All posts by eternaloxymoron

About eternaloxymoron

I am a natural blabbermouth who has an opinion on everything under the sun. Through the passing years I have found the written word to be a more potent outlet to drive home my point and hence the blog was born. Here I write about whatever catches my fancy and I hope it is of some interest to the reader(s) so that I don't make a complete fool of myself (which I do effortlessly in real life) in the virtual world. I read books, watch movies and take photographs. I adore nature and like going on long walks where I ruminate on things I should not ruminate on and they end up getting scribbled in my journal. Some of it will find its way here.

Lipstick Under My Burkha

The movie Lipstick Under My Burkha is a brutal attack on patriarchy. No wonder the CBFC had a problem with it. But thanks to the controversy it generated a huge buzz and many people are in theatres to see it, who would have missed it (besides perverts that is). It is doing good business even in small towns (How do I know? I live in one). The movie is exceptional because of the way it shows women as they are. Messy, emotional, pliable, virtuous, out of control, not always keeping it together, and certainly not perfect but beautiful, flawed creatures.

Four women in different stages of life. It is set in Bhopal though it could be any small town in India. Ratna Pathak Shah is outstanding as ‘Buaji’, an identity slapped on her for so long that she has forgotten what her name is. She rediscovers romance and wants to live and love a little but at her age it’s a taboo. All the other leads are spot on too. A college student played by Plabita Borthakur, Rehana, longs to leave her burkha behind and dance with abandon. A beautician played by Aahana Kumra, Leela, wants to live life on her own terms unafraid of societal diktats. A tormented housewife, Shirin, played by Konkona Sen Sharma, is saddled with an abusive husband.

We see the different ways women are subjugated. It was depressing the way they go about trying to fulfill their desires in secret. The only way to live out their dreams and fantasies  is when they are hidden from the world, from their families, neighbours, everyone. It is an inhospitable environment for their dreams. They go to immense lengths to conceal their true selves just to live in this world with their sanity intact.

It is always women who lead lives of quiet desperation. Mostly. There wouldn’t be a woman in the country who wouldn’t identify with at least one of the characters.

There are many comic moments in the movie and most of them unexpected. For example, fiancee sounded like fancy. Continue reading Lipstick Under My Burkha

Dunkirk

My first thought as I watched Dunkirk was remembering Ian McEwan’s Atonement; both reading the book with its long war passages, and watching the devastation unfold on screen.

The  pounding musical score by Hans Zimmer in Dunkirk isn’t what you would ever want to download and listen to (Do listen to the OST of Atonement by Dario Marianelli.) but it works for the movie,​ pumping it with urgency. And how the movie is shot adds to the tension so we are able to feel the rising​ panic and helplessness. Cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is outstanding.

Dunkirk was emotional for me. The movie has a beating heart. A war movie without any of the goriness but all the urgency thanks to the way it is shot which puts you in the thick of action, and that’s something that appealed to me. I don’t know how people found it cut and dry. Dialogue is sparse. There was pin drop silence in the hall. Everyone was listening intently and watching like a hawk so as not to miss anything because the narrative is such; we weren’t being told just shown. We don’t get a history lesson here. Nothing is explained. We get to see a dramatization of experiences of how the soldiers themselves might have experienced it.

Both for a war movie, and the cinematic flourish that Nolan usually brings, Dunkirk was understated and subtle.

I loved the patriotic spirit of the people, civilians who went out to rescue their people on being urged by their government, knowing fully well that they are undertaking a a huge risk.

Honour and bravery  are all very well but it is survival that matters in the end. Survival by any means possible is what the movie focuses on. I chose to believe that survival in this case isn’t an act of cowardice because staying alive they will be more useful to their country’ the war was far from over.

Survival isn’t fair.

There’s no melodrama and some scenes are almost clinical in its brutality but no fuss is made about it. If anyone says it’s not engaging, it’s probably not their cup of tea. Even though the outcome is widely known we (those of us in the hall) were watching what was unfolding on screen with bated breath, till the credits rolled on.

When the movie ended there was applause.  Clearly the audience was moved. Continue reading Dunkirk

Neel Mukherjee’s A State of Freedom

The first thing that struck me about A State of  Freedom is it’s cover. The book jacket has a large bear on the cover, which is unusual and arresting but aesthetically pleasing. When I began reading A State of Freedom, it reminded me of Lahiri’s oeuvre because of the way it started and the themes it deals with. But I soon realized Neel Mukherjee’s book is quite different.

The book is edgy and each section ends with a cliffhanger. You want to gallop ahead and connect the dots, and at the same time, you want to take your time to savour the way it’s written.

A State of Freedom has a large canvas and deals with many issues in only 275 pages. The book is divided into 5 sections and the events that unfold are in different geographical locations. The way the stories of these characters are narrated it gives them depth, and makes them appear real, like you and me.

In the first section a man wants to familiarize his increasingly Americanized son with his roots. So they visit Mughal monuments like Fatehpur Sikhri and Taj Mahal. Originally from Calcutta, he has been living abroad for two decades, and now feels like “a tourist in his own country”. He wants his son to see India, and understand the culture he was born into. But they are like aliens from another planet.

I felt disoriented as the first section ended and wanted to give up but I urge you to read on and not be put off by big words.

The second section flows more easily. A Bengali couple, the Sens, lives in Mumbai and their son is a young writer, who lives in London. He returns to India periodically to visit them. He is working on a cookbook which will contain authentic recipes from India as cooked in Indian households. The cooking at their home is done by Renu. Renu works as a cook in many households in Mumbai. Their son is curious about Renu and tries to draw her into conversations but she doesn’t respond.

Treating the domestic help as a lesser human being is perhaps a relic of the Zamindari system. The son now straddles both worlds and finds it  increasingly difficult to deal with the way some things are done in India.

The love of food intersperses this section. If you pay attention, many a recipe can be mined out from these pages. While exploring India for recipes, he also visits Renu’s home at her insistence. It is here he witnesses the divide between the classes.

Another woman, Milly, comes to clean the Sens’ house. She reappears as a major character in another section of the book.

The third section is the longest, and is the soul of the book. Motherless twins are brought up by a father, who dies in a forest fire. One brother then leaves home to find work. It follows the other brother, Lakshman, as he attempts to eke out a livelihood. He finds a bear cub and keeps it to save it from being killed. He calls the bear cub Raju. Though Lakshman is cruel to Raju, he is aware of the fact that he is at the mercy of the helpless animal. With his brother gone, the responsibilityof feeding his wife and children along with his own family now falls squarely on his shoulders.

The way the bear cub is handled, in an attempt to tame it, is barbaric. This, in a country where cows are ‘worshipped’.  It makes you think who are the ones that are wild and savage.

They are animals their pain doesn’t last. All these animals that live in the wild, in the forest, on the streets, you have never known them to need a doctor, have you? They heal quickly, they are strong. It’s we, humans, who are weak.

With hunger gnawing their insides, their lives are foremost about survival. They are largely unaware of the world outside of their existence. They have no time to understand the rights of animals. Lakshman has trouble believing bear dancing is a crime you could be sent to jail for.

Lakshman tries to train him to be a performing bear and wanders from place to place living like a nomad, trying to earn money by making Raju perform in front of a crowd. Lakshman depends on Raju; the bear can forage for food and fend for itself. It makes you think about freedom, who is actually free.

The book shows how leaving home and familiar surroundings in search of a better quality of life works out differently for people, and the price they pay for it.  (Warning – Animal sacrifice is described in this section.)  Continue reading Neel Mukherjee’s A State of Freedom

The Postmaster

After watching Satyajit Ray’s adaptation of The Postmaster, a short story by Rabindranath Tagore, and I am forced to think how little I had understood of Ratan’s plight, and the subtext, when it was taught to us in school. I wonder if the opinions were even our own. Then the only interpretation that flew was the teacher’s. We weren’t encouraged to apply our brains much those days. So many years down the line I don’t even remember who taught it. That’s what memories are. Fleeting and evasive, just beyond your grasp when you need them. You seem to remember some things while forgetting others. That’s where people come in. You ask them what they remember of an incident or something that happened, and you will be amazed to hear the stories, real and imagined. Everyone thinks they remember it correctly, the way it happened. But it is the prism of perspective that colours everything we view.

Chandana Banerjee as the young Ratan is outstanding. I couldn’t have expected more. She brought Tagore’s Ratan to life. I have no love lost for the postmaster but it was portrayed well by Anil Chatterjee. Incredible acting. The fish out of water-ness and his loneliness were apparent. I can’t exactly call him unfeeling or unkind but in the end he thought only of saving himself. That is human nature, the survival instinct kicking in. I won’t reveal much that may spoil your reading or watching. But I shall say this, you will be surprised by what you feel once you have finished watching or reading it.

It’s a pity I found subtitles only for a part of the story.  It wasn’t that big a problem because I do understand a bit of Bengali, especially when it is spoken slowly, it being similar somewhat to Odia and all.

The Postmaster is one of three short films collectively titled Teen Kanya. I have only seen The Postmaster which is so nuanced that even though you don’t understand the language completely, by dint of what’s unfolding on the screen, the feeling will find its way to you. What the director was trying to convey  is in tandem with what the writer was trying to say. Do you know how rare that is?

I loved the black and white minimalist cinematography where every single thing that unfolded on screen added something to the story. Nothing was extraneous. I found this podcast online where Anita Desai narrates The Postmaster which is followed by a discussion. Listen to it now. It is of course thousand times better than me reading the text. Needless to say I love and admire Anita Desai having read her The Village by the Sea when I was young (for school again) and the book has stayed with me all these years.

It’s been a while since I read Tagore. It’s time to reacquaint myself with his prose. And what better time than the monsoons, when loneliness and desolation walk hand in hand.

School Days by Paro Anand

Even though I am a grown woman a school girl still resides in me somewhere. It is wonderful to get into a child’s head and see how they view the world and hope some of the innocence rubs off on you. So years ago when I spotted Paro Anand’s School Days in the book fair I pounced on it. It was a tattered old copy but all the pages were there. I know I have come a long way from reading only pristine undamaged books (read new books). What can I say poverty teaches you many things.

It has eight not so short stories with different settings and situations. They are guaranteed to make both children and adults laugh. Your attention won’t waver even once (unless you aren’t a reader) as the stories are delightfully crisp.

Centre of attraction

The girl in Centre Stage is competing with Malati , her classmate, to be centre stage in some kind of a gymnastic event. She has to do a headstand to guarantee her place in it. But for some reason she’s unable to pull it off even after trying many times. Help comes from unexpected quarters, from a person who exists only for her. Confidence is the message here. 

Settling in a new place

New Blue was hilarious and had me laughing out loud in a public place. Immersion into a new culture is never easy. Being the new girl in not only a new school, but a new country in a culture Parvati’s not familiar with is too much. Making friends isn’t easy when people can’t even pronounce your name. (Read Parvati becomes Poverty). How we perceive things to be true without really knowing the facts and fitting in, are what the story deals with.

Stammering through a play

​To Play a P-p-part is about a girl who stammers. ​Gitali desperately wants to take part in a play in school which is about Savitri and Satyavan. How will she make that happen? Most people in her class make fun of her but her teachers start to hope when she shows initiative and suggests a play, Children of a Lesser God, of her own accord. It has a deaf and mute girl in its lead. Since she won’t have to open her mouth the stammering won’t be a problem. Clever, but there is one problem. The movie is a romance with intimate moments and not suitable for children. Comedic moments are done well and it so real you think it is all unfolding before your eyes. Evading a problem isn’t going to make it go away. To deal with the truth you have to face it head on. These stories have a lesson or two for us world weary adults too.

Who’s a bully?

In Bullies, a fat kid who is a good student is spoilt rotten by his parents because they finally got a son after 3 girls. Hail patriarchy! He is bullied because of his flab. It talks about a very important issue that affects so many people at so many levels, not only kids. Either you have been teased or you have done the teasing or you know someone who has been teased because of his/her weight. The story is about learning to deal with body image issues and being comfortable in your own skin.

Hostel diaries

Dear Dad is a funny story which has epistles (letters for the uninitiated) and telegrams from a boy in boarding school to his parents (each of them, mind you, for maximum impact) asking for more money but it falls on deaf ears. We get a tiny peek into his life at boarding school (reminded me of Harry Potter). Children are sent into boarding school to build character so that kids are self reliant and stand up for themselves. I should know. I have never lived in one! He talks about his mother’s handbag where the phone can never be found (My mom is the same). He exaggerates situations which results in more laughs.

 Pandemonium in the classroom

Mouse C Tung opens with an alarm beeping. (I have a hate hate relationship with alarms to this day.) A sound too familiar to all of us when growing up. Winter break is over. Time to go back to school. Cosy under the blanket, he finds it hard to get up in the morning. His school is far from his home. So he has to get up at an ungodly hour to reach the school on time. This particular morning he’s looking for his pet mouse but he can’t find him anywhere. This boy is like Philip from Enid Blyton’s Adventure series, fond of keeping pets. Where has the mouse vanished? Meanwhile in school excitement is in the air. The class is abuzz with everyone swapping stories. Wait. Why is the teacher, the one who is supposed to maintain the decorum, climbed up on the table? 

Running Race

I used to run when I was a kid. Nothing to write home about, just something I remembered while reading the story. In Suvira there are two runners – the new girl Suvira, and the crowd favourite (obviously not new). In this story we see a race from start to finish. Running commentary is through the eyes of the Suvira. We read the thoughts as they race through her head. I could feel the suspense mounting, waiting with bated breath to see who will reach the finish line first. I felt as if I was back in the school field watching the race unfold before my eyes.

Cheater cheater pumpkin eater

In Caught a boy who has never cheated in exams is sweating buckets because he has taken a chit in an attempt to cheat. Does he manage to cheat egged on by his friend Pratap? The story is set in the examination hall for most part and the tension is so thick it can be cut with a knife. The ending sends a message to kids and, especially to adults on how to handle things.

Most of the stories are written in first person and quite a few have protagonists who are unnamed. So it becomes more personal, and in a sense, your story. Her stories always end on a cheerful note, quite unlike life, and much needed if you ask me, if we are to imagine a better world.

The writing is so effortless that you start to wonder if it came to her this way. Crackling dialogue seems to be a given in Paro Anand’s stories. Read School Days to your kids or better yet have them read it to you. Their activities in class will remind you of your own school days or of your children. It’s a pity we grow up too soon. 

I need to get my hands on all of Paro Anand’s books, especially Wild Child and Other Stories for which she was awarded the Bal Sahitya Puruskar. I’d better find a way to retrieve I’m Not Butter Chicken which I gave to a cousin of mine two years ago. And Pure Sequence is waiting to be read.

Just Married, Please Excuse

I read Yashodhara Lal’s There’s Something About You about two years ago and had quite liked the book for its unlikely lead pair (What’s not to love about an overweight, clumsy woman and a mild mannered man finding love!) and her sense of humour. Since then the name of the author had stuck. So when I saw Just Married, Please Excuse in the book fair I bought it without any compunction.

Yashodhara (Y) is a drama queen losing her temper at the drop of a hat. Vijay (V) is steady and has a cool demeanor. Both work in the same company and they ‘fall’ in love. I don’t think it’s clearly stated in the book why V fell for Y. Complete opposites in every which way, they belong to different generations (a 7 year age gap), and have different backgrounds (big city girl and small town boy). They also have different world views and ideologies unable to agree on anything except their love for each other. With possibly the shortest courtship in the history of modern romance, they jump into matrimony because V is getting older. He pesters the reluctant Y to say yes within months of going out. Yes, that is how it happens. No, I am not exaggerating.

How is 30 old (unless of course you live in a small town like me)? Isn’t 40 the new 30? Are we still living in the 21st century? That is the beauty of living in India. You can simultaneously experience many centuries in one lifetime.

V wanted to know Y’s caste before approaching his family but he assures her it won’t matter. Y on the other hand has no clue about her caste. I would like to say casteism is regressive and has no place in the society but having seen the matrimonial columns, and living in the society with my eyes and ears open, I have seen caste rear its ugly head more often than I’d like to admit.

Just Married, Please Excuse isn’t exactly a romcom but a scathing look at marriage using humour (sarcasm) as a tool.   Continue reading Just Married, Please Excuse

Not Too Sweet

I recently read the last book in the Tamanna trilogy, Time Will Tell, which didn’t make complete sense to me (obviously) but I liked the ease with which Andaleeb Wajid wrote and her sense of humour. I know what you are thinking. I read the last book because it found its way to me first and couldn’t bother waiting because this was my first book from the author.

I had read an excerpt of A Sweet Deal online and was hooked. I thought to myself, I ought to get my hands on her other books soon, notably The Crunch Factor and More Than Just Biryani. Yes, I am a foodie and I have a sweet tooth. Go skewer me!

In A Sweet Deal two friends leave their drudgery filled corporate jobs and invest all their savings in a cafe, Not Too Sweet, taking on the challenge of running it by themselves. 

Rumana is hot headed, jealous and jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts. Then looks at her actions, in hindsight, with a twinge of regret. That is, if she is not in denial mode. She has a cool as cucumber partner in Neharika, who balances out the craziness unleashed by her moodiness. Slothful Vinod also helps in running the cafe. He does odd jobs whereas the baking part is completely left to the girls.

One fine day Vinod waltzes in with a flyer with the news of a new patisserie  opening next door and all the hell breaks loose.

Enter Daniyal. The rich and suave owner of the patisserie next door. He has studied in a fancy culinary school abroad. And he has many people working for him whereas Rumana and Neharika only have themselves to manage the food.  He is charming and has everyone eating out of his hands.  If that wasn’t infuriating enough, he worms out Rumana’s life story and her Nani’s recipe of delectable carrot cake, from her within minutes. She is furious and makes up her mind to do whatever it takes to stay ahead of him.

In reality there’s no competition but Rumana gets this thought into her head since she heard about the patisserie opening next door. They cater to different niches and could have amiably coexisted but she feels threatened. More so, because theirs is a new cafe and they are yet to break even.

Initially, Daniyal enjoys sparring with her and has fun riling her up but ends up feeling more than he had bargained for.

Let’s talk about the meet cute. The woman is in her bed clothes, hair wild and the man looks like a worker on a deadline, slaving away to complete a paint job. It also involved a shouting match. A rocky start!

Continue reading Not Too Sweet

Baaz by Anuja Chauhan

In the past Anuja Chauhan has tackled topics such as cricket and politics in her novels, The Zoya Factor and the Battle for Bittora respectively. I like her writing but I’m not what you would call a fan. Anuja Chauhan is known for witty romances nestled in good, if sometimes unbelievable plots. I was skeptical going in when I heard Baaz was about war, the Indo-Pak 1971 war no less. Baaz offers us a behind the scenes view into the lives of everyone associated with air force.  The multitude of things the air force men worry about, knowing their future is uncertain. How their wives and girlfriends deal with the stresses of their men being in combat.

Baaz opens in 1957 newly independent India. 10 year old Ishaan ‘Baaz’ Faujdaar is standing in front of an incoming train to get his adrenaline kick, to get that dhook-dhookk-dhoookk feeling, as he calls it. Ishaan or Shaanu, as he’s fondly known, is a thrill seeker. Motherless, his stepfather isn’t too fond of him but his five siblings hero-worship him. His Nanaji gives Ishaan the idea of becoming a pilot so that he could get the thrill he craves for. And there is no looking back.

10 years later, Ishaan gets through the exam and joins the  Indian Air Force (IAF). Here he meets Rakesh Aggarwal (Raka) and Madan Subbiah (Maddy) who were in NDA corps together. Initially they make fun of him but soon become his good friends. Ishaan takes never having known his father, coming from a humble background and not knowing English, lightly. His faith in himself (read cocksure) tides him over.

Ishaan meets Tehmina Dadyseth (Tinka) when he’s on duty and she’s fleeing her marriage. They appear to have some kind of a connection which they realize when their paths cross again. She doesn’t believe in hyper-patriotism and hates the idea of war whereas for Ishaan the country comes first, and everything is black and white. Their backgrounds are vastly different and so is the way they view the world, but they do have something in common. The chemistry was sizzling but there was something missing.

Tinka, the motherless daughter of Major General Ardisher Dadyseth, was born to challenge the status quo.  She is unafraid to go where very few women have gone. From studying photography to becoming a war correspondent in Dacca, she is undeterred once she has made up her mind.

Caste is very much in the air though caste system has been abolished. Pakistanis and Muslims were viewed with the same suspicious lens. The society then was regressive and not to mention conservative – not ready to accept independent free thinking men or women who deviate from the norm. So it was heartening to have many strong female characters in the book, who defied convention in their own way.

Continue reading Baaz by Anuja Chauhan

My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories by Madhulika Liddle

 

Late at night reading the stories from Madhulika Liddle’s My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories I knew why I waited so long before reading the book. The devious machinations the characters devise to get their sanity back is the stuff nightmares are made of. The twist in the tale endings leave you feeling bleak and second guess everything in life. I read this fine collection of short stories at the wrong time when I was wallowing in negativity. It resulted in a black mood I couldn’t shake off very easily. The hangover of hopelessness, thinking of duplicitous people and the likelihood of being taken for a ride being were swimming in my head.

Reading these stories made me feel like the writer really enjoyed writing it. The writing is effortless and the dialogue is crackling (you can almost hear it). It was a compulsive read for me but the stories will remain with me for a long time to come.

Some stories are deliciously macabre and reminded me of Roald Dahl’s The Landlady which had us flabbergasted in school.  It also reminds me of  Daphne du Maurier’s The Rendevous and Other Stories.

We follow the trail in fiction and believe what we are told. What if there’s an unreliable narrator? Sum Total delves into the mind of a troubled young woman. Forced to be good by her mother, she is under immense pressure. Her way of dealing with people who annoy her is to get rid of them. Turns out you don’t need blood and gore to write a chilling story.

Why do we make snap judgments about people? And more importantly, how accurate are they? We assume the friendly, gregarious ones are nice whereas surly, cantankerous people, who keep to themselves are not so nice, if not bad. In A Tale of a Summer Vacation, the fate of two sisters hangs in balance on their ability to decipher the world around them, and the people in it. The story is set in a village in Goa, which is wonderfully evoked.

Another such atmospheric tale is The Howling Waves of  Tranquebar. I could almost sense the changes in the weather. Two friends meet in Pondicherry while doing their own thing. Something happens in Tranquebar, which at first glance isn’t extraordinary, but not quite normal either. The truth when it comes out is something sinister. Also, it is close to being a story within a story, in a sense. The main narrative falls by and another narrative takes over. Towards the end both unite revealing the unimaginable twist. Continue reading My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories by Madhulika Liddle

Thoughts on rereading The Sense of an Ending and waiting for the movie

Before reading

This year I am going back to The Sense of an Ending. I have never read it after I read it the first time because I didn’t own the book then. Years later, when I do own it, I still haven’t read it yet. A lovely paperback, I kept putting it off  and saying to myself that the timing wasn’t right. What was stopping me? Is it fear of failing the book or thinking it might not stand up to the first delirious experience or spoiling something untouched by revisiting it?

Anyway I’m rushing to finish it before I see the movie, that is, if it does release in the small town where I live.  The release date being pushed off multiple times isn’t a good sign. On the plus side (if it can be called that) there will be a gap between my rereading the book and watching the adaptation. (Update – After postponing the release date week after week, it finally didn’t release here.)

A little bit of history.

Circa 2012. We were at Oxford bookstore together one evening doing the usual – hunting books, catching up, not exactly carefree students because adulthood was rearing its ugly head, but we were less attuned to the ways of the world, and more dreamy, assured that like in books, things will work out for us. When we spotted the hauntingly beautiful book cover and read the title, we were sold. Also, The Sense of an Ending was thinner than most prize winners hence, much less likely to bore us to death. The hardback was a thing of beauty and my friend bought it. She immediately read it and passed it on to me. I read it even though final exams were knocking at my door. Needless to say, it was a great read.

Now you know why I have been putting it off. What if my expectations won’t do it any justice the second time around? It’s crunch time. Time to dive in. Five years later we will see where we stand and how good is my understanding of the book. And what new I can take from it.

After reading

Five years later it is both new and familiar at the same time, though at different places. There is more philosophy than I remember but the prose is sparkling. I might be biased here because I am a fan of his work and will probably read everything he writes. Each word packs a punch. The Sense of an Ending has to be read very slowly, and has to be read many times to understand everything. Even then something would remain beyond reach because Veronica’s character remains an enigma from start to finish. She keeps  mum instead of expressing what bothers her at any given point in time.

The Sense of an Ending teaches you to live with grey. It is something I have trouble coming to terms with, even today. All the characters are unlikable. This time around I observed that the tone of the book is unforgiving, to the point of being acerbic.

Continue reading Thoughts on rereading The Sense of an Ending and waiting for the movie