Book talk – Normal People by Sally Rooney

wp-15921579591542144702135574400385.jpgNormal People is one of the most uncomfortable books I have read in a while. I simultaneously wanted to stop reading yet wanted to know what would happen next. Sally Rooney’s book is an emotional roller coaster and anxiety inducing. Warning – this is not a romance romance. Trigger warning for abuse, anxiety and depression. Had I known what an intense and disquieting read it would be I wouldn’t have read it now. Who am I kidding! Once I read the excerpt after hearing about the BBC series there was no looking back. I read a few pages of Conversations with Friends (Rooney’s first book) and it’s no beach read either. The last book that caused me to squirm, curl up into a ball and cry was Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. I didn’t cry while reading Normal People but the sense of unease was palpable.

The spotlight is on Connell and Marianne, and the people they are involved with during different times. You could say they are the leads and the rest are supporting characters which come, and go out of focus as per the requirement. We follow them from high school to four years of college but it seems much longer because of the minute way the book observes them.

They without knowing it save each other from their most destructive selves. A lot of tears (most of it hidden from each other), and of words unsaid due to which misunderstandings abound, but in the end they always find a way to be in each other’s lives. I didn’t look at them as a will they won’t they couple because even when they were apart something kept them connected, and that for me is the beauty of the book, and human relationships.

Their wanting everything to be easy but not being entirely comfortable with the arrangement but acting like they are, is the facade that protects them, and devastates them in equal measure. In short, acting insouciant but caring deeply. It takes too much out of them to appear casual when they would just be happy being who they are.

Someone appears calm or put together doesn’t mean they are. Someone appears independent doesn’t mean they are. What we portray to the world is an image that we want the world to see, the idea we want to present of ourselves, and that acts as a carapace to protect our real fragile selves.

I thought I would nod off to sleep as is my wont with audiobooks but the abrupt ending had me sitting upright. It’s a short book but it will linger on your mind.

Possible spoilers ahead.

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Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh

It is joyful indeed that Aligarh released in the small town I live in. So without further ado I set off with my mother to watch it. Wipe off that disbelieving expression of your face, please. I have made her watch Angry Indian Goddesses too. It was a time before solo movie watching became the thing to do.

Prof. Siras is a shy man, who dedicated his life to teaching a language. He was  thrown out of the university because of his sexual orientation. A man who has served the university all his life is treated with so much disrespect and disdain when only three months remained for his retirement is heartbreaking. He was not  given a chance to explain himself and a charge-sheet was filed against him without an inquiry. Why should a section of people not be allowed to live their lives and be discriminated against be ostracized or live in fear of being outed because of their sexual preference as long it is consensual, is beyond my understanding.

Rajkumar Rao plays Deepu, a journalist in the film. He lights up the screen when he’s around and, no he does not always do weepy films as a friend pointed out the other day. The movie shows how journalistic stories should be done. With sensitivity. It is not only about the scoop. These are real people whose stories are being told so you might as well have some compassion or choose another profession. News sensationalism is subtly noted. In a scene Arnab Goswami’s show is running in the background and Siras was asked to sit in front of the camera but the debate rages on without his inputs. He is bewildered by the media circus. A shy, quiet man who loved language and found poetry in the messiness of everyday life thrust into the limelight for all the wrong reasons is a sad thing.

Prof. Siras, who writes poetry, says this in response to Deepu when he says he doesn’t understand poetry.

Poetry is not in the words but in the silences, the pauses between the words.

The film is a commentary on our hypocritical society which allows men to visit prostitutes when they are married but a consensual act between two adults is termed immoral because it is homosexual in nature.

The loneliness of the professor is haunting. Manoj Bajpayee has become Siras. Aligarh surprised me with its tenderness. The long takes made the scenes real; as if you are not watching someone act but seeing a real person which is brilliant because it is based on a true story. It unnerves you. Team Aligarh should take a bow for this wonderful film. Hansal Mehta’s film is real but never melodramatic. It is a film  where the quiet scenes are the most devastating.

Spoiler alert!

While returning home my mother asked why did he kill himself after fighting for his rights? We don’t know if he killed himself or was killed. There was poison in his system but the police refused to conduct an inquiry. His life would never be what he wanted it to be. A life with no respect or dignity. He had thought of going to America to start a new life but later on must have realized the futility of that dream.