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

Monday, 23 March 2015

The Amazing Racist - Chhimi Tenduf-La

Date of Reading: 21/03/2015
Author: Chhimi Tenduf-La
Publisher: Hachette India
Place: Gurgaon
Year: 2015
From: BlogAdda

           It is not often we come by an amazing read which makes us wish to shout "I loved it". I didn't carter much expectation on this debut novel and was not at all amused by the pranks of Menaka and Eddie (immature love birds, I thought) in the first half of the novel. Good that I didn't give up, by the time you reach the middle there is no going back; Things have perked up and we could never resist loving Thilak Rupasinghe or Uncle Thilak as I would like to call him. By the end I really missed him along with Eddie and Kiki. No one can replace those crackling wit and a soft heart hidden behind a rough exterior and an unpredictable mouth.
         Giving the impression of a love story, the novel soon changes its direction to the deep bonding between the quiet English man and his barking father-in-law. Set in Sri Lanka, it gives a satiric insight into the aristocratic life style, their extravagance and faulty charity initiatives. But what makes it worthwhile is the character of Uncle Thilak who is scared by all but loved by his granddaughter, Kiki. Author's wife Samantha and his daughter Tara too makes a brief appearance in between which makes it all the more amusing. All in all a hilarious read for  the holidays!!! 


         Eddie Trusted, an English school teacher lands in Colombo for a teaching assignment where he falls in love with the Sri Lankan beauty Menaka Rupasinghe. Within weeks of acquaintance, they decide to marry but Thilak Rupasinghe, Menaka's scary father is set against the white man. He tries fierce and friendly manners -- treating him as a servant, making him sleep out in the verandah on their weekly trip together and offering him the job of an accountant which was illegal and would have deported him -- but Eddie stays put and succeeds in marrying Menaka with Thilak's blessings.
          While Prabhakaran gets shot, Menaka gives birth to their daughter Kiki. Soon she is off to many of her charity trips leaving Kiki in the hands of Eddie who finally resigns his teaching position to be a full time parent. Uncle Thilak, with his taunting humour turns out to be an unusual partner for him.
         
Menaka drops out of the marriage and starts a relationship with Gayan, her second cousin. Uncle Thilak and Menaka's elder brother warns him that she may battle for the custody of Kiki as there is a chance that she might inherit some of their fortune. Eddie gets absorbed with Kiki and gives blind eye to the legal proceedings and soon he finds love again with Caroline, the new teacher in school.
           As expected Menaka starts the divorce proceedings and Eddie decides to run away with the child as court in all probability will side with Menaka when it comes to the possession of the girl. On boarding the flight he is informed that Uncle Thilak is dying and is asking for Kiki. Eddie goes back and Thilak dies that night after giving instruction to him as to how to bring up Kiki.
        His will leaves half of his wealth to his eldest son and a quarter each is given to Menaka and Eddie. Nothing is left to Kiki and as Uncle Thilak expected Menaka didn't attempt to get her daughter. Eddie marries Caroline and his bond with Kiki gets even deeper.

About the Author:
       Half English, half Tibetan, Chhimi Tenduf-La grew up in Hong Kong, London, Delhi and Colombo, where he now lives with his wife, Samantha, and daughter Tara. This is his first novel.




This review is part of the biggest book review program for Indian bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

#Together With You Mom

“A woman who was just dumped needs a shoulder to cry on, not a critic -- ‘It’s not your fault’, ‘He just wasn’t the right guy for you’ -- a friend who can say this”, says June, in my favorite Korean movie Seducing Mr. Perfect. Life is never smooth and when the enraged waves smash against you, we need someone to fall back on – parents, friends, pets or teachers – whose company gives a sense of assurance that we are not alone and this is not the end. And their presence fuels us with enough energy to move on or continue what we love.
It was my 12th standard board exams. Language papers are over giving us minimal trouble and then comes the turn of the terrible three – Physics, Chemistry and Biology – of which the first one gives me nightmares. There is a two days gap which I plan to devote to revisions and also to practice the question papers of previous years. Sitting on my usual spot on the staircase I started with the last years question and finished those within fifteen minutes. Woo!!! I was able to answer TWO QUESTIONS!!!
Sometimes we desire for the blessings of a coma, to sleep and escape without any qualms. I just wanted to die but that is not so. I will be eighteen soon (I reminded myself) and being an adult I am supposed to face situation in a matured way and most importantly -- no more tears. Easy to say, my eyes were already brimming, asking for the floodgates to be opened and I didn’t know what to do. My brain is swept clean and there is no sign of those twisting formulas which I have shelved with lots of hard work. And I have two days . . . only.
As usual my siblings have spied on my sad pledge and I ran to the usual refuge, Mom. Will I ever be old enough not to depend on her? I don’t know and I don’t want to be. The cozy kitchen with its familiar smells never fails to give me the confidence I need. She was wise enough to grasp my state of mind and kindly asked me to start over and that is what I did. Soon the little kitchen table got filled with my text books and notes and I began reading aloud to this silent listener. Mom took a leave from work and sat there with me patiently, listening and gently correcting when needed. And on entering the exam hall with her blessings and best wishes, I knew I will pass and I did . . . with distinction.
It’s been years now and I have crossed bigger hurdles, but I could never forget that day when my life stopped almost and I needed hope and support of a firm ground. And I could never completely thank my Mom for being there with me always.

Posted in collaboration with housing.com

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Heart Beats of a New Life

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;”
-         Robert Frost (The Road Not Taken)

Life begins with endless possibilities; as positive as it may seem, this creates a lot of confusion if you don’t know the way to which your brain is wired to. And this journey is all about understanding yourselves, the choices you consider being just the beginning. Constrained as it seems with its endless rules, we tread this weary path in hope to witness mysteries unfold as a result of our actions. There is always a time we meet a crossroad and hesitate.
The tenth standard exam was my first alarm bell. Inexperienced as I am it never crossed my mind that this is just the first of its kind and soon that infuriating voice will pierce my eardrums. Life ran smoothly till then with small worries concerning home works or the canings that I will have to avoid from my teachers. But this is a new hurdle (not the exam, but the choice that I need to make afterwards) and thus began my growing up.
Our institutions offer three options – science for the bright minds, commerce if you want to be competitive and humanities for the good for nothing who are not fated to become doctors or engineers, the golden and silver trophies offered to every aspiring student. Well, being a topper, I am supposed to be in the ‘bright minds’ category but where should I go to cater its growth? And thus seeking fresh pastures, I joined one of the convent schools in our esteemed corporation.
Being educated in a village school where the medium of learning was my mother tongue, for me this English medium school was a tough nut to crack. The place, with its well built infrastructure and tight necked uniforms looked and felt alien; strange tongue, strange people and strange games. Our black board showcased lines that I couldn’t fathom, which according to them represented force, mass and acceleration and what not. Spending endless nights on the rain swept verandahs by hearting the scientific names, I knew my life has changed and I could never go back.
It would be a fitting end to say I came out of that concrete jungle in flying colors; but I can’t because I didn’t.  I managed to escape with enough marks to start afresh by choosing my favorite subject in humanities. And my two years was not in vain as they created me as I am today. I learned to follow my heart and do what I love most . . . reading. It taught me to live outside the protective shell of home and not to commit the same mistakes twice. My higher secondary school life asked me to choose wisely, to chase the ignored track and not to turn back; because sometimes you can’t.
Let me conclude with Frost’s lines,
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
  
    Posted in collaboration with housing.com


               

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Optimism: The Opium that Fills our Hearts

            “A person without hope is as good as dead”, my best friend used to say. She is no longer around to push me out of my frequent lethargic states, but her words stay on, coming alive with occasional phone calls, E-mails and facebook chats. In a world filled with weariness, fret and fever, a world from which we long to escape, optimism is the last beacon of recourse; the banner that proclaims the significance of light which can’t be redeemed without the presence of darkness around. For me that beacon is . . . my home, the light house that guides my way when turbulent storms rocks the boat.
          I don’t have particular moments to recount because all elements that constitute my home are precious and they permeate hope and the strength to move on. Greeting smile of my Papa, bitter gourd curry of my Mom (my favorite), jokes and pranks of my siblings, and the little garden in the front, shade of the coconut trees, smell of jackfruit and guava in summer . . . home is an urban paradise which asks me to look up and go forward with steady steps fixed firm on the ground.
          Well, this may be the usual ramblings of any hostler. Having grown out of the nest years before, we are no longer affected by that homesickness that makes a fresher cry in her sleep but still it is the last place of refuge when your colleagues speak against you, friends betray you or when you get scared of the coming exams. I still cherish the sight of my sister's running legs coming towards me in welcoming gratitude when I get back home for the vacations. Finally this is the place where you are accepted, believed and loved.
My Home
          From the small kitchen table where we share our food to the computer room meticulously arranged near my cot, the place has our hand prints and it contains our memories under its firm shelter irrespective of the changing colours and paints it takes every five years. As stable as its base and the supporting pillars, home symbolizes for me the steadfastness I need to acquire to reach my goals and it fuels me with the optimism that “this too will pass”.
          My house which has completed its silver jubilee years ago showcases the imagination and planning of a handful of people who worked hard from its design to the collection of brick and mortar. Thanks to them and because of the timely caring of my parents it is withstanding the pressures of time, sheltering the third family who has come to live under its protection.

          Housing is a necessity, it is the hope and refuge we look for after tiring days. So meet Look Up, the new housing brand pledged to share the positive spirit of life and is driven to revolutionize real estate with their 10x mantra.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Cocktails for Three - Madeleine Wickham

Date of Reading: 04/02/2015
Author: Madeleine Wickham
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Place: New York
Year: 2006
Rating: 4.5/5

         As most of the Sophie Kinsella books have passed my 'read' list, there was no other way but to shift the attention to Madeleine Wickham ones, though the novels are quite of a different taste and it is hard to believe that they are from the same pen. And after much soul searching in different reading groups, here I am, with 'Cocktails for Three' a story blended with love, humor and mystery.
         Three cocktails, that is what Wickham offers in this single volume; three stories with their sole connection knotted around a cocktail bar in Manhattan, involving the lives of three women who are unable to say 'no' because they are too good and is determined not to fail. And that is their hubris -- by not opening completely to their best friends and by keeping up the image of the invincible lady, they lose their battles . . . or almost. This is not an Aristotelian tragedy but a story that reminds us of the significance of relationships (whether that is friendship, love or marriage) and the importance of asserting one's identity and above all, not to be ashamed of yourself.
         
Candice, Roxanne, and Maggie are three best friends who work in the fashion magazine, Londoner. Maggie is an editor, Candice conducts interviews, and Roxanne is a glamorous freelancer. In the first of every month they meet together for cocktails in a quiet Manhattan bar, which by the beginning of the story has become quite popular and therefore noisy.
         All three has a secret not shared to anyone. Roxanne is having a secret affair with a married man. Maggie is in the advanced stage of her pregnancy but she is afraid of motherhood but her proud self doesn't allow her to give a hint even to her best friends. Candice's father had robbed people of money by persuading them to invest on his schemes and the details revealed only after his death shattered her life along with her mother.
         On this particular day in the bar she finds an opportunity to diminish the guilt that weighs on her, when she meets her high school classmate Heather Trelawney. Heather's family has gone bankrupt due to their association with Candice's father and she dropped out of school when her parents divorced. Candice assists her in getting  a job in Londoner and even shares her flat with Heather against the better judgement of her friends. But Heather had other goals in her mind.
          As per her husband's wish who wants their children to grow up in an unpolluted environment, Maggie moves to a country mansion where she feels utterly alone in spite of the frequent visits of her mother-in-law. And the arrival of the baby exhausts her completely but she is too embarrassed to ask for help.
         Roxanne is devastated with her secret lover, Ralph, who is the owner of the Londoner. He refuses to go for a divorce as his little son may not comprehend the situation. But now his days are running short due to the attack of cancer that is creeping on him, a fact he hides from his lover. 
Madeleine Wickham
           Meanwhile Heather has started her moves. She makes Candice do her works, steals her ideas and finally succeeds in splitting her from her cocktail club friends. She soon loses her job too for a crime she has not committed but forged by Heather. 
         Ralph dies leaving his house to Roxanne and thus gives legitimacy to their relationship. And when Maggie breaks down in frustration her mother-in-law intervenes asking her son to take equal responsibility in taking care of their baby. They decide to move back to London so that Maggie can resume her job.
         Candice finds her refuge in Ed, her rich neighbor who always wanted her to understand his secret feelings. The calamity brought down by Heather brings them together and she learns from Heather's brother that she was offered education and security by their stepfather but she just chose to rebel.
          Roxanne and Maggie clears Candice's name and their friendship is back on track. Story ends with the baptism of little Lucia and she is welcomed to their cocktail club.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Ramayana The Game of Life (#2): Shattered Dreams

Date of Reading: 16/02/2015
Author: Shubha Vilas
Publisher: Jaico
Place: Mumbai
Year: 2015
From: BlogAdda 
Rating: 3.5/5

            This is the era of retelling for Indian mythology. Ever since the success of Amish Tripathi more and more writers have ventured into the market with counter narratives to our favourite epics or by giving voice to a minor character ignored in the course of main events. As I was familiar with a few of them, the task of reading a work which is faithful to the original version of Ramayana proved difficult than usual.
          Shubha Vilas' Ramayana, let me assure you, is not a novel; I would rather call it a spiritual guide on Ramayana. He hasn't made any changes to the original story but the plot is enriched with some additional details like how Nemi became Dasaratha or the origin story of Ravana which was completely new to me. And the constant use of capitals when it comes to addressing Rama (the personal pronouns like 'Him, His' are capitalised in the beginning) constantly reminds us of the divinity status attributed to Rama by the author and gives the atmosphere of a religious book though it is claimed to be a gripping new-age thriller.

          If you are familiar with the outline of Ramayana, there won't be any problems starting from the second book without reading the first. Most often we get the feeling that this is an English translation of the verse epic to prose as the metaphors like lotus feet, lotus face and trees shedding the leaves due to grief are repeated without any change which is felt out of place in a prose narration and also in a modern retelling for laymen.
           What is commendable about the work is the little words of wisdom added as footnotes which takes us to the deeper levels of Ramayana and teaches how a story that happened thousands of years ago can still inspire us with new notions. This self-help book is not a one time read, but something to be cherished always and as Bacon reminds us it is to be "chewed and digested".

Short Summary:
         
Dasaratha wakes up from his nightmare drenched in sweat, haunted by the curse which is looming over his life. In an urgent court meeting next day, he declares Rama's coronation and the whole of Ayodhya rejoices in the news except one. Manthara, the hunch backed maid of Queen Keikeyi warns her Queen of the dangers that may happen if her son, Bharata, is not declared as the king. Keikeyi redeems her two boons from Dasaratha and asks kingship for Bharata and fourteen years of exile for Rama. 
           Rama, along with Sita and Laxmana, sets out immediately and the old king dies of separation from his son. Bharata, returning from his maternal home, is astounded by the turn of events. Embarrassed by  his mother's actions he tries to pacify Rama to return to Ayodhya but to no avail. Finally taking his brothers sandals Bharata returns to the kingdom and promises to rule it for fourteen years with Rama's sandals on the throne. Rama, along with others moves to Dandakaranya forest.

Quotes I Liked:
". . . jokes can be costly. Although meant to lighten life, when shared with the wrong people, jokes could end up burdening our lives" - 89

"Seeing the positives in every situation is the nature of a pure mind" - 129

"Good relationships survive when those involved realize that the greatest gift two people actually have is each other." - 131

"Finding fault with your own thought process is an important aspect of growth, but seeking forgiveness for faulty actions is important for survival" - 184

"Lamentation that causes prolonged inaction is actually irresponsibility at an individual level and leads to chaos at a collective level" - 281

"One should fear an untruthful person more than a snake. Every good quality has its foundation in truth" - 354 

About the Author:
         
Shubha Vilas, a spiritual seeker and a motivational speaker, holds a degree in engineering and law with a specialization in patent law. His leadership seminars are popular with top-level management in corporate houses. He also helps individuals apply the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana and other dharmic traditions in dealing with modern day life situations. He believes that a good teacher always sees the process of learning and teaching simultaneously as an inherent aspect of personal and spiritual growth.

This review is part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Half Girlfriend - Chetan Bhagat

Date of Reading: 12/12/2014
Author: Chetan Bhagat
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Place: New Delhi
Year: 2014
Rating: 3.5/5

          An intriguing title and a love story with beautiful twist; as always Chetan Bhagat didn't disappoint. There are some things that attract me to a romance story. One, obviously the habitual pleasure it offers to a lethargic mind; we could easily guess the story pattern most of the times and reading the story turns out to be a pure joy of finding out the way this special novelist treats this most popular theme.
          Secondly, the background where the story is set. Romance novels are the best way to know the average life style of a common man (middle class or rich -- interestingly the poor section of the society doesn't have much time for love as there are more pressing concerns) in a country you are interested to know more. And that is the most delightful part in 'Half Girlfriend'.
           Bihar, the poorest in a poor country, shines brightly throughout with their warm hearts and tasty litti-chokha making best of their limited circumstances. Thanks to Chetan Bhagat, a state which rarely comes to lime light is gifted with a chance to speak her story.
         Author is on one of his regular book tours in Patna when he meets Madhav Jha who runs a school in Dumraon. He comes with a set of journals which originally belonged to his half girlfriend Riya who is dead now. Reluctantly and at the same time intrigued by the term 'half girlfriend' Chetan accepts the tattered notebooks and meets the guy again next day to hear his story.


         Madhav and Riya meets at St. Stephen's College, Delhi in a basket ball trial outs. Friendship blooms immediately but Riya is reluctant to move forward to a physical relationship. So she becomes his half girlfriend which is closer than a friend. She hails from a rich family where girls are not regarded worthy of attention and for her Madhav's love and care is a fresh breeze.
         When Madhav pushes forward his love interest their friendship breaks and later Riya discontinues her studies to marry Rohan. Madhav completes his graduation but turns down the job he is offered, to help in his mother's school.
        The village school their family runs is in a pathetic condition and so when Bill Gates visit India for his charity foundation, he too applies for a grant. They are offered one opportunity to present before the delegates and for the above purpose Madhav is needed to give a speech in English. He starts taking English classes in Patna where he meets Riya again.
Chetan Bhagat
         She is a divorcee now and his forgotten love blooms again. Though his mother resents this relationship, she helps him tackle the speech and the event becomes a huge success when they win the grant from Gates' Foundation. In between Riya disappears leaving a note saying that she is affected by lung cancer and would like to spend her last days alone. Madhav is completely shattered and when years later she gets her journals from her old landlord, he didn't have the heart to read them.    

        Chetan compels him to read some specific parts where they come to know that Riya has lied about her sickness as she doesn't want to create a conflict between Madhav and his mother. Her former experience in marriage has taught her a lot about spiteful mothers-in-law.

         Madhav leaves to New York to find Riya where he suspects her to live as a singer. After three months of search, in a dramatic climax he finds her singing in a bar and a romantic episode comes to much awaited closure. Author visits the couple again when they are blessed with a boy. 


Some interesting quotes:

'Sometimes following your heart leads you nowhere"

"If you live in a hostel, never throw away food"

"Why do companies bother with such interviews? Perhaps it makes them feel better to talk about the problems of the world, even though the actual job involves sitting at a desk and punching formulas into spreadsheets".

"Girlfriends come and go but, thank God, mothers don't break up with you"

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Saturday, 15 November 2014

Lust for Life - Irving Stone

Date of Reading: 22/10/2014
Author: Irving Stone
Publisher: Arrow Books
Place: London
Year: 1935
From: Prachand Narayan

          They say, if you perform a bad concert, you will be rewarded with shoes and rotten eggs; if its an excellent one, there is the thunderous applause; and as for a marvelous concert (ooh, that's the best part), there is a stunning silence to greet you from an audience who is not yet back from their musical world. 'Lust for Life' is the last one, you won't want it to get finished and the heaviness in your heart will increase as the pages get thinner and thinner.
        Three years back I heard a little remark from one of my friends, "I fell in love with Van Gogh with 'Lust for Life'"; well, it took me this much years to get my hands on it, but the waiting was worth it; it was everything that I dreamed of.
        Though its a fictional biography of the famous painter, most of the things are accurate and is based on the letters that Vincent wrote to his younger brother Theo. And second to Vincent, Theo is the person who catches a reader's eye, whose unflinching support (mentally and financially) to a good for nothing eldest brother produced an icon we know today. 

Sunflowers
        Irving Stone has successfully captured the fullness of Van Gogh's life, (his lust for life as the title suggests) and we are introduced into the frenzy of creation and the joy of fulfillment on finishing his two famous paintings, among others, namely 'The Potato Eaters' and 'Sunflowers'. This is not just the story of Van Gogh the painter, but also Van Gogh the lover, Van Gogh the missionary and mostly Van Gogh the man. And it will surprise you for sure.
         Story begins in London where young Vincent falls in love with his land lady's daughter who, he later realises to be already engaged. With a broken heart he returns home to Holland and turned his attention to become a missionary. His mediocre speaking skills fails him in this respect, but because of his devotion he is sent to preach in Borinage, the coal mining district in Belgium. He sets to work passionately, living with the miners as one, sharing their poor circumstances and giving them the comfort of the Gospel. But when his efforts to improve the miner's conditions fail desperately, he loses his belief.
         
Starry Night
In this depressive conditions Theo finds him and offers him a monthly allowance so that he can pursue his dream of painting. He returns to his family in Etten where he falls in love with his widowed cousin Kay. But his proposal proves fatal to their friendship and to recover from this unrequited love he moves to Hague, searching for a master in his cousin Mauve. They got along well in the beginning but soon began to differ in their opinions. Meanwhile Vincent is exorcised from the artist community because of his relationship with Christine, a prostitute. He treats her and her child as his own but financial difficulties drove her back to the streets and Vincent too leaves for Nuenen where his parents live now.

         There he devotes himself to his passion and paints till the sun goes down. Margot, his neighbour's daughter falls in love with him, but her family opposes the marriage. Fated to choose between her family and lover, Margot attempts to kill herself, but saved in time by Vincent. He too leaves the place after finishing the painting Potato Eaters
Potato Eaters

         He stays with Theo in Paris and is introduced to the paintings of impressionists which are an explosion of bright colours. He moves to Arles and there staying in the yellow house produces the most magnificent creations in his life. But too much time under sun, makes him prone to epileptic fits and in one such occasion he cuts his left ear. This eventually lands him to the next turn in his life: St. Remy asylum where he spent an entire year.
Vincent Van Gogh
          Theo (who is now married with a child), again comes to the rescue and after spending sometime with his family, Vincent moves in with Dr. Gachet, a specialist in nervous disorders. But his brother's financial crisis worries Vincent and in a state of deep mental torture he shoots himself. Unable to comprehend his brother's death, Theo too follows him after six months due to weak health and he is buried alongside his brother.

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