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Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy. A name that evokes extreme emotions. You either hate her or love her, there’s nothing in between. And you either hate the people who love her or love the people who hate her. Again, nothing in between. But my love for Arundhati Roy began long before she won the Booker (and the wrath of some people for ‘vulgarity’ in That Book), long before she called Maoists Gandhians with Guns, long before she said that Kashmir wasn’t an integral part of India, long before she wrote those pages and pages of essays about everything from dams to ‘alleged’ terrorists. My love for her began in a gentler time, simpler time. In one of those long lazy summer afternoons when I used sprawl out in the sunshine on the verandah and read Target, that magazine that shaped the childhoods of the 80s kids. (The silly puns we make on Twitter were made decades ago in the Ha Ha pages of Target.)

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So one month, in an article which would now probably appear in some listicle as ’10 Multitasking Superheros who hold 5 jobs’  or something as lame, there was this feature about Arundhati Roy. She was an ‘Aerobics instructor who is also an actress, scriptwriter and something else that I don’t rememember clearly’.But she was four things in that feature. And in that black an white photograph that accompanied the writeup, she was the Rahel I would see many many years later. In that interview she spoke about how her mother Mary Roy fought for property rights of married Syrian Christian women. About how her mother started the Corpus Christi school and how since she was the first student of the school that followed no traditional syllabus, she had read Macbeth before she was 10 years old. Macbeth, which again, Rahel and Estha would quote in That Book. She spoke about her dog, Kuttapan Patti Swami Om Prakash. Google doesn’t throw up any results for that name, but I know that it isn’t a figment of my childhood imagination because I remember almost chanting the name because it had that zingy ring to it (Yawn, yes. Like Rahel and Estha chanted Nictating ictating tating ating ting, but inside my head.) That dog would become Khubchand. She was the dropout architect whom I would picture  Rahel as many years later. No, there was no Velutha or Baby Kochamma in that interview. And no, because That Book isn’t exactly autobiographical. She spoke about the script she wrote for In which Annie Gives It Those Ones and how Annie was actually a grubby guy named Anand. ( Since it is out here, I must watch this atleast now). And about her aerobics. And whatever other things that could be fit into that one page feature about her.

And that was when I fell in love with Arundhati Roy.

Arundhati Roy:  Aerobics Instructor, actress, scriptwriter, could-have-been-architect and Something-else-I-Can’t-Remember. Arundhati Roy: Soon to be Booker prize winning, Maoist sympathising, Gandhi-hating, dam-damning,terrorist-supporting, seditious anti-national.

Yes. I can say for sure that I had a girlcrush on her decades before girlcrush became an actual word. She is one of those people I never question. Maybe she has impractical dreams in this practical world. Maybe she only sees problems and doesn’t offer solutions. Maybe she dares to voice her support for people who shouldn’t be supported. Maybe. Maybe not. But I am an unashamed fan, follower, groupie, call-it-what-you want of hers. And yes, you can hate me for that.

Ok. Now why this post? I’ve been suffering from reader’s block for the past couple of months and even though I’ve started five books, I still haven’t been able to finish even one. Last week, a friend (finally) read The God of Small Things and wrote this two point review of the book that said it all. And so I picked up the book. Again. And I am rediscovering the book. Again. Woman, release your next work of fiction soon. We’re waiting.

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The Second Lady- Irving Wallace : 21/52

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I read The Second Lady long long ago, but the book was missing the last few pages. However after that initial torment for a few days, I have managed to live all this while without knowing what happened the moment the two women stepped off the plane. And somehow after all these years, something made me want to find out.
Maybe it is not cool to say that you like Irving Wallace and such authors these days, you got to be snooty and read authors like <insert Cool Author name> to be with it. But hey, I like masala and I will not lie.
A classic USA-USSR thriller. The Soviets embark on an unbelievably bizzare plan to replace the American First Lady with a look alike, an actress with a strong resemblance  and been tweaked to perfection over the past three years. The replacement happens, the impersonator embarks on her role of a lifetime and the pages turn themselves. It is a USA-USSR game, so you already know who will win. But how they win is what makes it a page turner. The Soviets are ugly, potato nosed people. Their First Lady is fat and housewife-looking. Their food is vomituous, their alcohol is bitter. Americans on the other hand are handsome and glamourous. They are sexy and clever. Well ofcourse. And then there is a half-American KGB agent whose loyalties lie with the Soviets but heart lies with the Americans. So he is the  man who has a change of heart, the goodbad guy whom you root for.  A lot of twists, turns, mind games and sex later the book ends in a nailbiting climax. And this time, I know what happened in the end. Or do I?
It was written in 1980, so you can’t read it with an internet age mindset. But the plot unravels  smoothly and there aren’t too many laughable loopholes that will make you roll your eyes.

The sore point between the Russians and Americans in this book is a small uranium rich African country called Boende. And today, when Russia and America are at it again,unfriending each other over Crimea, this book makes it seem like nothing has actually changed in the world.

Kaleidoscope- Danielle Steel :13/52

This was the first Danielle Steel I read, feeling all grown up at 17. I remember weeping throughout the book and this was one story that stayed with me even after I got over my Danielle Steel phase. So I revisited it after all these years. And not surprisingly, I wasn’t choking up as much this time.

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A love story that begins in the midst of the second world war ends in a tragedy with the man strangling his wife in a fit of anger and then committing suicide. Their three daughters get separated, two of them adopted and the eldest one ending up drifting from foster homes to juvenile hall. And hardened by the horrors of ill-treatment, rape and apathy, Hilary grows up seemingly cold and unfeeling. As with all Danielle Steel women, you have the rich , posh and titled Alexandra, married to a man decades older, dripping diamonds and designers. Megan who was a baby when separated is a doctor with not much of a back story.  Arthur Patterson comes across as the helpless henpecked wimp, but you don’t understand why Hilary hates him so much until she reveals a shocking secret towards the end, when he’s on his deathbed. John Chapman, the investigator hired to find and reunite the three sisters is again, the classic Danielle Steel hero, all sensitive and caring and gets conveniently coupled in the end.

Maybe because it was the second time reading it, or maybe because I’ve outgrown hardcore chicklit, this book didn’t do much for me this time.

(Another series  that I loved back then and feel like rereading are the books by Claire Lorrimer. The Chatelaine, The Wilderling and something else. Should try to get hold of them in some library. They’re too expensive here )

Gone With The Wind

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When my mother was halfway through Gone with the Wind, my neighbor who had lent it to her, asked for it back since she had to return it to her college library. For some reason, she wasn’t able to renew it for a few more days. Some agonizing weeks and desperate, futile inquiries later, a family friend got her a copy from his college library, a government college library where it had been collecting dust over the years.  Thrilled, she spent long nights sitting on the kitchen step after her chores, picking up the book from where she had been rudely interrupted.

My mother has the habit of making characters from the book she is currently reading a household name. She tells us anecdotes from the books or makes character comparisons to real life people.  So even before I read the book, I had a pretty good idea about Scarlett O’Hara, the size of her waist and the political situation in the United States back then. I once even referred to the civil war in a school essay, totally out of syllabus.  And then, some time later, I sat through two video cassettes of the movie, without a clue as to what was going on. But at 13, I knew that Gone with the Wind was something big. Something I had to put down on my List.

Three years later, digging into the shelves of the public library, the one where all books had a uniform uncharacteristic brown binding and were stacked two deep in wooden cupboards that smelled of Book, I stumbled across a fat copy of Gone with The Wind. It had last been checked out almost seven years ago. It was my time to discover Scarlett O’Hara.

I was all of 16, the age where I believed that First Love could be the only love. Oh, how I rooted for Ashley. My penfriend from Calcutta was reading the book at the same time and we exchanged blue inland letters filled with our thoughts about goody-goody Melanie, the cad that Rhett was and kept our fingers crossed for Scarlett to finally get Ashley. She didn’t ,and I shut the book totally disappointed.

More than a decade later, I picked up a copy from a footpath in Bangalore. It was like reading it with Lasiked eyes this time. The book seemed completely different from the last time I’d read it. Scarlett had matured with me. I no longer related to the frivolous girl, flirting with the twins and yearning for a wimpy Ashley. She was the woman fighting the war now. I wept the tears Scarlett didn’t, thought the thoughts she’d planned to think Tomorrow and ran through the mist with her, searching for Rhett.  Suave Rhett. With the image of Clark Gable flashing in every smirk, every smile , Rhett was The Man this time. The cad, the lover, the father and finally, the husband. The one I rooted for.

And then I went and big fat read Scarlett. I had to read Gone with the Wind again. To remove the bad taste the sequel had left in my mind.

And also, since I hoped that this time Rhett would change his mind and stay.