Archive | October 2014

Orange Is the New Black-Piper Kerman: 53/52

A Malory Towers for big bad girls

6314763

There are some TV shows that I blank out on. Like when the whole world was raving about Breaking Bad, I didn’t give a damn. Same thing happened with Orange is The New Black. I just didn’t get it, and since I’m not one who watches shows online, I didn’t bother to keep up with the hype. On a flight last month, I caught a couple of episodes and was intrigued. But I realized that this show will never see the light of day in India. In a country where the word ‘beef’ is beeped out and cleavage is pixellated, I won’t expect a show with topless transgenders and dialogues with the C word to make an entry. And so I picked up the book instead.

Piper Kerman writes like she’s an observer from the outside, not like the convicted felon that she actually was. She writes like the white-blonde-college-educated-woman-from-a-privileged-background that she is rather than the convicted-drugmoney-carrying-lesbian-lover-of-the-drug-trafficker  that she was. And so it somehow came out shallow and patronizing all the way rather than being a heartfelt prison memoir that I wanted it to be. Ofcourse, the book is the true story and the TV series is a fictionalized version, but the blandness of the book bored me. Maybe  I expected something atleast like Tracy’s experiences in If Tomorrow Comes.

There were too many characters who came and went, I couldn’t keep track of who was whom. Who was in for what was never explained. Yes, it is not likely that she could have known, but it just left me hanging. I couldn’t feel anything for any prisoner. Everyone was described at surface level only.  It was all about commissary goods being bartered, goodies being sent by friends, books, radios, yoga, trade school and some Larry love. Blue skies and lollipops. Boarding school. Bo.Ring. Even the ‘horrors’of the camp she was sent to towards the end weren’t hard hitting. And since I’m a person who likes closure, I would have loved to read an epilogue, something about whether she connected with her fellow prisoners after she left or what happened to some of them. Even Girl, Interrupted had an epilogue that told us what happened to Lisa. Would have been nice to know if Piper is still in touch with the Miss Natalie, Pop or Yoga Janet now.

On my flights last week I managed to stay awake most of the time to finish watching the entire Season 1 of the TV show. Absolutely loved it. Watch the show. Skip the book.

 

Unrelated: Tamil Actress Kausalya and Taylor Schilling seem kind of sameguy. 

Advertisements

We Need to Talk About Kevin: Lionel Shriver- 52/52

My biological clock just left the building.

80660

There is a reason why I picked up this book. I started it a few months ago, but the first couple of chapters were a drag, so I abandoned it. Then something happened last Thursday that made me feel I just had to read this book. And I couldn’t put it down until that very last chapter, that very last line. That very last line that left me stunned.

At first, I thought Lionel Shriver was a man and that is why Eva Katchadourian came out as un-womanly as ever. No woman, I thought, can even think of writing about regretting a pregnancy just because she had to stay off wine. But then, Lionel Shriver is a woman. A woman who wrote a book so stark, so honest, so unapologetic, so bonechilling and so shockingly real.

I hated Eva. If only she had put in half the effort she put to get Kevin her surname into actually understanding and loving Kevin, Thursday may not have happened. Or would it have? Maybe she shouldn’t have wanted the answer to the Big Question. Maybe she should have just let the page be, not turned it. Turned it to reveal the horror on the next page. Maybe. And I hated Franklin. For all his denial. For all his good intentions. I hated him for just wanting to have had Kevin. But Kevin, I couldn’t hate him. I couldn’t love him. I couldn’t feel anything for him.

An unborn child can hear, it can feel, it is scientifically proven. An unborn child can learn the secrets of warfare from his mother’s womb, it has been mythologically proven. And now I believe that an unborn child can hate. A minute old Kevin shuns his mother’s breast. A four year old Kevin destroys his mother’s favourite wallpaper. A six year old Kevin plays mind games with his mother. A fourteen year old Kevin disgusts his mother. An almost sixteen year old Kevin destroys her life. And his. And eleven more.

The writing was not so great, so many digressions. Letters of confession, unsaid words, unthinkable thoughts all poured out to Dear Franklin. But those digressions were probably necessary. You need to know how much she loved her job and her company and her travels , loved those so much more than she loved her son. You need to know about her agoraphobic mother, maybe that mental condition manifested itself in another way in Eva. You need to know about her contempt towards American society, the very society she brought up her son in. You need to know how much importance she gave to her Armenian ancestry and the genocide. You need to know. Because only then you’ll understand the other genocide. That high school genocide.

Devastating. Haunting. Shocking. Mindnumbing. The book kicked me in the pit of my stomach. The book reached inside my heart and squeezed it till it clogged up. The book reached inside my mind, my soul and made me introspect. Yeah.

PS: Two things I didn’t buy. How does Kevin mention ‘flying planes into the World Trade Center’ in April 2011? How does he manage to keep that object he gives his mother in the end? Doesn’t juvi have the same squat and cough rules as in other prisons?

 

Afternote:

Now let’s get personal.

Last week I got a frantic call from a friend. Her 16 year old son had just called the child helpline number and complained about her just because she refused to buy him a laptop. No, not refused. She just didn’t buy it for him the moment he asked for it.

Five years ago, I wrote this 55 word fiction piece.

 “Half that blood is your father’s. How else do I expect you to behave?”She slapped him. “As long as that bitch’s blood runs in your body, don’t call me Appa” He shouted. The mother’s still remained inside when they found him. The father’s blood had coagulated as a pool around that eleven year old wrist.

That was when the same child had threatened to jump off the balcony.

Two years ago, I got this email from my friend. She had fractured her leg and was immobile without her crutches.

$19CD8675CB6F4F0B

 

That was when she had asked the boy to study.

And last Thursday, I took calls the whole day. From the mother, from the father, from the aunt and from the child himself. Horrible language was used, tears were shed, family was disowned, death threats were made. The rage resonated across 600+ kilometers and sent a shiver through my spine.‘ Oru savam inniku vizhum paarungo’. And I thought to myself, ‘If only this was America, this boy would have grabbed a gun and shot a dozen of his classmates’. And that is why I picked up the book from where I had abandoned it. No, he is not Kevin, she is not Eva and he is not Franklin. Thankfully, there is no Celia. This is a more complex story. But in some way, they are too.

We take it for granted in India that ‘good news’ questions are in order two months after the wedding. Why India, even George Clooney’s father-in-law wanted babies even before the wedding pictures were sold to a tabloid. And of course, no woman can not want a baby. She is either a monster, a career minded bitch or just plain hormone deficient if her uterus doesn’t skip a beat whenever she sees tiny crocheted socks or catch a whiff of Johnson’s baby powder. Maybe our society, culture and complex family network helps such monsterwomen overcome their true feelings and go on to make happy families. But you can’t deny that such women do not exist. Or that such thoughts do not cross the minds of some women, even fleetingly.

And then there’s postpartum depression. Maybe our oldwives call it something else. But another friend wept to me five years after her daughter had been born. About how she couldn’t touch the baby for a fortnight, how she hated her husband for feeling so comfortable with the baby. About how when she was alone, she slapped the week old baby. Slapped. The. Week. Old. Baby. Again, our family system complete with gushing mothers and mothers-in-law, neighbors, extended family and long paid maternity leave help tide over this kind of crisis. This child has ofcourse turned out alright.

But I’m afraid. Very afraid now. Is there a Kevin walking among us? How many?

 

52 done. And what a book to finish with!

 

Things Fall Apart- Chinua Achebe :51/52

No literary masterpiece, but a haunting tale. A tale of how things simply fall apart.

I don’t know why I had been putting off reading this book for so long. This was ‘prescribed’ when I finished the Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche series, it was recommended by so many people, but somehow I kept giving it a pass. Anyway better late than never. I finished it in one sitting. Simple narration, simple language, gripping plot. And to think that this was a book whose manuscript almost got lost. Thank god it didn’t. I guess there is an Agbala after all.

Men invade in the name of many things. Race supremacy, greed, power, boredom, religion, to-save-humankind-from-opression ( read: Oil) and finally, the worst of all: To Do Good. And worst of the worst? To Do Good in the name of religion.

Okonkwo is a farmer. A simple farmer leading a simple life in a simple village. Inspite of a wasterel father, he beat the odds, worked hard and is who he is today : A respectable man in his village living happily with his three wives and six children. He is a legendary wrestler, a feareless warrior who drinks palm wine from human skulls. He spends his days planting yams,  beating his wives, celebrating at weddings, sharing manly stories with his sons and complaining about the quality of snuff. He is even one of the egwugwus, the ‘masked ancestors’ who deliver judgements to the village people. The rules in his village are clear and simple: Kill a man’s wife, replace her with another woman. A week before planting, observe Peace Week  so that the gods aren’t angered. Break those rules, pay for it with poultry. Sick from an un-understandable disease, be abandoned in the Evil Forest to die. Twins that cannot be explained, again, Evil Forest. Commit an inadvertant crime, a crime that is categorised ‘female’ (as opposed to a deliberate ‘male’ crime’), be exiled for seven years. Simple.

And it is one of those ‘female’ crimes that sends Okonkwo into exile. And brings him back after seven years to his village that has now been taken over by Christian missionaries, white men. White men who first take away his son, white men who rescue abandoned twins from the Evil Forest, white men who slowly embrace the village outcasts into their fold, white men who bribe villagers with education, white men who create a court and form a government. White men who then supress rebellion. White men who tear things apart. All in the name of their loving god, their only god. All in the name of bringing civilization to ‘savage tribes’.

And it makes me wonder why. Why make Things Fall Apart when you can just Let It Be.

PS: I read some stupid reviews outraging about the misogyny and stuff in the book. Give it a break, yo. That was tribal Africa. Deal with it. 

Afternote:

When I went to Zambia, I went expecting a land of ‘savages and witch doctors’ and starving children. Seriously. As ashamed as I am of stereotyping, I was so disappointed when all I got was five star accommodation and a client who had two Mercedes cars, American university degrees and a membership at the golf club. For sightseeing I was asked to visit the malls and safari parks that charged in USD, flea markets that sold Zimbabwean dollars ( I bought a 100 billion dollar note) and touristy tribal artefacts. The village I visited had old women with cellphones. Of course, it was 2012 and there were no ‘savages and witch doctors’. I rode around the city with the CEO of the company, a devout Christian who only played Christian devotional music or sermons in his car. But he also looked at me and said that he’d take me as his second wife if I had been Zambian. No, he wasn’t hitting on me. He said it like it was a thing. Just like that.

And I saw this idol in a Christian church. I couldn’t figure out who this was. ( There was a ‘normal’ Jesus on the cross too, so was this something carried forward from the ‘heathen’ faith?)

20121020_120052

If it is, I wonder what the White Man has to say about it.

 

 

 

The Lives of Others- Neel Mukheerjee :50/52

A one pm on Doordarshan book

If I had a time machine, I would transport myself into Bengal of the late 60s. Naxalism fascinates me. As a child, I remember someone explaining Naxalite to me : ‘They hate rich people. They behead the man at night and place the head on the doorstep for everyone to see it the next morning’. Something that gave me nightmares, something that made thank god we were not rich. But as I grew older and wiser (?), I began to sympathise with them. Last year I went on a Red Sun and Hello Bastar reading phase, topped by The Lowland and The Shoes of the Dead. Overdosed. So maybe that is why The Lives of Others didn’t hit me as hard as it should have.

There is not a single likeable character in this book, not even Supratik; he fell from that pedestal towards the end. But that’s how reality should be.  A huge messy joint family, the Ghoshes live in a four storey building on 22 Basanta Bose Road. And there is a story in each storey. The patriarch witnessing the slow downfall of the family business he built,  four sons with problems of their own, an unmarried daughter seeped in bitterness and spewing venom, a scheming daughter-in-law, grandchildren ranging from mathematics prodigies to  drug addicts. And a revolutionary Naxalite.

The narration moves between the story of each Ghosh in Calcutta and a diary written by Supratik while hiding in small villages on the Bengal-Orrisa borders. Disillusioned by his comfortable life and the party power politics in the city, he moves to the villages and lives with the farmers there, as one of them, and sows the seed of revolution while he sows seeds of paddy in those fields. The diary he writes is expected to invoke strong feelings, but I was somehow immune to it. I’ve read enough about starving farmers to know that they never win ever. But to whom was he writing this diary? At first, I thought that it was to his mother, then it seemed like it was to his lover. But when the recipient was finally revealed, it left me hanging. The relationship had no form, no closure. And there’s one more uncomfortable relationship in the family, one that is disgusting and disturbing. Weddings, funerals, trade unions, mad professors, terrace romance. You have everything, but without the song and dance or comedy. It is an Ekta Kapoor saga, without the blingy clothes. It is a Visu movie, without the lesson at the end. As I said, it is a one pm on Doordarshan story. And it is a story that is reality even today.

But all these make the book what it is. A slow, long, painful but wonderful journey into the Lives of Others.

Afternote:  Maybe an overdose of such stories where there is no happy ending is a well planned conspiracy to make people like me disillusioned with the revolutionary movement?