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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