Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

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I loved Tracy Chevalier’s earlier work Girl with a Pearl Earring and looked forward to reading more historical fiction by her. So when I found Remarkable Creatures in a book fair I lunged at it surreptitiously (my heart went whoa but my brain said act nonchalant). The book is reminiscent of Austen, with long sentences and pauses; set in that era but it had none of her wit (not complaining, just stating facts). Her book Persuasion is set in Lyme and another book set there is on my to-read-soonest-list, The French Lieutenant’s Woman. But I’m digressing. For the highly unique subject of fossils and how their discovery changed science as they knew it, full marks to the book. And what made the book interesting for me is its genesis in truth (Okay simply put it is inspired from real life).

The beginning was slow but your patience will be rewarded. The two part narrative added to the experience of connecting with the narrator, Mary. Her crude accented English was done with the purpose of keeping it real (yes I’m using millenial lingo) but it was a tad annoying.

One of the greatest fallacies (propagated by the Church) that Earth was just 6000 years old, was challenged and refuted when extinct animals were found. Creatures which had earlier died out. Which no longer existed. They questioned God’s plan for he turned out not to be infallible, if not mortal, which was the beginning of the end for Creationism (I so wish!) and paved for the road for Darwinism.

The book at its core is about the friendship between two women from different walks (read class) of life – Elizabeth and Mary; their upheavals when the fortune of one changes rising above her station while life of the other remains the same, and how their friendship is tested. More than friends they were each others’ companions (as they were called then). They understood each other best, and made sense of each others lives in a way no one else could. Neither of them married. Intelligent readers will get what the book was hinting at.

The status of women in the 19th century,  and  their role in science overshadowed by men; their opinions ideas and discoveries not even treated as having value forget being given importance, and the tussle between religion and science are some of the themes discussed in Remarkable Creatures. The story is slow and set in a time before *revolution* was afoot, setting the stage for Darwin’s dangerous ideas.

Remarkable Creatures made me want to pick up Ship Fever again. It reminds me of the kind of historical fiction Andrea Barrett writes. And I can offer no higher praise than that.

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Not goodbye

As we grow older the number of friends we make decreases and sadly so do the number that stay. When I was in school in each corner lurked a potential friend where now lurks a frenemy (Okay acquaintance. I shouldn’t be so quick to judge!). If you can spot it right from the outset, it will save you from a ton of drama.

Friends of convenience aren’t really friends. I can’t make a sweeping statement that they are no one’s friends. May be they are. The fact of the matter is I am too old for this. Being genuine can’t possibly be so hard. One doesn’t always have to put up an act and play stupid games or be peaceable to stop someone from leaving or worse guilt trip someone into staying. Nearly half my life is gone and my energy reserves are pretty limited. I don’t want to put up with negativity which has no basis in reality and only conspires to bring me down.

People who only look after their agendas, and if your agenda doesn’t match with them, they won’t think twice before dropping you like hot coals, aren’t your friends. In fact they will cross your name from their friend list (=people who always help them and put them first) when they know you are not so handy as you used to be or will not relent because the truth has dawned on you (cliched but true). People change as they grow and I too have changed, but in some ways I remain the same. I am less stubborn than I used to be but in some cases I refuse to budge come hell or high-water.

I am not a fan of simpering smiles and false compliments. I’d rather we had a real conversation or you told me what you really thought of me to my face instead of tearing me to shreds behind my back but smiling benignly when I am in front of you. I might burst into tears or I might enter into a shouting match with you but I will never hate you for telling me your truth. (One of the many perks of growing up is realizing that truth has multiple versions.) People who say what they don’t mean and hide under snide comments are not your friends either. The worst of the lot are the ones who try to gloss over things when they really should be talked about in the open. Continue reading “Not goodbye”

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 (besides perverts that is), who would have otherwise missed it. 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. 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 with no way out.

We see the different ways women are subjugated. It was depressing to see how they go about their lives 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, their families, neighbours, everyone. If it is an inhospitable environment for their dreams imagine the world they are living in. They go to immense lengths to conceal their true selves just to live in this world without being ostracized.

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.

It’s that rare film where every actor is perfectly cast. Vikrant Massey (Leela’s love interest) and Sushant Singh (Shirin’s husband) are fantastic in their roles, especially the latter which could have easily been a caricature in the hands of a lesser actor. I’m yet to see A Death in the Gunj but Vikrant Massey is superb here as the on-again-off-again boyfriend. Continue reading “Lipstick Under My Burkha”