Love and Lies

Last month (September 7) was the seventh anniversary of my first day in engineering. The moment I started college, I decided that I would have an epic romance on which movies would be made later, and of which paeans would be sung by the KJo loving public. So I went about trying out some of the methods shown in Bollywood and soaps to fall in love. I’m afraid none of them worked very well, but who knows, someday you also might feel romantic enough (did I say desperate? Why you’re assuming?) to give these a try, so here goes.

Method 1: Attend a wedding (preferably relative’s, so you can catch the eye of a same-caste person and thus get your parents’ blessings without having to run away and Khap) or any ceremony, really, where you carry a brass plate full of rose petals and go running along with it (gracefully, remember, nobody likes to see elephants trumpeting along in sarees). Don’t stop this one-man marathon till you bump into a handsome fellow and send the plate flying (do not forget to throw the plate in the air, otherwise whole thing is spoilt), fall into said fellow’s arms, and then have eye-lock while the rose petals fall on you both. Yes, romance, thrill, love, over! Next scene: your wedding.

‘Why are you crying?’ ‘Your hair is longer than mine’

So, at my cousin’s wedding, I wore a saree, applied some makeup, and, brass plate in hand, eyes over shoulder, started running. A few seconds later, I bumped into someone, and feeling rather pleased, fell into their arms, sent the plate flying, and turned to face the co-star of my grand romance. To my abject horror, it was Chummi Aunty. Before she could do much more than look disgusted and glower at me, however, the brass plate returned into orbit and fell on Chummi Aunty’s head, showering her with rose petals in the process, although she simply refused to look on this bright side when I visited her in the hospital later.

Moral: This method is useless.

Method 2: Wear salwar-kameez or chudidar, along with dupatta. Make sure the dupatta is at least as pretty as you, because that is the star of the show. Now walk gracefully within eye-lock distance of handsome man and let the dupatta flutter like a flag behind you (what do you mean ‘I don’t have table fan to make it flutter?’ That is not my problem). So, make the dupatta flutter so much that it goes and gets stuck on his shirt button or watch (what do you mean ‘how?’ You are not fit for romance at all) and have deep eye-lock while he tries to free your dupatta. Preferably it should not be freed at all, you can drop the dupatta with an anguished look at him and come running away. Then he will come and find you and marry you with the help of the dupatta, or give it to his girlfriend to wipe her nose.

I’ll just wipe my hands and give it back, promise.

I decided to try this out on traditional day in college, and carefully wore a long dupatta and let it flutter behind me as much as possible. Unfortunately, I hadn’t worn it for ten minutes when the breeze died down suddenly and took the wind out of my dupatta sails, and that piece of silly cloth promptly fell into a patch of wet mud. You can still see the college gardener using a blue diaphanous cloth with golden border to wipe his hands.

Moral. This method is also useless.

Method 3: Get stuck in washing machine. Eh, what? No, of course it’s not a joke, where’s your sense of romance? This actually happened in one Hindi serial. All you have to do is climb into a gigantic washing machine and shut the door, then sit and pray that the handsome man will somehow know (by ehsaas) that you went to an LG showroom and climbed into a washing machine thinking it was a bathtub, and will come running to rescue you and carry you out while having eye-lock all the time (what ‘How did he know where to come?’ This is all internal love GPS, you practical donkey).

‘Darling..’ ‘Yes?’ ‘This is not what I meant when I told you to wash my clothes’

So I went to this electronics showroom and tried to get into a nice big machine. Imagine my shock when a shop-assistant told me I couldn’t go inside. “But I have to go inside, how will I get rescued otherwise?” I asked him. But no, he wouldn’t unbend. Really, I’m going to complain to Arnab Loveswami about this, this is sexism, chauvinism, cupidism, I want to know, how I’m going to conduct any romance if people keep shooing me away from washing machines?

Moral: This method is useless, unless you have an industrial grade washing machine. If you really have, please call me also.

Method 4: Hang clothes out to dry on terrace or balcony clothesline and have Romeo-Juliet balcony scene. For this, handsome fellow has to be standing below on the road, so you can have nice eye-lock while hanging or taking clothes off from the line (remember Alaipayuthey scene? Like that only). Remember, you have to do this every day until love is established, otherwise fellow might fall in love with your sister (or whoever else goes to the terrace) by mistake.

Yes moon of my eyes, I’ve talked to the servant maid, we’re putting up the clothesline tomorrow.

So off I went to the terrace of my building, having haggled for the keys with the watchman, who was surprisingly reluctant to part with them and kept giving me deeply suspicious glances. Imagine my happiness when I espied a prey good-looking fellow standing on the road looking up and smiling back at me. Yes! I had finally found love! Unfortunately, in my enthusiasm, I leaned over a bit too far, and ended up pushing the bucket full of wet clothes onto said fellow. Draped in a dripping orange saree and one of my father’s trousers, the fellow glared at me and gnashed his teeth rather violently. That was the last time I saw him, and also the last time my mother let me go anywhere with a bucketful of wet clothes.

Moral: Always do bird-watching after you’ve hung the clothes to dry.

As you can see, none of my forays into the land of hearts and flowers ended well, and I’m still as single as I was when I was 18. But don’t let that deter you, dear reader, from trying out these pearls of wisdom in your own life. So I wish you luck, and please write back if you are successful.

P.S. If you have tried these methods and failed, don’t worry, by now your mummy has understood that you want to fall in love and is in the process of fixing you up with Pammi aunty’s brother’s son.

Shopping Shenanigans

The other day, I went shopping to the nearest mall. As a rule, I’m not very fond of shopping, especially for clothes. I’m not saying this just to sound swag, I really do dislike it. The thing is, if you want to go shopping, either you should have a good figure, or you should be wealthy enough to buy clothes that hide your defects. If you have both, obviously you belong to a class of people I hate on principle, and if you have neither, welcome to the club.

So there I was, looking for something that had the dimensions of a circus tent but didn’t look like one, when the chatter around me started to increase, and in less than 30 minutes, the place had filled up completely with women of all sizes and shapes, almost like a local train ladies compartment, only with clothes racks instead of seats. I looked at my brother, bewildered at this sudden influx of girls, and he pointed to a label on a nearby rack. It was a Sale Day, and some clothes had 70% off (this was actually 70% off, not the crafty increased-by-70%-then-discounted). I started to sweat (yes, literally also, because it was very crowded). Usually I buy clothes only twice a year, and a few here and there in between, and always make sure there is no sale anywhere within 2 km of me. Because a Sale is The Apocalypse. If you grab one top, 10 other women will grab at it simultaneously on principle. They might or might not go through with the purchase, but they will do it anyway, because why are there 3 girls fighting for that top? Let me also get in the fray, never mind that I weigh 20 kilos and you can probably put two of me into this XXL sized top. Just like IIT, only you are fighting for clothes instead of a seat in premier Indian institutions. Sales are the only time IIT-JEE seems easier.

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The happiness that comes from stealing cheap clothes off women uglier than you

Anyway, I decided to fight it out; I would not budge without at least 5 good tops, whatever happened. So I snatched whatever piece of cloth looked big and not-ugly enough and proceeded to the trial rooms. There was a queue there, and I couldn’t see, let alone find, the end of it. I followed the long winding line of ladies and ended up at the entrance to the shop, where it intersected with the line for baggage deposit and terminated in absolute chaos. I slid in at random between a harassed looking boyfriend who was trying not to look at the pretty girl in front of him and a 55 year old father who was obviously just starting to realise there were only two sofas in the whole of the shop and that his arthritis would be putting in a special appearance soon. It then took me 45 minutes to reach near the head of the queue, where, as it turned out, a fight was just about to begin.

Girl1 (call her G1) was glowering angrily at Girl2 (G2), while the latter was also giving the former the dragon-eye. Apparently, G1 had tried to shove her way into one of the dressing rooms before G2, and that very legitimate heir of the room had managed to shove her back, with the result that, like in the story of the cats and the monkey, an entirely unrelated outsider had managed to inherit the throne trial room and was even now whistling cheerfully from within, while G1 and G2 glared at each other in barely controlled fury and muttered dark curses under their breaths. The twin volcanoes erupted when the former occupant of the room opened the door and strolled out and away to finally-I’ve-decided-what-to-buy heaven, apparently oblivious to the damage she had caused to two blood pressures. Predictably, G1 and G2 scrambled to get in first again, but G1 was not going to be easily outwitted this time around. She promptly burst into tears and G2 drew back in shock, not having expected this daily soap behaviour. Snuffling into her I ❤ NY handkerchief, G1 blubbed, “See, actually, I’m getting married next month, so it’s just so much pressure, you know..” and dissolved into sobs again. G2, hearing this, was just beginning to look slightly sympathetic, when there was a big crash and we all turned around. A young man had collided with one of the racks and was now lying on the floor draped in three pink nighties and a purple duck patterned pyjama, looking up at G1 in shock bordering on terror. “What?! Next month?! Are we getting married next month, G1? But I had no idea…” G1 had by now stopped howling and was furiously trying to gesture to the young man (obviously her boyfriend, let’s call him B1), and G2, having gotten hang of the situation, began to look furious again, her face steadily turning a rich crimson. B1, on the ground, was still blabbing, “…unless you are getting married to someone else, in which case you’ve been cheating on me”, and suddenly stopped, looking very sad. G1 had had enough, “Shut up! No one is marrying anyone, understand? Get up, get up!” she hissed; B1, absolutely befuddled, decided to revert to the one thing he knew best, “Okay then, I’m really hungry..could we go to KFC?” This was the last straw. G1, losing control completely, threw all the clothes she was holding onto B1 (who was, incidentally, still prostrate), glared at G2, burst into actual tears this time, and stomped off. G2, half furious that she had nearly fallen for G1’s sob story, and half happy that the room was finally hers, picked up the clothes and boyfriend G1 had discarded, sashayed off to the changing room and thence to KFC. Everyone in the queue returned to their phones, disappointed that the entertainment had lasted for all of 5 minutes.

So, four hours of cat-fights (when push comes to shove, I can be very violent; that is one thing everyone learns from the 8.32 am CST local), three hours of unsuccessfully trying to evoke a Priyanka Chopra from the mirror reflection, and about an hour of reflection on hedonistic existentialism later, I was finally standing in front of the cash counter with seven of my conquests in hand, having got through the Third World War successfully, or so I thought, until the cashier reached out her hand for my clothes. Smiling politely, she fed something into those blasted digital calculators and, still smiling politely, named a price nearly thrice my own estimate. I stared at her, hoping I had heard wrong, but it was not to be. The thing is, she explained, still with that silly grin on her face, out of the stuff I had selected, three were 70% off only if bought with a set of three from the same brand, another three were only 70% of the price (i.e. 30% discount), and the only one left was a 50% off without any frills, which, in effect, meant that I had wasted five whole hours and bought one top. One. ONE.

I burst into internal tears, bought that one top, and stumbled out of the shop, mortally wounded. WWIII had had its say. So the moral of the story is, don’t leave your boyfriends and clothes lying around, and don’t ever trust a sale, ever.

P.S. I did go early the next morning (Sunday, sale was still on) and bought a huge amount of stuff before G3, G4,….,G100 could even get started on their Sunday brunch.

The Ramayana

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Ok, so I haven’t ever read the Ramayana (or even the Mahabharata) officially, most of it has been drummed into my head by my mother, who is an accomplished Kambaramayanam exponent (Ramayana in Tamil), apart from a small Hindi version we had in school. I first stumbled upon Ramesh Menon when I read his version of the Devi Bhagavatam about four years ago, and quite liked how he amplified all the interesting story-bits and kept the philosophical parts short.

The versions closest to the original of all the scriptures and epics of Hinduism are published by the Gorakhpur Gita Press in Sanskrit, usually accompanied by either an English or a Hindi translation, but the language is usually too complex and technical, and my patience while reading most Hindu epics/mythology is virtually nil, because everyone knows the main outline of most stories, and it can get a bit tedious rereading the same things again and again.

So I embarked upon Ramesh Menon’s Ramayana with more than a tinge of skepticism; after all, he would be walking down the same literary path that hundreds have trodden before him, how good could it be? Very good, as it turned out. There were a lot of things that I had forgotten about the Ramayana, and Menon’s version reminded me of the depth of the epic. His writing is lovely, and very attractive, literally. I couldn’t stop reading it once I began, even though I knew what would happen next.  Here, for example, he describes the good omens that preceded Rama’s birth:

The ice on the Himalaya began to melt as the sun drifted north again and spring returned to Bharatavarsha. This was no common spring, but wore rainbow-hued lotuses in its hair, flowers that bloomed once in a thousand years. A hush of expectation lay over Kosala’s capital. The clear pools were covered with lilies. The flowering trees that lined the streets of Ayodhya drooped to the ground; they were heavy with new leaves in every shade of green and untimely, extravagant flowers. A Malaya breeze blew across the kingdom, carrying the scents of the spring through the city and up into the apartments of Dasaratha’s queens.

Menon’s greatest strength, though, is his characterisation. Rama of Ayodhya, as everyone knows, is no ordinary man, being an incarnation of Lord Vishnu himself, but Menon, as in the original epic, successfully portrays him as a man with human limitations and material constraints, because Rama himself, beyond a faint foreshadowing, has no idea of who he actually is.

Another, deeper anxiety stirred in his heart, for no reason he could name. Something malignant seemed to mock him, from far away, but quite clearly.

However, it is Menon’s Ravana and his descriptions of Lanka that I loved the most. As is accepted in most versions of the epic, Ravana is no evil (at least not completely) ugly villain, he is a great devotee of Lord Shiva, tall and handsome in a very rakshasa (except when all his ten heads are on display) manner, is accomplished at the Veena, and a good king to his people. It is not until his sister Surpanakha, with evil intent, poisons his mind with images of the most enchanting Sita, that he invites doom upon himself (Here, however, Menon credits rakshasa Akampana with this brainwashing).

Upon this throne sat the Master of Darkness. In a weird cone upon his neck were ten heads of varying features and sizes, all of them savage. Ravana was a monster, the most sinister and powerful rakshasa. Nothing about him was ordinary; all his ten heads thought for him…those heads were like an inverted bunch of macabre fruit. The one at the very top was the smallest and the most vicious; it was entirely puerile and malignant.

This is different to the public perception of his ten heads, which are usually perfectly aligned in a row; this is the first time I have heard of it being compared to a malignant bunch of grapes.

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What I look like when my brother has eaten all the chocolates

Another scene where Ravana lashes out at Sita for not yielding to him even after six months of capture is pure dramatic gold. You can almost feel the love and lust this demon harbours for the beautiful wife of another man, and for a second I almost sympathised with him.

She said, “I am the wife of another man, Rakshasa, and my husband is my life. How can you even think of me as becoming yours, when I am already given to Rama? Given not only for this life, but forever, for all the lives that have been, and all those to come.”
He looked away from her. Not that he saw anything except her face, even when he did. But he could not bear what she said. Never had he encountered such chastity, and to believe in it would mean denying everything he had lived for. A smile curving his dark lips, Ravana turned his gaze from her.

There were a few caveats I had, though; there are times when the prose became so poetic, especially in the descriptions, that my eyes automatically glazed over quite a bit. More importantly, the author’s attitude towards Rama is nothing short of worshipful, as befits a proper religious text, and although I didn’t mind it as such, I don’t think it would appeal to everyone. Unless the reader believes that there was a Rama whose wife was abducted by Ravana, and that vanaras (cross between monkeys and humans) helped Rama to kill Ravana, I don’t think it will work. Think of it, if you will, as reading the Bible or the Quran.

Menon has covered almost all the mini-stories within the epic, and also includes two seemingly unrelated stories in the appendix, of how Vishwamitra became a Brahmarishi (this is really interesting), and an alternate story of Sita’s birth, in which she is said to be Ravana’s and Mandodari’s daughter.

So I really liked this version; it’s attractive enough to hold a modern reader’s attention and covers all sub-stories without making it feel like a drag. If you actually want to read Hindu mythology, then Ramesh Menon is your man.

P.S. Really liked this hilarious short story on Ravana and Vaali by Lavanya Mohan .. 😀
This is Book 12 in the Brunch Book Challenge (soo I’m halfway there, review-wise), my Twitter handle is @sindbadrose, and the challenge is at #BrunchBookChallenge.. 🙂

 

These Old Shades

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Another day, another Heyer, but this one was a bit of a disappointment, despite the high Goodreads rating.

So The Duke of Avon is walking on a Paris street one night, when he bumps into an ill-treated youth who looks suspiciously like the Duke’s deadliest enemy (our Sherlock deduces this based on youth’s red hair, violet eyes and black eyebrows; a few more colours and fellow would have looked like a rainbow), so the Duke, doing exactly what any sane person would do in such a situation, decides to adopt the youth as his page. Turns out the page is actually a girl (the page himself didn’t know this until now.. WTF), and the Duke then has a lot of fun converting the page into a society debutante. Obviously he marries her later, because why not.

I couldn’t take to this book at all; it is nowhere near The Grand Sophy in terms of humour, there is too much seriousness, too much idol-worship, and a whole lot of suspension of disbelief. The plot would have made for a very good 1980s Hindi movie; beautiful orphan getting adopted, then turning into girl, then turning out to be adopter’s enemy’s child. In case you were wondering, this is not a spoiler, because less than halfway into the book, I could predict exactly who was whose daughter/son and also how the blasted plot would end. There was just one suspense point that Heyer had to keep secret till the end. Just one. That also she could not manage.

I just couldn’t buy the relationship between the protagonists, which seems to consist of an unbelievable amount of hero worship. The page, whose name is Leon/Leonie, worships the ground the Duke walks on, and after a point it gets very irritating. Yes, yes, we get it, he saved you, yes, we get that he is rich and handsome and older by 20 years; but that is absolutely no excuse to behave like a faithful dog.

The Duke sat down by the bed, and snapped his fingers to Leonie, who came at once to sit at his feet.

If some guy tries to snap any of his fingers at me, I’ll personally break all of his fingers into little bits and pieces and become Angulimala.

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Highway robber Angulimala with a necklace of his victim’s fingers.. *devilish grin*

And there is a lot of peeping. A lot. Always this Leonie is peeping up at the Duke, or peeping through the hedge, or peeping at nothing in particular. Possibly spectacles for this kind of peeping disorder had not been invented yet. We shall never know.

Leon peeped at him through his lashes.

She peeped up, and the roguish dimple appeared.

The roguish dimple peeped out for the first time. (this line is obviously technically incorrect)

Leonie ventured, peeping up at him.

Peeped round the corner of the screen.

And how on earth are you supposed to peep up at someone? I suppose it’s meant to sound cute, but really, all this peeping is very annoying.

There is a bit of Heyer’s trademark humour scattered here and there in a few lines, but they are few and far between. I frequently found myself wishing someone would break the extremely narcissistic hero’s nose, who, by the way, like Lord Vishnu, seems to have an abundance of names (Avon, The Duke, Justin, His Grace, Monseigneur). Each time he conversed with someone it took me five minutes to work out how many people were there in the room.

I liked the Paris setting though; it reminded me a lot of The Scarlet Pimpernel and its French-revolution-based sequels (on an aside, I absolutely love those, they are so very melodramatic, and always the Scarlet Pimpernel manages to outdo the crafty M. Chauvelin).

So, really, this book was not much to my taste, but if you don’t mind a bit of finger snapping, hero-worship, and older man-younger girl romance, dear reader, go for it.

Quotes to remember:

Leonie stopped, and peeped up at the Duke uncertainly.

P.S. This is Book 11 in the Brunch Book Challenge, my Twitter handle is @sindbadrose, and the challenge is at #BrunchBookChallenge..🙂

The Grand Sophy

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So I was on a chick-lit-drive recently, and chanced upon a couple of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. I had read her Black Sheep and Venetia a while back, and wasn’t very impressed with either of those, but decided to give her another try based on the Goodreads ratings.

“Little” Sophy, daughter of diplomat Horace Stanton-Lacy, is sent to live with her aunt’s family (consisting of aunt, uncle, cousin Cecelia, cousin Charles, cousin Hubert and sundry unremarkable children) while her father is away on a mission. Turns out Sophy is not “little” in any sense of the word. She is tall, weird looking (but still pretty enough, coz this is a romance), is a chronic problem-solver, and, as any netizen worth his photoshopped profile pic would put it, has the swag.

I loved this one. It’s good fun, and Sophy is such a dramatic and unpredictable heroine, even the reader has no idea whom she’s going to shock next.

Heyer has a good sense of humour, and this is reflected in a few almost Wodehouse-ish lines, as well as the situations Sophy finds herself in. A melodramatic tête-à-tête with a Jewish moneylender which involves a lot of not-really empty threats and a nice little gun was my particular favourite, although it seems to have offended a lot of people on Goodreads with its negative portrayal of Jews.

The insinuation that he would not welcome a visit from a law-officer seemed to wound him.

‘Augustus,’ announced Cecelia, putting up her chin, ‘will be remembered long after you have sunk into oblivion!’
‘By his creditors? I don’t doubt it.’

I did find myself wishing for a few more lines of this sort. Heyer is funny, but never quite reaches anywhere near Wodehouse, which, I suppose, is a tall order for anyone except Plum himself, but still, considering that they were both contemporaries, some of his brand of humour does seem to have seeped into Heyer’s writing.

Her characters are really quite well-done too. Sophy is wild and unpredictable, but lovably unapologetic about her behaviour, and Charles is rather stiff-necked and haughty, at least in the beginning. But the one sketch I liked the most was that of Augustus Fawnhope, lover of Sophy’s cousin Cecelia, a very poetic and sentimental personality, and the type of person Wodehouse would have called a sop. Fawnhope reminded me very much of Madeleine Bassett, and even behaves similarly.

Mr Fawnhope having become rapt in contemplation of a clump of daffodils, which caused him to throw out a hand, murmuring: “Daffodils that come before the swallow dares!”

‘It is you!’ announced Mr Fawnhope, staring at her. ‘For a moment, as you stood there, the lamp held above your head, I thought I beheld a goddess! A goddess, or a vestal virgin!
‘Well, if I were you,’ interposed Sir Vincent practically, ’I would come in out of the rain while you make up your mind.’

The climax, involving a farmhouse, gruntled and disgruntled amours, a few ducks, pigs, and rain, is absolutely hilarious, and finishes the story off with a bang.

Dear reader, if ever you are given the chance to read only one Heyer, let this one be it.

Quotes to remember:

‘I never indulge commonplace thoughts,’ said Sir Vincent. ‘Not, at all events, in relation to the Grand Sophy.’

P.S. This is Book 10 in the Brunch Book Challenge, my Twitter handle is @sindbadrose, and the challenge is at #BrunchBookChallenge.. 🙂

Shadow of the Moon

Ok, so this one (also by M M Kaye) I picked up almost immediately after The Far Pavilions, with a couple of light books in between.

So Captain Alex Randall is sent to England by the Commissioner of Lunjore to accompany the latter’s betrothed back to India, an orphan named Winter who naively worships the Commissioner, not knowing how terrible a person he actually is. Obviously, Alex and Winter fall in love (after a fashion) and go through a truckload of trouble, in between all the intrigue of the 1857 Rebellion.

Since I read this one and TFP (The Far Pavilions) so close together, I couldn’t help comparing them, and unfortunately Shadow of the Moon doesn’t come off favourably at all. At its best, it feels like a treatise on the 1857 Rebellion, with a pinch of rather dispassionate romance thrown in, and that’s about it. Apparently Kaye wrote this first, but her agent liked TFP more, so that was published first, and with good reason. TFP is almost an epic, it encompasses a huge amount of history and romance, along with excellently etched out characters. Shadow of the Moon, sadly, ended up reading like a pastiche of TFP, even though it was written first. There is much more obvious British superiority here, and what is, even today, revered as a hugely patriotic deed (the 1857 Rebellion) in India, is written about as a crime/mutiny to be suppressed.

The India that had once seemed to her so glamorous and beautiful a country began to wear a different aspect, for she knew by now that underneath that glamour and beauty lurked undreamed-of depths of cruelty and terror, just as the graceful minarets and gilded domes of the palaces rose above narrow, filthy streets and the squalid hovels of the poor.

The contrast between our great cities and the squalor of the East must cause such visitors the greatest amazement.

Since the average native of the country, though for the most part careless of death, possessed a disproportionate fear of being painfully wounded.

Oh dear. Just you tell that to the warriors of Rajputana.

The characters are rather unremarkable. Kaye tries to make hero Alex Randall think exactly like Ash in TFP, but it just doesn’t work, primarily because we have no idea who Captain Randall actually is, or anything much about his past. The heroine, Winter, seems to be somewhat of an English-Rose-cum-doormat and I couldn’t sympathise much with her either. That left only the villain, Kishan Prasad, who is a gracious nobleman at the forefront of the Rebellion plans, and who, rather frustratingly, won all my admiration and empathy. This is one of the very few books that put me in this dilemma of being unable to see from the author’s point of view, because I identified more with the villains than with the ‘good’ people.

Usually a thrilling love story goes a long way in redeeming bad plots for me, but unfortunately in this case the romance was also rather dry and very uneventful. In fact, Alex doesn’t even realise he’s in love with Winter until a few days after a one-night-stand (yes, with her only, thankfully); upto then he keeps thinking of her as a burden, which is ideally not the stuff great romances (or any romance, for that matter) are made of.

The Far Pavilions worked because the romance propelled the plot and tied up all the knots neatly, and this one fails because the Rebellion propels the romance, and it is just not enough. It would probably have been better if there had been no love story at all, then Kaye could have written about the Rebellion and its horrors (oh the irony) to her heart’s content.

It is not all bad, however. There is a lovely story about Winter’s English mother and Spanish father in the very beginning; that was the part I liked the most. It is a beautiful story, and more in tune with what I thought were Kaye’s sensibilities. So read the book if you must, dear reader, for the writing is absolutely fantastic, but you would, I suspect, enjoy it more if you knew nothing about India; then it would probably feel more exotic and enchanting than disappointing.

Quotes to remember:

When churls rebel against their native prince, I arm their hands and furnish the pretence, and housing in the lion’s hateful sign, bought senates and deserting troops are mine – Dryden

Somewhere within those walls, a shadow among shadows, the last of the Moguls – an old, frail, withered pantaloon, stripped of all power and King only in name – shuffled through the marble magnificence of the palace built by Shah Jahan, composing Persian couplets to fill his aimless days.

As long as these people were divided by their castes and their creeds into antagonistic factions they would always be at the mercy of a conqueror, but if they once combined they could stand against any from sheer weight of numbers. But they will never combine. Never.

P.S. This is Book 9 in the Brunch Book Challenge, and my Twitter handle is @sindbadrose, the challenge is at #BrunchBookChallenge.. 🙂

Mayhem in the Home

So my mother took herself off to Chennai to visit her mother for a few days, plunging the rest of us (i.e. myself, brother and father) at home into deep despondency (mostly because none of us are great cooks, and also because all of us are slaves to our palates). For ten days, we somehow managed with salt-less khichdi (courtesy father), weird-tasting sambhar (courtesy yours truly) and bread toast with Hershey’s syrup and crushed Oreo sprinkled on top (my brother is a big fan of Masterchef Australia). The trouble began when my mother came back.

Having finished with Yashraj-style reunions (this was partly due to the relief of not having to eat burnt rasam day after day), my brother and I formed an orderly queue towards the bag with all the Chennai snacks in it (if pouncing on stuff from either side and banging our heads in the process can be called an orderly queue) and forgot ourselves for the next hour in the joys of thattai, seedai and Tirunelveli halwa (from l-r below).

images9565817495_554f33c838_zTirunelveli-Halwa-2

Then my mother came back from her bath and stepped into the kitchen. There came the sound of steel tiffins being opened and closed, containers being inspected, frying pans being overturned and placed back, and then there emerged a roar. I froze. My mother charged out of the kitchen with three steel dabbas in her hands, looking rather furious, and I couldn’t help sidling unobtrusively to the door.

“What the hell”, she shook the dabbas under my nose, “on earth is this?” There was a green mold-covered something that might have been a leftover chapatti a week ago (ok no judging me please, haven’t you ever done anything like this? On second thoughts, don’t answer that), a blackish looking something that might have been the poha from 4 days ago and another something I couldn’t recognize at all. I crept a bit further in the direction of the door and promptly stumbled over my father, who had obviously had the same brainwave and was muttering something about walks. My mother eyed him frostily, and he came back resignedly into the house, mumbling about heart patients and how weak they generally are. This card never fails to arouse my mother’s sympathy and concern, however unfairly it may be used, so she calmed down a bit and turned to glare at me. This time, though, I had my answer ready, “I went to college every day and came back only at night”, I wailed, “He was the one cooking and cleaning everything” and pointed at him rather melodramatically. My father blustered and blubbed a bit, but he needn’t have bothered with any explanation.

Both of us had forgotten a key player in the drama. My brother, who was, perhaps, taking revenge on us for all the nonsense he had been forced to eat for ten whole days, at once screamed, “Liars liars pants on fires” (No, he’s not very mature, and also, no, not very grammatical either), “She went to college only once, and dad was strong enough to wrestle with me daily”, and poured into her ears sob stories of how he had been force-fed watery rice and tasteless vegetables (which, I assure you, was an exaggeration; the rice was only watery twice, once when it was overcooked, and once when I tried to multitask (yes, me also Masterchef fan) and poured water into the rice instead of the dal (on that note, remind me never to trust my brother again, he seemed to believe me when I told him that it was Spanish rice with caliente agua)).

Anyway, the upshot of it all was that my mother gave us a good long lecture on the management of houses and kitchens, and asked me how I thought I was going to manage a household by myself after marriage, if my standards were so abysmal, and what my husband and mother-in-law would have to say about my upbringing if I cooked daily such burnt rice and watery rasam. Nose in the air, I replied, “You can just tell them I’m a career girl and don’t care for such petty chores”, which was, on second thought, possibly the worst thing to say to a mathematician who had given up her job to take care of a fragile husband and frail daughter (though nobody who has seen me anytime recently will believe that I have ever been anywhere near frail in my life). “What, then”, she asked rather acidly, “will you eat if both you and your husband don’t cook?” This, I must confess, had me stumped, and I bit back all sorts of feminist rants about cooking, because there are times when it is more about your stomach than about your gender.

Since she seemed to have calmed down quite a bit after this tirade, my father and I started inching towards the bedroom door again (this time to beat up my brother, who had mysteriously gone missing after denouncing us), but in our fear, we had failed to notice that my mother had opened the refrigerator and was rifling through its contents while haranguing us. “What”, she frowned, “is this?” and held up something which looked eerily like the unsuccessful mushroom tomato sabzi I had cooked 3 days ago, except that it had a purple layer on it (on an aside, this is my mother’s favourite colour, but possibly it does not quite matter in this case). “Toilet, I wanna go toilet”, I screamed and fled the scene (this, though obviously not a very mature scheme, was a very wise one, since my father promptly copied it).

So the moral of the story is, when the cat is away, the mice will play, provided they don’t have to cook, and when the cat comes back, will still be safe, since mice don’t have traitorous brothers.

P.S. This is a true story, and is only slightly exaggerated (I’m not really that bad a cook, although you don’t believe me now, do you?)

P.P.S. Please forgive my erratic posting schedule, dear readers (and also fellow writers whose posts I haven’t read and commented on for some time); this is in major part due to certain career decisions I took that have come back to bite me in the..er..neverwhere, so life is not all that it should be, but I’m trying to soldier on, please bear with me.. 🙂