And Now For Some More Inspirations….

I have been planning to write this for a while, but there have been so many things to write about lately, this kind of got late, but I guess better late than never. This month’s The Classic Club Meme was provided by Ruth and is again one of those questions, that one has to write about those –

Which character from classic literature is most important or influential to you and why? Or which character do you most despise and why?

I could somehow never really despise a fictional character, maybe because I knew they were fictitious and my hope was and is that art here is stranger than reality and mankind is capable of far more goodness than despicable actions. Though to quote Jane Austen, “The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.” But one cannot help but hope that good will triumph over evil and therefore I always remember characters who inspire me more than the ones I find despicable.

I know I have talked about this in the past and that too several times, but one cannot help but talk about this again and again, because the character is such. No character has had a more significant or profound impact on me than Atticus Finch. When Ms. Lee wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird”, she knew what she was writing about; for here was a character who was actually asked to stand up for the values that he professed – honor, integrity, truth, equality, and justice.  There are so many times when in our lives we stand at those crossroads, where there are really two paths – one that is simple and easier to take and the other which has more hardships that one can count, but it is also the path that defines who you are. Atticus Finch is a beacon of light and inspiration for all us who have or will be at such junctures; if you don’t speak up when you should and do not act to what you profess , well then you are not what you are who you think you are! And like I said before Mr. Finch taught at a very young age and Thank God, I learnt this lesson early, that unless I can look myself in the eye, nothing is worth it!

But when you read so much, there are other characters who stand tall and inspire you and while I can write a whole 100 page of them, neither time nor cyber space memory will allow me such liberties, so U restrict myself to only three –

Mrs. March, Jo March and Beth March – Yes I know they are three characters and no they are not “the three” but I club them in one category because they are progeny of one book, the seminal bible of all independent young women Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”.  To begin with Mrs. March, who I think is often overlooked among the glamour or aura or squabbling of her four daughters.  We forget that here is a gentlewoman who is no longer in the comfortable circumstances she was originally born or married to, yet she tries her best to single handedly bring up four,  albeit difficult daughters, manage a household with diminishing funds, and yet instil joy and faith among all. It requires a lot of courage, what I call quiet courage to face the world everyday alone bravely. She is first single mother of modern literature and by far the most intelligent, kind and strongest of them all. Jo March I think almost all of us relate to while growing up, fierce in temper, independent of thought, extremely intelligent and emotional to the T….she is as human as one can get. Most importantly, in the lines of Jane Austin’s Elizabeth Bennett, she refuses to marry for the sake of convenience and though Laurie is much better candidate than Mr. Collins, the logic is the same – marriage for equality and companionship and most importantly love and not for material or other escapist gains. Call me idealistic, call me foolish (in the light of recent events, trust me foolishness is a strong emotion I feel these days!) however marriage should be because of love and for no other reason. Jo March, in the lines of Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse, stands as one of the first feminist of modern literature. Beth March I realize I bore much more affinity to as I grew older and re-read “Little Women” and though I cannot profess to 1/10th of her goodness, nor do I have her gentleness, shyness or lack of character flaws, I do find a lot of joy in the simple domesticity of lives, where there is such joy in doing things for others that your own self does not matter.

Larry from The Razor’s Edge is yet another character who inspires me; he convinces me that there is more to life than acquiring a house, a car and a million dollars. While money is important and necessary in today’s life, one cannot be a slave to it and one has to find one’s identity and belief to really enjoy  and find meaning in life and that no money, no wealth can provide as was evident with Isabel’s meaningless wealth and her uncle’s lonely death.

The one final character who inspires precisely because, like all human beings I struggle to achieve and become a better individual and at times even succumb to the softer options is Andrew Manson from The Citadel by A.J. Cronin .  The book starts off with an idealistic Dr. Andrew Manson who is eager to help the people of small Scottish mining town and is sensitive enough to understand their wretched conditions and wants to elevate them. His research and subsequent success takes him away from his original plans of helping the less fortunate and follow a life of luxury and only a tragedy makes him realize what is truly more important. He returns to his plans of helping others and overlook the immediate selfish gains. This struggle to leave behind softer options for a greater good and its ultimate triumph is something that makes me go on day after day when all things that are more lucrative in short terms is also mundane and mind numbing and temporary and drives focus on what is truly important.

 

Liking Jane…..

This blog is in response to the March Meme of The Classics Club. The subject is Jane Austen…now how can I ever pass out on opportunity to wax eloquently on my all-time favorite author – the very witty, the very talented and an acute observer of all the fallacies of human nature.

While Jane Austen has always been at the very top of my ladder of veneration that I reserve for my most beloved writers, it is very surprising that I never wrote about her before. But then what can I say for Ms. Austen that has not been said before – what can I say that is original and not hackneyed or trite?  However let me attempt to spell out why I resort to Jane Austen, when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am confused, when I need distraction or simply when I need to attain a Zen state of mind!

By now, the very first question of The Classic Club for this subject should be answered by now – I do not love Jane Austen; I am obsessed with her!!!!!

Now to broach why I love Jane Austen – I love reading her because she is one of the original fountain of all wisdom pertaining to relationships, especially those between a man and a woman. All those of who had been nourished on a healthy and completely untrue diet of Prince Charming carry poor little Cinders away, despite strong objections against her background got of first taste of reality through Austen’s work. Whether it is Mrs. Bennett or her relations, there can be no denying that improper behavior by the family of the protagonist will always be a hindrance in the path of true love and will always make a lover hesitate in declaring his intentions. How many times in your adult life have you heard your boyfriend say that your mother/aunt/sister is too loud and an embarrassment in public which led to an eventual showdown between the two of you, regardless of the validity of criticism? I feel this keenly and therefore try as much as possible to shield my guy from my extended family.  She was one of the first writers to put forth that while filial respect is always important and should always be of greatest import, one cannot turn away from the obvious shortcoming of the parents, which at times may lead to disastrous effect on the child. Example of the same is Mrs. Dashwood who does not try and control the imprudence of Marianne in her relations to Willoughby leading to heartbreak for one and exposing another to the censure of the world. Sir Elliot’s vanity and pride deprives his daughter Ann Elliot from happiness for seven long years. These were revolutionary concepts, especially when we look at the era that Ms. Austen was writing from.

Many claim Jane Austen had written a 18th century Mills & Boone through Pride and Prejudice. But this  in itself is a very simplistic understanding of the novel – this was one of the first books where the heroine asserts not only her own self-respect but also forces the male protagonist to respect her family through sheer force of character. Ms. Eliza Bennett is not a milk and honey  miss, like her other fictional compatriots, who faint at anything remotely stressful; nor does she give away to hysteria when ill befalls her family – instead she faces them as a strong individual, sharing burdens with her sister and keeping her own repining in check and rarelyhas moments of self-indulgence. She does not go around being pedagogic to her suitor, but speaks to him on equal terms, in mixture of humor, angst or anger as dictated by natural human tendency.  Pride and Prejudice was also one of the first writings to throw an egalitarian twist – while Mr Darcy had 10000 a year and Pemberly, he is dismissed as a gentleman by Elizabeth, who claims equality as a gentleman’s daughter and is completely unapologetic about the comparative material inequities between the two.

Ms. Austen was one of the first writers to create a flawed heroine, whether it was Elizabeth Bennett’s initial liking for Mr Wickham or Emma Woodhouse’s meddling and sometimes rude conduct towards her friends and neighbors. She makes her heroine fall to only make them rise, realize their mistake and become better human beings, woman, wife, daughter etc.

Finally many critics have condemned Jane Austen as parochial and not addressing some of the pressing concerns of her time, like the Napoleonic Wars. She does refer to the Napoleanic Wars when there is a need – Persuasion is filled with allusion to peace after the war; but mostly she wrote about the country – the kind of place she grew up and spent most of her adult life. She wrote about things that she understood and had complete command over than attempt something for which she was dependent on second-hand sources and which may have a false bearing on the tale. After all, since Ms. Austen’s celebrated examples of writing about spheres understood by the author, more than 200 years later, the apparently modern and up-to-date social networks, work on her principle of writing locally!

Jane Austen is not out dated, she is not boring and she is not parochial – she is in fact very cool, with writings that can be handed down from one generation to another, because it addresses the really never-changing mores of human interactions!

To address the last part of The Classic Club Challenge – my favorites in order of 1 to 6 are (with 1 being the best!)

  1. Pride and Prejudice (No Surprise there!)
  2. Emma
  3. Sense and Sensibility and Persuasions (I know…I cannot decide between the two!)
  4. Northanger Abbey
  5. Lady Susan
  6. Mansfield Park (Only Austen that I consider tedious and didactic!)

Do let me know what you think about Ms. Austen as well!

The Classic Attempt…..

This blog is completely inspired by The Classics Club ….I am not sure why I venture into these challenges, considering I fail most of the time….I mean I am not a person who really thrives on short notices or deadlines! I felt really weird writing the last sentence, I mean the other me – you know the ‘Project Manager’ me – the Corporate wheeler-dealer me,  really thrives and succeeds on deadlines and pressure tactics; in fact the tighter the leash, the better I will succeed. But when it comes to this me – you know the blogging-reading round the clock-with clueless love live-talking endless nonsense me, well, I just so badly fail. I could not complete the NaNoWriMo; I could not complete any of reading challenges, though as God be my witness, I read enough, so this me – the one I consider the real me, does not come out gloriously in these  events. So why do it again – like knowingly set yourself for a fall? Well I guess, you cannot teach an old dog new tricks – if there is a cliff, I will climb to the very top of it, only to fall head long!! Yeah! Yeah!! I know I will live through this!

Anyway after all the procrastination, I amble back to the main subject. So The Classics Club has a Spin list – what one does is, list 20 classics in a random order. They could be a list of books you love reading or never finished or dread starting. On Monday, 18th February, The Classics Club will announce a number – whatever number is declared, you read the book that you have marked against this number by April 1st 2013.  The ideal list is of course a mix of all the above – books you love, books you have been planning to read forever, but never got down to it and naturally, books that you absolutely dread and so on and so forth.

Therefore without any more ado, I present my list –

  1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  2. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  4. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  5. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  6. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  7. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  9. Great Expectation by Charles Dickens
  10. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  11. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
  12. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  13. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  14. Madam Bovary by Gustav Flaubert
  15. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  16. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
  17. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  18. The Moonstone by Willkie Collins
  19. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  20. Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell

I love Austen, Swift and really want to read Gaskell, Burgess and Collins. I shudder at the thought of Woolf or Eliot – never quite developed a taste for them. I have been planning to go back to Flaubert for some time – especially since my sister told me to read closely in the details, because apparently, the beauty of the book lies in those minute details. The same holds true of Anna Karenina – did not like it the first couple of times I read it, but since reading Stefanie’s thoughts on the book, I have been curious to give it another try, though War and Peace remains my favorite Tolstoy book and would love to go over it again!

To end, I am waiting with bated breath for the number draw – again, I wonder why I am doing this? But maybe this time because of the contest, I will have the patience to finish The Awakening and in my mind list, it would be one down! 😉

Austenian Manner at the Manor

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye Manor House, we will miss you!

Photo Curtsey: Mentally Nailbitng

Oops I or (did he) do it again!!!

I know I have been away and I would like to believe that in the infinite logic of time and space, the “away’ becomes an insignificant, atom of nothingness. No I was not away at some abstract Physics or Metaphysical conference and no I have not been hit on my head….I am merely trying to look at the macro level picture as I am being advised by all and sundry and really …..IT DOES NOT HELP. Me is micro and “me” is what is important, at least at this point of time, rather than whole wide world.

I am rambling….so let me get down to the specifics –

I hope there are some young parents who will read this and take some valuable lessons, namely, never ever read out fairy tales to your daughter so that she grows up thinking that there is truly a “Prince Charming’ out there and then spend her whole life un-thinking this thought! My parents were not that considerate- they had a beautiful and romantic 8 years courtship at the end of which they tied a knot. Naturally, from their point of view Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty was a good place to start for their daughter, both in terms of literature and belief system! Things did not improve as I grew older and graduated to young adult literature – There was always a Tom to Anna  of Green Gables, a Ned Nickerson to Nancy Drew and unlike any other girl of my age….I thought Frank Hardy was so much desirable over Joe Hardy.  And then came Ms Austen to completely morph and change the way I thought about men –

  • Mr Fritzwilliam Darcy will I believe always remain the best and the most popular among women as the most desirable partner of all times – whether it’s his “handsome mien”  or his honourable conduct (remember the Lydia Affair) or when we get down to the bass tactics his “Pemberley” or his unchanging love for a spirited and and intelligent Lizzy.
  • Captain Fredrick Wentworth was the man who made it big on his own in the conservative Regency society and loved and eventually persuaded and was perused to marry the intelligent and accomplished Anne Eilliot, daughter of the impoverished Sir Walter Elliot, Bt., despite the more pleasant though vacuous attention of the Musgrove sisters.
  • George Knightly is of course all that is noble, kind hearted and generous with all the trappings of noblesse oblige, whether he is considerate to the Bates or in his dealings with his tenants, even going to the extent of advising them on matrimony (the Robert Martin piece) and his quiet and deep love for a feckless Emma that sears into ones heart’s.

My ideas were therefore set at a very young age and they would be further refined and developed, thanks to the following –

  • M M Kaye’s The Far Pavilion – Anyone who has read this book will know what I am talking about – Ashton Pelham Akbar Martyn is the stuff dreams are made off (Yes! Ms Kaye did not consider that she was setting all of us for a fall…) his love for India, his adopted country, his sense of justice and fairness, his courage, his loyalty and his unwavering love for the ill-fated Anjuli Bai
  • M M Kaye‘s The Shadow of the Moon – How can one not absolutely love Alex Randall? In the lines of Ashton Martyn, he too possesses unbridled courage, passion, a sense of righteousness, a sense of justice and honour and his searing love for Winter De Ballesteros and thus representing everything a hero ought to be!
  • Leon Uris’s Exodus – Ari Ben Cannon’s character was not written by women, so he does not overtly possess what a Darcy or a Randall seems to carry off with an ease. But scratch the surface and you will find honour, courage, passion and righteousness of all that should matter to any individual and is deeply rooted in his vision of an independent state of Israel.

Now back to the main plot……after years of being fed on such literary diet, I am not sure if any of you have run in such emotional maelstrom that I have, vis-à-vis relationships. While I epitomise all the honourable, honest and courageous traits of my fictional heroes, I seem to be doomed in finding only those characters who have no sense of responsibility, will never take accountability of their actions and will lie through their teeth, even when there is absolutely no reason to do so, because they presume, you will not like the truth!!!! You ask why would one go for such a man? Well …that’s the whole point…one does not!! He just keeps forcing his attention on one and the fact that he is extremely bright and absolutely ha ha funny, kind of complicates the issue…..But finally when you do sit up and take notice, well he has other things to do, places to visit, people to meet and can you please manage while I gallivant across the world and finally you are wondering…”Duh!! What was I imagining?” And the inevitable, “Oh! Not again!”

Then recently thinking hard about the whole thing, I realise that my expectations are incorrect and it’s all Ms Austen/Ms Kaye/Mr Uris’s fault. Had they not set up larger than life characters, I would have had no expectations, if I had no expectations, I would not expect him to be any better, if I did not expect him to be any better, I would be at peace with all his irresponsibility, if I was at peace with all his irresponsibility, I would not give him hell, If I did not give him hell and became a Musgrove sister, then I would be in a long, albeit potentially silly relationship. But now thanks to my immense literary baggage, I have to be sane and rational and more importantly expect him to be all that as well and that….that is never good!!!

Ergo….do not let your daughters/nieces read the kind of books I read!