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Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follet

So much homework

Image result for pillars of the earth

When I finished reading the Century Trilogy, it took me back to those school days and the 20 marks questions we had to mug up for on the ‘Causes, Course and Results’ of the World Wars. As much as a bore it was back then, the world wars never cease to fascinate me now. I enjoyed the Wikiclicking that I did after I finished those books.

The Pillars of the Earth again took me back to Sister Leema’s history classes where we had to mug up pages of Kings and their tiffs with The Papacy (Oh, how I loved the word papacy). And Charlemagne who’s name she pronounced exactly as it was written and we snobs laughed. And these lines from Ms Judy’s English classes, something that stayed with me all these years. (Yes, Wolf Hall is still in my half-read list, I know)

Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies

While the book isn’t exactly about any of these, it just made me Wikiclick through pages and pages of history from the twelfth century, learning about the hierarchy in the church, the dirty politics among the men of god and their overbearing, stifling presence over the State. Interesting how history seems to have now come full circle after all these centuries and the line between the governments and religion is slowly blurring again, but in a part of the world far, far away from England.

Little does Aleina know, that when she rejects her oaf of a suitor William Hameleigh, she has set off a chain of events that will affect the lives of thousands of people across the country, even across the continent, over the next several decades.

Tom the builder’s dream of building a cathedral someday becomes reality when he meets an idealistic monk , Prior Philip of Kingsbridge  who shares the same dream. Over the next several years, this dream cathedral will rise and fall and then rise again, fighting against all odds, battling enemies both known and unknown.

There is a saying that if there’s a devil residing in the roof of a house, there is a devil residing in each tile of a monastery. The politics between the men of God is fascinating. The very human emotions that they force themselves to control, surface over and over again, showing its ugly head in shocking ways. The book is full of strong women, be it Aliena who carries her entitled brother on her shoulders throughout her life or Ellen the ex-novice from a convent, the woman who lived in sin, the witch who’s curses come true. Or even the Regan Hameleigh, the grotesque, who is the real force behind her villainous son William.

Tom the Builder is boringly uncharacteristic and Prior Philip is frustratingly good. Father Sam in Kadal had shades of him. Jack is that hero who is a tad bit too heroic, his travels across Europe and his encounters with the exotic middle eastern  family seemed a bit too contrived. And then there are wimpy men like Richard who lives off his sister all his life while waiting for his earldom to be restored to him. Even the king is a weak man, fickle and clueless. The strongest male character was Waleran, the ambitious bishop, the man of god who thinks he can control the little universe under him like he is god himself.

Spoiler, but I would have preferred it if the book ended with the cathedral being finally built and everyone being happyhappy at last. But it had to drag on so that there could be more bloodshed and mess in an attempt to plug in another real historical character right at the very end of the book. That’s where I began to skim through the book. Mercifully, it ended in the next ten or so pages.

My biggest mistake while reading the book was to attempt to watch the series in parallel. Big, big mistake. The very first episode gave away the suspense that was created in the very first pages of the book, something that was revealed in the book only several hundreds of pages later. I attempted to watch the series again after finishing the book, but the differences between the two were too many. I preferred the version that ran in my head while reading and so I stopped.

While I actively sought out and read the two sequels after reading The Fall of Giants, I am not too keen on reading The World Without End right now. I got all the closure I needed with all the characters in this book, so I’ll give the sequel a wait. Maybe I’ll pick it up in another few months.

Toxic People

Sometimes you have to be brutal and take some time to revise the ratings on all your relationships. When BFFs get downgraded to Friends and Friends get downgraded to Acquaintances. And Acquaintances leave the system and become just People.This is something that is absolutely necessary, something that you should do from time to time for the sake of your own mental health. Your ‘enemies’ aren’t the ones who are dragging you down. Your toxic friends are.

All of us have a dash of these toxins in us, that is natural, normal and that is what makes us human. But there are some people in my life whose toxicity is beyond the permissible limits. And it is time to do a Maggi on them.

The Thundercloud:

Actually, she is the one who finds the tarnish in the silver linings of each thundercloud. The one who blames the cruel hand of destiny when her maid doesn’t turn up. Or blames her wretched, meaningless existence for the TataSky outage. She will rue the day she was born when she can’t get her winged eyeliner straight. She will text you from the immigration queue at the airport when she’s just back from her third foreign holiday this year to complain about the monotony of her life. She can send you on a guilt trip if you  by telling you about the time her second standard teacher didn’t respond to a question she asked, and how that is the way things have always been with her in her invisible, insignificant life if you don’t reply to her text messages within ten seconds. Victim Olympics? Always wins gold. She is the one who makes you ask yourself the existential question: ‘Do I hate myself enough?’

a song of ice and fire first world problems gif

The Self Centered Diva 

She’s the one who is oblivious to the fact that you haven’t ‘had a birthday’ for the past six years that you’ve been friends. To quote Gabby Solis, she is so self-centered that she doesn’t realize how self-centered you are. She’ll stop you in the middle of a sentence with a wave of her French manicured hand when you’re telling her about how worried you are about the IT industry these days with an ‘Ok. Whatever. Now listen’ and then go on to tell you about the awesome pongal she had for breakfast two days ago. She is the one who gets passive aggressive and deletes a comment she made on your picture when you don’t Like her latest picture on Facebook. That high maintenance diva with whom you can never catch up. Ever. But if you stick on a bit longer, you’ll find yourself getting depressed because you are not her.

God’s salespeople: 

These are the ones who have a god or a godman for every situation in life. Job hunt not working out? They will tell you about a temple that will get you a job in Google. In America. Hung up on your ex? There’s this swami who can get him back for you with a gold amulet on your bicep. Piles? Forty days of lighting candles in this church can make your bowel movements feel like trips to a spa. Trust me, these people aren’t evil Vatican agents or Mullahs or RSSwallahs trying to ‘convert’ you. They are actually harmless wellwishers who actually believe in these things. But give them a bit of space in your life and before you know it you’ll be sitting in a day-long clapfest listening to people talk in tongues,putting locks on trees to shut your enemies up or hanging a five rupee coin wrapped in a green cloth on your doorway. Religion should be like your sexual preferences. Whatever works for you, fine. I’m happy for you,but I don’t want to know.

The Saviour:

Oh, these are the ones who cannot bear to see you happy. They are the opposite of fair-weather friends. They thrive on your misery . They have some kind of radar that picks up even the smallest drop in your happiness chart and will be at your side to console you even before you realise that you’re supposed to be unhappy. And if you’re not unhappy, they will make sure you get there by digging up a dark moment from a decade ago and reminding you about it. They know what your buttons are, where they are and how exactly to push them. And then, they think they know how to make you better. You’ll want to reach out to them every time something good happens in your life, to let them know that you’re happy and to try to erase that opinion they have of you: A sad miserable wretch. But don’t. Because to them, you’ll always be that sad miserable wretch. Even if you go to them riding on your pet unicorn through a rainbow cloud.

Unfiltered Sunshine:

She is the one who is always obscenely happy. She puts glitter in the imaginary word bubbles when she speaks to you. She looks at a wooden bench with faded paint in a busstop and can Instagram the ‘rustic beauty’ of it. With thirty five hashtags. She gets multiple orgasms over a piece of cheesecake. Nothing is not Awesome to her. Actually, she could add more synonyms for Awesome in her vocabulary. Sunshine is good, but there’s a reason why we don’t get it 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Let the culling begin!

Uh oh. I’ve become Buzzfeed. I’ve actually included gifs in this post 

Ball and Chain

This discussion today just reminded me of a story I’d written some years ago. I kindof cringe at the whole story now, but it anyway I hope it is not as bad as this  book

Karthika took the thali up to her face and touched each eye with it. It was her way of showing reverence to the symbol of her marriage. To her husband.

It was her mother-in-law’s Puja, where every year a group of married women got together and prayed for their husband’s lives. They held out their thalis to be anointed with the sacred red kumkum. Praying that they would never have to remove their thalis until the day they die. It was a blessed boon to die as a still married woman.

Karthika was one confused woman. She was twenty eight, convent educated, had a master’s degree in computer engineering. She had traveled to three countries and worked with Americans and Europeans. But in her heart she was still the small town girl from Tamilnadu. It was an identity crisis she couldn’t cope with. She knew that the thali and the sentiments that her mother, mother-in-law and grandmother thrust on her was just a blind ancient tradition, fuelled further by endless Tamil movies.

Her husband’s life and future did not depend on the appendage hanging on the heavy rope shaped gold chain on her neck. Her brain told her that, but her small town heart said something else. Why anger the Gods? So she wore it and treated it with the expected amount of respect. Sometimes she wished that she could trade it for a lighter more delicate model. Like the black bead mangalsutras the North Indians wore. She had suggested it once, but her mother-in-law had been scandalized. This was her family’s pride and self respect that hung on her neck. Not something that could be compromised.

Her mother-in-law always made it a point to mention that they had given her a thali chain that weighed eleven sovereigns. Eighty eight grams. She conveniently never mentioned the hundred sovereigns of gold that Karthika’s father had decked his daughter in. Or even the ten odd sovereigns that were gifted to the groom, her husband Ram. Bracelets and chains that, thankfully, he never wore.

The moment the marriage broker had shown Ram’s profile to her father, he had decided that Ram should become his son- in- law. A post graduate, only son, no bad habits, earning over a lakh a month, own flat in Chennai. The works. Ram was every father’s dream for his daughter. Most importantly their horoscopes had matched perfectly.

What more could a retired railway employee ask for. He had immediately given his consent to the alliance and withdrawn his entire life’s savings from the Post Office deposits for the wedding expenses. It did not even occur to him to ask Karthika for her consent. But anyway, Karthika wouldn’t have dared to say no even if he had asked her.

She went through the lavish wedding as she was expected to and dutifully slipped into wedded life with no hiccups. All her jewellery had been put back into the safety locker immediately after the wedding. Only the eleven sovereign thali chain and two bangles remained on her. It was almost three years now, and she had forgotten what her jewellery looked like.

Over the first year of her marriage they had kept adding to her thali. The thali itself was typical to her community. A one inch long odd shaped piece of gold with two protruding peaks. Supposed to signify something divine, but she felt it looked more like a frog with protruding eyes. There were some gold beads added after three months, then some gold tubes. Then a couple of black beads. It kept getting heavier and heavier, weighing her down. But each addition increased her husband’s life. She accepted dutifully.

Even when she went to the US for three months she was not allowed to remove it. She wore it hidden deep inside shirts as she travelled to work every day. One daring moment in an office party she had unbuttoned an extra button on her shirt, hoping to expose a bit of cleavage like her American counterparts. But to her ill luck, it was the thali that popped out unexpectedly and was noticed rather than her breasts. She spent the rest of the evening showing it to admiring Americans who were fascinated by the whole concept of the thali, and more so by the concept of supposedly “For the Rest of your Life”. Something totally alien in a land of speed dating and speedier divorces.

The chain chaffed the skin at the back of her neck in the hot Chennai summers. The thali created a small black scar just below her breasts where it constantly rubbed against her sensitive skin. There were moments when she was tempted to remove it. But something deep inside her knew that she could never forgive herself if anything happened to Ram if she did remove it. Sometimes she wanted to pull it off and hurl it into the ocean, fantasizing at the thought of her thali creating a fault in the ocean floor and causing a tsunami centuries later, like the idol in the movie Dasavatharam.

Once she wondered what would happen if she got into a swimming pool wearing nothing but the chain. Maybe she would sink like a stone?

But otherwise, she silently wore it. Never complaining. Ball and chain around her neck. To be relieved only in death.

Ram himself had been a bitter disappointment. She had grown up on a good dose of Hindi and Tamil movies. She expected him to sweep her off her feet with small romances and surprises. She expected a honeymoon at least in Ooty if not in Switzerland. But instead they had gone on a temple tour. With his entire family in tow.

She sometimes wished he would sneak up behind her in the kitchen and squeeze her waist naughtily, knowing well that his mother was watching TV in the next room. She longed for jasmine flowers placed on the pillow some night, a subtle suggestion of what lay ahead. A suggestive email or SMS in the middle of work, surprise weekend beach trips and long walks on the golden sands.

But that was not Ram. He was a good husband. A great provider. A supportive man. He was well read and well traveled. But that was it. There were times when she even wondered whether he was normal. He had no friends, (and therefore no bad habits according to her father), no hobbies, nothing. He was a workaholic, which again was a good thing according to her father. He watched cricket matches, but only because he felt he had to keep track of statistics. He watched movies, but only because he could critically analyse the lighting andangles and find faults in the direction. He watched the news on every channel each night for an “In depth analysis”. He read almost every newspaper in circulation. That was all there was to him.

They had gone to the doctor some time ago since she had not conceived even after two years of marriage. The doctor did all the tests and had told them that nothing was wrong with both of them and they should keep trying. Karthika tried to make the situation lighter, “Sure Doctor,” she had said “At least the “trying” part is fun”.

The doctor had laughed heartily and agreed. But Ram sat there with his face set like stone, shocked at his wife’s words. Not something that a “Family girl” would say openly. He drove back home in a hurt silence, while Karthika looked out of the window trying hard not to giggle recollecting his stunned expression.

On the whole he was a bore. A good man, but a big bore.

He frustrated her with his timetables. He never had his breakfast before eight o’clock or after nine o’clock in the morning. Many Sundays when her in-laws were out of town, they had bitter arguments over breakfast served after ten. He woke up at five o’clock every morning to do his yoga while she stayed in bed enjoying the last lazy moments stretching luxuriously, fantasizing about the imaginary surprises in store for her that day.

He even had a fixed time for making love. No sex before ten pm was the unwritten rule.

It was like an imaginary lock he had installed on the bedroom door. Swipe in before ten pm, and the lock would beep loudly, red lights blinking wildly. Access denied.

And when the Love was actually Made, it was as process oriented as his projects. Done with perfect textbook precision, error free, time bound. Within the budget. She could sometimes even sense the status updates he kept giving himself every minute. Five minutes more to go for project delivery. Now four minutes. Three.

Actually, doctor, the trying is not fun

And then, three months ago her life had changed. Vinod had joined her project as a senior manager. He was a tall cheerful man, full of life. He had a great sense of humour and was a great conversationalist. He even joked about his divorce during lunch with the team once.

“I was George Bush and she was Bin Lady” he said with a booming laugh, “it was doomed from the beginning.”

He took everything with such ease that even deadlines became something to look forward to after his arrival. He made small jokes during status meetings and crazy faces during con-calls with foreign clients. The entire team loved him. But for Karthika, it was something much deeper. In Vinod she began to see all that she wanted to see in Ram. Her feelings did not go unnoticed.

Vinod too began to find himself drawn to her. There were a lot of unsaid words hanging in the glass walled conference rooms long after they had discussed the project status. There were a lot of unnecessary daily updates that they gave each other sitting across the table, gazing into each others eyes. She began to feel his presence even before she saw him enter the room. She sometimes felt a delicious shiver run through her body, only to look up and catch him staring at her with brimming desire from across the hall. The air around them kept getting thick with a fog of sexual energy, and she found herself getting drawn deeper and deeper, closer to him inside that fog.

It was the celebration of their project delivery that Friday. They had abandoned their workstations and taken off to a beach resort. While the rest of the team rejoiced in the liquor that had begun to flow by five pm and beach cricket, Karthika and Vinod sat on the sand, looking aimlessly into the horizon. The silence between them spoke everything they wanted to say to each other. His hand slowly crept across the sand and reached out to hers. She immediately sensed it and withdrew her hand even before their fingers touched.

Darkness slowly began to set it. Dinner was served. Everyone chattered animatedly over the banquet forgetting office pressures. Karthika and Vinod spoke to everyone else, but between themselves the only words that passed were through their eyes.

The team packed themselves into the four cars for their return trip. Karthika went straight and sat in Vinod’s car. She knew that Venkat would be driving past her house, so before he suggested that she get into his car she went into Vinod’s car and closed the door. Three others got into the back seat. Everyone had exhausted their words and it was music that filled the car on the way back. After they had dropped off the others, it was just the two of them in the car. The silence continued.

He stopped in front of a building. “This is where I live”, he said, breaking the silence at last. “Do you want to come in for a cup of coffee?” It was ten pm. She could hear her heart beat bouncing off the car doors loudly.

Her heart cried out

“Yes”

She took a deep breath.

“No”. It came out as a whisper.

He didn’t say a word. He dropped her in front of her apartment and waited till she got inside, then drove away.

The next day she woke up with a terrible headache at 8 o’clock in the morning. Ram looked at her accusingly, when she gave him his coffee at 8.30. The neglected husband. He always had it at 7 am. His parents had already left for Tirupati early in the morning.

Karthika looked at the clock, and decided to finish breakfast before 9 to avoid another accusing stare.

She tried hard to blank out the events of the previous day as she made the dosas. She sang loudly with the radio and tried hard to concentrate on what the blabbering DJs were saying. But the same words kept echoing in her mind all the time.

 “Do you want to come in for a cup of coffee?”

“No”.

The afternoon was hot and sultry. It looked like it was going to rain. Ram was sitting on the sofa reading the news paper like he was giving an exam on the news the next day. She went up and sat next to him. She picked up the remote and surfed through some random channels. The clouds outside were becoming dark and menacing. She stopped at a music channel. It was a hot song sequence. The heroine was dripping wet in a black saree, worn precariously low over her hips and seducing a reluctant hero.

Karthika pulled up her feet on the sofa, snuggled closer to Ram and looked up into his eyes. He lay down the news paper, looked at the TV screen. He said nothing, he just smiled. He took the remote from her hand and went back two channels. BBC News.

Access card swiped before ten pm. Access denied.

Of Course.

She got up in a huff, visibly upset and angry and went to the bedroom. Blindly she changed her clothes. She reached out for a light blue saree. Draped it carelessly, clipped her hair up  and grabbed her handbag.

“I’m going to the beauty parlour”, she said and rushed out of the door angrily. He said nothing; he got up to close the door. It was only after she got into the auto rickshaw and heard herself saying, “Anna Nagar” that she herself realized where she was headed.

It was not to the beauty parlour.

The auto rickshaw stopped in front of the now familiar building from the previous night. She picked up her phone and dialed.

“What is your apartment number?” she asked brusquely.

“C45”, he answered, confused.

She hung up before he could say anything else.

A few minutes later, she stood outside C45. There was no hesitation when she rang the doorbell. Vinod opened the door, a look of total surprise in his eyes. She pushed him and walked past into the living room with fierce determination.

“I have come for that cup of coffee you offered yesterday”

He stared at her for a moment and his face broke out into a grin. He looked like a happy schoolboy who had just been selected for the football team.

He turned and went into the kitchen.

She stared behind him, a bit confused, as he walked away.” Coffee? Really?” she thought to herself.

She looked around and entered his bedroom. She stood in front of the mirror.

She removed the barrette and let her hair fall to her shoulders, and ran her fingers through her silky tresses. She turned around and studied herself.

”Not too bad” she thought.

That moment, he entered with two cups of coffee. He placed the cups on the dressing table and looked at her. Without a word, he opened his arms. Happily, she rushed in, leaving the coffee to grow cold.

He kissed her hungrily, wetting her face like an eager puppy. His hands moved all over her body, not knowing where to begin. He gently laid her on the bed and lay down beside her. She sank into the pillow, trying to bypass all the thoughts that came rushing into her mind at full speed, all at once, competing for priority.

He removed her saree pallu, fumbling with the pin, poking into her shoulder as he removed it. He looked at her breasts in the light blue blouse and he buried his face between them. She had never felt this sort of a heady feeling in her life before. She sank deeper and deeper into the moment, eagerly awaiting the ecstasy to follow. She felt a sudden throbbing. She remembered the woman from the porn movie she had once watched secretly. She transformed herself into the porn star. She grabbed his head with a savage energy, running her fingers through his hair, pushing him deeper into her chest. Suddenly the throbbing became more urgent; she wanted his wet kisses there. With the same savage force, she pushed his head downwards.

The next moment she was thrown forward and he screamed with pain.

There is no other way to recreate the last few seconds except through an action replay.

In slow motion.

Rewind…….. naip hitw demaercs eh……….

He was enjoying her at his own pace, panting heavily, dribbling all over her, when the porn star took over. As she grabbed his head and pushed it downwards, his open mouth had gotten caught on her thali. Caught between the savage monster pushing him downwards and the eighty odd grams of gold rope pulling him upwards, his upper lip got fish hooked in the gold appendages that hung between her breasts and tore, dripping blood all over the blue chiffon pallu spread across the bed like a fan.

She stood up in horror and instinctively grabbed her thali, rubbing the back of her neck where the impact had grazed her. There was a bright red glob of blood on the very peaks where auspicious kumkum of the same colour had adorned it the previous week. She grabbed her pallu and wiped it off quickly.

She stared for a moment at the figure in front of her, hair disheveled standing up like two horns on either side of his head, bare chested  blue jeans unzipped, holding the bloodied bed sheet to his bleeding lip, face distorted in pain.

What began as a small giggle slowly evolved into a loud hysterical laughter as she ran out of the bedroom, out into the hallway, into the street. Into the pouring rain.

It was only when she sat down in an auto rickshaw, still laughing, that she realized that there were tears running down her cheeks.

Whether they were tears of laughter, tears of sorrow, tears of relief or tears of realization. She couldn’t tell.

The Promise- Danielle Steel : 56/52

Lulz

a) I’m too old for this kind of drivel

b) This wasn’t drivel back in 1978

c) I’m too hardhearted and cynical to understand Love

Chances are that the right answer might be option c.

After the thundercloud of This Divided Island, I wanted some cotton candy fluffy clouds. The Promise was one of those books that Chitrakka made be get for her from V K Library. It was the rage back then. Longlongago. I think I even tried to read it as a teenager, I do have vague memories of some beads being buried on a beach. But I don’t think I finished reading the book back then. The story was totally new to me now, new meaning roll-your-eyes-at-the-cliched-plot kind of new.

All it lacked was six songs and two fight scenes. Otherwise it was the perfect BollyKollyTollywood plot. I’m sure this book must have been made into an Indian movie. Or was it too lame for even that? Rich boy, poor girl, villi mother. Lou. Accident, lies, plastic surgery, Devdasish mode. Two years later meet, don’t recognise, fight, make up. Live happily everafter.

Classic Danielle Steel setting: everything and everyone is beautiful. Perfectly dressed women, effortlessly chic in Channel or in miraculous bargain buys . Gold clasp handbags, luxury luggage, gold cigarette cases, gold watch fobs. Adorable doggies, breathtaking views from the window. The works.  And the typical Danielle Steel relationships: old people in love, young people in love, young woman in love with a man 20 years her senior. Gaaaaaah.

Anyway. I wanted fluff, I got fluff.

 

Afternote:

And suddenly I realised that this was part of the theme in Anbe Sivam. Rich girl, poor boy. Elopement, accident, disfigured face. Lies. That movie wasn’t about love as it was about other things, but I did wonder what Bala would have done if she had seen Nalla in the end. The romantic in me ( there isn’t one) wants to say that she would have called off the wedding and lived regretfully ever after with an ugly but principled husband. And the cynic in me ( there’s lots of her) says that she would have pretended not to recognise him or brushed him off with gentle words and lived happily everafter with the handsome Ars. What would I have done? I love communists with their lofty ideals and impractical principles, but I think I too would have chosen the MNC slave adman.  But no, the disfigured face wouldn’t have mattered to me.

What do you think would have happened?

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

My biological clock just left the building.

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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.

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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!

 

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.

2014: Dystopia

My previous post and the comment there just got me thinking. What sort of dystopia will scare the bejeesus out of me?

Full Disclosure: I may or may not be one of these.

2014

The year is 2014. The social media wave that had swept over the lovely little Subcontinent has now turned into a social media tsunami. The first generation of innocent Orkutiyas have now evolved into Facebookers and Twitteratti, a more dangerously stupid breed.

Armed with a bunch of photos They sit behind computer monitors, unleashing the virus. The contagion spreads quickly and Gullibility and Stupidity  slowly starts eating into the brains of Facebookers and Twitteratti. It is now ingrained in their DNA. Inbreeding of Orkutiyas, Facebookers and Twitteratti has created a new species: Social Media Morons. They have the characteristics of all three. Concentrated. They can see, they can read. But they can’t think. They can’t analyse. They have lost the ability to Unbelieve. When they see a photo that has been unleashed upon them by Them, they lose the ability to right click on it and select Search Google for this Image. They have forgotten how to use the easiest tool known to mankind: Google. The moment these Social Media Morons see such pictures, they can only click  on three buttons : Share. Retweet. Forward. In rare cases, they are able to exercise self control and click on safer options like Like or Favourite.

But thankfully, a few citizens of the Subcontinent have been immune to the virus. They have been able to resist Gullibility and Stupidity and their brains have developed a protective shield. These people are the Super Cynics. They know how to Google. They haven’t lost the ability to use their brains. They know how to Unbelieve.

Just last night, a Super Cynic saw this. This Super Cynic isn’t too techsavvy, so forgive photo quality.

Exhibit A:

2014-07-30 20.24.21

A normal brain, an average pre Social Media brain, would have looked at atleast the second picture and wondered if this is actually somewhere on the way to Vaishnodevi or even just a railway track. Even a pre Social Media brain sitting in the deep south of the subcontinent where there are no mountains, only sea, would wonder. And then the brain would realise that the first picture is somewhere near Goa, the Konkan Railway line. The second and third picture is from some foreign locale that may soon be seen in a Bollywood movie. And the fourth picture may be of that of the actual Vaishnodevi Railway station, the one where a certain Person recently flagged off the train. Or something. And another Person nitpicked.

But sadly, now the Social Media Morons can do just one thing: Believe. Blindly, Truly, Madly, Deeply Believe.

Exhibit B:

Guj

The key words here that would have triggered off the alarm bells in a pre Social Media brain are ‘Gujarat’  and the M word. A simple right click on the picture and selecting Search Google for this Image would have thrown up atleast 10 results that indicate that the picture was from 2005 and the Mumbai floods. Not from Gujarat or last week’s rains. But no. The keywords, the G word and the M word, have formed a numbing layer on the brain here and the person is unable to look beyond them.

And worse. The Social Media Morons who responded to this image exhibit different forms of moronism. ‘This is not a photo from Gujrat, but from Uttrakhand. Don’t make a fool of public!’.  Don’t make a fool… metametameta.

And the Super Cynics just continue to shake their heads in sad defeat and only hope that someone will find a cure and control this epidemic of Social Media Moronism.

Recommended reading: Plenty. But what’s the point?

Edit: Couldn’t help but share this. For the wellbeing of future generations.