Archive | August 2014

Amen: The autobiography of a nun- Sister Jesme : 48/52

Turning water into whine

Blame me for expecting something explosive. This was nothing more than the long rant of a disgruntled employee. The fact that she was a nun is just an added bonus. As a saying goes, if there’s a devil residing in the roof of every normal household, there’s a devil residing in each rafter in a convent. A house full of women where everyone is everyone’s mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, the stuff Ekta Kapoor’s dreams are made of.  And the poor husband, Jesus Christ, looks at the drama from above helplessly, and shakes his head in despair. And no, divorcing him isn’t as easy as divorcing a human husband. A Convent, Hotel California. Same thing.

Sr. Jesme is a PhD in English, but this book reads like a ten year old’s What I Did During My Summer Vacation essay.It is written in present tense, a flashback while she’s on the train as a fugitive ,on the way to hand over her resignation. It just rambles on and on with one phase of her life flowing into the other without a pause.  There are too many references to Provincials and Generalities and church specific bureaucracy  without saying which one was which or whether they were the same person throughout the book. Almost ten words on every page were within quotes, like why should ‘ plus two’ be within quotes when referring to plus two students.

Sr. Jesme , or maybe she’s back to Memy now, paints herself as the goodiest of goody two shoes that ever walked the earth. Barring a single faltering when she’s alone in the room with a priest, she is goodness personified. She is a socialist who mingles with the lower strata of kitchen nuns freely, she is a liberal who watches movies and makes movies, she is so honest that she is the only one who stands up against capitation fee, she is the saviour of poor students, she’s so Jesuslike that she always shows the other cheek. She’s so everything that she actually deserves a YoSrJesmeSo set of jokes.

Agreed. The rot inside the church runs deep. You have corruption, sexual liaisons, petty jealousies, politics that will put our parliamentarians to shame, mind games , rampant sexism, racism and good old simple hate. She herself seems to have been victim to a ‘special love’ with another nun and almost succumbed to the advances of a priest. But I somehow am not able to bring myself to blindly believe her version of all the events in this book. Why would she be forced to take psychiatric treatment if there wasn’t something that made the rest of the congregation believe she needed help? There must be something more to that part of the story, especially that incident which was the breaking point which made her leave the congregation. But hey, who am I to judge. If she’s happy now, free from the shackles of the Convent, good for her. I must Google for some follow ups about her life.

Afternote: My sixth standard teacher had joined a convent and left, but before she became a full fledged nun. I wonder what regrets or relief runs through her mind till this day. Two of my classmates have become nuns. One I met after a few years and she was cheerful and happy. It was awkward, the confusion whether I should call her by name or call her Sister. The other one joined the more difficult Pentecostal nunnery, haven’t heard anything from her since the day she told me she’s becoming a nun. I hope she’s happy.

While a Sister Act-like Mary Clarence will be super cool, the  Catholic church should loosen up a bit and let nuns be human. They allow their priests to be anyway. Nuns like this one, may her tribe increase.

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A Tale for the Time Being- Ruth Ozeki: 47/52

Zen philosophy meets Quantum Physics meets Reality.

A freezer bag washes up on a beach in a remote island somewhere in Canada. A hello kitty lunch box. A composition notebook written in French. A watch that doesn’t work. A diary with a Proust cover. And a tale for the time being written in purple ink. A tale written by a sixteen year old Japanese schoolgirl, sitting in a French Maid cafe. A tale she says is about her 104 year old great grandmother Jiko, but one that is more about herself. A tale she wants to tell someone before she commits suicide.

The Nao part of the book was gripping. A  teenager uprooted from the Great American dream and thrown into Japan again. She’s a misfit in school, tortured by her classmates in unbelievably shocking ways. A father on the verge of losing it, a mother struggling to keep the show running. And the comfort she finally finds in her 104 year old great grandmother and her dead grand uncle. I wonder which Haruki was sadder, the present day one with the deafening conscience  who reads philosophy books and makes origami insects out of the pages and joins suicide clubs or the young Haruki on the suicide mission during WW2. The theme of suicide looms large throughout Nao’s narration, disturbing and heavy.

The Ruth part was painfully boring. For starters, I hate the name Ruth. It only reminds me of a stiff old fashioned woman in black stockings and a high collared shirt. This Ruth wasn’t exactly that, but she was so boring. There was no emotion in her part of the story. Yes, she was consumed by Nao’s story and worried for the girl, but even that was so stiff and starched.The husband and wife relationship was so formal and awkward, they seemed more like a student and her HOD, discussing garbage gyres, native crows and Schrodinger’s cat. Not that intellectually stimulating conversation between a husband and wife is not allowed, but it was so bleh and academic. Also, there somewow seemed to be no love between them, with her complaining about everything from his illness to life on the island to his cat or getting possessive and confrontational when he understood Nao’s predicament more than she did. In managerese,I could say that Ruth doesn’t offer any value add to the story.

I have to skip analysing the Zen parts. I’m too simple minded to get Zen. That dream scenario went over my head. I have to skip analysing the Quantum physics parts. I’m too unintelligent to get Quantum Physics. I did understand Schrodinger’s cat though, thanks to Sheldon Cooper. There was a lot of Japanese peppered into Nao’s narration, too many footnotes to check. Otaku, Hentai, Ijime, Hikikomori : some of the words that continued to disturb me throughout the book. Japan, you twisted country, if what Nao writes about your people is true, you scare me.  I would have liked more closure, more answers. Less Ruth, more Nao. But overall I liked the book. I’d try another Ruth Ozeki sometime soon

Reading Challenge Two: The Language Challenge

During the recent controversy about the alleged imposition of Hindi and Sanskrit by the central government, I was mostly on the fence. While I strongly oppose forcefully stuffing anything down our throats, be it rotis or a language, I see absolutely nothing wrong in giving people a choice of languages to learn.The more the better. When I joined school, Hindi as a second language was allowed only for children who had parents with transferable jobs. So I was stuck with Tamil. I started learning Hindi again at the ripe old age of twenty, but by then my brain had shut the gates. Ek gaon mein ek kissan raguthaathaa. It now takes me superhuman effort to read or even compose a single Hindi sentence in my head before I speak and that was one of the main reasons I hated my Noida days.

But in school, I detested Tamil. It was the subject of my nightmares and it was the only subject I actually failed in once. Always having been in the top group of my class, that less-than-40-marks shame is a shame I still haven’t recovered from. I breezed through my tenth standard exams with my cousin reading the chapters out loud to me. The Anglo Indian syllabus was a cakewalk. But I struggled with the State Board for the next two years and I still don’t fully understand how I even got through with respectable marks. Also, that was the phase when Tamil was considered uncool. So in the end, I’ve totally lost out on a language and the rich literature that it offers.

No, it is not that I cannot read Tamil. I read the newspapers and magazines. I read three page long horoscopes every Sani and Guru peyarchi. But I’ve somehow always had a mental block when it came to reading a whole novel or a whole short story or even a blogpost.

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When I was nineteen, I dug into my uncle’s collection and pulled out this book. Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal by Jayakanthan.He shook his head and said that I wasn’t old enough to read it.  Hah. At nineteen? Old fashioned uncle. Now if that taboo wasn’t something to motivate a nineteen year old , what else will. So I took the book home. I even found out what the story is about. Unfortunately, it still languishes on my bookshelf , unread. Later, a crush tried to introduce me to Sujatha and sent me the entire collection in pdf format. But turned out I wasn’t crushed enough and I couldn’t bring myself to read any of those even to impress  him. Even the pulp fiction that I was curious about, I only read the English translations very recently.

 

 

But now, I’ve taken up the challenge.This Aadi perukku, someone referred to Vandiya Devan on Twitter. My mother too, a Ponniyin Selvan junkie usually refers to the book every Aadi perukku. I was surprised to see that so many people, the younger generation, the kidsthesedays, reading this book and making references to it. I feel quite left out. I tried the audio book, it didn’t work for me. The excerpts from the English translation made me scream in frustration.

So I have decided. I’m almost done with my Goodreads Reading Challenge of 52 books in 2014. Probably the only New Year Resolution that I have successfully kept up in my life ever. It is time for a new challenge. Let me take baby steps and start off with the first book of Ponniyin Selvan. Target: Finish it by Dec 2014. And if I finish it earlier, I’m going to treat myself with something sinfully good.

And when I’m done, maybe I will pick up Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal and finish it. And then send a message to my uncle who is up there. I’m old enough now, maama. I was old enough even back then. This isn’t as scandalous. This is 2014, you know. Not the eighteen hundreds. 

The Rise of the Sun Prince- Shubha Vilas :46/52

Another Ramayana.

I’ve never been much of a Ramayana fan. I’ve read several versions right from ACK to Devdutt Pattanaik’s Sita and The Book of Ram. Asura too, if it can be counted as a ‘version’ of the book. But somehow The Ramayana has never fascinated me as much as The Mahabarata. Maybe because it is too goody-goody for my liking.

This version is a seven part series (phew!) and this book is just part one. So the narration is detailed and unhurried. Unhurried, but fast paced because I finished the book in two longish sittings on the train while going on my holiday and getting back. It starts off right from the very beginning with how Valmiki got recruited into writing the Ramayana with the background story of his transition from Ratnakar to Valmiki.

This is the Balakanda section and the real hero here is Vishwamitra rather than Rama. But ofcourse, Rama overshadows everything and everyone as he is meant to. Tadakka is killed, Ahalya is ‘restored’, Subahu is burnt to ashes, Maricha is sent flying 800 miles away. Vishwamitra tells the boys stories about Ganga and other rivers and his and their ancestors. Mantras and weapons are shared, wisdom passed on. Moral science lessons are imparted. Rama, of course, is so good and obedient that it almost hurts. Gaah. If a god is born human he should exhibit some human characteristics. A couple of shades of grey won’t hurt, Rama. Lakshmana is just a faint shadow, he does nothing much in this book other than stop a baby Rama from crying.  Ravana and his family get their due mention. Still fresh in my memory as the ‘good’ people from Asura, they are once again painted with that black tar brush here. Dasaratha is the scaredy cat who keeps marrying women to avoid a Kshatriya hating rishi from destroying him. 353 wives and no sons. Serves him right for giving away his only daughter. (Again, Shanta is fresh in my memory after I watched Vaisali last week and read up more about her)

I’ve always been a sceptical semi believer and so I read this book as mythological fiction rather than as The Ramayana. And since I didn’t read it with any reverence, I found the capitalizing of letters when referring to Rama and Sita distracting. This book is pure prose, simple prose and so I felt that the gushy descriptions of  the beauty of Rama and Sita were bit funny and out of place. Moon, sun, lotus blossom beauty. All this works better in poetry or poetic prose. So were the exaggerations such as Ayodhya having twenty million palaces and a moat so large that clouds mistook it for the ocean.  And referring to Dasaratha’s council of ministers the Big-M was simply hilarious.

The footnotes on every page were extremely distracting  and so I stopped reading them after a point. Again, I am forced to draw comparisons to Devdutt Pattanaik’s style of afternotes in each chapter. I prefer trivia tidbits rather than blah in the footnotes. And moral lessons and rules to improve the quality of my life? I’ll give that a pass please.

But yes, I enjoyed the book a lot. Nothing new here, but it was a good read. I’m not eagerly looking forward to the next six parts, but when they’re out, I will most certainly read them. ( Also, there’s some rule and order in which The Ramayana should be read. And if you start one kanda you just have to finish the rest or you’ll get seven rebirths of bad luck something.  I hope Shubha Vilas isn’t bringing bad luck to us)

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

The Devil Wears a Prada-Lauren Weisberger :45/52

As chicklitty as chicklit can get.

When it comes to chick-things, I am an unashamed fan of chickflicks. I’ve spent entire weekends with Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts. But chicklit, not so much. The movie is *always* better than the book. I had started this book several times and couldn’t go past the first few paragraphs where she struggles with a stickshift car, cigarette in hand and wearing some fancy shoes and breaking the heel. But I finally picked up the motivation to get past those first few pages and things started looking better.

The Devil takes on more importance than the typical whiny, self-deprecating chicklit heroine that Andrea is. So it makes the book tolerably spicy. Miranda Priestly is amazing. She is my role model now and I aspire to be a boss like her some day. Who wouldn’t love to have two young girls whom they could bully to death at their beck and call. Ahndrea, where’s my coffee? Ahndrea, this coffee is too cold. Ahndrea get me That restaurant review from That newspaper. You can read my mind as to which one I’m talking about. Ahndrea get me yet another $200 white Hermes scarf.  Ahndrea, get my underwear drycleaned. How great would it be to call your assistant in New York from Paris and ask her to connect you to a mobile number in Paris or to get her to charter you a plane during a storm at midnight. Too bad that I’m basically a very wimpy niceguy. I’ll never make Boss.

Andrea is boring, but likeable. Especially when she does things like regularly buying Starbucks coffee for the homeless and charges it to the company account, or wiping her greasy fingers on Miranda’s Versace clothes that she has to get cleaned. Lily the BFF, Alex the good boyfriend and the mysterious Christian who turns up at the most unexpected places and flirts with her ( what is it with these guys named Christian) come and go and offer some twists in the tale. Stereotype gay men in the fashion industry, snooty senior assistants, designers, designers and more designer names. Bleh. The writing was painfully repetitive and predictable. Same old same old. But I rushed through reading those parts because I wanted to read more about Miranda being Miranda.

But what made this book more interesting was that it was actually a sort of tell-all book that was based on the author’s stint as Anna Wintour’s assistant. Anna Wintour is rumoured to be much more demanding than the fictional Miranda Priestly, if that is actually even possible. Miranda is this ice queen-fashionista-bitchbosswoman whose one look can get her assistants to change out their comfortable shoes and wear Jimmy Choo stillettos even when doing their coffee runs. I had a difficult time believing that part because daily-trimmed-perfect-bob notwithstanding, Anna Wintour wears the fugliest shoes ever. Maybe they are custom made Manolo Blahniks, but puhleese. These?

I checked out the movie trailer and that seemed more interesting. Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep are just perfect. I should watch the movie soon.

I’ve got Revenge Wears a Prada also, but that is going to just sit there for long time. Maybe I’ll wait for the movie instead.

Coonoor Fiction

I was browsing through an old Femina from 2011 when I saw this. Wow. Someone from Coonoor has written a book and the book is set in Coonoor. How did I manage to miss it all these days.

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The book doesn’t seem to be available now, but there is a sample story from the collection on the website and it seems pretty ok. While it was weird reading about a fictional town of Monele near Ooty in Love Kills, it seems even weirder to read about Alwarpet, Bedford and Alankar Bakery in this story. Localities you’ve actually walked around in. A bakery on whose counter you have sat on an eaten the same apple cakes.  A nice kind of weird.

The author is a familiar name. Of course I don’t know her personally. We were from the same town, but totally different circles. Interesting how she describes her love hate relationship with Coonoor in this article.  I don’t intend to imply anything negative here, but I remember that she was a bit of an Urban Legend in town those days. Ofcourse most of those stories that shocked indianculture then were exaggerated and embellished, I’m sure.  She talks about her rebellion and how she felt a total misfit back there then. I can totally relate.

But somehow she has been drawn back to Coonoor and has gone on to write a book of stories set in that very town. That’s the beauty of Coonoor.

I too have a love hate relationship with Coonoor. This line from Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects perfectly describes the town

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Maybe someday I too will write a book set in Coonoor, based on people living in Coonoor.  And I’ll reveal some deep dark secrets with the disclaimer that it is purely fiction. I’m evil that way.

 (Note: Not mentioning any names in this post because I don’t want a Google search making things awkwardly uncomfortable)

Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You- Devdutt Pattanaik :44/52

Mind fu.. oh wait.

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This may be politically incorrect, multi-religiously blasphemous and all that jazz, but seriously what were our ancients smoking? It takes truly brilliant  minds to come up with such fascinatingly kinky, twisted stories, attribute it all to gods and goddesses and have centuries of humankind unquestioningly believe in them . To be safe, let me clarify that I say this in a positive sense.

‘Queer’ is a term I absolutely detest, because the very definition of the word defeats the purpose of creating an all inclusive, tolerant society. I don’t know if the purpose of this book was to say that ‘queerness’ has the blessings of the gods, be it Hindu, Roman, Greek, Assyrian or Egyptian. Or whether it is to convince the upholders of present day morality to look within before they judge. Or to say that it has existed over several millennia so let’s not be hypocrites about it. Or to  say it happens, deal with it. Or whether it is  just another book on Indian mythology for contemporary readers. But I’ve loved every one of Devdutt Pattanaik’s books and I did like this one too.

Most of these  stories aren’t new to me. I’ve known many of them since I was a child, thanks to Amar Chitra Katha. But reading them again through adult eyes and from the perspective of  ‘queerness’  is what makes this almost mindblowing. Take Karthikeya for instance. From ACK, all I remember was babies born through a spark from Shiva’s head, floating in a river and six beautiful celestial mothers adopting them. These babies then go on to become one baby and is the much loved, much revered god. A heartwarming, beautifully illustrated tale. But now, reading about it from this ‘queer’ angle, I’m sorry to say, I find his actual conception (if you can call it that) plain creepy. Shiva shoots his seed into the mouth of Agni, it is cooled by Vayu,  it goes on to impregnate all the male Devas, then finds its way into the wombs of six totally clueless women who are so angry that they discard the foetus in the river. The baby(ies) survives inspite of that, a custody battle follows and in the end we get the god we know and worship as Skanda-Karthikeya-Muruga . How crazy is that.

The last time I read about Aravan, after maybe an ACK comic, was in Devdutt Pattanaik’s Jaya. All I felt then was anger towards Arjuna for being so callous and unfeeling about his own son, one whom he didn’t even remember and was ready to sacrifice. I was irritated with the son of Uloopi and Arjuna for wanting to help the father who had no clue about who he was. And the unfairness of it all.  But I didn’t give much thought to the queer angle of this tale. And the lesser said about what I think of Krishna the better. I can’t  bring myself to justify anything which that god has ever done ever.

There are thirty such stories in this book, twisted stories, stories of gods and men being castrated for showing restraint, for not showing restraint; men turning into women, women turning into men; deer eating human seed and giving birth to humans with antlers; crossdressing gods, sons of gods and mere mortals; men taking the form of animals and sneaking into unwilling women’s beds; Bhagirath ,whose very name means what it means, born of two ladyparts; men giving birth to men, men giving birth to women, men giving birth to iron maces. There are also tales from Rome, Greece, Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and other ancient civilizations where Things happened.

Maybe these stories started off with the good intention of encouraging ancient societies to embrace all kinds of people. Or maybe these stories were all made up by cunning men  to justify their kinks. (I won’t say women, it was a male dominated society)  Or maybe these stories were just versions of pr0n or fantasy fiction back then.

But whatever it was meant to be, then and now, this book left me totally mindfucked. And looks like that was one bodypart that our gods or our ancestors didn’t actually do.

Disclaimer: 

Let me make some things absolutely clear about where I stand on the LGBT community. I fully support them, their rights and their lives. I believe that it is natural.  Natural because it is part of nature. You even see such orientation in the animal kingdom. But normal, I won’t say. It is not normal. Like say a birthmark is natural, but not normal. I also believe that this is not a disease and it is not something that can be or needs to be ‘cured’.  I am totally in favour of scrapping Sec 377. The government has no right in anyone’s bedrooms, they can’t dictate whom people should love or how. I try my best not to use the word gay as an insult (though I sometimes do). I’ve been brought up to call the saree wearing eunuch who used to deliver the newspaper as  ‘aval’ or ‘her’ and not ‘adhu’ or ‘it’. But I also believe that the LGBT community does not need our condescending and patronizing support, they need us to just let them be. So I won’t be seen sporting the rainbow colours on my Twitter or Facebook DP.

And then, on the other side, in Oct 2009, sometime around  when Sec 377 was decriminalized, I wrote a blogpost titled ‘377=666?’ and was all judgy about a picture of a famous fashion designer in an open liplock with his (then?) boyfriend. This was what I had written. And I hmmm to myself about it. And cringe.  But then, this was five years ago. And I was stupid. Kindof.

I pride myself in being extremely broad minded. I always support everything that society frowns upon.Sometimes because I really mean it, and sometimes just to go against the grain. But anyway, I always ask “Who made up the rules?” If something happens it was meant to be that way. So just let it be.

…..but ever since the great 377 floodgates opened up in the country, there has been a small chink in my armour and I have begun to rethink my “broadminded” stand

I slowly find my support wavering away from Celina Jaitely and moving reluctantly towards Baba Ramdev. I tried hard to sway towards Celina, but the wind kept whispering otherwise and kept pushing me away.

But yesterday two images from the Van Heusen Men’s Fashion Week sealed my resolve strongly and firmly, and now, I can declare with conviction that I wholeheartedly support Baba Ramdev and Co

But people change. Attitudes change. Opinions change. I changed. I grew up.