College Chronicles

This was an article I was asked to write for my alma mater’s annual magazine, and since I haven’t heard back from them for months, it has most probably been rejected and can be safely put up on my blog without any copyright issues... 😛

I was 18 years old when I stepped into VIT for the first time, nearly eight years ago.

I was, as usual, late that first rainy morning in September 2009, as was the only other girl I knew then. We both hurried into college together, reached the entrance, where, as if to mark my entry, I proceeded to step into a puddle of water and slipped and fell, landing on my back and looking up at Vaidehi hopefully, waiting for her to give me a hand which never came. As she most penitently explained later, I was slightly heavier than her, and afraid of the gravitational force I was apparently exuding, she decided to just stand there and look at me instead.

Having brushed off the crumbs of this initial embarrassment, I plunged headlong into college life with great gusto, or as much gusto as could be expected from a girl with enormous eyes and a tapering rat-tail plait. Looking back now, most of those four years seem to have passed by in a blur of lectures, movies, good-looking guys, the cultural council, fests, a number of re-evaluated KTs, and a sense of carefree happiness in general, although there were a few incidents that marked epochs of sorts in our college memories, which I elucidate in no particular order below.

It so happened that one morning the lights went out in the entire college, and most fortunately we had practicals scheduled for the next two hours, so we were technically free till after lunch. Since quite a large number of (normally invisible) people had turned up for their practicals, we decided to make the best use of this MSEB-given gift of time and took the next bus to Cinemax Sion to watch (wait for it) Aarakshan (if you remember this movie, I’m judging you..and if you liked it..well..). So there we were, all bright and ready, when the class representative (CR) received a phone call from the Principal ordering us back to college immediately. Apparently, our fond hope that the disappearance of the only Electronics class in the college would go unnoticed in the dark had been too optimistic. The CR, however, was wilier than we gave him credit for. “I’m afraid we cannot come back now, Madam”, he informed the Principal politely, “we have just booked tickets for 35 people that cannot be cancelled” and cut the phone without further ado.

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The movie group.. 🙂 (Sorry Aman.. 😛 )

Then there was the day everyone decided to do a mass bunk from a communications lecture, and even the first-benchers surprisingly agreed to this plan. Predictably, no word of this reached the professor, who strolled into the classroom only to find it empty. Being a bit of a sport, he sat there and waited patiently for about 10 minutes, hoping that it was just a collective excursion to the washroom and not a mass bunk, and was just about to give up and go when in walked V (a guy from our class). V, who had no idea about the mass bunk, had most unfortunately misplaced his friends and come up to the classroom looking for them, where the professor caught him. “Where,” demanded the irate professor, “is the rest of the class?” Bewildered, V protested that he did not know, he had only come up to search for his friends, and could he please go now, since there was obviously no one to teach? “Oh, but there is,” said the professor with a grim smile “you’ll do well enough, don’t worry”, whereupon poor V was made to sit on the first bench for an entire hour while the professor sincerely eulogized about wavelet and Fast Fourier transforms to a lone and captive audience. V has been known to be allergic to communications lectures ever since.

My viva-voci were consistently terrible experiences. I could never manage to study more than two chapters for any viva, and since the external examiners could always be relied upon to ask questions from every other chapter except for those two, I was always at a loss for words. This incident happened in the very last semester during an electronics viva; I had wriggled through the attendance requirements of this subject with the barest minimum. The subject professor stared at me rather blankly as I and a friend entered the room. “Are you sure”, demanded the professor, “that you were in my class?” This was enough to set the external examiner off about the merits and demerits of the attendance system of Mumbai University, and he began to look upon me in a markedly jaundiced manner. An exhausting half-hour of questions later (exhausting for the external, repeating “Sir, I don’t know this” every few minutes surprisingly did not affect me in any way). “All right”, the external conceded, exasperated, “I’ll ask you one last question and then you can leave. Explain the read operation of ROM”. From the very foggy recesses of my not-very-full brain rose a diagram and a somewhat crude explanation of something associated with ROM, so I closed my eyes and began to spew forth enlightening electronic prose immediately, as if in a trance, which ended rather abruptly when my friend elbowed me in the ribs. I shook myself awake and found the examiner and the professor staring at me with a mixture of incredulity and awe, while my friend was looking horrified. “Are you sure? You’re absolutely sure of this answer?” asked the examiner again, staring at me as if fearful of the answer. “Yes sir”, I replied proudly, “I’m very sure; current flows through an open switch”, whereupon the subject professor nearly burst into tears and abused me roundly for having wasted four years, FOUR YEARS, of my time and his, and also a bit of my father’s money, while the external was still looking as if someone had hit him on the head with a copy of Boylestad-Nashelsky. It took me a few seconds to realize that I had managed to turn the whole engineering world on its head in a fraction of a second (in case you don’t know what is wrong with that answer, I would advise you to shift to B.A. or B.Com, there is still time), and by that time the mental processes of the external examiner had shut down, unable to sustain this assault, so we were, not very politely, asked to leave the room. Three months later, I began my Master’s degree in Electronics from another MU college (I fared pretty well in that subject in theory later, although you don’t believe me now, do you?). I was sitting on the first bench waiting for the Head of Department’s address, when, to my abject horror, in strolled that very external examiner; turns out he was the HoD there. I then spent a very pleasant and informative two years in that college, as you will have understood, and now can safely state that if nothing else, I have finally learned that current flows through a closed switch.

P.S. If anyone from ETRX 2013 remembers other interesting stuff, please write in.. 🙂 Also, if someone from EXTC 2013 is reading this, could you tell me a bit more about the toothpaste biscuit incident outside the cafe? 😛

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Kanpur Days

Hello blogosphere, I’m back! If you know of any tried and tested way to worm oneself into the good graces of fellow bloggers after eight months of absence, kindly inform me, I shall try it on you. Eight months! It’s been a really long time since I last wrote, during which Gundu Meena alias Biker Chick alias Preeti from In Search of The Colloquial has decided to shut down her blog (*cries loudly*), and everyone seems to have read hundreds and hundreds of books (*cries even more loudly*) and forgotten me altogether (*bawls loudly and wipes snot from nose*). The last few months have been a bit difficult, mainly because I’ve been trying to clamber up onto the career ladder (or maybe it’s not been that difficult and I’m just trying to gain your sympathy and good graces). So anyway, following the ladder climbing, I have moved out of Mumbai and am now in Kanpur, at least for the next few months.

IIT Kanpur campus

Having never stepped out of home before (yes, yes, all right, all you independent hostelite women are very hep, ok, I get it), the move proved to be slightly freeing, and also somewhat difficult. Coming from temperate Mumbai (which is the last thing I ever thought I would call Mumbai weather), summer in North India is turning out to be quite the revelation. Even as I sit typing this inside the cool confines of my air-conditioned lab, the temperature outside is 46C. Forty-six. 46! I will never ever curse Mumbai summers again. Never. I seem to have landed from the frying pan straight into the fire. Every time I step outside here I can feel the sun literally beating down on me. It took me two weeks of nearly drowning in my own sweat every night to capitulate and buy a cooler, and two more weeks to understand that I was operating it wrongly (I swear my engineering degree is not fake), after which I am now able to wade ankle-deep in my own sweat, which is obviously an improvement.

So am I homesick? Not as much as I feared I would be, at least not yet. The whole of the first week, of course, was full of intermittent bursts of crying followed by periods of fright and loneliness at being away from my bookshelves and the family. So does the family miss me as much? Not quite, as it turns out. My brother, poor fellow, who is now in the tenth standard, is trying to protect his brain from any possible dents that knowledge might make in it, and so has retreated into himself and allegedly keeps snarling at everyone. I doubt he remembers me, except when he’s eating junk and watching nonsense, given that those are the only things we did together. My mother is, understandably, rather pleased that there is a big cow-sized decrease in her monthly cooking, and keeps asking me excitedly about prices of dal and vegetables in Kanpur, which I haven’t the faintest idea about, while my father thinks up rather poor quality jokes about cows in the cow-belt area, when he is not writing me emails, that is. ‘Dear Sindhuja’, began one, ‘How are you? I am fine (this when we had spoken just about 5 minutes ago). Please do not venture out of the campus. That city is not safe for girls..’, went on for four more pages till my eyes began to water and I was in danger of drowning again (no no, not because of sentiment, you sops, it was because of too much staring at the screen), and ended with ‘Thanking You, Yours Sincerely, Father.’ I am now waiting for him to send himself a RSVP for my wedding, whenever that happens.

The North Indian cooking here in the mess kitchens has also been a huge revelation, in that mess food is definitely not as bad as I was led to believe, although it does have its idiosyncrasies, especially as far as potatoes are concerned. The other day, I entered the mess and chanced upon a huge plate full of fried tomatoes stuffed with potato filling, fried capsicums stuffed with potato filling, and…drumroll please…fried potatoes stuffed with potato filling (seriously?), which last would probably ensure a return ticket to Mumbai for me if my mummy ever gets to know of this. There is not a day that goes by without me inadvertently imbibing some form of potatoes; roasted, fried, boiled, in a sandwich, stuffed, so much so that sometimes I can almost fancy I see a potato staring back at me from the mirror (please let me say ‘aloo’cinations…bows politely to applause).

Also, the almost complete self-sufficiency of the campus and its profusion of trees and green cover has succeeded in dispelling any notions I might have had of myself as a nature lover. Turns out I’m more of a city lover than anything else, and I actually miss all the noise (ok, maybe not all the time). It is always very quiet here; there are no trains, no traffic, no crowds, no chaos, no noise, only loads and loads of insects which somehow sense my fear and keep getting into my room all the bloody (for them) time. There are, however, a huge number of almost tame peacocks and peahens, a few nilgai, and all sorts of other wildlife besides.

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From the balcony.. 😀
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From the archives of ace photographer Miss Samsung Galaxy On8 

So, dear fellow bloggers, how have you all been? And more importantly, what have you been reading? As for me, I have been reading a few books here and there, and might hopefully be able to review one or two in the near future. So welcome back, dear readers (if there be any left), and here’s to a new set of books to be read, reviewed and loved.

P.S. A huge thank-you to cousin and fellow bibliophile Nandini, for having given me an impetus and loads of encouragement to post after all this while.. 😀

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.. 🙂