Polite Society

Mahesh Rao’s Polite Society is a viciously funny black comedy of manners whereas in Austen’s Emma nothing really bad happens. Polite Society is the darker cousin of Austen’s Emma – you know the talons will come out at a point and the characters will get hurt. In Austen’s world, there are allusions but here we see the ugliness that lies behind picture perfect lives. I liked the book for its refreshing lack of morality, and there certainly is no redemption. By now you know not to expect a happy ending. A biting social commentary for the 21st century set in the snobby upper echelons of Delhi, just as segregated as Highbury.

All the characters from Aisha danced around in my head merging with the brilliant adaptation of Emma by Autumn de Wilde (that’s really her name!) plus the original characters from Austen’s Emma which I finished in lockdown (with a little help from the brilliant audiobook which made me feel as if I was listening to a radio dramatization). In 2019 I read a contemporary adaptation by Alexander McCall Smith which was neither here nor there. I had my bases covered, you see.

Ania Khurana, our Delhi Emma, is as vapid as Sonam’s Aisha. (Many people trashed the film but I liked it except for the trite ending.) Ania lives in a bungalow teeming with servants but there’s no one she can be honest with. The paparazzi track her every move. For all her material trappings, she is terribly lonely. Ania is rich but not really the daddy’s girl like Emma was. Ania and her father don’t have much of a relationship even though they live in the same mansion. The affection that Emma lavished on Mr Woodhouse is absent here perhaps because Dileep Khurana appears to be a cold father (it takes two to build a relationship). All we want in life, whether rich or poor, is to be accepted for who we are, and feel a little less alone.

A character I wanted to know more about was Dev (it will always be Abhay Deol in my mind). He has a fleeting presence in the book hovering in the background. He never shouts at Ania just teases her or ticks her off gently (No mansplaining like Mr Knightley). Where Mr Knightley remains superior to all and sundry, Dev’s pursuit of intelligence and appreciation of intellect lands him in a quandary many a time. In short, Dev is Mr Knightley, who has been humanized and hence more real.

Renu Bua is the unmarried older woman modelled after Miss Taylor. She may not be treated with outright contempt but she has a lesser importance both inside and outside the house until she gets married and moves out. Old maids are still a thing. So much for all our modernity.

The author writes women well. (I am always surprised when men write women well!) The characters’ inner motivations are revealed in the chapters given to them which was quite interesting and a departure from Austen’s Emma. You see what they think about themselves, where they are really come from, and how it contrasts with the facade they have built for the world.

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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”

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

IMG_20180430_232647Like most book lovers or booknerds (I don’t mind what you call us, we are what we are) if I know the movie is adapted from a book I prefer to read the book first and I had to wait for a long time to read Speak. It has always been rewarding because I get to build the world created in the book, and that joy every book lover knows. Of course, on the minus side the movie usually (I thought of using the phrase ‘more often than not’ but now that I have read On Writing I feel King’s watching me) falls short of expectations, except the adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird which was stellar.

I don’t know why so many people look down on YA books. Trust me there are many. What you read popular fiction?! The term pop fiction is even more hideous. What’s wrong with the term contemporary fiction? Other than classics and books written by dead writers everything else they look down upon. They deal with real things in a real and sometimes not so grim manner, and do not put people to sleep so that the target audience actually does read and understand it. I was absolutely bowled over by Speak.

Possible spoilers ahead! 

Anderson is brilliant in the way she captures the voice of a teenager on the precipice of completely losing her sanity and spiralling into a quiet depression. She would have lost herself but for one person who gives her something to look forward to, hence something to live for and she stays in the land of living day after day.

I saw Speak a while ago, the movie adaptation of the very acclaimed book of the same name by Laurie Halse Anderson, starring Kristen Stewart in the lead role. Despair not, it’s nothing like Twilight (to be fair to her, Twilight fans say that’s how Bella is, in that case excellent acting ) where she has only two expressions (longing and longing) but it doesn’t translate into emotion. She is so much more than a pretty prop. Incidentally I knew that she can act having seen her in the bit role I had seen her in Into the Wild (one book I must get back to again). She emotes with her silence which speaks volumes. The movie does justice to the absolutely brilliant YA novel that deals with teenage rape and depression, alienation as a result of it, very serious issues which parents, teachers and the society at large will rather not admit exist, forget dealing with it. I kept remembering stuff from the book, the lines from the book in the screenplay and the things they missed.

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Of (fr)enemies and friends

 Does anyone need friends? I never thought I would be standing here on our beautiful blue Planet (soon to be rendered uninhabitable) asking this question. If someone asked me this some years back, I would have looked at them as if they had sprouted two horns. Once upon a time I would have done anything for my friends. What changed? What if I say I don’t need any friends? Not because friendship as a relationship is dead. Maybe my standards are too high (I was  afraid that I have set them too low for the fear of disappointing myself) or I’m too idealistic (no surprise there). But really, is it just a plain give and take a la barter system?
Recently while talking to a friend, she said friendship is an emotional investment we make and why should we continue to make that investment when there is no return? That stopped me in my tracks (not literally because I was sitting on the bed). I was stunned into silence (that is no mean feat). Does everything have to have a tangible return? How did everything get equated in terms of returns? Barter system. Give and take. Take and give. I heard myself replying that it’s okay if there’s no return as long as there’s nothing negative, and that’s where I draw the line. Yeah, right. Being burnt to cinders, I mean. Another friend while answering a poll question, when asked what do you need friends for, ticked the option using them. She was honest enough to admit that it came automatically to her. I had no comeback for that. Being friends with people for the sake of using them is despicable. But then what do I know about the world.

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light- Helen Keller

What if it’s a frenemy? You will probably end up in a hospital with a memory loss in that case!

There are categories – acquaintances, friends, enemies and frenemies. I have never understood the need for the last category. I’d love to have enemies (not in a sadistic way but in a way that says we are equal in our hate and dislike) but it’s frenemies I can’t stand. Yes I know who you are, you are fooling no one. You want to act like you are my friend then start taking acting classes! You criticize and hate a person but keep a person close only so you know what they are up to, so you can sabotage or disparage them behind their backs, yet acting like you have their best interests at heart. That is pretty low, like viruses who use their hosts for replicating and in return, destroy them. Win-Win. Give me an honest rascal any day, who has the guts to say what he/she feels to my face, rather than a “friend” who wouldn’t think twice before doing an “Et tu, Brute”, and is just waiting for the perfect time to strike.

I don’t need friends. I want friends, always have, to share my uninteresting life with (happy now). I have no place for frenemies in my life and neither the time or inclination to indulge in acting. Enemies, of course, are always welcome. A worthy adversary is worth one’s weight in gold. Or so I am told.