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The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher- Hilary Mantel : 59/52

I’m too dense to get most of them.

With Wolf Hall put on hold  because I couldn’t keep up with the Thomases, I picked up this book to get Hilary Mantel in bite sized pieces. But looks like I’m still not deep enough to get her. Or maybe I’m not cool enough.

Do Not Disturb was disturbing. I expected something more stereotypical and was pleasantly and disturbingly surprised. Comma too hit home somewhere. Winter Break left me with goosebumps. The rest, I didn’t get. The most disappointing was the last story, the one in the book title. Not that I expected anything controversial, but it wasn’t as twisty as I hoped it would be. Also, I don’t take Irish terror seriously.

The problem with short-stories is that they leave me wanting more. I can handle those crisp two page stories with twist endings or novellas, but I always have a problem with short-story length short-stories. Also, short-stories need to be read at a leisurely pace, and spaced out over a longer period. I read these at one stretch, and worse, in order. So maybe I need to pick up this book after a few months and read one story at a time again to appreciate it better.

 

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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.

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction : 15/52

When I was growing up, a certain kind of books were widely popular among the typist akkas who worked in the small tea companies in my neighbourhood. They would always have a slim book with a large eyed woman on the cover next to their typewriters. These books were traded back and forth and at some point, the women on the covers would have been embellished with ballpoint pen bindis, additional tendrills of hair and sometimes moustaches or blackened teeth. Ay Naaval Time. There was something in these books. Something. So I left my brains behind and read this translated anthology. And oh, it was one crazy ride.

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The Women: ( Except for the ones in the two sensible Vidya Subramaniam stories)

a) Good ‘family’ women never cut their hair, not even split ends. They get terribly disturbed when they see PDA and the degradation of Indian/ Tamil culture. ‘Modern’ women go to beauty parlours, cut their hair, wear ‘chudithars’, gossip about film stars and some even try to seduce their bosses.

b) When the clue to a murder is a cigarette butt, Tamil women can be eliminated as suspects because they will never even be in a room where there is a cigarette, let alone smoke. ( But on the other side there are also college girls who do drugs and sleep around)

c) They silently bear their husbands’ insults and make cashew pakodas for them

d) There are also ‘free type’ women, the detective’s sidekicks,  who wear shorts and T-shirts with words like ‘Swelling yours’ (ewwwww) written on them. They talk about Debonair and take sleazy innuendos in their stride.

Science Fiction : Idhaya 2020 made me wonder which came first Endhiran or Rajesh Kumar’s robot. And there were Fate Life Readers. But by the time I read the story with NASA astronauts planning conception in outer space, my mind was blown.

The Detective stories : Take a bow Sherlock Holmes. Murders solved from carefully written diary entries, torn magazine covers,  beedi butts under the bed and jasmine scented hankerchieves, again, conveniently dropped under the bed. But I must cut them some slack since one of these stories was written in 1967.

Words :  Most of the words and expressions were explained for non-Tamil readers in the glossary at the end of the book. So you need not wonder what a ragalai or kuja is. But this one word, one that I would love to use in a real life conversation someday, wasn’t explained: Jagadalapradhapan. I’ve been rolling it around on my tongue ever since I read it. 

While I would not buy the next volume of this anthology, I recommend this one. Pulp Fiction deserves its rightful place in Tamil Literature and this book gives you the right sized bite of it.