Those Pricey Thakur Girls: Cat on the cover, Indian love story, forgiveable anachronism.

THOSE PRICEY THAKUR GIRLS

Those Pricey Thakur Girls is Anuja Chauhan’s third popular fiction novel. However, I hadn’t read any of Chauhan’s books before this.  In fact, I’m not very swift to pick up Indian popular fiction especially because most of them turn out to be quite bullshit, frankly. Anyhow, two of my closest friends from college have read the book and one of them sent this one as a (two-months-advance) birthday gift, and both of them were raving about how amazing the story is so I decided to try it.

Part unwillingness, part sheer apathy for how Indian popfic writers pen down stories made the reading process complicated and LONG! But I dived into Judge Laxmi Narayan Thakur’s (LN to his wife; BJ/Bauji to his daughers) life. LN is an eccentric, suspicious, kot piece playing father to five girls who he names alphabetically. People might find this erratic but my OCD-laden heart finds it adorable and proper. In fact, this detail reminded of a story by Jean McDevitt I’d read as a child – it was about the Apple family and how Mr. Apple tries to find innovative names that compliment the surname, Apple (Mackientosh Apple, Jonathan Apple, Delicious Apple and lastly, Ann Apple). But I digress!

LN’s girls – A for Anjini is married to A for Anant and cannot have children; B for Binodini is married to Vickyji (LN believes this mishap of un-alphabetical disaster has caused her to be wayward and selfish) and has filed a case in court for her share in property; C for Chandralekha has eloped with an Estonian and LN hasn’t spoken to her since; E for Eshwari is in school, and still in tumult about how to express ‘hormonal feelings’ for guys; D for Debjani/Dabbu, our protagonist, is his favourite daughter and reads the news for DeshDarpan and falls for Dylan Singh Shekhawat – our hero: hardworking, honest, handsome journalist.

The story is set in the early 1980s: DeshDarpan is Doordarshan (obviously), the then-Prime Minister’s (Indira Gandhi) assassination is mentioned, the Sikh riots is the spine of the story. Dylan is chasing Motla (for every Indian story must have a villain) who is accountable for the Sikh riots and is completely smitten by Dabbu’s confidence, her moleonchin and her “love for losers”. The story starts with Dabbu beginning as a newsreader but she grows (?!) throughout the novel into a confident twenty-three old.

The cat on the cover, as my friend puts it, has a role in the story (and the cute little tortoiseshell really does!). The novel is about Delhi sheher in the eighties but there is some very obvious but forgiveable anachronism. The story has Hindi phrases, dialogues and one-liners that tickle the funny bone but sometimes are distracting too. However, it is a 400-page novel and seems to go on and on. It could have been better edited perhaps? Towards the end, it seemed like I was inside a Bollywood movie: police on trains, overpowering politician acting like an ass, hero in the hawalat (YES, SPOILERS!), heroine in copious tears, and then, the quintessential deux ex machina end.

Those Pricey Thakur Girls is hilarious in parts but only a one time read.

2/5 stars

High Fidelity

The thing is I had read this book before and I didn’t know it till I read half the book, and then I realized I had forgotten the ending so I read along.

Cover of "High Fidelity"

However, let me tell you: Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity is not something you read and forget (you may question my forgetfulness about reading it before and I’m going to use my insanity as a defense). The story is about Rob, a thirty-five year old man (who in the course of the book turns thirty-six but that’s hardly important, is it?) who owns Championship Vinyl, a record shop and has  broken up with his long-time girlfriend. The thing about Rob is that he is a sort of mid-life crisis – he is practically broke, Laura has left him, he doesn’t know where his life is headed. Rob is also the modern man who does not believe in grey areas – for him, the pleasures and pains in life are either black or white; things are neatly written off categories and columns; distributed in labelled boxes. He thinks in Top Fives: top five break ups, top five records for break ups, top five records at home, top five movies, and the like. Rob is also deeply insecure – he is a loner.

The book is hilarious. But Hornby’s message about relationships are clear: nothing is smooth-sailing, and you have to decide if a person is worth it! The music mentioned in the book is amazing. I’m already downloading the original soundtrack of the movie based on the book. I also plan to watch the movie sometime later in the week.

3.5/5 Stars

The Fault in Our Stars

the_fault_in_our_stars_by_missheatherelizabeth-d5eptlw    I read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars on my Kindle on my way to Dilli sheher. I wouldn’t say I haven’t tried Green’s work before; I tried reading Looking for Alaska but abandoned it after about sixty pages. Possibly because the stories are just too “light” for the likes of me. But on a train journey/flight, I normally like reading books of this sort.

There is a plot in the book, and it revolves around cancer, and how it starts a friendship and then kindles love between two teenagers who visit a Support Group. Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters and their journey through cancer, a book they have begun to love (Green makes up a make-believe book called An Imperial Affliction by a make believe author – mad, arrogant, stuck up – named Peter Van Houten), and a trip to Amsterdam because of the book.

It is a silly love story for sure, and I can’t deny that I’d love having an Augustus Waters when I was sixteen: the personality, the confidence, oh-the-sweettalker! However, I don’t know if I’d categorize this book as a young adult novel. It is not exciting; you can predict the end; the book dragged on in parts.

This is a one time read, if you aren’t a sucker for young adult/teenage romance like me. In any case, it has changed my opinion of John Green – the guy can write beautifully, without a doubt.

Two out of five stars for this.

The Sense of an Ending – Barnes Revisted.

Sense-001Photograph I took of the book with the battered dustjacket

So I’m going through something of a re-reading phase. Today I reread Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending instead of packing for a trip that I have to take to Delhi (I still haven’t started packing; I am lolling on the bed and writing this post and I have thrown all caution to the wind, and it’s after two in the night, mind you – also, I have to take a train tomorrow but who says one has to abandon book-blogging for that reason?)

The library sent in this book, with the dust-jacket a little battered – at first, I was annoyed, I don’t like books treated like garbage. But throughout this evening, I turned its pages and remembered the mundane but magical worlds of Tony Webster and Adrian Finn and the ever-intriguing Veronica. I felt excited that this book has changed hands so many times!

The book is short one, in terms of pages – one hundred and fifty only. But the story, the characters, and Barnes’ treatment of the plot will make it seem like you’ve travelled throughout Webster’s childhood, like you know Alex, Colin and most importantly, Adrian very intimately. You will resent Veronica Mary Ford’s existence, in the beginning. Time and again, you will wonder if/why Tony loved her, why he met her family and why he loved seeing her dancing in his dorm-room. And in the end, you might reconsider your views about her.

The novel talks is prosaic about how we choose to interpret our memories the way it suits us. And how our fickle memories leave us with vast histories that we ourselves might have created for ourselves.

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but — mainly — to ourselves.”

“It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.”

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

The story is told to us by Tony Webster himself and so it may be possible that he manipulates facts to his advantage – the reader will sigh at his expressions, descriptions and delineations. Webster may or may not be an unreliable narrator but that is totally up to the reader to decide. The beauty of this novel is that everything is up to the reader: for instance, I loved Adrian Finn even after I read and put away the book, even after I read the ending; I wished to sympathize with Veronica but I couldn’t (perhaps I thought I was a little like her?); I genuinely waited for Anne to appear somewhere in the course of the book, she didn’t; I wished Margaret wasn’t right but she was all along; despite Tony’s self-righteousness, I refuse to be cross with him even as the ending approached – people make mistakes, things go horribly wrong, sometimes even ironically wrong, any of this could hardly be poor old Tony Webster’s fault.

Revisiting An Old Favourite

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I recently re-read Salinger’s The Catcher  in the Rye (for a friend’s coursework) nearly ten years after I had first read it, and as unexpected as it sounds, I didn’t like it that much. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still your average disillusioned, melancholic teenager (remember while I’m in my early twenties, I never could outgrow my teenage years). But I cannot identify with Holden Caulfield anymore.

When I had read it I was 13 or 14 and I was just growing up and the world felt awkward and absurd and it felt like I’d never be a part of it. Holden came to my rescue then. He was sad, he hated that the world was closing in on him, he felt helpless, he felt trapped between  stereotypes and the opinions of others. There was a lot he could do perhaps, to salvage himself from the situation but if he had then the book wouldn’t be as beautiful as it is now.

Again, I love Absurd Heroes: the quest to find the meaning of life, and the futility of it all and thereafter, the foreboding, the pain is beautiful in its own way. Kind of sexy too, perhaps. But I’d much prefer the Byronic hero over the Absurd one anyday now that I’m older.

Anyhow, I will always hold this book close to my heart. For the wrong reasons. Holden was a rebel, and I aspired to become one but … now years later, I think I just succumbed to the world.

And that’s not a bad thing, right?

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

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Boy! Have I been excited about this one?

Neil Gaiman, another one of my favourite authors announced the release of his new book a few months ago, and the Heavens have seen Disney and I discuss it over Facebook (now that law school is done with, what option do we have?). Of course, most of these painstaking discussions were about how to procure it. Pre-ordering the book was out of question: Flipkart indicated it was Out of Stock (?), HomeShop18 didn’t know who Neil Gaiman was and Amazon India has just began its business (who am I kidding? It was overpriced!). Also, I won’t buy ebooks unless it’s my last resort. Anyhow, Disney found it on one of the websites we usually scavenge – and that’s not the great part! She found it on the day it released. YAAY. So I read it that day itself, and I couldn’t be happier. This man kills me everytime he publishes something new.

——-

The summary goes like this:

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE is a fable that reshapes modern fantasy: moving, terrifying and elegiac – as pure as a dream, as delicate as a butterfly’s wing, as dangerous as a knife in the dark, from storytelling genius Neil Gaiman.

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed – within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it.

His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.

And my FB status message after reading it goes like this:

Neil Gaiman, Why, WHY would you write a story so magical, so comforting, so fantastic in one seventy eight pages only? 178 pages, what were you thinking? You absolutely adorable curly-haired storyteller man, you! Now I cannot pick up another book and you have me running around the empty house, panicking and shaking my fists at boxes of Quaker Oats!

Yes, the book is actually a teeny-tiny book-let, a novella, if you may. One hundred and seventy eight pages ONLY. I was upset when I finished it. Not, because it was bad, nosir! But because it was sooo good that I didn’t want it to end. I mean, he writes after aeons and I finish the book in less than two hours; that is so not done!

Anyhow, the book is magical, to say the least. When you start reading it, the story sort of unfolds itself quietly and even before you know it, it has crept up inside you. It was like a bridge between childhood and growing up. As you begin reading it, you might feel like it is a book for children, but Gaiman is intelligent: he knows there is really no difference between children and adults!

The narrator is a young boy who is now a grown-up, and the story is through the eyes of his seven-year-old self – reticent, wary-of-the-world, lover-of-books, one who isn’t too upset that noone comes to his birthday party but is appalled by the idea that someone else is living in his room! Much like me. And so much changes for this unnamed narrator one night.

There’s so much I want to say about this book. But it would be wrong. Just violating to all the other readers who are waiting for this one. All that is left to say is that the story will stay with me, like an unfinished song. 🙂

P.S. – There are so many quotable quotes in the book but I’ve decided which ones are my favourite.

“I went away in my head, into a book. That was where I went whenever real life was too hard or too inflexible.”

“Books were safer than other people anyway.”

“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”

Lady Oracle

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 Yours Truly, burying her fat face in Atwood’s book.

This is what I was frightened of, actually. Reviewing the work of an author for whom I have had unflinching admiration – the sort that would mean being completely uncritical, defensive when someone lashes out at them and always feel genuinely happy when you come across their work.

Margaret Atwood.

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 I began reading The Handmaid’s Tale because it was dystopian. I had finished Orwell’s 1984 a few months before I stumbled upon Atwood, and I realized dystopian literature was fabulous, haunting, maddening. And thus began the journey of devouring everything Atwood. I fell in love with her style of placing words side by side and founding a sort of labyrinth for the reader. I would dream of her characters, of the stories, I would feel for them, I would hate them. I’d find an Offred on the streets, and perhaps a Cordelia if I went through my high school photographs. And then last week the library (that believes in choosing a random book from a list you’ve provided them with; therefore, a blind book date every few days) sent in Lady Oracle.

I had been waiting to read Lady Oracle but not on the Kindle, for some reason. So when they sent in the book, I was determined to finish it off before anything else. However, I have been too busy trying to get my college documents together and this meant, travelling to the university – unenviable journey by train/bus, rains, muddy puddles, sleep quotient absolutely zilch – and hence, reading had to be stalled for a couple of days.

Anyhow, I digress. I have read Atwood’s later novels – The Handmaid’s Tale, Wilderness Tips, Cat’s Eye and others – and her first novel, The Edible Woman. I have not judged any of the books because I was bowled over by her style, plot, characters. However, I began finding fault with Lady Oracle as soon as I began it. The books begins like a dream, almost, “I planned my death carefully, unlike my life, which meandered along from one thing to another, despite my feeble attempts to control it.” Anyone who has understood the cheap thrills of wanting to escape her life would understand what I am talking about. Any escapist would look forward to a crazy history that would back up the a first line of the book. And Atwood does give us a protagonist of that sort, Joan Foster – writer of peculiar costume gothics, fat-then-now-slim escapist who has run away to Italy because things are closing in on her, mysterious secret past, many accidental lovers.

Joan Foster is what every girl is inside. Constant madness to gulp down massive amounts of food, and the constant guilt of being a shape that noone trusts and yet everyone feels comfortable around. Insecurity, the need to lie, the unfortunate ways in which she meets her lovers and continually falls deeper into a morass that she has herself created, the need to love, the need to run away.

However, Atwood, in parts, forgets to tie loose ends at least during the story (in the end, things fall into place, though very complicatedly but I can live with that. The woman is phenomenal. One mistake does not matter). The protagonist is complicated, her mission is complicated and the issues in the book are complicated as well. Atwood deals with so MANY issues – feminism, politics, adultery, betrayal, blackmail, religion, spirituality, abusive parent, psychologically damaged kid, body image problems, teenage angst. There are just so many things she wants to say and yet, all these issues are neither resolved nor provide with some consequence to the protagonist. And this is why the book couldn’t be as well-received as all her other books.

Two things made me sit back and really think during this book:

1. Atwood’s treatment of the protagonist. She is bullied and cornered as a child during her time as a Brownie. And this gives in to  a scene where she and her group of friends cross a bridge and they find a “bad man” with daffodils and later how this very man (possibly) saves her when her friends leave her there alone and realizes – “Was the man who untied me a rescuer or a villain? Or, an even more baffling thought: was it possible for a man to be both at once?

This scene is later perfected in Cat’s Eye where Elaine Risley is left alone to die in ice cold water by her friends who bully her. What started off, somewhat unsuccessfully,  in Lady Oracle with the victimization of Joan by Elizabeth and Marlene, is essentially completed in Cat’s Eye with the torturous bullying of Elaine by Cordelia, Grace and Carol. Atwood is elusive, as Michael Rubbo has himself said (No, I haven’t gotten around to watch the documentary; I don’t know how to download it for free, yet) and perhaps it is true. Many, like myself would possibly think that she herself was treated this way by a close friend – left in the dead of the night to die or to be raped. However, noone would ever come to know. Perhaps, in her childhood, she was the tormentor or a silent bystander while all this happened to someone else. Of course, who’d know this but Atwood herself?

2. The book won  my heart because of this sole sentence “Was every Heathcliff a Linton in disguise?“. We see Arthur, Joan’s husband, lose his Byronic indifference slowly throughout their marriage and then, the Red Porcupine starts off as someone so eccentric, so insanely out-of-the-world that the reader would want to know more about him. However, he too descends into a man of needs and this frustrates Joan.

Atwood, long before her success came, had bared the politics of a man and a woman. As the Polish Count in the book states (I paraphrase) that a man has to keep the woman intrigued by his mind and the woman has too keep the man’s interest with the use of her body. However, most of the men that Joan meets and begins to love, as it seems, cannot keep their mystery for long. This of course has happened to so many of us. And the reference to Wuthering Heights and HeathCliff is remarkable!

Because I am biased and I absolutely adore the author, I’ll give this book four out of five stars.

The Remains of the Day

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(Photograph I instagrammed – shallow, I know – the evening the book arrived. That’s my midnight snack)

I won’t lie – I started this book only because I wanted to watch the movie. It’s been sitting on the external hard disk for so long and I wanted to know if I should keep it, or delete it to make space for other movies. I have a rule – I don’t watch movie adaptations before I’ve read the book. And now that I’ve read Ishiguro’s masterpiece, I don’t know if I’ll be comfortable watching the film (To hell with the drama! I’ll watch it, anyway). The book was great. And great is an understatement.

There are two things  – a book with an unrequited love story, and a Byronic hero: world-weary, emotionally-conflicted, charismatic – that make me go weak in the knees. The Remains of the Day gave me both. The story is about Stevens, a butler of Darlington Hall, who embarks on a vacation. This holiday is his first time away from Darlington Hall in several years and the protagonist-narrator cannot but go back repeatedly to anecdotes about his time there. He is a principled man, dutiful and has achieved a certain amount of ‘dignity’ that his profession demands. It is also this very duty that has estranged him of his love for Miss Kenton. The journey from Darlington Hall to Weymouth is his journey from his present to his past – from the consequences to the sacrifices he made at a time when history was going through enormous changes and he believed that his service, his employer needed more attention than his own life and matters of the heart.

I was told that the book would be slow. Mostly because of how elaborate the prose is. But it isn’t. It is beautiful. Almost like someone’s life unfolding in a quick motion, right before your own eyes.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I cannot for the life of me remember how I came across Mary Ann Shaffer’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Not a lot of people seem to have read it but it does have splendid ratings on Goodreads. However, that is not why I began reading it.

I have this habit with books, as with people. If I don’t like it after I’ve begun, I don’t force myself to carry on with it. I do try to get back to it at some point, making an earnest attempt to complete it. I read about fifty to seventy pages and if I like it, I read on. If I don’t, well … you know. I was reading Guernsey on the Kindle and even before I knew it, I was half-way through and was in love with the protagonist, Juliet Ashton – who is in many parts is like me. She likes the men in her favourite books more than the men she goes out with, she still can’t figure out what she wants from life, she loves her books so much that she breaks off her engagement when she realizes her finance has usurped her bookshelves. Ashton is introduced to a book club, born out of a lie to German soldiers, in Guernsey through a man, Dawsey Adams, who has come across her name written in a book by Charles Lamb. And thus begins a flurry of letters – which is in fact the novel (yes, the novel is an epistolary) – from the members of the book club to Juliet and her replies to them and her friend and publisher, Sidney.

In parts, the novel subtly talks about the torture in the Concentration Camps in Germany, the German Occupation and the transition that is hoped for in the Channel Islands. You can see the characters trying to come to terms with the War, and in their own way. Through reading. The book discusses many books, and many authors and there is a moment with Oscar Wilde in it and while you’re turning the pages, you may go whoaa!

It’s a quick read, possibly a great book to carry during a trip somewhere or even sit with a cup of beaten coffee and a box of Oreos, while you devour Juliet’s wonderful journey into Guernsey, her love-affair with writing and finding love.

I’ll give this book four of out five stars.

At the moment, I’m reading The Remains of the Day by Ishiguro and loving it.

Re-reading The Namesake

I started re-reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel, The Namesake last week. I realized that the first time I’d read I hadn’t appreciated it for two reasons:

Firstly, reading the book then was a fad so I read it pretty quickly without understanding its underlying narratives. Secondly, to understand what the protagonist feels, it is necessary to put oneself away from one’s “comfort-zone” – one’s home, city, country.

I do not know why I had decided to re-read it. In fact, I couldn’t even find my paperback (some idiot must have borrowed and never returned it). So I loaded it onto my Kindle and finished it in a day and half. I also downloaded and watched the film soon after. But after I read it again, I realized how I had come to understand the book through Gogol’s perspective only.  This time when I started it, I was reading it like the story was subsumed within Ashima. When I neared the end, I came to like Moushumi a lot. In many ways, I realized I was like her – fiercely independent, running away from her own identity constantly, doing things she can live without only because of her parents. I was happy to an extent that Moushumi and Gogol don’t make it – it is surreal on so many levels; two very similar (and similarly damaged) people can never *peacefully* be together.

Of course, as a reader, I had too many questions. Why would Lahiri make this her first novel? Obviously, the Bengali theme of a bhalonaam (the Indian concept of a ‘goodname’ used publicly) and a daaknaam (nickname/moniker) had been close to her heart. Perhaps Jhumpa was a Gogol. Perhaps her parents tried that she be known by her bhalonaam (Wiki tells me it is Nilanjana). Perhaps like Gogol, she preferred her daaknaam. Did she go through an identity crisis as a teenager?

Another thing that struck me how my Chhotomama has (nick) named his first-born, my cousin, Pushkin. Now was Pushkin a Gogol waiting to happen? Did Chhotomama like Pushkin’s poems to an extent that he could name his son so? Or did he have an incident similar to Ashoke Ganguli on a train to Jamshedpur?

My imagination must stop running amok.

I like how Lahiri shows the plight of two women dealing with this morass of identity in a place that is not home: Ashima Ganguli and Moushumi Mazumdar. And I respect her for doing this without judgment on either. In the beginning, when her husband leaves for work, Ashima is scared and there is a learned helplessness around her character – crying to go back home, losing her shopping bags in the train (and finding them, thereafter), running out and lighting all the lights of the house when she realizes her husband’s gone. But towards the end, we see Ashima has found peace in a place she could have never called home. She buries the hatchet with the country that took away her husband, her son and to some extend her peace of mind?

On the other hand, Moushumi wants to avoid this morass in the first place. She never does succeed, though. From India to UK to US to France to US. She often takes off because she does not want to end up like her mother. She demands to stay Mazumdar after her marriage to Gogol (as for Ashima, I don’t remember her maiden name – she takes Ashoke’s name and is known as Ashima Ganguli throughout). She reads, she studies, she drinks alcohol, she dances. She has an affair to escape her identity. She could possibly never make peace with America.

I could totally identify with Moushumi and though Lahiri paints her character without prejudice, the film adaptation seems to “judge” her. I really could not swallow that.

Also, Moushumi’s lover’s name was Dmitri. I have no idea why the lover in the movie was called Pierre. Was Mira Nair trying to convince the audience of Moushumi’s french connection?

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