid of Mrs. Danvers and I felt all the apprehensions and illogical fears of the second Mrs. De Winters. I should have waited for another bout of fever, before re-reading this book! I know people rant and rave about this book and I may be offending half a million readers if not more, but only a teenager, with really low self-esteem can like this book! My whole problem with the book is the second Mrs. De Winters – I can understand being shy and I can empathize with the feeling of being left out and not belonging, but Mrs. De Winters made me want to throw up and throw the book at her. She does not even try; for heavens’s sake, she is not even willing to try. She goes around the house like a mouse, when she has no reason to, and is perpetually afraid of Mrs. Danver who is just a big ol’ bully who should be set in her place. She does not even try to manage the house or stake her claim as the mistress – had she tried and then failed, that would have added a complex layer to the narrative, besides adding on to her oh-i-am-so-scared characterization. She is embarrassed in the presence of Mrs. Van Hopper, she is embarrassed with Maxim and she is embarrassed when Mrs. Danver finds her in East Wing! Mrs. Van Hopper is embarrassing and it could be that the second Mrs. De Winters’s initial life may have been a trial, but as Jane Austen had showed us, that one can still act sensible in presence of distressing environs; case to point, Elizabeth Bingley with Mrs. Bingley as a painful dimwitted loud mother or Jane Fairfax with her poor, silly aunt. But of course, no understanding of self-worth, enters the poor little Mrs. De Winters’s head until her lord and master, declares his undying love her and confesses that he never loved Rebecca – I mean what value do we women have unless, it is to be made worthy by the acceptance of the man. Also let’s not forget, that the Lord and the Master is a great man of courage and forbearance, who can murder to save his family name from infamy but cannot divorce for the fear of scandal. Such wonderful choice makes this declaration of love, even more touching; after all who can resist the love of a cowardly soul, who cannot face the truth; no matter how far he would have to go hide it. Only by such love, can one make herself a complete woman!!! By such standards, I should really consider myself an absolute failure and consider becoming a nun!!!! The redeeming feature of the novel, really are the last 100 pages as the body of Rebecca is discovered, and the mystery unfolds to an unexpected and unbelievable climax. This is where Ms. Du Maurier revealed her exceptional brilliance and expertise of her craft and as a reader; you are left breathless and shocked by the sudden twist of the tale!! It is this end, which makes the book in my view a classic and preserves it from the morbid and irritating presence of Mrs De Winter, the second! I never realized how disgusted I was with this novel, until I wrote this piece! Writing I guess is therapeutic!

I know this is one of my longest posts, but I cannot end, without once again urging all of your help in the Indiegogo Crowdfunding project which I am managing. We are not doing that well and your help would really make a difference. Again, there are a couple of ways to support this cause –

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