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The Colour Purple- Alice Walker : 5/52 (Colour)

Such a feel good book.

Whaat? Yes. To me, it was a feel good book. Because, read it to know why.

Celie. Young, traumatized, lost, helpless Celie writes letters to god because she has no one else to write to. She tells god about how she got big after her Pa visited her at night. She tells god about the babies she gave birth to, the babies that disappeared, the baby she saw again with the pastor’s wife. About how she was made to marry Mister___ just to look after him and his horrid kids because her father refused to let her younger and prettier sister Nettie marry him. Through these letters,she tells god the story of her life. She doesn’t complain, she doesn’t ask him for anything. She just tells him.

Her closest relative is her sister Nettie who suddenly leaves her life, and then Shug enters. Shug, her husband Mister____’s mistress. Shug who had children with Mister_____.But again, Celie just takes it in as what was meant to be. She nurses Shug back to health and the two women form a bond that is so tender, so beautiful and oh so disturbingly twisted. All the relationships in the book are so strong and beautiful. Celie and Sophia, two women at the opposite ends of the spectrum. While Celie submits to fate, Sophia punches fate in the nose, be it her husband Harpo or his new girlfriend Squeak or the mayor’s wife. The women and men are so different, but so much the same. They love, they live, they laugh, they bond. And inspite of everything, they stay together as one big happy family. There are round houses, there are pink houses and there are pretty pants. Yes, it is a happy book because not once did I lose hope. There was always something that kept telling me that things will change for everyone, and it did. Maybe it was the way Celie looked at life with no expectations. Such and attitude shames god and he feels guilty and so, he gives.

I usually don’t highlight much, but in this book, I highlighted almost an entire chapter. The one where Shug and Celie talk about god. It was such a stimulating discussion and it gave me an answer that no one has been able to give me all these years. That is god to me.

The book moves to Africa and gives you a glimpse of life in an African village through the eyes of a black American woman. Something quite the opposite of Americanah. Much of that reminded me of Things Fall Apart. How the white man makes inroads into the continent in the name of civilizing the heathen natives, bringing progress and development and taking away the little bit of life that they have.

There’s graphic sex and violence, there’s deep racism, there’s capitalism, there’s chauvinism, there’s a wide gender divide. But it also overcomes. Everything.

I really don’t understand why this book was so controversial. Maybe those who outraged about it didn’t read it till the very end.

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?

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?)

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

 

 

 

The Associate- John Grisham :49/52

A poor man’s The Firm

John Grisham is my go to guy when I want an easy read that is not chicklit. Read this book somewhere in between a couple of heavy reads, but never got down to logging it in my list. Nothing to write home about, but it is one of those books that you can finish over the weekend.

An alleged rape video secretly filmed during his college days comes back to bite Kyle. He gets blackmailed into accepting a job that he is hesitant to because though it is lucrative, but against his ideals. The blackmailers want him to be the mole there and get hold of some confidential files related to some biggie defence deal. A nail biting, hmmm no, I can’t call it nail biting. A tight game of hide and seek and a murder later he manages to do the right thing. And lives happily ever after.

The best part of this book is that it leaves a loose end. I usually get irritated when a book ends without providing me with all the answers, but I liked the part that left me guessing in this one.

I’m a sucker for American legal stuff. Going by expertise in American law based on the legal dramas on TV and  all the John Grisham books I’ve read, I think they have the coolest legal system. Not the best, but the coolest. Like that old joke goes, I would love to go to America someday just to trip on the sidewalk and sue someone. And then retire comfortably.

Digital Fortress- Dan Brown :39/52

Geek fiction

If I had to read this book back in 1998 when it was published I would have chucked it after the first few pages. Back then cryptology meant Aravind Swamy in Roja, NSA was something I hadn’t heard about and ‘computers’ to me meant MS Word and MS Paint.  But now I’m in that comfortable place where I am aware of NSA and their snooping, knowledgeable enough to understand bigbig computer  terms and ignorant enough look beyond any technical inaccuracies in this book.  Book snobs might look down upon Dan Brown and his readers but that’s them. I like Dan Brown.

The plot : Someone has created the holy grail of encryption software or something and the NSA wants it. Because this means that everyone’s secrets will be safe inside the Digital Fortress and  the American government can’t peek into people’s bathrooms emails all over the world. This miracle code thingy has put NSA’s supersnooper computer TRANSLTR on a digital wild goose chase and it is unable to break it. Like in all Dan Brown thrillers here also you have  the standard threesome: a  boss, a beautiful woman with brains and a clueless professor dragged into something that doesn’t concern him in any way. You also have the mandatory mysterious assassin with the odd name, a clock ticking away on a countdown and a puzzle that needs to be solved. Then there is the standard parallel good intentioned person(s) trying to figure out/ stop what the main three are up to.  And of course a nailbiting chase that happens in a European country with some gruesome murders thrown in for extra flavour.  Then the item, here it is a  ring, that has an inscription or something that has to be solved to stop the digital apocalypse or something. And spoiler: The  boss. Wait. Did I just join the book snob club?

The puzzles: North Dakota. Hello, we know that Dan Brown likes anagrams. I figured that out longlong before they did. The ‘mystery’ code in the ring was such an anticlimax. Hiroshima-Nagasaki. Uranium 235-238. Hello, that was so so obvious. I could have solved that  five pages before they did.

But anyway. Typical or not, I enjoyed the book. A much needed quickie thriller. I’ve crossed out all the Dan Brown books off the list now. And I’m eagerly waiting for his next one.

 

No Time for Goodbyes-Andaleeb Wajid: 30/52

‘This girl picked up a Polaroid photo she found in her attic. You won’t believe what happened after that’

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How I met my mother.

Tamanna, a typical teenager, goes up to her ‘attic’ looking for some peace and quiet to read her Harry Potter. A polaroid photograph falls out of somewhere, she picks it up. And the next minute she finds herself in her grandmother’s house. Only, she isn’t her grandmother yet. And her own mother and aunts are teenagers. And it is 1982. And with Tamanna, you also take that trip to those good old days of a cleaner, greener Bangalore.When busfares were paid with ten paisa coins and movie tickets cost ten rupees. But also a Bangalore where there is no Death by Chocolate icecream or Christmas sales in malls.

In an impossible world where Tamanna is actually older than her mother, she finds herself caught between a feeling of being lost and a feeling of being home.And to make things even more impossible, she falls in love with Manoj, the dishy neighbor. Manoj’s grandfather is the one who actually brougnt her to 1982 through one of his experimental time travel cameras.But this unassuming old man, who is not the typical timetravel mad scientist, has no clue as to how to send her back.
And so, while he works on his experiments with the camera, tying to figure out a way to send her thirty years into the future again,Tamanna sits back and enjoys 1982. She introduces her aunt to Harry Potter, tries to explain her cellphone that doesn’t work and gives out spoliers to the cricket world cup that India is going to win the next year.

But once back in 2012, a world where there is no trace of Manoj, she starts trying every trick possible to go back thirty years again. She succeeds. And then…

Written so differently from her previous books, this book is refreshingly light after the recent serious More than Just Biriyani.

Easy and fast paced, this is a book that you can pick up for one crazy Freaky Friday like ride

Sita’s Curse- Sreemoyee Piu Kundu: 29/52

She lost me at ‘Feminist Erotica’. And then I saw the promo video, the one with a woman eating a mango more sensuously than Katrina Kaif, and it got me curious. But if this is ‘feminism’, hand me my pink chaddis already.

Spoilers ahead. But hey, this is not the kind of book you read for the plot.

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‘After 15 years of a loveless marriage…’ it says. Love? Hah.

Meera. The ordinary girl from the village. The girl who starts off her sexual journey with incest, moves on to underage discovery, graduates to doing it with a stranger on a riverbank, experiments with another woman and finally gets into that supposedly loveless marriage.

The husband ofcourse is,well, inadequate.  Mohan, inconsistent wimpy creature that he is, tries hard. He really tries. He tries at home, he tries in a movie theater, he tries on the public road behind a parked car. He tries. He even calls her up in the middle of the day and has a very contrived, shudderworthy conversation describing various pieces of imported lingerie. The poor man.  He tries. But hello, what about love shove and all that.

In between the extremely graphic scenes a bit of story happens. And then she goes on to have Guruji sex, indulges in icky voyeurism ( thanks to the lustworthy brother-in-law and his wife), lots of self pleasuring and some more. And then some more. Wait. That’s not all. There is a rendezvous with the hot dance teacher neighbour and some cliched partying with classmates from her English class.

And finally she ushers in the internet era and discovers the pleasures of cyber sex using webcams in paid chatrooms. Oh, the book doesn’t disappoint. These scenes come complete with graphic chats with mumbailover (well researched, I assume ). And then that cataclysmic day finally happens with the earth shaking climax : A  gigolo who completes her search for whatever she is searching for. A godman, his assistant, a neighbour, cheesy classmates, chatrooms and a man who charges three thousand rupees per hour. What more can a woman trapped in a loveless marriage ask for? Seriously.

Yes, the book is not meant to titillate. It is meant to make you cringe. No, I’m not a prude. I’m so ‘modern’ that I was even disappointed with the level of erotica in the 50 Shades books. But this book is pure ick. I have no other words to describe it. Written in first person, it makes it even more icky. There’s so much of sex, that towards the end I skimmed through the scenes just to get to the damn story.

You know those sleazy websites like indian sax stories dot com ( how do I know? Puhleese). Those websites that have ‘true’ stories born out of suppressed fantasies and written in really bad grammar? This book is  like a compilation of all those stories, but with the grammar and spellings corrected. Complete with backless cholis and conveniently slipping pallus.

Sita. Where does she come in? I don’t know. She is plugged into the book in a few places, but I don’t understand the connection. Maybe I should read between the sheets. I have half a mind to call in the culturebrigade and outrage about misusing Sita’s name.

Verdict? Nope. I couldn’t digest it. But maybe you can.

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