Sunday, 4 February 2018

My Not So Perfect Life - Sophie Kinsella

Date of Reading: 05/01/2018
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Publisher: The Dial Press
Place: New York
Year: 2017
Rating: 3.5/5

        I was dreading to read this particular one, partly due to the not so positive reviews I have read. Sophie Kinsella is so far the best chick-lit author I have ever come across and I really didn't want anything to change that impression. Still, I picked this one . . . after all it is by Kinsella.
        I can't really blame the reviews. This novel is nowhere near to her usual read. Not that bad either. But.... with Kinsella, we expect something much more. So where to begin?
       The story is completely predictable. The usual Cinderella variety as always. But that is not something I hold against any novel; most chick-lit revolve around this theme. It is the way of presentation that matters . . . and the fun element. Kinsella's usual heroines make even the most heart-wrenching situations laughable. In this regard, this is more of a Madeleine Wickham novel. There is this occasional humour, but that is far from the type we find in 'Shopaholic Novels', or 'Can You Keep a Secret?'.
        So here is my advice: Don't take this in hand hoping to find the usual laugh out loud chick lit. This is of a more serious kind and will surely motivate you in your professional life. The theme is simple: Dreams can come true if you truly wish for it and . . . don't ever judge someone's life based on Instagram (Facebook) feeds. Nobody's life is that perfect 😊😊😊
To the story:
        Katie Brenner lives in London trying to make her dreams come true. She stays in a congested one-room apartment and works with Cooper Clemmow, a branding and strategy agency. Her boss is Demeter who according to her leads a perfect life: a glamorous job, happy family with a handsome husband and charming kids and a stunning home with gorgeous steps. Even her name has a cool ring to it. She is Katie's dream come true.
        But her colleagues hate her as a boss. She can't remember most of them, especially Katie as she fills a minor post. As per the office gossip, she denied a huge project to Liz, the project manager and she has never acknowledged the work of Mark who is in charge of designing logos.
         Katie is from Somerset but she always wanted to be in London though her father was opposed to this idea. She is yet to make her big breakthrough which comes by chance when she is asked to help Demeter in dying her hair. While they were at it, Alex demands a meeting and Katie is burdened with the job of stopping him even though she has no clue as to who Alex is.
        Alex proved to be a stunning guy with enchanting manners. He needed Demeter to check some toys but as she unavailable, takes Katie instead. They had a good time experimenting and Alex advises her to speak out to Demeter if she wants to advance in her career. She follows this and is invited to attend the group meetings. Only later she realises that the guy she talked was Alex Astaris, one of the partners.
         On Thanksgiving, Katie goes home and helps her dad and his girlfriend, Biddy, to convert their farm to a glamping site. Biddy has put her inheritance to the project and Katie takes charge of advertising. Back in the office things take turn for the worse. She is informed that Alex is Demeter's lover and Katie is fired as part of cutting down the expenses of the company. Though angry and depressed, she stays back in London without informing her father.

        As the glamping business starts getting bookings, Biddy gets panicked and asks Katie for help. They are even reviewed by 'The Guardian'. Katie pretends to be on a sabbatical leave and goes to Somerset. The glamping turns out to be a huge success and even Demeter comes there to stay with her family. Katie makes slight alterations to her appearance so that she won't be recognised. She tricks Demeter into doing some horrible things by misleading her to believe that this is all a part of the ancient Druid practice, known as Vedari.
          She also gets a peek into Demeter's life and it didn't look as perfect as imagined. Her children don't respect her and the husband, though supportive, now wants to pursue his career further which means he will have to be away from home often. When her husband leaves the farm for job purpose, Kite sees that Alex has made a booking to their B&B. Thinking that Demeter wants to pursue her illicit affair at her glamping site, Katie continues her revenge. But this time her plans go awry as Demeter recognises her finally.
        She learns that Alex is not Demeter's lover and he might be possibly coming there to fire her as she has sabotaged a huge project because of some miscommunication via email. Her house has cost her a fortune and she works overtime to pay off the mortgage, which leaves no time for family. She has always stood for her colleagues. Liz was never selected and she hid this fact to avoid further pain and Mark was never that brilliant. She is always covering him up.
          Katie suspects that her assistant Sarah could be the culprit as she has complete access to Demeter's emails. While Katie stalls Alex, Demeter goes to London to get some proof. Alex and Katie get romantically attached but he is not ready to go further. Meanwhile, Demeter fails to find any substantial proof.
Sophie Kinsella
         Katie goes back to her old office and befriends her colleagues again. She records Sarah, Rosa and Flora revealing their plans against Demeter and this proof vindicates Demeter. The culprits are fired and Katie is appointed as the Creative Director. Alex goes to New York to make matter straight with his Dad; he was inspired by the bond that Katie shares with her father. Too soon he realises his folly and he comes back to Katie as she is his new found home.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

The Big Switch: It's Never Too Late - John Thomas

Date of Reading: 23/01/2018
Author: John Thomas
Year: 2017
From: BlogAdda in exchange of an honest review
Rating: 3.5/5

         You might be 27 or 33 or even 45, but there could at least be one moment in your life when this question pops up: "What did I do with this life?" With every birthday that brings us one step closer to our graves, out comes these reflexive thoughts -- the doubts of being on the right track. Some may quench this spark with the notions of practicality, still there will always be a few who takes the less travelled path before it's too late. . . and make stories.
        'The Big Switch' is one such story of a daring attempt. We could pretty much assume the story line from the title itself , but I was never expecting such a drastic change of careers as Keith, the protagonist planned to do. If you would like to read a different version of Santiago, the hero of 'The Alchemist', then this is just the pick. As hundreds of movies and novels before it, the novel asserts once again that it is not the goal that is important, but the journey to achieve it. Whether you can make it come true or not is not that relevant. Who knows? You may reap better rewards than you have planned. Don't get me wrong here, but if I ever come by Keith in my real life I am going to think he is absolutely crazy. . . but so are all who have left some marks in this world.
          John Thomas' novel is one such which compels you not to make judgement with the cover page. The front cover is a bit dull and so is the font colour in the kindle edition. But in spite of all this, I made it to the end because of the lovely writing style that keeps you wanting for more and of course, we can't neglect the certain familiarity we feel toward Keith's character. There is a Keith in all of us. But will we all make the leap that he had made is yet to be seen. Now to the story:
         Keith Kurien was happy that he secured a job as a software engineer in H&G, one of the prestigious companies in IT sector. But after two years of back breaking work, he is left with a poor appraisal and a manager who hit on his nerves almost everyday. It is only when he is dumped by his girlfriend Maya, who accuses him of not balancing his work and relationship, that he begins a retrospection.

         When he goes with his roommate Brijesh to witness the historic world cup final of 2011, he is struck by the way Sachin Tendulkar enjoys playing cricket. He still keeps the same enthusiasm of a beginner. This makes Keith think of his own profession which he has chosen for financial stability.
         A two week assignment in the Banglore branch of the company comes as a turning point. Ramesh, the manager there, inspires him with his own life story. He started his career as an accountant, a job he never liked. Studying software development with the help of online resources, he got a position in H&G and soon made it to the post of the manager. Keith thought back to his own life and decides that what makes him happy is playing football though he had never played it before.
He begins practice with the hope of becoming a professional football player and joins the football training club, Young Tigers. He retains his job for monetary benefits, but decides to find a different source of income through writing. It is in a writing workshop he meets Kyra. She was his young teacher and the sparks fly from the first moment itself; their relation progresses from friends to lovers.
       An accident that incapacitates him for weeks comes as a big blow as he was just selected to play in a match representing the club. With Kyra's inspiration he writes a novel based on Ramesh's life, titled The Accountant. Keith resigns the job thinking he could make it as a writer now. But these expectations fall short when the sales fail to pick up. To make the matters worse, the doctor poses doubts on him playing football again.
           There begins the search for a new job. While attending one of the interviews he gets an urgent call from the publisher informing that his book is on the way to become a best seller. The Bollywood star Farhan Khan has read and shared it through his social media account making it an instant hit. He realises that his true calling is to become a writer. He may not be able to play football again but it is his attempts to be a footballer that eventually led to to his true calling and to his destined partner. As Keith himself says, "With writing, I am definitely not living my dream. But I wouldn't have been this happy even if I was living my dream."

Something to ponder on . . .

"Your fears, they have a strange knack of finding you. It doesn't matter who you are or what you do, they will get you. And when they do, they will trouble you just as you always feared" - Loc 585

"Most Indian schools followed a simple rule. If a boy was good at studies, the teachers branded him as an engineer. And if it was a girl, she was branded as a doctor. Soon, even the parents followed in on the act and the poor kid was left branded for life" - Loc 763

"Most people spend their entire life doing something they don't feel connected to. Doing a job that troubles them by the day and haunts them at night, they live their lives in quiet desperation. . . They commit spiritual suicide every single day. . . Many people don't even realize that they are caught up in the wrong career" - Loc 1335

"You can choose anything. It has nothing to do with your current capability. It has nothing to do with your past. It has nothing to do with your present. . . Set a goal so big that it scares you. Decide on something that won't let you sleep at night" - Loc 1365

"Football is not a game with turns. It is very much like life in this regard. As both in life and in football, you need to fight for every turn of yours" - Loc 1716

"If one has to succeed, then he must get used to the idea of failing" - Loc 2000

About the author
John Thomas is a full-time seeker, who is in a continuous search for meaning. To earn his livelihood, however, he does a lot of other things. He works as a Freelance Software Developer, a Freelance Content Creator, a Stocks Investor/Trader and anything else that interests him.
He wants to write stories that can make a difference. And his debut novel, The Big Switch, was an honest attempt at sharing the message that it’s never too late to follow one’s passion. He is currently working on his second novel.

"This review is a part of the biggest Book Review  Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!"

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Origin - Dan Brown

Date of Reading: 11/10/2017
Author: Dan Brown
Publisher: Transworld
Place: London
Year: 2017
Rating: 3/5

        It is a truth universally known that in mystery novels the real villain will never be the one we are prone to suspect, but most likely s/he will be the one we put utmost trust to. Dan Brown novels never waver from this fact and this new addition is no different. But truth to be told, until the very last few pages, I thought I picked the wrong one . . . was almost hoping actually. Nope! That was not to be.
        As for the 'thrill' element, the novel was a bit disappointing. It is nowhere near 'Angels and Demons' or 'Inferno'. There is not much play with symbols either as is usual with Langdon series which was another let down. But the detailed tour of the country on which the story is set with lots of historical explanations will still glue you to the book. Spain was never one of my dream destinations, but thanks to 'Origin', it sure is now. . .

       Robert Langdon has flown to the Guggenheim Museum in Spain to witness his famous student Edmond Kirsch presenting his historic discovery to the world. Before the event Kirsch had revealed his secret to three prominent religious leaders -- Bishop Valdespino, Rabbi Koves and Allamah Syed al-Fadl -- as his discovery will have a strong impact on all religions in the world. They opposed his venture and Bishop Valdespino even went to the extent of threatening him with a voice mail.
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
        Unperturbed, Kirsch goes on with his plans. However, before the event, Syed al-Fadl is killed by Luis Avila, a former Spanish Navy Admiral. He is instructed by a man named Regent and his next target is revealed to be Edmond Kirsch.
         Admiral's name is successfully added to the guest list as a last minute addition. Meanwhile, all the guests are provided with customised headsets through which they are given a tour of the museum. Langdon's help identifies himself as Winston. Later he reveals that he is a computer program developed by Kirsch, trained in observing and imitating humans.
        Kirsch's presentation progressed well with advanced audio-visual inputs. But as he was about to demonstrate his discovery, he was shot down by Avila. Langdon is shocked and so is the museum director Ambra Vidal as she had added the name of Avila to the guest list at the request of Prince Julian, her fiance.
        Though the royal guards urged her to return to the palace, Ambra tricked them and escaped with Langdon, Winston guiding them along the way. Since Kirsch's presentation is a pre-recorded one, they hoped to activate it again from his home in Barcelona. What they need is a forty-seven letter password which is a line from Kirsch's favourite poem. In another part, Rabbi Koves is also killed by a hired assassin leaving Bishop Valdespino as the only survivor prone to the secret of Edmond Kirsch.
At Edmond's home, Langdon finds the outer cover of Blake's complete works in its first edition. It has been donated to the church Sagrada Familia and they head toward that place with the help of Ambra's bodyguards who had by then tracked them down.
        In the outside world, rumours abound as to the secret Kirsch might have uncovered and the reason for his murder. Bishop Valdespino and even the royal palace is counted as suspects. A website called gives out the details with the help of someone only identified as By then Ambra had realised that Julian's involvement in the murder is unlikely since she didn't get the request directly from the prince.
        Luis Avila is found to be a member of Palmarian Church, a group of anti-catholics with whom Edmond had a fierce rivalry. His mother, being influenced by the church, had died because of their severe ways of penance. Avila had lost his family in the bombing of a cathedral. The Regent had informed him that the bombing was inspired by Kirsch's speech making him partially responsible for the act. This is Avila's time for revenge.
         Father Bena escorted Langdon and Ambra at Sangra Familia to Blake's collection of poems which is displayed open on page 163 under Kirsch's strict insistence. They find that the password is the final stanza of "Four Zoas": "The dark Religions are departed & sweet science reigns". With the word 'et' replacing the '&' symbol, this makes 47 letters. 
Sagrada Familia

         Avila arrives in pursuit of the group, getting instruction from the Regent but dies by falling off the steps of the church in Langdon's unexpectedly brave attack. Using Winston's self-portrait in Guggenheim museum as a clue, Langdon locates him in Barcelona Supercomputing Centre. There they find Kirsch's massive supercomputer 'E-Wave' and with the help of Winston, they resume Kirsch's original presentation with more viewers in attendance as Kirsch's murder had aroused a worldwide interest in his discovery.
          His presentation claims to show the answers to two very important questions: "Where do we come from?" and "Where are we going?". He takes the failed Miller-Urey experiment to explain the origin of life on earth. The experiment was intended to create life in a laboratory using artificial circumstances, but it ended up in failure. Kirsch explains that its failure is due to the lack of time -- creation took place with millions of years. So with the help of his E-Wave, Kirsch re-creates the original conditions at the beginning of planet earth's formation and finds that it eventually leads to the origin of life finally proving that it was not a divine act.
         He then uses the same method to trace the future of mankind. The computer shows that if things progress like this, humanity and technology will merge together to form a better future devoid of conflict with regard to religion. This presentation was in contradiction to the one shown to the three religious leaders where it warned them of an imminent apocalypse.
        The presentation becomes a great success with debates going on in every media. Meanwhile Bishop Valdespino and Julian meet the dying King who confesses his homosexual inclinations and love towards Valdespino though they kept it on an entirely platonic level. The King dies soon after and Valdespino takes his own life to join him in the afterworld. Julian promises to Ambra that they will start over again and she returns to the palace. Langdon is cleared of all charges. Winston reveals that he will self-delete at 1.00 PM next day as per the former instructions given by Kirsch. Being a cancer patient, he was expecting his death and therefore had made all the preparations.
Dan Brown

        Next day, it suddenly dawns on Langdon that the mysterious Monte who was leaking things to the media is Winston. Monte and Iglesia mean 'hill' and 'church' in Spanish, alluding to Winston Churchill after whom Winston is named. Winston confirms his theory and says that he wanted to make Kirsch's presentation a success and turning him into a martyr was a sure way to attract an audience. So he hired Avila in the guise of Regent. He wanted him to be arrested at Sagrada Familia which did not go as planned. Winston self-deletes himself at the decided time, leaving Langdon to wonder about the dark side of technology.       

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Bharathipura - U. R. Ananthamurthy

Date of Reading: 18/03/2017
Author: U. R. Ananthamurthy
Translated by: Susheela Punitha
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Place: New Delhi
Year: 2010
Price: Rs. 375

          I did once hear that "Moby Dick" was originally intended as a scientific study on whales which was later wrapped up in an adventurous story to make it more palatable. I went through a similar sensation while reading this particular novel which could rather be called a philosophy treatise. Arguments and debates abound throughout, with the story patching it together to form an interesting read.
            'Oppressed class', 'untouchability', 'Dalit' -- all these words have become a part of common vocabulary nowadays, providing a platform for many a fancy seminar and conference. How many really empathise with them . . . is another matter to consider. Siding with the marginalised has become the new fashion lately just like the charities offered by the multi-millionaires to enhance their social profile.

       The novel presents its protagonist Jagannatha in the same mould. Being a western educated young man, he comes back from England carrying a new version of "white man's burden". His efforts to educate the Holeyaru, or the untouchables in Bharathipura, appear ridiculous as many instances reveal that his actions revolve around impressing his white girlfriend. He plays the hero by assuming the position of the light bearer to the untouchables whose names he keeps forgetting. His intended actions were noble but the hollowness behind it makes him less likeable.

          But that doesn't dim its charm as the story gives one of the beautiful and realistic portrayals of village life in Karnataka. It discusses the role of religion in the continuance of age-old and sometimes illegal customs and also mocks the lofty politicians who take advantage of this ignorance. All in all, it is slow but still, an enjoyable read penned by one of the popular Jnanpith awardees. 
         The story is set in the town of Bharathipura which is noted for its famous temple with its deity Manjunatha and his henchman Bhootharaya, the God of the untouchables. It is one of the major pilgrimage sites in the country. Yet even after independence, the place has retained its attitudes toward untouchability.

         Jagannatha, the son of town's wealthy landowner comes back from England after six years, determined to alter these situations. He wants to transform the town by leading the Holeyaru (the untouchables in the place) to the temple. The people there believed that if Holeyaru dares to enter the temple, he will spit blood and die.
         But these rebellious decisions of Jagannatha are not purely selfless. He also wants to impress his girlfriend Margaret that he can also be the tool of change. He writes long letters to her detailing his life in Bharathipura and the course of action he is planning to take. Margaret doesn't show the same enthusiasm as she later leaves him for his friend Chandrashekar towards the end of the story.
         The upper caste people are not happy either. They isolate him when he starts training a group of Holeyaru youth for temple entry. Even his mentor and lifelong family friend Sripathi Rao thinks that this attempt won't make much difference in the general attitude of the society. Jagan is also shocked by the way the educated and employed Dalits behave toward their own caste people. They insert maximum effort to alienate themselves from their caste and to become a part of the upperclassmen.

As the day for the temple entry draws near, others too join the mission. Neelakantaswami and Ranga Rao, members of the Mysore Socialist Party organise it as a movement. Ananthakrishna, a former freedom fighter also joins hands with them. A few days before the planned entry the Holeyaru huts catch fire though the source of this arson is never found. One boy dies in the fire. But Jagannatha was determined to continue his mission. He was even accused in an anonymous letter that he is an illegitimate son to his mother. Jagan suspects that this could be true, but looks ahead with all the strength he can muster.
        Meanwhile the chief priest's house witnesses another set of incidents. His son, Ganesha Bhatta supports Jagannatha inwardly as he is tired of the customs Manjunatha's presence impose. His father treats him as a mere boy and he craves for some freedom. The day before the temple entry he decides to put an end to all this. He goes to the inner sanctum and somehow dislodges the deity and throws it into the river. Then he attacks his father and shuts himself in the temple waiting for Jagannatha.
         The next day the Holeyaru hesitate before the temple gate. Neelakantaswami pulled the first man, Pilla, inside while Jagan stood there motionless. Others followed Pilla inside the temple. But they found that the deity is removed by Ganesha who opens the door only when he hears Jagan's voice.
U. R. Ananthamurthy
        Rumour soon spread through the town that the deity is not polluted since the priest's son removed it through some divine inspiration. They refuse to accept that Ganesha had a nervous breakdown. The glory of Manjunatha heightens as the preparations to reinstate the deity progress.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Twilight in Delhi - Ahmed Ali

Date of Reading: 01/02/2017
Author: Ahmed Ali
Publisher: Rupa
Place: New Delhi
Year: 2007
Price: Rs. 295
Rating: 4/5

          It is in a second-hand bookshop that I had my first glimpse of 'Twilight in Delhi'. In spite of the tattered and dusty shape it was in, the book was intriguing and that made me buy a personal copy. The story of a pre-independent Delhi told through one of its affluent families; it doesn't offer any breathtaking mystery or thrill, but just the drama of day to day life.
          This is a delightful read from beginning to end with its slow paced rhythm that will definitely take you into the world of Mir Nihal and his family. Trust me, you will even feel the heat of Delhi's summer!!! And in the backdrop we get the colours of Delhi with its pigeon and kite fliers and as the story progresses the place too transforms by the imperialist hands.
          Mir Nihal is an orthodox Muslim family man who leads a comfortable life with his two sons being a part of the government service. Another of his sons, Asghar, leads a love lorn life as he wants to marry Bilqueece, a girl from a lower social class family.
          In order to get permission from his parents he seeks the help of his elder sister, Begam Waheed, who comes home to arrange the marriage. Begam Nihal tries talking to her husband about this but Mir Nihal remains adamant. So the women of the house plans for the wedding secretly, thinking Mir Nihal can be persuaded later. Asghar goes to Bhopal with Begam Waheed to wait out the year before he can marry Bilqueece.
         Meanwhile Babban Jan, Mir Nihal's mistress, dies leaving him desolate. In his hurry to see her for the last time, Mir Nihal forgets to lock the pigeon coop and most of his beloved birds become the food of one stray cat. Both these incidents affect him deeply. He gives permission for Asghar's marriage to Bilqueece and takes up his old hobby of studying alchemy.
           On the day of King George's coronation, Mir Nihal goes with his grandchildren to watch the parade. On the way back he comes across a beggar who happens to be the son of the last Mughal Emperor. He gives him some money and walks away meditating on the change in Delhi.

       Asghar and Bilqueece get married but the romantic spark he had for her soon disappears. He gets a job and a separate home and a daughter, Jehan Ara, is born to the couple. Bilqueece's father dies causing her great distress. This worsens as she feels the disinterestedness of her husband also. She becomes weak due to tuberculosis and dies soon after.
         Bilqueece's younger sister Zohra helps him to look after the child. He gets infatuated with her and eventually she too returns the feelings. Asghar takes his parents' blessings for the marriage, but Zohra's mother opposes the proposition as she had often seen Asghar ill treating Bilqueece.
        Asghar's brother Habibuddin is brought home sick. Mir Nihal had been denigrated to the state of an invalid by then. Habibuddin dies and after his funeral Asghar finds Zohra's servant waiting for him with a letter. It informs him that Zohra is being married off to someone the next morning. He weeps bitterly with a broken heart.

Something to ponder . . .

"In spite of griefs and sorrows a man gets used to life, for its flow must always go on." - 120

"For if it were not for Hope, men would commit suicide by the scores, and the world would remain a barren desert in which no oasis exists." - 125

Ahmed Ali
"Life goes on with a heartless continuity, trampling ideals and worlds under its ruthless feet, always in search of the new, destroying, building and demolishing once again with the meaningless petulance of a child who builds a house of sand only to raze it to the ground." - 150

"And Izrael, the angel of death, had not a moment to spare. From house to house he rushed, from door to door, snatching the souls away from human beings burning with fever yet hungry after life, wanting to live on in a world which did not care about them at all." - 233

Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Illicit Happiness of Other People - Manu Joseph

Date of Reading: 02/04/2016
Author: Manu Joseph
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Place: New Delhi
Year: 2012
Rating: 3.3/5
From: Prachand Narayan

          This is my second book of Manu Joseph and I was surprised to find how dissimilar they were  -- both in theme and in its expression. In terms of story, I will always prefer 'Serious Men', but this particular one is not without its attractions. Manu's vivid diction has successfully captured the day to day life of a Madras society with the Chacko family occupying the centre point. But the mystery element that weaves the whole story together lacks the necessary pull. . . and is kind of boring . . . (I must confess that I did have a peek at the ending in the beginning itself).
          What makes it memorable and unique are some interesting scenes that many a household may witness; a despaired father coming home drunk pouring abuses on the neighbors, a young Thomas gathering courage to face the world every morning, and Mariamma pouring out her troubles to the silent walls. The all too optimistic Unni Chacko looks aloof and out of this world, but not his family and friends and they make the real story of this work. Now to the story:
          Three years after the suicide of seventeen year old Unni Chacko, his father Ousep receives an unfinished comic of his son by post. It was returned undelivered as a fire in the post box had burned the delivery address. Ousep's restless mind began to hope as this may finally lead to what he always ached to find -- the reason of his son's sudden death who until then had lived a very happy life.
          He starts interviewing Unni's friends again and through their words a picture of Unni emerges for the readers as well as for Ousep. As a cartoonist he showed wisdom far beyond his years, but while his fellow classmates sweated for the IIT-JEE exams, he led a carefree life focusing more on the pursuit of the metaphysical. 
    Ousep himself is a journalist whose unaccomplished writing career has turned him into a drunkard who coming home at night enact dramatic scenes for their neighbors in Balaji Lane. His wife Mariamma secretly wishes for his death and pours down all her complaints loudly to the silent walls. Amidst this drunkard father and half witted mother the youngest son Thomas Chacko leads a life of shame, frightened to meet his neighbors' and friends' gaze. Along with this he cherishes a secret crush towards Mythili, their beautiful neighbor who has gone aloof after Unni's death. But on Mariamma's request, Mythili agrees to take tuition to Thomas and gradually he grows bolder.
            When Ousep gets admitted to hospital on a sudden heart attack, Sai Sankaran, one of Unni's close friends decides to confess the story of the comic. It is about a man named Philippose who had tried to molest Mariamma when she was a little girl. When Unni came to know about this incident, he secretly travelled to his mother's place in Kerala to take revenge. But Philippose was already dead and Unni comes back disappointed.
          As the secret of the comic is solved Ousep reaches a dead end. The only other option is Somen Pillai, the other close friend of Unni, who refuses to meet him. Ousep's enquiries reveal that he is affected by corpse syndrome where the person thinks he is a corpse and leads a completely depressed life. Due to his constant pestering Soman comes out of his secluded room to narrate what happened on Unni's last day. They had spent thirty minutes in a room with a naked woman without touching her in order to test their strength against temptation. Later Unni leaves Soman's house and after a few hours kills himself.
          Meanwhile Mythili learns the story of Philippose from Thomas and her comment startles him -- "Philippose should have killed himself, not Unni." Ousep stitches the facts together and rightly assumes that after leaving Somen's house, in a fit of passion he tried to seduce Mythili. Ashamed of his act he kills himself thinking that everyone will soon come to know of his crime. But Mythili kept everything to herself and Ousep believes that soon she will be ready to mend the broken ties with his family.

Something to ponder:

"A scooter in Madras is a man's promise that he will not return home drunk in the evening." - 4

"But then the fate of shy people is that all their fears usually come true" - 5

"The most foolish description of the young is that they are rebellious. The truth is that they are a fellowship of cowards" - 9

". . . the ultimate goal of comics is the same as the purpose of humanity - to break free from language" - 18

Manu Joseph
". . . the fate of love in Madras is neatly divided into four kinds of suicide. Lovers who know that their parents will never let them marry go to a cheap hotel room, get into wedding clothes, and eat rat poison. If they elope instead, their parents will consume the same rat poison. If it is only the girl's parents who object to the marriage, she is most likely to immolate herself. Men who are spurned by girls almost always hang themselves from a ceiling fan. Men very rarely set fire to themselves for a girl" - 248

Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Ordinary Princess - M. M. Kaye

Date of Reading: 18/05/2016
Author: M. M. Kaye
Illustrations: M. M. Kaye
Publisher: Puffin Books
Place: New York
Year: 1980
Rating: 4.5/5

           You could never be too old to enjoy this amazing fairy tale novella. In a world which considers external beauty synonymous with internal purity this is a novelty to cherish. As the author informs us in the foreword our fairy tale genre keeps silent on the situation of gawky, snub-nosed, mouse coloured hairy princesses. It looks like the cutey princes had eyes only for those "lissome Royal Highness with large blue eyes and yards of golden hair and probably nothing whatever between her ears!" (Blimey! Is the real life any different???) 
          So Kaye has come up with the story of Princess Amy who is gifted with ordinariness in her birth, a gift that made her free from the boring courtly life of rules and restrictions. I have never found a book so wickedly funny and even if you know how it will end (as always with all fairy tales), the narration combined with the wonderful illustrations will keep you engaged throughout the story.
    Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne is the seventh princess of the kingdom of Phantasmorania. As per tradition a grand christening was scheduled as she was the seventh child and even the fairies were invited who gave her gifts of charm, courage, health etc. But the last and the most powerful of fairy godmothers gave her the gift of ordinariness and her life changed from that moment onward.
         Unlike her six beautiful elder sisters, seventh princess now called as Amy grew up as a brunette with snub nose and freckles. And unlike them she enjoyed life playing in the woods not bothered by the court life etiquette. While all the others were married off to handsome princes, no one came to seek the hand of ordinary princess, not that she was worried about it. In a desperate stage, king decides to bring a dragon to lay waste to the countryside and the prince who slays the fiery creature can be offered the hand of Amy provided that he never sets eyes on her before marriage.
         Appalled by this news Amy runs away from the palace to live in the Forest of Faraway where she makes friends with Peter Aurelious, the crow and Mr. Pemberthy, the squirrel. When her clothes get shabby and torn she obtains the job as 14th assistant kitchen maid in the castle of the king of Ambergeldar where she meets Peregrine, a man-of-all-work. They become great friends and enjoy the picnics in the forest.
         He soon finds out that she is a princess and Peregrine, it turns out to be King Algernon of Ambergelder who is as ordinary as Amy. Peregrine sends her home so that he can send a betrothal request to her parents and they are married to the great joy of everyone.

Something to ponder . . .

M. M. Kaye
". . . for though she was ordinary, she possessed health, wit, courage, charm and cheerfulness. But because she was not beautiful, no one ever seemed to notice these other qualities, which is so often the way of the world. Not that it ever worried the Ordinary Princess" - 17

"Doing things you aren't supposed to do always seems more fun than doing things you are" - 48

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Mistress - Anita Nair

Date of Reading: 08/02/2016
Author: Anita Nair
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Place: New York
Year: 2006

          I can still remember the countless times I put back this enticing book with its kathakali cover page to its shelf in DC book shop. It was not the time I guess, and partly I was afraid to take a book bearing the title 'Mistress' in front of my parents' watchful eyes. Well, now the little child has grown, finally to grab a copy to relish the mysteries inside. 
          Two stories unfold here simultaneously: one featuring Shyam and his wife Radha who is in love with the charming travel writer Chris. Other story is told by Koman where he narrates his life story devoted to the service of his demanding mistress -- Kathakali. The whole work is another peep into the beauty of Kathakali with its nine sections divided according to the nine rasas and the story thus proceeds from sringaaram to shaantam.
      There are some works that leave you speechless, gripping you from beginning to end and the snippets of  wisdom that you gather with it will remain as your new companion. 'Mistress' possesses the same magic and the real treat lies with the chapters introducing the nava rasas where you will be amazed by the vibrant imagination of Anita Nair. From the posture of the kathakali artist she goes on to find instances of each rasas in nature, and in seasonal changes. And as Radha travels from the tumultuous passion of Sringaaram to the calmness of Shaantam, we move along with her, Shyam and Koman and gains an understanding of what it means to be an artist for art's sake or as in Shyam's case love for the sake of love hoping one day it will be returned.

          Travel writer Christopher Stewart arrives in Shoranur to the resort called Near the Nila to meet the famous Kathakali artist Koman. There he is greeted by his niece Radha and her husband Shyam who owns the resort and has agreed to provide cheap accommodation to Chris hoping that his book will add to the resort's publicity.
          Radha who leads an unpleasant married life with a husband to whom she can feel only contempt is instantly attracted to the handsome foreigner and his cello. She had been used by an old man during her college days with the promise of marriage which soon proved to be false. After aborting the child resulted from this affair she returns home and is married off to Shyam to preserve the family name.
         Shyam has another story. Being the member of a destitute family living under the mercy of Radha's father, he had a very miserable childhood. But his hard working nature soon reaped its rewards and as he was planning to go to Dubai Radha's father came knocking at the door for help. He married Radha knowing her past and believed that she will one day realise his love, enough to love him back.
          Radha and Chris starts a passionate affair which is noticed by the wise eyes of Koman. He realises how it will end but restricts himself from warning them. Instead he starts narrating his life story beginning with the tales of his parents.
         His father Sethu had run away from home as a boy to Sri Lanka. He is seduced by his benefactor and later when he stabs his best friend in a moment of rage there was no way to escape but to run again. Assuming the name Seth he works under a Christian doctor -- Dr. Samuel -- in Tamilnadu and in one of their trips he meets Saadiya in Arabipattanam.
          When their relationship comes out to public Saadiya is outcasted from her hometown and with Sethu she tries to build a new life. After the initial months of passion, she gets haunted by guilt and on Koman's birth she wishes to bring him up as a Muslim. Discords arise and Saadiya drowns herself. Disheartened Sethu heads back to Kerala leaving Koman with Dr. Samuel. Years later he was brought back to his rich father who had by that time remarried. The new family accepts him without protests and he finds his true talent in Kathakali.

          As these narrations progress during evenings Shyam notices the relationship between his wife and Chris and is deeply hurt. His rage even results in a marital rape. But Radha soon realises that her adventurous affair is only based on lust and nothing more. She breaks up with Chris without informing that she is pregnant. She decides to leave Shyam too as it is worthless to continue their loveless marriage.
          Chris' real intention was to know whether Koman was his biological father as he once had an affair with Angela, his mother. But Koman assures that he is not his father and Chris leaves Kerala disappointed. Story ends with Shyam thinking of pursuing his affections accepting Chris' child as his own. Meanwhile Radha finds a new meaning in life with the child growing within her.

Some catchy quotations:

"Don't let someone else decide for you what is within your reach or what is beyond you" - 4

"You cannot make someone see the truth unless they want to" - 33

"Fear makes one do things one would never do otherwise. Fear lets you compromise." - 294

Anita Nair
"But a true artist is also someone who is able to sustain his belief in his art, and knows that what the world thinks of his art is irrelevant." - 354

"People make mistakes. There is nothing wrong in admitting you made one. But to continue making a mistake when you know it is one, now that is wrong." - 454

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Peony - Pearl S. Buck

Date of Reading: 09/01/2016
Author: Pearl S. Buck
Subtitle: A Novel of China
Publisher: Open Road
Place: New York
Year: 2012
Format: Epub
Rating: 3.5/5
        Nothing can substitute the calm, soothing voice of Pearl S. Buck's works for me and though 'Peony' didn't live up to the expectations, it is still an amazing story of devotion and love. Buck's stories are far from being ordinary, but her elegant narrations keep down the heart beats even at the most thrilling moments giving the impression that this too will pass.
          Like all her other works, this is another testimony of the Chinese culture, a valid example of the difference in perspectives when it comes to Jews. While half of the world butchered them mercilessly, the lightheartedness of  Chinese ways found another solution and as the author informs us in foreword "today even the memory of their origin is gone. They are Chinese". They say the best way to eliminate your enemies is to make them your friends, and Chinese used the same approach; they transformed the foreigners to natives.
         Novel is set in the city of Kaifeng which was once a centre of Chinese Jews who are now gradually getting disappeared by being assimilated to the local culture. Peony is a Chinese bondmaid in the prominent Jewish family of Ezra ben Israel. As a kid she is bought from the slave market as a playmate for Ezra's son David and thus they grew up together.
         Though she loved David dearly, her circumstances demanded them to stay apart as she is just a bondmaid and David never realised the full extend of his love to his playmate and constant companion. He is to be married to Leah, the daughter of the Rabbi, as per his mother's wishes but he also had a secret crush on pretty Kueilan, daughter of the Chinese merchant Kung Chen.
         Fearing Leah's staunch religious beliefs which may further alienate the family from Chinese society, Peony encouraged his love towards Kueilan. David was also confused about the treatment his people receive in other parts of the world and found the answer from his father's wise friend that this occurred due to her separatist ideology. His attitude irritated Leah and in a fit of anger she attacked David with a sword. When he fell down wounded, she realising her mistake cut her own throat.

         David recovered and eventually married Kueilan with the blessing of his parents. But after his mother's death he became restless again and to remedy this he traveled to Peking, the new imperial city, with his wife, sons and Peony. While they were visiting the Empress, Peony is noticed by the lusty Chief Steward and he offered to buy for one of the ladies of the court. Without replying to his proposal David and his retinue soon traveled back home. He started realising his love for Peony but as a Jew he was not allowed to take a concubine and Peony comprehended this predicament.
         The order of the Chief Steward pursued them to their home town and in order to escape her fate Peony joined the Buddhist abbey. Gradually she came to be regarded as a wise woman in the town and David's family too depended on her advice. Story ends with Peony pondering over the transformation of Ezra family who are now completely assimilated to Chinese traditions.

Something to ponder . . .

"A man's wife is his ruler, whether he likes her or not." - 91

"To hate another human being is to take a worm into one's own vitals. It consumes life." - 111

"When foreigners come into a nation, the best way is to make them no longer foreign. That is to say, let us marry our young together and let there be children. War is costly, love is cheap". - 112

"None on earth can love those who declare that they alone are the sons of god" - 166

"Some love a human being too well and are made subject by that love; others love their gods too wel and are subject to that love. Man should be subject to none. Then we are free." - 185     
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