Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Ordinary Princess - M. M. Kaye

Date of Reading: 18/05/2016
Author: M. M. Kaye
Illustrations: M. M. Kaye
Publisher: Puffin Books
Place: New York
Year: 1980
Rating: 4.5/5

           You could never be too old to enjoy this amazing fairy tale novella. In a world which considers external beauty synonymous with internal purity this is a novelty to cherish. As the author informs us in the foreword our fairy tale genre keeps silent on the situation of gawky, snub-nosed, mouse coloured hairy princesses. It looks like the cutey princes had eyes only for those "lissome Royal Highness with large blue eyes and yards of golden hair and probably nothing whatever between her ears!" (Blimey! Is the real life any different???) 
          So Kaye has come up with the story of Princess Amy who is gifted with ordinariness in her birth, a gift that made her free from the boring courtly life of rules and restrictions. I have never found a book so wickedly funny and even if you know how it will end (as always with all fairy tales), the narration combined with the wonderful illustrations will keep you engaged throughout the story.
    Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne is the seventh princess of the kingdom of Phantasmorania. As per tradition a grand christening was scheduled as she was the seventh child and even the fairies were invited who gave her gifts of charm, courage, health etc. But the last and the most powerful of fairy godmothers gave her the gift of ordinariness and her life changed from that moment onward.
         Unlike her six beautiful elder sisters, seventh princess now called as Amy grew up as a brunette with snub nose and freckles. And unlike them she enjoyed life playing in the woods not bothered by the court life etiquette. While all the others were married off to handsome princes, no one came to seek the hand of ordinary princess, not that she was worried about it. In a desperate stage, king decides to bring a dragon to lay waste to the countryside and the prince who slays the fiery creature can be offered the hand of Amy provided that he never sets eyes on her before marriage.
         Appalled by this news Amy runs away from the palace to live in the Forest of Faraway where she makes friends with Peter Aurelious, the crow and Mr. Pemberthy, the squirrel. When her clothes get shabby and torn she obtains the job as 14th assistant kitchen maid in the castle of the king of Ambergeldar where she meets Peregrine, a man-of-all-work. They become great friends and enjoy the picnics in the forest.
         He soon finds out that she is a princess and Peregrine, it turns out to be King Algernon of Ambergelder who is as ordinary as Amy. Peregrine sends her home so that he can send a betrothal request to her parents and they are married to the great joy of everyone.

Something to ponder . . .

M. M. Kaye
". . . for though she was ordinary, she possessed health, wit, courage, charm and cheerfulness. But because she was not beautiful, no one ever seemed to notice these other qualities, which is so often the way of the world. Not that it ever worried the Ordinary Princess" - 17

"Doing things you aren't supposed to do always seems more fun than doing things you are" - 48

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Mistress - Anita Nair

Date of Reading: 08/02/2016
Author: Anita Nair
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Place: New York
Year: 2006

          I can still remember the countless times I put back this enticing book with its kathakali cover page to its shelf in DC book shop. It was not the time I guess, and partly I was afraid to take a book bearing the title 'Mistress' in front of my parents' watchful eyes. Well, now the little child has grown, finally to grab a copy to relish the mysteries inside. 
          Two stories unfold here simultaneously: one featuring Shyam and his wife Radha who is in love with the charming travel writer Chris. Other story is told by Koman where he narrates his life story devoted to the service of his demanding mistress -- Kathakali. The whole work is another peep into the beauty of Kathakali with its nine sections divided according to the nine rasas and the story thus proceeds from sringaaram to shaantam.
      There are some works that leave you speechless, gripping you from beginning to end and the snippets of  wisdom that you gather with it will remain as your new companion. 'Mistress' possesses the same magic and the real treat lies with the chapters introducing the nava rasas where you will be amazed by the vibrant imagination of Anita Nair. From the posture of the kathakali artist she goes on to find instances of each rasas in nature, and in seasonal changes. And as Radha travels from the tumultuous passion of Sringaaram to the calmness of Shaantam, we move along with her, Shyam and Koman and gains an understanding of what it means to be an artist for art's sake or as in Shyam's case love for the sake of love hoping one day it will be returned.

          Travel writer Christopher Stewart arrives in Shoranur to the resort called Near the Nila to meet the famous Kathakali artist Koman. There he is greeted by his niece Radha and her husband Shyam who owns the resort and has agreed to provide cheap accommodation to Chris hoping that his book will add to the resort's publicity.
          Radha who leads an unpleasant married life with a husband to whom she can feel only contempt is instantly attracted to the handsome foreigner and his cello. She had been used by an old man during her college days with the promise of marriage which soon proved to be false. After aborting the child resulted from this affair she returns home and is married off to Shyam to preserve the family name.
         Shyam has another story. Being the member of a destitute family living under the mercy of Radha's father, he had a very miserable childhood. But his hard working nature soon reaped its rewards and as he was planning to go to Dubai Radha's father came knocking at the door for help. He married Radha knowing her past and believed that she will one day realise his love, enough to love him back.
          Radha and Chris starts a passionate affair which is noticed by the wise eyes of Koman. He realises how it will end but restricts himself from warning them. Instead he starts narrating his life story beginning with the tales of his parents.
         His father Sethu had run away from home as a boy to Sri Lanka. He is seduced by his benefactor and later when he stabs his best friend in a moment of rage there was no way to escape but to run again. Assuming the name Seth he works under a Christian doctor -- Dr. Samuel -- in Tamilnadu and in one of their trips he meets Saadiya in Arabipattanam.
          When their relationship comes out to public Saadiya is outcasted from her hometown and with Sethu she tries to build a new life. After the initial months of passion, she gets haunted by guilt and on Koman's birth she wishes to bring him up as a Muslim. Discords arise and Saadiya drowns herself. Disheartened Sethu heads back to Kerala leaving Koman with Dr. Samuel. Years later he was brought back to his rich father who had by that time remarried. The new family accepts him without protests and he finds his true talent in Kathakali.

          As these narrations progress during evenings Shyam notices the relationship between his wife and Chris and is deeply hurt. His rage even results in a marital rape. But Radha soon realises that her adventurous affair is only based on lust and nothing more. She breaks up with Chris without informing that she is pregnant. She decides to leave Shyam too as it is worthless to continue their loveless marriage.
          Chris' real intention was to know whether Koman was his biological father as he once had an affair with Angela, his mother. But Koman assures that he is not his father and Chris leaves Kerala disappointed. Story ends with Shyam thinking of pursuing his affections accepting Chris' child as his own. Meanwhile Radha finds a new meaning in life with the child growing within her.

Some catchy quotations:

"Don't let someone else decide for you what is within your reach or what is beyond you" - 4

"You cannot make someone see the truth unless they want to" - 33

"Fear makes one do things one would never do otherwise. Fear lets you compromise." - 294

Anita Nair
"But a true artist is also someone who is able to sustain his belief in his art, and knows that what the world thinks of his art is irrelevant." - 354

"People make mistakes. There is nothing wrong in admitting you made one. But to continue making a mistake when you know it is one, now that is wrong." - 454

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Peony - Pearl S. Buck

Date of Reading: 09/01/2016
Author: Pearl S. Buck
Subtitle: A Novel of China
Publisher: Open Road
Place: New York
Year: 2012
Format: Epub
Rating: 3.5/5
        Nothing can substitute the calm, soothing voice of Pearl S. Buck's works for me and though 'Peony' didn't live up to the expectations, it is still an amazing story of devotion and love. Buck's stories are far from being ordinary, but her elegant narrations keep down the heart beats even at the most thrilling moments giving the impression that this too will pass.
          Like all her other works, this is another testimony of the Chinese culture, a valid example of the difference in perspectives when it comes to Jews. While half of the world butchered them mercilessly, the lightheartedness of  Chinese ways found another solution and as the author informs us in foreword "today even the memory of their origin is gone. They are Chinese". They say the best way to eliminate your enemies is to make them your friends, and Chinese used the same approach; they transformed the foreigners to natives.
         Novel is set in the city of Kaifeng which was once a centre of Chinese Jews who are now gradually getting disappeared by being assimilated to the local culture. Peony is a Chinese bondmaid in the prominent Jewish family of Ezra ben Israel. As a kid she is bought from the slave market as a playmate for Ezra's son David and thus they grew up together.
         Though she loved David dearly, her circumstances demanded them to stay apart as she is just a bondmaid and David never realised the full extend of his love to his playmate and constant companion. He is to be married to Leah, the daughter of the Rabbi, as per his mother's wishes but he also had a secret crush on pretty Kueilan, daughter of the Chinese merchant Kung Chen.
         Fearing Leah's staunch religious beliefs which may further alienate the family from Chinese society, Peony encouraged his love towards Kueilan. David was also confused about the treatment his people receive in other parts of the world and found the answer from his father's wise friend that this occurred due to her separatist ideology. His attitude irritated Leah and in a fit of anger she attacked David with a sword. When he fell down wounded, she realising her mistake cut her own throat.

         David recovered and eventually married Kueilan with the blessing of his parents. But after his mother's death he became restless again and to remedy this he traveled to Peking, the new imperial city, with his wife, sons and Peony. While they were visiting the Empress, Peony is noticed by the lusty Chief Steward and he offered to buy for one of the ladies of the court. Without replying to his proposal David and his retinue soon traveled back home. He started realising his love for Peony but as a Jew he was not allowed to take a concubine and Peony comprehended this predicament.
         The order of the Chief Steward pursued them to their home town and in order to escape her fate Peony joined the Buddhist abbey. Gradually she came to be regarded as a wise woman in the town and David's family too depended on her advice. Story ends with Peony pondering over the transformation of Ezra family who are now completely assimilated to Chinese traditions.

Something to ponder . . .

"A man's wife is his ruler, whether he likes her or not." - 91

"To hate another human being is to take a worm into one's own vitals. It consumes life." - 111

"When foreigners come into a nation, the best way is to make them no longer foreign. That is to say, let us marry our young together and let there be children. War is costly, love is cheap". - 112

"None on earth can love those who declare that they alone are the sons of god" - 166

"Some love a human being too well and are made subject by that love; others love their gods too wel and are subject to that love. Man should be subject to none. Then we are free." - 185     

Friday, 13 November 2015

The Mannequin - S. G. Rogers

Date of Reading: 03/10/2015
Author: S. G. Rogers
Publisher: Idunn Court Publishing
Place: Savannah
Year: 2015
From: the author through Ebooks for Review

          Well begun but abruptly ended; I think that pretty much summarizes my reaction. Usually I side with the young heroine (those ignored wall flowers who finally land their true mate, not because of their beauty or conversation skills but due to a clear heart and extraordinary courage), but not on this one. Aubrey Whittingham is clearly no Mr. Darcy; the young Duke is sure of what he wants and goes for the girl not for her title, but for her. Well, may be this is what distinguishes a hero from an ordinary man. And clearly the notion is accentuated with the role of Joe Fiddick who ardently woos Rosamund eventually to be distracted by the glamour and pomp of London ladies.

        With a clear lucid prose timed with impeccable dialogues this is clearly a fun read which can be finished in one sitting. I would have preferred to prolong Rosamund's adventures as a mannequin but still its worth the time.
Now to a short summary:

          Rosamund Ashfield lives as a poor relation with her Uncle Ferdinand, Aunt Lucretia and her three cousins. Even though her grand father was a viscount she is disowned due to her mother's love marriage to someone beneath her class. Her only friend in the household is Joe Fiddick, the coach man's son who has now cleared his entrance exam to Oxford. He declares his love for her which takes Rosamund by surprise.
       When the family leaves for the London Season, Rosamund gets a job to entertain Aubrey Whittingham, the young Duke who lost his entire family in a boat accident. Her company brings him back from his depressive state and the mutual friendship leads to love, which is encouraged by Aubrey's grandmother. Leaving Aubrey to recover completely Rosamund and the Dowager Duchess travels to London for the Season. They expect the support of her Viscount grandfather for her appearance but he shocks them by revealing that Rosamund is not his granddaughter as a childhood disease had made his daughter incapable of conceiving. 
A shocked Rosamund leaves the household and attains the job of a mannequin with Madame Montana. Meanwhile Aubrey hearing the news form Joe pursues her to London and begins to court her in spite of her position. He stands firm behind her even when her malicious cousins played a ploy to humiliate her. 
         Meanwhile Vivien, the goodhearted cousin who sided with Rosamund visits her grandfather with Mrs. Williams, their head cook who is aware of the facts on Rosamund's birth. She was indeed his granddaughter as Mrs. Williams is an eye witness to her pregnancy and her late sister was the midwife. The Viscount was misinformed by his other daughter.
         With matters cleared Rosamund is accepted by her grandfather and she accepts the proposal to wed Aubrey. Joe remains as her faithful friend.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

Date of Reading: 01/09/2015
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books
Place: New York
Year: 2012

         I was never a fan of romance novels. . . until recently. But when you are stuck with a work which demands undivided attention, this is a sure stop for your addictive brain which screams for some pleasure reading. Plots are predictable, and the tit for tat talks before the falling in love episode is a major attraction combined with the fact that you can finish one story within hours.
        And there are always the cute surprising tales which stick to our hearts even without the happily ever afters. Well, only rarely we get the chance to meet a Segalian love story and 'Fault in Our Stars' is definitely one such fine encounter. Green has taken a challenging scenario with cancer fighting characters whose sardonic and sarcastic comments lifts up the gloom and on passing the last page we may whisper, "surreal, but nice".
         Sixteen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster is affected by thyroid cancer which has spread to her lungs. She breaths with the help of on oxygen tank who is addressed as Philip. Diagnosed at the age of thirteen her cancer is deemed incurable and she faces imminent death everyday.
         To cheer her up her parents forces Hazel to attend a support group where she meets Augustus Waters. One of his legs are amputated due to osteosarcoma but he has managed to outlive the disease. Hazel reminds him of his former girlfriend Caroline Mathers who died of cancer and the two bond immediately.
         Augustus becomes a fan of Hazel's favourite book An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten. Its the story of Anna, a girl struck by cancer and the novel ends without a conclusion frustrating the readers. The author has retreated from public life ever since the novel's publication.
        Augustus manages to track down his assistant, Lidewij and through her manages an appointment with the author who now resides in Amsterdam. Hazel couldn't afford such a journey so Augustus uses his Wish for cancer patients to obtain tickets for both of them. Meanwhile Hazel's condition worsens but after a few days in ICU she is allowed to travel for her dream meeting.
They enjoy a beautiful dinner together at Amsterdam and go to Van Houten's home with high spirits only to realise that he is a mean drunkard who has no answers as to the ending of the novel. But the time together brings Hazel and Augustus close and they make love in the city of sin. Augustus reveals the reappearance of his cancer and his health deteriorates after the trip eventually leading to death.
         Van Houten shows up at the funeral to apologise to Hazel and she finally learns that the novel is about his daughter Anna who died of cancer at the age of eight. From Isaac, Augustus' best friend, Hazel learns that Gus was writing a sequel to the novel. Guessing that he might have sent it to Van Houten she contacts Lidewij for the letter. It was an eulogy to Hazel where Augustus proclaims his love.

Something to ponder. . .

"You do not immortalize the lost by writing about them. Language buries, but does not resurrect. " - 76

"Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin". - 104

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Em and the Big Hoom - Jerry Pinto

Date of Reading: 08/08/2015
Author: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Aleph
Place: New Delhi
Year: 2012
Rating: 4/5
From: An owl eyed friend 

          Not the usual kind that I pick from a book store. For one thing its on depression (blimey! clearly in my 'not-to-think-about-it' list) and to make it worse its advertised with the comments of two well known writers who are not my favourites -- Amitav Ghosh and Kiran Desai. But the cover looked appealing and so were the words inside; besides it was a birthday present. Definitely something that I have to give a try.
           And I took an instant liking to Imelda or Em as she is called throughout the story. She has her worst moments but when she regains her socially-detached-I am a critic mode, her words shatters everything, never missing its mark. And that forms the beauty of the text and dispelling our fears of a tragedy it glides smoothly into a story of family and relationships.

           Pinto is endowed with an enchanting style and the images he creates haunt you even after the final page and the sweet-bitter taste it delivers remain for a long time. But the publisher or the layout man deserves a huge deal of applause too. The special fonts, the designs at the beginning of each chapter and the dark purple colour surrounding the borders make the book all the more special. A new take on mental illness and trust me, this won't make you depressed. . .
           Mendes family, consisting Imelda, Augustine and their two children Susan and the narrator, lives in a one-bed room-hall-kitchen in Mahim, Bombay. Imelda or Em as she is called, suffers from frequent maniac depressions and the novel is framed on how her family copes with this situation.
         From her letters and her sometime sensible talks narrator manages to stitch together her story. She was the bread winner of her family and she marries Augustine who is also her co-worker after a long courtship. She refers to him as LOS - Limb of Satan - as according to her he makes her sin. For his children Augustine is the Big Hoom, the pillar of their otherwise crumbling family. Without lamenting on the condition of his family, he takes care of everyone silently permeating hope that makes them survive.
 In spite of her hurting words everyone loves Em and keep vigil on her bad days. Their days go on in this tireless routine with Em sometimes attempting suicide or getting her hospitalized where she feels herself at home. Narrator too often haunted with the fear that he too might eventually end up like his mother. 
         Story comes to a halt when Em dies of a heart attack. Mendes family gradually returns to a quiet routine without her.

Something to ponder. . .

"We confess to men who've never had to worry about a family. Naturally, it's a huge sin to them, this abortion business. What do they know? They probably think it's fun and games. Let them try it." - 5

"We were told that men were dangerous. Unpredictable. Violent. You could never be sure what would happen if you were alone with them. They could not be relied on if they had had something to drink. A girl had to be ready for anything. Then, as soon as you were all ready to get married, the same people told you: close the door and be his wife." - 158

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Family Matters - Rohinton Mistry

Date of Reading: 05/12/2014
Author: Rohinton Mistry
Publisher: Emblem Editions
Year: 2002
Format: E-book

           Compared to his two other books this bears a different signature style of Mistry. Avoiding the political drama that usually characterizes his novels, this is entirely based on family and personal relationships. Even the title is ambiguous; if we take the 'matters' as a noun then the entire novel becomes a peep into the private matters of one family. On the other hand, if we take it as a verb, it summarizes the whole intention of the story; we need a family -- family matters . . . a lot.
          Woven around a handful of characters the novel provides a remarkable picture of Parsi family life in Mumbai. From the two children to the old Nariman they are equally likable even with their flaws making them humane, and in turn making the story realistic. 
             Setting is Mumbai. Nariman Vakeel is a retired English Professor who now resides in Chateau Felicity with his step children Jal and Coomy. His own daughter Roxana lives with her husband Yezad and their two children -- Murad and Jahangir -- in Pleasant Villa, a little flat gifted to them by Nariman.
         Though suffering from Parkinsons, Nariman is adamant to take his daily evening walk against the constant warnings of Coomy until on a fatal day he falls down and break his leg. Doctor advises a three weeks rest but Jal and Coomy fails miserably in taking care of him. And they didn't have enough funds to hire a hospital ayah and Nariman had spent his retirement money to procure the flat for Roxana. As a last resource they pack him off to the congested flat of Roxana where in spite of the irritation from Yezad's part, he finds love and peace with the two children.
         His traumatic past haunts Nariman at night. He was in love with Lucy Braganza against the wishes of both their parents as she was a non-Parsi. Finally the pressure from the parents breaks the alliance and Nariman marries Jal and Coomy's widowed mother, Yasmin Contractor. But Lucy continues in her efforts to be near him which irritates Yasmin extensively. The public drama involving both the lovers ends tragically when both Lucy and Yasmin falls from the rooftop while quarreling, to imminent death. 
         Yezad works in Bombay Sporting Goods Emporium with a meager salary and now with his father-in-law living in the house has turned the matters worse. To prevent Nariman from moving back after three weeks, Coomy destroys the plasters on the ceiling making it looks like a leaking accident. A complacent Jal goes with the plan reluctantly.
        When Edul Munshi, their next door neighbour offers to repair the ceiling free of cost, Coomy agrees; but in his inexpert hands the beam falls down killing along with Coomy. On the same day Mr. Kapur, the employer of Yezad is stabbed to death by supposedly Shiv Sena workers for refusing to change the name 'Bombay' from the shop's board.
         Jal offers his flat to the unemployed Yezad and the money got from selling Pleasant Villa is used to repair the ceiling; and they live by the interest got from the rest of the money.
         A long epilogue is given through Jahangir's words who narrates the death of Nariman and later the conflicts that sprung between Murad and Yezad, who has suddenly turned into a religious fanatic. Story ends with the birthday celebration of Murad as it is begun by Nariman's birthday.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Attractive Nuisance - Jennifer Griffith

Date of Reading: 25/04/2015
Author: Jennifer Griffith
Format: Kindle E-book
Year: 2015
From: The author through eBooks for Review

Blurb from goodreads:
         Camilla Sweeten is serious about her job in the County Attorney's office. She's even working up the courage to ask her boss to consider her for promotion to deputy.
         Then, into court walks the gorgeous Zane Holyoake, and disaster strikes - in the form of a total brain fog right in the middle of her closing arguments. In front of both her boss and the meanest bear of a judge in the county, Camilla hears herself saying, "Like, I totally made my point," as though she'd flown in from 1980s California in a time machine airplane.
        Now her boss will never consider her for deputy - especially since Zane turns out to be a new lawyer, possibly brought in to steal her dream job.
         But when a notorious criminal is caught in their county, Camilla must focus on getting the thief convicted and not on Zane, who smells heavenly and is bent on distracting her with lunch offers and wacky Boy Scout stories that may melt her many resolves.
       It's going to take incredible willpower to ignore this attractive nuisance.

         I must confess that it is the green tinged cover image that prompted me to request a review copy. A combination of romance and mystery!!! -- just the thing I needed for my train journey to home. But the high expectations started to crush at the beginning itself.
         Camilla could have been a likable character, if the writer had resisted herself from putting down all her mental thoughts. After each dialogue there is a long description as to how she thinks about that particular line (which is supposed to be amusing, I know), cutting out the reader from imagining something. Short sentences of exclamation would have served the purpose much better.
          Then there is Zane and here I agree with Camilla; his ungrammatical sentences were far from being funny. As a non-native speaker I was forced to skip many of his lines which was difficult to comprehend.
Jennifer Griffith
        And the entire plot revolves around Camilla's reluctance to marry because according to her the right age has passed and now she won't be able to see her kids marry and to share the happiness of grandchildren. Well, what should I say? She is twenty seven and for her marriage is over??? And she needed a good looking guy to point out this utter nonsense. Did she really pass that barrister exam? I certainly doubt it.            

Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Scarlet Pimpernel - Baroness Emma Orczy

Date of Reading: 16/04/2015
Author: Baroness Emma Orczy
Publisher: Feedbooks
Year: 1905
Rating: 3/5

          I was searching for a classic to read and stumbled on this name on Suey's blog. Well, its a short, cozy book with some mystery and romance. Some of my great hopes regarding this was crushed on reading, as the characters were not completely developed and the author's constant ramblings on the virtues of aristocracy seemed to have got on my nerves. 
          More than a critique on the Reign of Terror, the story tends to focus on the nobleness of English gentlemen who daring their lives try to save the French aristocrats from guillotine and conveniently forgets that British also had their fair share of savagery when they beheaded King Charles I. And thinking of the cruelties they meted out to Scots and Irish, I doubt whether they have the right to condemn the French. But keeping this political prejudices apart, this is an altogether nice read you can finish very easily.

Now to the story:
scarlet pimpernel flower
         Setting is 1792, and the French Revolution has entered into the period of Reign of Terror, killing hundreds of aristocrats each day. A secret society of English gentlemen, named The League of the Scarlet Pimpernal, led by a single man has managed to save many from the clutches of guillotine. Name of the league refers to a red flower found in English countryside with whose symbol the leader signs his messages.
        The new French envoy to England, Citizen Chauvelin, is determined to catch this British pest. He blackmails Marguerite St. Just, a beautiful French actress now married to a wealthy fool, Sir Percy Blackney. Chauvelin has procured some papers which shows the involvement of Armand, Marguerite's brother with the secret society.
Frightened Marguerite finds the league's place of appointment, but Chauvelin is confronted by a snoring Sir Percy at the prescribed time and none other. Marguerite is having an estranged relationship with her husband  as she confessed that it is her unintended comments on Marquis de St. Cyr which has sent him and his sons to guillotine.
          But later out of desperation she reveals the danger Armand faces to Sir Percy but not her involvement with Chauvelin. Next day itself Sir Percy leaves to his estates which puzzles Marguerite. A search in his room reveals him to be the Scarlet Pimpernel and the thought terrifies her. Chauvelin is after him and unknowingly she has given away her husband's identity. So Marguerite follows him with Sir Andrew who is one of the members of the League.
          Though Chauvelin plans his trap very well Sir Percy escapes with Armand and Comte de Tournay whom he has come to save from imminent execution. He is warned in time by Sir Andrew and thus taking the disguise of a Jewish driver he joins the search party of Chauvelin. Marguerite gets captured while following them but later she is left with the Jew as Chauvelin intends to pursue Sir Percy.
          Marguerite's courage rekindles the love in the couple's lives and safely boarding on the schooner, the Day Dream, they sail for home.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Serious Men - Manu Joseph

Date of Reading: 01/03/2015
Author: Manu Joseph
Publisher: Harper Collins India
Place: Noida
Year: 2010
From: Prachand Narayan
Rating: 4.5/5

           It could be my general aversion to the news paper, I never had any intention to read this popular debut book of Manu Joseph which is awarded the 'The Hindu' Best Fiction Award in 2010. But the pressure from the part of my best friends and the novel's undiminished presence in literary seminars, finally driven me to have a peep inside and . . . lo, I got clearly surprised that I loved it.

          Sometimes, when we are tired of this recurrent life style with no prospects of change in the near future there is nothing better to do than laugh at life itself; and that is what Ayyan Mani does. He had the courage to stop and look around, which made him realize the void in others, the insecurity that lies behind the clever mask of success and smart talks. Wonderfully written Ayyan's character jumps out of each page with some serious plots among serious people. His astonishing wit and out of the way cunningness creates the light mood that makes the novel really enjoyable throughout. I could never stop laughing when I think about his thoughts of the day.
             Well, I should not be carried away by Ayyan, because this is the story of Acharya and Oparna too and also the 'crazy' Brahmin scientists of the Institute engaged constantly in the pursuit of truth. Even with his grave demeanor Acharya is a likable character, but I can't say the same of Oparna. Whether or not the author had done justice to her character is a different matter; she has come a long way in a male dominated professional group, but her character lacks the grit and confidence expected from her position. Does the story intend to show women are emotionally vulnerable and so they should be kept  in their place??? 
           In his elegant, humorous style Manu Joseph interweaves many the issues faced by contemporary India. His bold strokes cut deep all the while making you laugh to your heart's content.
          Ayyan Mani works as a clerk in the Institute of Theory and Research where high minded Brahmins continue their pursuit of truth and Dalits work as peons and toilet cleaners. He has been  in the place for fifteen years, working his way up from an office boy and for him the place is another big joke of the Brahmins.
         In order to escape from the routines of his everyday life, he starts playing a game with his eleven year old son Adi. Boy learns high standard questions from him concerning the universe or mathematical problems and utters them in the middle of the class causing a disruption. Gradually the boy who is deaf in one ear comes to be regarded as a genius. Ayyan gives money to a Marthi daily reported to have a news item published on his son, and thus begins Adi's first steps to popularity.
         Soon the boy's photo appears in Times of India when he successfully recites the first thousand prime numbers. Ayyan manages this by putting a small recorder inside the hearing aid and placing that on Adi's good ear.
           Meanwhile a situation is brewing inside the Institute. Scientists under Jana Nambodri rebels against director Arvind Acharya for his Balloon Mission to find the presence of aliens in the atmosphere. The rebel group wants to investigate the same through analysing radio signals but the director's idea gets privileged. 
          A hot air balloon is sent out to collect air samples in which one is later analysed in the Institute, and the other three are sent to Boston and Cardiff. Oparna Goshmaulik from the department of astrobiology was the project coordinator. She gets infatuated with Acharya and succeeds in seducing him while his wife was away. But the casual fling dies soon, when Acharya comes to his senses and confesses everything to his wife. Oparna, though grieved on this sudden turn of events concentrates on the Balloon Mission.

          Her team succeeds in finding fungal presence in the air sample making headlines in the newspapers. But the samples in Boston and Cardiff proves to be empty of alien presence. Oparna sends a confession letter to the Ministry stating that she is pressurized to contaminate the container by Acharya. This was her revenge which ruins both their lives.
         Jana Nambodri assumes the post of director and he gives Adi permission to write the entrance test of the Institute as a repayment to Ayyan as he kept mum about the relationship between Acharya and Oparna. Still Ayyan feels that Acharya was a better man and resolves to help him.
Manu Joseph
He needs to get the question papers for Adi. A deal is made between him and Acharya who writes down the questions and answers from memory. Adi passes the exam in flying colours and in the press meeting that follows Ayyan exhibits the CD which has secretly recorded the conversation between Oparna and Acharya which proves his innocence. Another recorded part contains anti-Dalit, anti-women comments of Jana Nambodri and his group causing mass riots and attacks towards the Institute. Acharya is reinstated on his place and Ayyan continues to plan new games with his son.

Quotes I Liked:
"Jesus Christ, with a crown of thorns on his head, surveyed the room morosely with a hand on his visible heart, which was on fire". - 20

"They were highminded; they secretly believed that their purpose was greater, they were certain that only scientists had the right today to be philosophers. But they counted cash like everyone else. With a wet index finger and a sudden meditative seriousness." - 24

"Acharya wondered why daughters always went away. So keen they were on finding a moron and leaving. The futility of love and marriage - did they need a whole lifetime to see through it all? Didn't they learn anything from the lives of their parents?" - 71

". . . love is like a forbidden wealth. Its glow cannot be hidden. Sooner or later everyone comes to know. And two people become spectacles in a show they do not know is running to full houses" - 175

"More than the impoverished girls of the chawls whom they hoped to uplift, it was Oparna and her lemon-fragrant friends who were weak and dependent on men. They appeared to do marvellous things, but what they wanted was a man" - 183

"Ayyan detested this moronic pride more than anything about the country. Those flared nostrils, those dreamy eyes that people made when they said that they were once a spectacular race. . . In this delusional heritage of the country, his own ancestors were never included. Except as gory black demons in the fables of valiant fair men." 286

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