Category Archives: book

Thoughts on Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring was an intereseting read considering the fact that I had seen the movie years back and quite liked it. It was a pleasant suprise because I hadn’t quite warmed up to Tracy Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn which was my introuction to the author

Spoilers ahead for the book and the movie.

It is 1665. The story is told by sixteen year old Griet who comes to work as a maid in the Vermeer household to support her family. Vermeer, the artist, takes a fancy to her because she understands art.

The house is run by the the matriarch, the wife’s mother who single-handedly managed the household. Although Vermeer was a good artist he was not the best man to provide for his family. Vermeer worked at his own pace. He was moody and temperamental even though the entire house was in debt and his paintings were the only source of income.

Life was tough in a way the population with access to modern healthcare wouldn’t understand. There was no method of contraception and it was one baby on the way after another whether you can afford it or want it.

Griet was a strong character for her the times she lived in. The name Grit would be apt for her because she is gutsy and resilient. She is sharp and observes things which would elude a casual onlooker.

I was delighted to see Antony van Leeuwenhoek in Girl with a Pearl Earring. He was Vermeer’s friend. I was happy to see a microbiologist in a novel about an artist. Seeing Antony van Leeuwenhoek as a character took me back to my student days.

I confess I had never heard the term camera obscura before. Shameful because I call myself an amateur photographer (the amateur bit does take the sting out of it). Of course my grandpa knew what camera obscura was. He was an engineer and a photographer, and unlike me a person who understands technicalities well.

A painting which isn’t a painting. The word photograph is yet to be invented because the camera hasn’t been invented yet. What a world it must have been. Since something cannot be captured there is no choice except to draw or paint what fascinated them.  A while ago I had read Julian Barnes’ Levels of Life where I got a peek into a world where photography was being invented.

It is not new wanting to save memories which have an impact on us. The word nostalgia means a great deal to us humans. Hence the need for keepsakes. When we write we do the same thing. Capturing a moment, a place, a situation, an experience, a time.

It was fascinating the way he tried to make Griet a part of his life – in charge of cleaning his studio, making her understand what an image was. He valued her opinion sensing her intelligence. He allowed her near his beloved colours, to make them, to buy them. He trusted her with his art, he took her suggestions into account and respected her opinions. Intellectually he treated her differently from a maid but the class difference remained. He was in a position of power so he did order her about and forced her to do things.

It’s interesting to see the interplay between their characters, Vermeer and Griet, the artist and the observer who later on becomes the subject. Griet is unusually quiet but she challenged Vermeer in her own way. She played many roles – muse, helper, and model. The relationship of the muse with the artist is fraught with complications and has no clear boundaries. Where does feeling stop and art begin? Can one draw in a completely detached manner from the subject? Would the essence be conveyed? The artist moves on. What of the muse who is caught up in the process unknowingly? Is the subject or the muse (in this case the same person) allowed to feel or have a say in how she is going to be portrayed? All these questions came up while reading the book and I don’t have any anwers.

The book gives us a picture of her life after she leaves the Vermeer household unlike the movie, which shows no clear resolution and leaves it to the audience. The movie shows more moments between them, paint a more romantic picture than it really is. Griet’s family makes her a well rounded character in the book but her family barely makes an apperance in the movie. The movie has more dialogue naturally as opposed to the book in which silences abounded.

A world of restraint, of veneers and facades. The beauty of the book and the movie is in its restraint, in the things left unsaid.

Have you read the book or seen the movie?

 

IMG_20171112_173238.jpg
Girl with a Pearl Earring spotted at a book fair
Advertisements

The Sense of an Ending (film)

Let me make it clear from the outset The Sense of an Ending is not a film you watch while munching popcorn. It is a very quiet movie and every sound is important. It is also not a film you watch with giggly friends (it is not a hangout movie). Of course the name is a dead giveaway.

Ritesh Batra has done a commendable job on adapting The Sense of an Ending into such a lovely film. Philosophical and minimalist like the book but he has redeemed Tony Webster, the unlikable protagonist at the center of it. I love that it ends on a good note, quite unlike the book which ends with unrest (and a punch to the gut). Because Barnes does not believe in redemption. A crusty curmudgeon who sees the error of his ways late in his life but that he does is enough. The film ends with hope and you carry that into your life.

The film flits effortlessly between the past and the present like the book. Nothing is spelt out in the film too, and if you can believe me, it is more enigmatic than the book; you have to read between the lines and carefully observe what is unfolding on screen to get the complete picture.

Jim Broadbent (Prof. Slughorn!) plays the retired Tony Webster. He is given a profession here as a camera shop owner unlike the book. He does something constructive with his time other than ruminating on the past, and ruining his present by trying to imagine how different scenarios would have played out. It’s what we all do from time to time but allowing it to take over your life is foolishness.

Tony was delusional, unable to see things as they are; he couldn’t see it when Veronica was his college girlfriend and even now when he is an old man. Like Tony, most of us just bumble along in life and try to do the best we can. When the truth finally dawns on him, he is shattered but picks up the pieces and endeavours to do the right thing in his own way. But one’s right is another’s wrong. Continue reading The Sense of an Ending (film)

Thoughts on Sachin Kundalkar’s Cobalt Blue

 I started Cobalt Blue written by Sachin Kundalkar(of Aiyyaa fame)  in Marathi and translated by Jerry Pinto into English , before going to bed and couldn’t stop till I fell asleep(obviously). In the morning I finished the few pages that were left, wishing with all my heart I had more to go on as the day stretched on. It is a thing of beauty with simple uncluttered prose but heartbreaking since it is, after all, about heartbreak. Not the why, how and when of it, but something more organic.  If you ever had your heart broken or stomped on or ripped out by somebody you will get it.

A paying guest enters into the middle class Joshi household and siblings Tanay and Anuja fall for him, each unaware of the other’s affair with the same person. He vanishes without a trace leaving these young adults heartbroken. How they deal with the memories and come to terms with it forms the story.

The paying guest is a painter, who is very comfortable with his own solitude and bohemian in his approach to life. Tanay was in the need of a friend. And, in walks the painter who Tanay instantly connects with and is drawn to, unlike anyone until now in his short life. Anuja was intrigued by the paying guest who was so different than anybody she ever knew and falls  for him. Being unnamed added to his elusive nature.

The first part of the narrative is by Tanay, who speaks directly as if addressing the paying guest in words written or spoken. He remembers things from their interactions and tries to understand how he was in the dark. And at the same, he is processing his grief at being left so abruptly. The second part of the narrative is by Anuja , who in her diary entries, goes back and forth and tries to make sense of events that happened.

The book raises a lot of questions about what is acceptable in the society and how society impinges on individual freedom curtailing their desires to be sacrificed at the altar of societal normalcy. In the book, Anuja wasn’t permitted to go upstairs where the paying guest lived but nobody minded Tanay practically living with him.There is talk of a homosexual movement and there are meet-ups to discuss and do something about it which was a step ahead at the time the book was published, in 2006.

There were some Marathi words I didn’t know the meanings of and I didn’t Google them while I was reading and I took them to mean whatever it meant in the context and imagined it when I couldn’t get the meaning. I didn’t pause even when things resonated with me. Like, when Anuja is talking about why she puts a date on her diary entries.

In the translator’s note Pinto says reading about the events from Anuja’s  view point of the same events after reading Tanay’s narrative is heartache inducing. Siblings. Do they really know us? They know our daily persona, our habits but do they know about our inner world, our deep seated longings, burning hopes and dashed dreams.  Rarely.  Anyone who has grown up with brothers and sisters(identical twins are exempted of course) this would leave them with deep questions.

As Jerry Pinto points out in  the translator’s note at the end of the book, there are no timelines and no asterisks that demarcate the past from the present. There are no chapter endings; it all flows without chapters to guide you though Anuja has a few diary entries which are in a chronological order.  I realized how accustomed I’m to the breaks that chapters offer.

The book ends abruptly (or so I felt). I found myself wishing I had more details about the mysterious painter.

The quotes that follow spoke to me. There were many passages that need to be discussed but that is for another post.

“I have no tears now. Why should I? No one around me would understand.”
 
“Now I know longer feel like weeping for him. I just wanted to meet him once, to ask why. What explanation? From whom? What will I gain by holding him responsible?”
Anuja has a nervous breakdown for all to see but Tanay breaks down inwardly unable to give an outlet to his grief.In a sense we don’t weep for the other person but ourselves. For what we think we have lost.  After crying comes acceptance in its own sweet time. In the time when we are looking for answers, we want closure and we make the mistake of depending on the other person to give us that when it is up to us. We think answering the whys will clear everything. No, although some admissions do help. One can take a conscious decision to step back but closure occurs of its own accord but yes, it does help if the wounds aren’t being pricked anew when healing.
 
 “Why do we judge relationships only by their age? Why is it that a long-lasting relationship maybe called successful?”
I was devastated when an old friendship broke and I realized then that they had never known the real me and now I no longer fit into their world. Not being on the same page is still okay if we can grow together but that wasn’t the case and it was tough to accept that.  I shunned all friends and refused to have anything to do with the word friend. In spite of my ‘how to lose friends and alienate people routine’ some friends stuck by me and made me see the truth. 
 
“Today when I sat down to write and put the date on the page, I began to wonder: why do I insist on this date business? Why must I put time stamps on everything?”
Why indeed I asked myself, who is a stickler for the date and time so that when I go back and read or edit I know exactly when it was written. What is the purpose one may ask other than the obvious? To place the words in the moment, in relation to what was going on at that point in time and how the words came into existence. But it doesn’t always work, sometimes things have to be explicitly mentioned, time is cruel and mere hints don’t always suffice.
 
“Why aren’t things easy? Or do we make them difficult?”
This is what was zooming in my head and I found myself thinking of the times when I had made a simple situation complex.

Cobalt Blue is a short book and can be finished within a few hours, but one that would linger on your mind for quite a while. Utterly compelling. I cannot recommend it enough.

Update – I had the chance to interact with Jerry Pinto and after getting my copy of Cobalt Blue autographed, I asked him what were his thoughts on the book and he said it’s not my book(I was dismayed that I had offended him due to omitting one word!). Before I could tell him that I knew he was the translator and reframe my question he was swarmed by school kids for autographs.