Murder in an American Farm

As part of my Victober Reads, I decided to read The Dead Alive by Wilkie Collins as part of the Read a Victorian novel where a plot is afoot category! This novella was one of Collins’s earlier works and is supposedly based on a true story, based on the Broon Brother murder case.

The plot unlike other Collin’s plots, is based away from England and set in rural America.Philip Lefrank, an overworked and now sick lawyer is advised by his doctors to take a break from work for the sake of his health. He therefore sets off to America to visit some cousins of his who run a farm – The Medowcroft of the Morwick Farm. He arrives at Morwick station and is met my Issac Medowcroft’s eldest son – Ambrose, who appears to be a handsome and personable individual and who entertains Lefrank with interesting and candid conversation all the way to their journey to the Mrowick Farm.There he finally meets his host and the patriarch of the family Issac Medowcroft, his daughter, his daughter, a grim faced unhappy looking Miss Medowcroft and their cousin, Naomi Colebrook, with whom Ambrose seemed to be in love. The atmosphere of the house seemed strained and Lefrank was glad to retire to his own room. When he came down for dinner that night, he was introduced to the younger brother Silas and yet another person, John Jago who apparently ran the farm on behalf of Issac Medowcroft. It is soon apparent to Lefrank that things are not as they seem and there are tensions and undercurrents at play in between the Medowcroft household. The brothers do not like John Jago who seems to have the good opinion and trust of the elder Medowcroft and Miss Medowcroft for sure did not like Naomi Colebrook.  After dinner, Naomi, seeks an interview with Lefrank and shares her angst about the continuing tension and unpleasantness in the household and seeks his help in trying to speak to the brothers. It is at this point John Jago approaches Naomi and requests to speak to her, to which Naomi agrees, setting of a series of events, with unforeseen results.

This is not perhaps one of the best works of Collin’s and it lacks the plot tenacity of The Moonstone or the Women in White. But it is Collin’s and till the end, you are kept guessing what and who? The ensemble of characters like all of  Collin’s works have a large range -the now enfeebled patriarch, the angry woman scorned, the gentle heroine, the good brother and the weakling and the strange outsider. You name it and they are all there and they are woven so  well in the plot that it seems like taking even one of them out would leave a gaping hole in the narrative.The women do seem to verge at two ends of the spectrum, but this was a Victorian man writing the novel and allowances have to be made for that day and age!  The narrative without doubt the tale is kind of uni-dimensional. the length of the novella and the vivid characterization ensures that the story does not come across as flat. It straight forward no frills and no gore writing that brings the reader to the climatic end, smoothly and tries up the lose ends cleanly.

A very good one time, read it through the night novella!

The Bookish Time Travel Tag

As is usual in my case, I had planned to post a blog about something totally and completely different and instead I am posting this! It’s the festival season in India and I have been quite late in catching up with all the blogs but I finally did catch up and I found myself wondering what I would have answered on a particular post; and lo! Behold, Jane had actually tagged me, hoping I would do a similar post! Now Jane is one of those friends of mine who has introduced me to a number of unknown authors and we share a lot of similar bookish tastes, including a love for Victorian-Edwardian Literature and Golden Age of British Crime. Therefore, when she thinks I will enjoy writing a post, you can be rest assured I will be! Thus, without much further ado, I present to you, The Bookish Time Travel Tag! Originally created, by The Library Lizard, I was introduced to it naturally by Jane’s Post!

  1. What is your favorite historical setting for a book?

This is a very difficult one since there are several periods of History that I love

  • The Gupta Dynasty (C.300 AD) in India – This is really going back in time but this was a defining moment in South Asian history – a time of great literature and arts. Kalidas wrote Abhijanashakuntalam and Meghduta. It was also an era in which one of the best commercial comedies and my personal favorite of Sanskrit was penned Mṛcchakaika by Sudraka.
  • King David’s Jerusalem – Don’t ask me for reasons, just that I have a double degree in Middle Eastern Politics and Israel has always fascinated me!
  • Elizabethan England – Amid the squalor and the dirt and the delicate balance of peace between Catholic and Protestants and discovery of new lands, there was brilliant works being penned by Shakespeare, Marlow and jaw breakers like Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (a book I struggleth with!)
  • Regency England, specifically the country side – I am devoted to Jane Austen and I love her portrayals of the rural country lives, divorced from the over the top Regency London and therefore the simple English countryside and plots around the manor born, is and will always remain my favorite!
  • Victorian England – How can I pass up an era of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, George Gissing, Lewis Carol, Robert Louis Stevenson, Author Conon Doyle, Elizabeth Barret Browning, Robert Browning, Christian Rosseti, Oscar Wilde, to name just a few! I think you get my drift!
  • Late British Raj in India (c. 1870s to 1940s) Also known as Bengal Renssiance, this period saw incredible development in making India a modern nation state and more especially in bringing women out of the “purdah”. The women started to get degrees in Literature, Science and medicine and began to take their rightful place in the world. Not all transition was easy nor was it completely smooth, but it was an epoch making time of Indian history. Some of the best of the Indian literature was penned during this era including Michael Madhusudan Dutta’s Meghnadh Bodh Kabyo (The Slaying of Meghnadh), Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Durgeshnandini, Rassundari Devi authored the first full-fledged autobiography in modern Bengali literature and was one of the first female authors of modern India to do so. Most importantly, this was the era of Rabindranth Tagore as he wrote masterpieces after masterpeices including Geetanjali, The Home and The World, Gora etc.
  • The Bloombury London – I do not like most of authors and their views of this set, however I cannot deny that this era and this intellectual movement, was changing the way we view modern literature and economics etc. It also included in its group the very humane John Mynard Keynes and the very sensitive E.M. Forster as well as other laudable like Virginia Wolfe, Lytton Strachey, Vita-Sackville West etc.
  • The World Wars – Simply to better understand what madness drives men to kill their fellow brothers and how small misunderstandings lead to deaths of hundreds and thousands all across the world!

Now that, this is done, I promise to be more concise with my other answers!!

  1. What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?

Again there are so many of them, but in keeping with my promise, I am limiting myself to three only –

  • I would love to meet Jane Austen and share a cup of tea with her as the country society meets and greets each other and hear her gentle satire and words of wisdom as one individual meets the other.
  • Rabindranth Tagore and travel with him through the streets of 1890s Calcutta and visit all those places which are now iconic but then just a places for the intellectuals to meet and discuss how to work better with the British Masters!
  • M.Kaye and walk with her through the streets of my city of Delhi in 1920s as we explore the old Delhi and Meherauli ruins, especially the latter before it became the current up market residential area. I would also love to visit the then summer capital of British India with her, Shimla and have lunch at the celebrated Wildflower Hall and visit the Governer’s House and do all the things the British did then , before it came back into fashion thanks to The Indian Summer!
  1. What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

I have to hang my head in shame and say “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis when I was may be a 10-12 year old. I would have also loved to have read Margaret Kennedy in my 20s rather than waiting all these years. I also really wish I had started reading Emilie Zola a couple of years earlier, instead of waiting for so long to take up his books!

  1. What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?

This one is a tough one simply because I keep thinking, and I have every intention of re-reading all most all the books I have loved through the years. But if I have to pick one and since I cannot pick one, I would say it has to be a toss-up between The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and The Discworld Series by Sir Terry Pratchet. I think both of these two incredibly talented authors manage to remind us of what is truly important, with a gritty plot and humor!

  1. What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book? E.g. Panem from The Hunger Game

I will have to skip this one! I am more of past/history person than a futuristic one!

  1. What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period(can be historical or futuristic)?

Oh!! How in the world can I keep this answer short?????!!!! Let me try

  • The Far Pavillions and The Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye
  • The Book Thief by Mark Zukas
  • The Conquer Series by Conn Iggulden
  • The War of Roses Series by Conn Iggulden
  • The Source by James Mitchner
  • London by Edward Rutherford
  • New Forest by Edward Rutherford
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Finnigan
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Mila 18 by Leon Uris
  1. Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?

No! Nix! Never!!

  1. If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

There is sooooooo much to cover, I would not know where to start and where to end – I would naturally do all the things I mentioned in #Q2.

  • I would also love to visit Rueil and see Edward Manet paint the House in Rueil and The Garden Path in Rueil.
  • I would lIke to follow Sir Author Conon Doyle across the busy Victorian London as he helped clear the injustices against George Edalji and Oscar Slator.
  • I would for sure want to take a voyage to Middle East with Mark Twain as he wrote The Innocents Aboard and visit Yuguslavia, poised on the edge of World War II with Barbra West as she wrote her seminal Black lamb and the Grey Falcon.
  • And of course, I would want to walk the streets of Calcutta and Delhi with Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Ahmed Ali respectively, as the last vestiges of a great Hindu-Muslim syncretic culture practically disappeared forever into the horizon!
  1. Favorite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?
  • The Source by James Michener that cover the birth of Israel from 9831 BCE to 1963
  • London by Edward Rutherford that tells the story of the development of the city of London from the nascent beginning in 54 BCE to the current commercial hub of 2007
  1. What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

The Conquer Series by Conn Igulden

1500 words and I am finally done!

I do not wish to obligate anyone to do this and I know we all have very busy lives, but there are some people whose posts and thoughts I would love to read and add more on to my TBR  Stefanie @ https://somanybooksblog.com/

Cleo @ http://cleoclassical.blogspot.in/

Brona @ http://bronasbooks.blogspot.in/

Lauren @ https://wheretheresinktherespaper.wordpress.com/

Ruth @ http://greatbookstudy.blogspot.in/

This was a wonderful post and it brought back a lot of memories of books that I would love to revisit. Naturally, I also added quite a few from Jane’s post to my TBR, but that’s what bookish blogs are about! J

The Return of the Lion

Despite my varied reading adventures, there are some books and authors, I never got around to reading. This is especially true for Children’s Literature because as young child I read whatever my parents introduced me to and they did introduce me to great many, and as an adult, there were so many new books to read, that going back to explore a Children’s Classic took a back seat! But my 12 Months Classic Reading Challenge  gave me a tiny opportunity to correct this, with the September theme being – A Children’s Classic. While there are many many many works to read, there is one which has been on mind forever – The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Yes, I hang my head in shame and admit that I have never read the Narnia books ever! This selection also was inspired by the absolute devotion my reading buddy Cleo has for Lewis and thanks to her I have been introduced to some of the most brilliant, thought proving essays that Lewis wrote. Therefore I was even more curious to see how Lewis handled a children’s book. As y reading projects for this year is vast, I selected only one book of the series, the most famous – The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

During wartime England, 4 children, 2 brothers and 2 sisters, Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy, are evacuated to the countryside and come to live in a large rambling mansion, home of a kindly professor. The children are excited to be in such a wonderful house and plan many adventures for duration of their stay. In one of their explorations, Lucy wanders into a room with nothing but a wardrobe; curious she opens the wardrobe and steps inside it. She finds fur coats after fur coats and as she keeps walking into the deep interior she suddenly realizes that she is outside and in a wooded area with snow all over. More curious than ever, she walks on and soon meets a Faun named Tumnus. Tumnus explains to her that she has reached Narnia, the winter land where Christmas never comes and is ruled by the very wicked White Witch. He then invites Lucy for tea and entertains her wonderfully.However when Lucy indicates that she must go back, the faun is overcome and starts bawling. He reveals that he is in the pay of the white witch and he must turn over to her any daughters of Eve or sons of Adam as he find. If he does not, she will turn him into a statue of stone. Conscience and Lucy’s pleadings however make Tumnus change his plans and he quietly and stealthily escorts Lucy to the border of Narnia from where she can go inside the Wardrobe and back in her old world. Glad to be back, Lucky runs to her sister and brothers and shares her adventure with them. However she is astonished to find out that according to her siblings she had not been gone for long and furthermore they do not believe her story and imply that she is a liar. They continue teasing her often, Edmund who is nastier than the others does so even more. Lucy soon becomes quiet and retreats in a shell, but continues to be physically present with the children, though no longer with joy. In yet another game or hide and seek, Lucy and Edmund both tumble into the wardrobe and end up in Narnia,separately. Edmund meets the White Witch who gives hims bewitched Turkish Delight to eat and tell him she will make him the Prince and then the King of Narnia if he brings his brothers and sisters to her. Lucy and Edmund finally find each other in Narnia and hurry back to the wardrobe and run to tell the other two. However in the presence of Peter and Susan, Edmund pretends that nothing had ever happened and Lucy was fibbing again. Lucy after this incident retreats further and Edmund snubbed by Peter on needlessly teasing her, turns ever more vicious in his attacks on Lucy. In such circumstances, Mrs. Macready, the housekeeper who is not fond of children and has told them never to be around when showing the house to visitors, brings a set of visitors one morning and the children in a rush to avoid the very conflict which Mrs. Macready had warned against, stumble into the Wardrobe and then Narnia, setting the stage for some unforgettable adventures.

Did I love the book? Oh! Yes! I loved the simple, linear and the well knit plot that the author wrote, specifically bearing in mind the age and ability of his young audience. He uses all the delightful techniques that not only bait the young audience but also many older ones like delicious description of food, wonderful animals and of course, nail baiting, near heartbreak endings! The book beautifully covers all the emotions experienced by us, especially as children – excitement, sense of adventure, happiness, betrayal, heartbreak and exultation; all are captured succinctly. The characters are well drawn out – the children setting an example of what good behavior stands for, especially for the readers. Aslan and the Witch are absolutely riveting characters , that draw you in powerfully and involve you in their fates.However, I must admit to drawing parallels between the White Witch and Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen. The other minor characters of Fauns, Beavers and Giants provide an entertaining ensemble to already dazzling cast! Narnia comes alive in all its glory through the descriptions and actions of this cast. It is very interesting how C.S.Lewis drew allegories, especially Christianity based allegories into his tale – the voluntary sacrifice of Aslan in lieu of Edmund’s life  as well as his resurrections the most obvious allusion to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. However the novel stands on its own strength, even with the allegories built in and goes to prove, the brilliance of C.S. Lewis.

I now HAVE to get hold of the other books! I simply HAVE to!

 

Love and Longing In-Between Wars

I read The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford for the 12 Months Classics Challenge Event (August – A Modern Classic) as well as my Women’s Classical Literature Reading event for the month of August. I am choosing to overlook the fact that I was supposed to read this in August, but finally ended up reading it in September. Like I say better late than never!

The Pursuit of Love is set after the end of World War 1 and follows the lives of the Radlett children, until the end of World War II, through the eyes of their cousin Fanny . Fanny is the daughter of the youngest sister of Aunt Sadie, being brought by her other aunt, Aunt Emily. Fanny’s mother is called “Bolter” and has had a string of affairs and marriages leaving her daughter to the care of her sister to be brought up. Aunt Sadie is married to Matthew Radlett, who owns Alconleigh, where Fanny spends her holidays in the company of her Radlett cousins, especially Linda, to whom she is closest too. Their childhood is spent hunting with their uncle and forming plans in the wardrobe, for their secret society “The Hons”.  The Radlett girl cousins are not educated too much, Uncle Matthew being of the belief that girls to retain their feminine virtues, must know some French, play instruments and read and write, but no scholarship is needed. Aunt Emily however beliefs in education of women and ensures that Fanny receives a good education, even moving towns to enable her to attend a good school. At the age of 13, their lives are disturbed by the news that their Aunt Emily is getting married. Davey Warbeck is introduced to their lives and this gentle brilliant man with hyponchdriac tendencies is soon an accepted member of the extended Radlett tribe!  Soon the young children grow up and Louisa the eldest of the Radlett tribes debuts in London and marries a solid, albeit boring Scottish peer.Linda and Fanny spend days dreaming of the “true love” and waiting for their time in the society circles. The years pass and Linda and Fanny debut and in one of the balls hosted by her parents, she meets Tony Kroesig a young banker, brought in the last moment, by the glamorous neighbor and Linda’s mentor Lord Merlin. This sets off an unprecedented chain of events over the next decade that sees Linda failing and then falling and finally finding the expected  promise land.

I had heard much and much and much about this novel. It was cried out as one of the best coming of age stories and its humor and sensitivity was to touch one and all. It is a good book, it has many humorous touches. I loved the initial years of the Radlett children growing up and I loved the well drawn larger than life characters of Uncle Matthew,. Lord Merlin and Davy. I loved the brusque humor and the simple nostalgia of days and nights of doing everyday things and finding pleasure. I loved the relationships not bound by social stereotypes which spring forth and bring heart to this novel,. like Davy’s unvarying love and devotion to his nieces and Lord Merlin’s constant watching over Linda and the kind of care Aunt Sadie and Uncle Matthew bestowed on Emily and even her truant mother! These were wonderful relationships and I wish we had stuck to them instead of chasing Linda and her happening and non happening love life across the length and breath of Europe. I am told Nancy Mitford wrote this novel from her own recollections and experiences and I don’t know what to make of it; anyone who reads closely, will find that there is no bigger chicken head than Linda Radlett! She pines for true love; hello! who does not? But because she does not find it, she spend a whole decade doing nothing – I mean nothing!! She does even bother to take care of her daughter! She becomes a social butterfly then a communist before settling down to become a Mistress to her one true love! In between she does absolutely nothing, she does not read, she does not cook, she does not do anything except shop and spend days in parties and moan about her disastrous life!!Goodness! You would think, she is most unfortunate under privileged woman ever!Then I have a serious problem with the War; I mean there is a war on and the only thing Mitford focuses on is Linda’s pining away for her lover! I understand that the society then was different form us and society women doing nothing was the norm, but history testifies to many many woman who pinned for their lovers and still drove ambulances, worked in communal kitchens and patched up the wounded. During the war, there was no time for indulgence of grief; there was so much to do just to survive and all Linda does is lie in her bedroom in the posh London apartment! Ms. Mitford’s treatment of the war comes across as minor civilian disturbance; I am not sure what genre she was trying to fit in because she does not manage to in any!  The plot that begins with so much promise ends in a ordinary cliche, which you know would have been the inevitable conclusion some 80 pages into the book.

I read the book and I now of read of “the books” but frankly I have read better and I am still bemused at the kind of rave reviews it has received over the years!

Come September….

Yay!! September arriveth and summer goeth! If that is not a reason for me to celebrate I do not know what is! The fact that Summer recedes from this month on is enough to add vigor and excitement to my life! However besides this fact, there are several reasons to rejoice the onset of fall.

To begin with, ahem! ahem! Moi, the 102 Kgs (224lbs), plump personality completed a marathon! Not a full event, but what we have in the geography called Half Marathon event, which is more for beginners! Now for the more fitter personalities there, I know its a not a big deal, but please understand when I say that running with 102kgs on your back, as in on your body is bit of a task! Add to it the fact, that I have never run before this, let alone compete in any event. However, I was and am blessed with some awesome friends, and one of them, when couple of months ago over late dinner, I expressed my fascination with running, took it on herself to get me trained and ready. She devised all kinds of training plans, diets and kept egging me on. All of this when she was sitting 1700 kms from the city where I stay, working as the HR Director in an MNC, getting her house constructed and generally following up on all the lose tie ends of her life! If my completing the run is awesome, then the fact that Rups could get me up there and ready, especially from a confidence perspective was a miracle only she could have pulled off. I have not lost any weight and yes I practically crawled to the finish line, but I did it!!! I am so kicked. One of most amazing aspect of this marathon was that instead of being given medals, participants were given little India puppet dolls, made by the survivors of the Tsunami which hit Souther India, back in 2004. I loved it all and I hope to do more!

Ok, now for Bookish news – well, needless to say, I am falling BEHIND! August was a busy month. I played a host for a bunch of cousins; then myself went on a 12 day road trip across Himalayas and for the first time , the beauty so overwhelmed that I did not get much reading done. Then, there was the Read Along which I LOVED hosting, however research for its background, to help my fellow readers understand the socio-cultural context of the novel, took some time! As a result, I am now in September and need to play catch up like never before. To begin with, from my 12 Months Classic Literature Event, I have Dombay and Son’s by Charles Dickens to finish from July, The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford for August and The  Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis for September (September Theme – A children’s classic). For Reading England, yet another event I have neglected (I should stop saying that, considering I neglected  all my monthly reading plans!!!) I cover Berkshire with Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome. This would be a re-read but I have not read this book in a loooonnnngggg time and I am in a mood for some fun books!Finally for my Women’s Classic Literature Reading Event, I will go back to a novel, I started and then just stopped – Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cathar. If this was not enough, I continue with The Pickwick Paper Read Along and give Cleo company in reading The Brother Karmazov’s by Foydor Dostoyevsky and Jane Eyer by Charlotte Bronte Read Along, the latter, hosted by Hamlette. I have also bought some books and been gifted some over the last couple of days which I will atleast attempt to start this month; The Silk Road – A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan and Jerusalem, A Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

That’s the attempt plan for September….I know its a LOT, but I am hoping to conquer most! Happy September Reading!!!

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!

The Home & The World Read Along – Part III

This is the final post of the three part snapshot of Indian History (you can read them here and here), which I briefly and sketchily tried to summarize to help better understand the political nuances of The Home and The World, the Read Along, I am hosting for August. For those of you who still continue to read my long winded essays, Thank you for your patience and interest and I promise, this will be the very last of the Indian History 101!

The new century brought an increased awareness among the Indians – the states of Bengal, Bombay and Punjab especially had a growing population of educated class who were beginning to think for themselves and ask questions on the right of British to rule India. Bengal more than any other state was at the forefront as Calcutta, the capital of British India was located in Bengal and since the days of Siraj-Ud-Dula in 1700s, the Bengalees more than anyone else were in direct contact with the merchant rulers and were first to be educated in the English system and first to initiate reform for Indian woman. By 1900s they were producing authors, poets, statesman and scientist.The region was overflowing with intellectual brilliance and there was a need to curb its questions and revolutionary tendencies and to stem this, Lord Curzon came up with the plan to partition Bengal in 1905, apparently for administrative reasons, but on ground it was clear that it was an effort to divide the Hindu-Muslim population of the state and have them fight each other. This blatant act of tyranny, led to a mass scale agitation and protest by Indian called the Swadeshi Movement and it was during this time that the events of the novel unfold.

The Swadeshi Movement very simply put was an effort to boycott British made goods, from clothes to soaps, and instead support indigenous and small scale industries in India, by patronizing their product. The aim was to halt the unbridled commercial success of British trading community and therefore force the government in rescinding the order for Partition. One may ask to begin with, why did Indians buy British product – the simple answer is because Indian did not have their own products. For the previous  150 years,. India was used by the British to produce raw material from cotton to coal to Indigo and then dump all the manufactured goods back in Indian markets. The Indian industries which so far had been built on merchant guild lines and had no exposure to the industrial revolution of the West , could not keep up and folded up; the traders becoming indentured farmers or laborers. Under the Swadeshi Movement, there was an effort made to re-start the small scale industries by giving them the Indian market to sell their products.

The movement had a lot of ideological and bravado zeal; there were awe inspiring speeches , picketed against shops that sold British goods and made bonfires  to burn British products. it extended beyond economics and into other spheres- Indians began boycotting government jobs, use of British courts and schools and colleges.Most importantly socially, the political movement came to the masses; since inception of Congress, politics had been the dominion of some educated elites, but Swadeshi bought it to every home and hearth. The call for independence based on economic equality rang true to every man/woman. Meetings and processions, forming of committees, propaganda through press, and diplomatic pressure, every and each tool was used by the Indians to get their message across. Even Indian festivals were used as a platform to reassert Indian identity and strength.Richness of the movement extended to culture, science and literature. Traditional folk theater forms such as jatras i.e. extensively used in disseminating the Swadeshi message in an intelligible form to vast sections of the people, many of whom were being introduced to modern political ideas for the first time. Similarly authors from Tagore to others wrote pieces hailing the brilliant past of India and asking fellow countryman to seek out the country’s future destiny as well. Masses were educated for a bolder form of politics and colonial hegemony was undermined.There were a lot of student participation and some fiery young leaders,  took to the stage and adopted some aggressive means to drive the point. The indigenous and vernacular press also came of the age during this time, strongly condemning British force to curb non violent protests and faced shutdowns and imprisonment for writing against the British Government and jailed under Sedition charges. The British naturally also took other steps to curb the movements, including “lathi charge” – attack by long bamboo sticks to dispel protesters, imprisonment of many under the aforementioned sedition charges and use of terms like Bande Mataram (literally, “I pray/bow down to thee, Mother and a patriotic song penned during this time by the prolific Indian author, Bankim Chandra) were deemed illegal. (Making Bande Mataram illegal made it in fact the rallying crying of the Indian Independence movement until 1947)

Swadeshi movement for the first time in Modern History effectively united Indians and brought them together to fight what was an imperialistic policy. However there was one downside of this movement – the Indian goods because they were produced in smaller numbers, were expensive and not ubiquitously available. The British goods were cheap and constantly in supply; the common man living under severe poverty could barely afford to make his two ends meet, he need the cheap sugar and cloth of British factories and for a country whose average per capita income was below the Poverty line (1885 to 1921), even with best of intentions, supporting the slow and expensive Indian industry was out of question.To understand the grinding poverty of the time, here just one fact – The Lancet reported 19 million died from starvation and consequences of extreme poverty in British India, between 1896 and 1900. The other effect which made many, including Tagore draw away from the movement was the violence – the youth in patriotic fervor committed several acts of aggression, which principally makes Indian uncomfortable. A country which historically taught peace and acceptance, only wages wars as a last resource and acts of terror were as abhorrent to 20th century India as it was in 300 BC India.

Despite British repression and the discomfort of Indians, the Swadeshi movement did manage to pressurize the government to pull back the Bengal Partition order  and in 1911, Bengal again became a unified state. The Swadeshi movement was also a pre-curser to Gandhi’s Non Violent movement for freedom and Gandhi worked on the student population of Swadeshi Movement who were now established lawyers, doctors teachers and demand independence from British rule, finally leading to an independent India in 1947. The only blip in this heroic historic victory, was that India was partitioned into two states of India and Pakistan and left behind in its wake one of worst instances of religious violence and the largest displacement of a population. But that is another story for another day!

Finally my usual disclaimer, while I have not cited any particular sources, but my essay is based on readings of Modern India by Dr. Sumit Sarkar, A History of India by Percival Spear, From Plassey to Partition – A History of Modern India  by Shekhar  Bandyopadhyay, Wikipedia and once more, class notes during my Graduate School days from the lectures of Dr. Tanika Sarkar.

The Home & The World Read Along – Indian History Part II

Continuing from my last post, as part of my August Read Along Event – The Home and The World by Rabindranath Tagore, I come to part 2 of my snapshot of Indian History, in an effort to better understand the socio-economic backdrop of the novel and therefore better understand the nuances of this classic.

In 1498, Vasco Da Gama successfully discovered a direct sea route from Europe to India, which eliminated the need for Arab brokers and put Europe in direct touch with India. The Dutch and the French soon followed, but the most impact full of all these merchant ventures had a nascent beginning in 1617, when the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, impressed, by the ability of a European physician to cure his ailing son, granted a charter for trade to the physician’s company; the Company was called The British East India Company and this was the start of something which Jahangir could have little forseen! Soon, little by little, the British began to expand their commercial empire and the venture recieved a significant impetus, when the then Mughal Emperor  Farrukh Siyar granted them permits for duty-free trade in Bengal in 1717. The Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Dula, the de-facto Governor, naturally opposed these permits and this brought him in direct conflict with the British powers. However, he had not counted on the greed and treachery of many, including Mir Jafar, his commander in chief and Jagath Seth, his chief banker, who plotted with the British for overthrow of the Nawab in exchange of additional trading rights. If there had been any other company clerk at that time, perhaps this initiative would not have worked or fallen through; but Mir Jafar and Jagath Seth connived with one of the most brilliant and daring Britisher of that time – a little known ensign who would become the Governor of the Presidency of Bengal, Robert Clive. On on 23 June 1757, Robert Clive and the British Company Army under the command of Clive, defeated the Sirj-ud Dula and established the first foothold in India.

Following the colonization of Bengal, the British East India company adopted a series of expansionist policies, which began with open war and later incorporated any and every arbitrary policy from mis-rule as defined by the British to the hated Doctrine of Lapse to increase their colony.The first series of conquests happened in South of India, where the East India company defeated the French to conquer the Madras Presidency. They further consolidated their rule after the Anglo Maratha Wars ((1772–1818) which gave them supremacy over Bombay and conquered and annexed Punjab and Kashmir, following their decisive victory in the Anglo Sikh Wars in 1849. The British Colonial policy gained more territory, when they adopted the infamous Doctrine of Lapse, devised by Lord Dalhousie (1848 -1856). Under this policy, any princely state or territory would automatically be annexed if the ruler was either “manifestly incompetent or died without a male heir”. The latter  clause especially violated the long-established right of an Indian sovereign without an heir to choose a successor, by adopting someone from his/her family.In addition, the British decided whether potential rulers were competent enough, making the Indian kings and Princes, puppets in their own country, expected to serve at the pleasure of The East India Company. They also initiated the  Divide and Rule policy, exploiting the age old religious rivaliries to further their aims, the results of which would be felt more than 100+ years later, when India gained her independence by losing much of its territory to the formation of the state of Pakistan.

The British East India Company not only bought English rule, but also English governance with them.  They introduced a land taxation system called the Permanent Settlement which introduced a feudal-like structure in Bengal, often with zamindars set in place, who lorded over the poor peasants for ungodly taxes. They also tried to “modernize” India by introducing the railways, the telegraph and the English education system. The latter especially would have far reaching results, as suddenly India, gripped in the miasma of medieval barbaric traditions was exposed to the works of Kant and Rousseau and Mill and re-discovered their Vedic roots. The education system which sought to provide clerks to help the company business, was suddenly producing thinkers and heralding a profound social movement termed as the Bengal Renaissance. This movement argued  by many historians began with Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772–1833) and ended with Rabindranath Tagore(1861–1941). This was social, cultural and intellectual movement that would force India into the modern nation states, and change the way Indians thought! The movement began by the questioning the then prevailing social evils in India – it argued for the ban of Sati (immolation of Hindu women on the cremation pyre of their husbands), fought against child marriage and was vociferous in its favor of education of girls and remarriage of widows,  both an anathema to then Indian Society.The movement received support of some of the more enlightened Governor Generals, with Sati being outlawed under Lord William Bentinck in 1829 and the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act being passed in 1856, legalizing marriage of widows. It was also under Lord Bentinck, under the misguided advise of Lord Macaulay, who believed that the Orient had nothing to educate its people, introduced many “modern” schools and universities in the country. The Hare School (1818), Scottish Church College (1830), Wilson College (1832), Madras Christian College (1837), and Elphinstone College (1856) and the founding of the first English style universities – University of Madras (1855) and University of Calcutta and Bombay (1857).

While the social reform from the current point of view seems a movement in the right directions, the middle 19th century India, did not seem to think so. Most of the common men, thought that a group of educated Indian elites were seeking to breakdown the Indian culture and tradition and most importantly their religion to gain complete control over the country. While the end was not completely inaccurate, and there were enough missionaries trying to convert “heathen” Indians, the education and the railways, were only to serve the British commercial needs. The changing rules in the British Indian Army, a much coveted post for Indians, also added to the growing disquiet. The final spark was provided by the ammunition for the new Enfield P-53 rifle.These rifles used paper cartridges that came pre-greased and to load the rifle, sepoys had to bite the cartridge open to release the powder.The grease used on these cartridges include tallow derived from beef, which would be offensive to Hindus and pork, which would be offensive to Muslims. Despite knowing the reservations the English continued the production of these cartridges and court martialed any Indian solider refusing to use these rifles. Such practices, along with social reforms that seemed to break down the Indian society  along with unlawful conquest of Jhansi, Saugar and Oudh, states which had stayed loyal to the East India company, under the uniformly abhorred Doctrine of Lapse , finally led to the eruption of the First War of Independence or The Rebellion of 1857, depending on the perspective of the historian narrating the event. The rebellion began as a mutiny of sepoys of the East India Company’s army on 10 May 1857, in the cantonment of the town of Meerut, and soon escalated into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the Northern and Central India, with the major hostilities confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, the then state of Oudh, northern Madhya Pradesh, especially around Jhansi, Indore and Saugar and the Delhi region. The Rebellion was a horrific event in Indian history and atrocities that belie imagination was committed by both races. The only two factors that came through this event was the British Crown took over the rule of India, ending the unique monopoly of a company and Indian National Congress was founded under the patronage of a British man names A.O. Hume, who thought this would provide a forum for the Indians to present their cause and therefore prevent any such events like the 1857 mutiny.

The Indian National Congress at this time comprised mostly of the upwardly mobile and successful western-educated provincial elites, engaged in professions such as law, teaching and journalism, with no clear aims except to act as a debating society that passed numerous resolutions on less controversial issues such as civil rights or opportunities in government which were submitted to the Viceroy’s government with nothing much to write home about. However by 1900, the the Congress had emerged as an all-India political organisation, especially with the enhanced socio-religious movements. The nationalistic sentiments now coloring the beliefs of  Congress  led to them demanding to be represented in the bodies of government, to have a say in the legislation and administration of India. Congressmen saw themselves as loyalists, but wanted an active role in governing their own country, albeit as part of the Empire. This trend was personified by Dadabhai Naoroji, who went as far as contesting, successfully, an election to the British House of Commons, becoming its first Indian member. It was under this atmosphere that the Nationalist or the Swaraj movement gripped the country. Bal Gangadhar Tilak  was the Indian statesman who pioneered this movement and  deeply opposed the then British education system that ignored and defamed India’s culture, history and values. In 1907,  the Congress was split into two factions: The radicals, led by Tilak, advocated civil agitation and direct revolution to overthrow the British Empire and the abandonment of all things British. The moderates, led by leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji and Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who wanted reform within the framework of British rule. In July 1905, Lord Curzon, the Viceroy and Governor-General (1899–1905), ordered the partition of the province of Bengal supposedly for improvements in administrative efficiency in the huge and populous region.It also had justifications due to increasing conflicts between Muslims and dominant Hindu regimes in Bengal. However, the Indians viewed the partition as an attempt by the British to disrupt the growing national movement in Bengal and divide the Hindus and Muslims of the region. The partition outraged the now educated and well informed Indians, especially the Bengalis. Not only had the government failed to consult Indian public opinion, but the action appeared to reflect the continued British resolve to divide and rule. This act kicked off what would be The Swadeshi Movement and which formed the background of our novel.

I will conclude this historic overview in my last installment with an insight on the Swadeshi Movement and the end of the British Rule in India.

Again while I have not cited any particular sources, but my essay is based on readings of Modern India by Dr. Sumit Sarkar, The Men Who Ruled India by Philp Mason, A History of India by Percival Spear, Awakening: The Story of Bengal Renaissance by Subrata Dasgupta, The Great Mutiny by Christopher Hibbert, Wikipedia and once more, class notes during my Graduate School days from the lectures of Dr. Tanika Sarkar.

The Sisters from the Photoshop

Jane has always always been such a great source of lesser known hidden gems, that I can always rely on her to lead me to books which I would have missed, but in missing them, it would have been a crying shame! She has introduced me to Margaret Kennedy, Hélène Gestern and Margery Sharp and so many others that I can barely begin to enumerate and therefore it was only natural that when she posted about this very little know The Romance of a Shop by Amy Levy, i would add it to my TBR and wait for a right opportunity to explore more! It was however good 2 years before I could actually get my hands on it and get the time to read it and when I finally finished it, it seemed apt that it should be part of my Women Classic Literature Reading Event!

The Romance of a Shop is set in Victorian England and the novels opens with the death of Mr. Lorimer who has left his estate sadly tangled with mounting debts all of which would have to be paid by the sale of his house and the belongings. This leaves the Lorimer sisters, daughter of the late Mr. Lorimer, Fanny, Gertrude, Lucy and Phyllis extremely poor. They have the option of residing with friends and relatives in ones and twos and go to India as part of fishing fleet in search of eligible husbands, all of which mean separation from each other and dependence on someone else for their welfare! They resolve against all such schemes and under the leadership of Gertrude (the artist and the creative sister) and Lucy ( the clever and pragmatic sister), they decide to open a photography shop, much to the consternation and horror of their noble relations. This is 1880s England and girls from well-to-do gentle background do not become shop girls, even if it is their own shop! Despite all the oppositions, the sisters who had been amateur photographers for a long time, decide to pursue their aims and to that effect find small accommodations at Upper Baker Street, where the ground floor would serve as their workshop and the upper floors as their apartments.Chang in economic situation, brings in new changes in their lives as the sisters cope with making the ends meet and gain a respectable foothold in the new age of artists and writers. While most of their old friends abandon them, some stick through the Lorimers including the Devonshires, Constance the daughter being a particular friend of Gertrude and Fred, her brother who besides having a sympathetic heart for all the sister, also holds a secret love for Lucy. Soon their old friendships are tested and mixed up with new relations as the Lorimer girls from new circles  – Frank Jermyn, an artist who lives across and provides some commission work for the sisters and who becomes a part of their inner circle; Lord Watergate, a brilliant scientist with whom they become acquainted when the he wishes them to take a picture of his dead wife and Sidney Darrell, a member of the Royal Academy, who also commissions some work and makes Gertrude extremely uncomfortable.As the sisters adapt to the new social circle and have to change their traditional mores of interactions, they have to look inside themselves for what they truly want and what they really wish to achieve, especially when threatened by storms that promises to shake the very foundations on which their lives have been built on!

This is not one of the best novels that I have read, the plot while it flows, seems at places to meander and sometimes, there is no logic for sudden actions. The end ties up the lose ends far too easily and the writing seems at times a cross between a Jane Austenish social manner book meets Virginia Woolf. But then why consider it a classic? Because despite all these flaws, it is. The novel published in 1880 clearly calls for empowerment of the women, especially economic empowerment and stands against all masculine mores of “women needing to be looked after”. In the four sisters, we find the perfect examples of modern women , Wikipedia tell me that this concept was called “New Women” – women who were not delicate darlings, who fainted at the very sound of a harsh voice (even Fanny who seems to have been created to form a parody to her non-traditionalist sisters, has more strength of character than what was usually given credo to women of that era!), but rather strong independent women, who were not afraid of hardwork, of keeping their own house and yet managing to maintain a certain about of intellectual culture! The sisters are far from perfect, and at times can come across as selfish in their own needs, but they are constantly striving the better themselves and their lot and when the world comes crashing, instead of finding solace male arms, they band together find strength and battle their demons head on! Considering Ms. Levy wrote about these characters nearly 140 years ago, the modern reader will find much to identify with and that in some significant feat! The society of London is also very well portrayed in the novel and there are characters and events which encourage and provide platform for the girls to explore their talent and build their business, there is enough gossip and malicious whispering to make the portray real and ring in the true nature of the socio-econiomic paradigm of late Victorian England. At the heart of it all, it is a great story. There is wit and a sense of mirth though the book, even at some it darkest passages and the reader is involved and concerned regarding the fate of Lorimers until it plays out to the very end, most to the satisfaction of all. The epilogue is a wonderful touch giving an insight into the lives that carry on and leaves you feeling safe after being hailed by a multitude of storms! Ms. Levy wrote a marvelous work with such promise, and it seems such a shame, that she would die, two years after this book’s publication!

July and Reading….

I realize this post should go up on the 1st of the month, instead of the 10th but, I thought my last post was more important to share and since then, well life getting busieth! But it is what it is and lets just get down to the reading plans of July –

To begin with of course, I have the Women’s Classic Literature Reading Event and I am reading this hidden gem called “The Romance of a Shop” by Amy Levy. I owe Jane as usual an immense obligation in finding and sharing these lost books to the world! I am still struggling to complete my May and June books for the 12 Months Classic Challenge, but I am hoping to finish “Dombey and Sons” (My June Read) this week and then start Henrik Ibsen’s “The Dolls House” for July; the theme of the month being A European classic (non-British). For my Reading England Project which I have been overlooking for some time, I am reading “Cakes and Ale” by Somerset Maugham, covering the county of Kent. Finally I continue my “Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte Read Along with Cleo and Hamlette who is hosting the event. I also follow the monthly “Pickwick Paper by Charles Dickens Read Along hosted by O.

I realize this reading list looks kind of tame compared to my past lists; however, I seem to be straying again from the well trodden documented path and picking up books on the fly. I am breaking bad so to speak in my reading explorations, so to speak! Therefore it makes perfect sense for me to stick to basics, atleast for now and then pick up books as I like and what I chose , while balancing the progress of my this year’s reading goals!

Finally as I close this post, I wanted to share that I will be hosting my first ever read along in August. Cleo, my partner in all reading adventures has promised to join and I am hoping some of you will also join both of us as we read Rabindranath Tagore’s masterpiece “Home and the World“. One of the most intriguing and bold pieces of literature to come out of India in 19th century, it remains a resounding classic about human fallacies and courage. I will be sharing details of the reading plan as well some historical context for the novel, so that we may enjoy it to the best in the upcoming weeks! I hope many of you will join us as we explore one of the best works of Eastern literature!