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     
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