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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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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Women and Men in My Life by Khushwant Singh or telltales on the rich and (not so) famous

Khushwant Singh may his soul rest in peace. In the time which has elapsed his soul must have found a body. We will know when the writer in the person starts to erupt out of its being.

Khushwant Singh’s memoir Women and Men in My Life is divided into two parts, women he knew or wanted to know (I have a good reason for saying that) in the first part and men he knew in the second part. Twelve women and eight men, in fact.These are sort of character sketches not critical portraits but nevertheless sharp, witty and provocative reading material. If you like to gossip behind people’s backs that is.

He loved women with beauty and personality and was bowled over by women who had both. He was drawn to different women, like moth to flame to seek out their stories. He wanted to be captivated and captivate them, spend time with them to understand where they came from, how it shaped their personality and made them who they are.  Women he wrote about varied from Amrita Shergill (the only name I was familiar with) to the beggar maid who he didn’t know, to people who formed a part of his social circle.

The men he wrote about, in far less detail I might add, included Chetan Anand and Inder Sain Johar among others.

Khushwant Singh appeared to be an incorrigible gossip, taking great pleasure in exposing others and loved a scandal. What I liked  about him ,was that he was a great sport when the joke was on him and thought nothing of saying what he felt, even if it was downright offensive. He lived life on his own terms and was completely unapologetic about his choices. But how his wife and family put up with it, is what I would like to know.

Sometimes it is hard to believe that it is about real people he’s met during his lifetime.  Too saucy for it to be believable and sarcastic to the point of being caustic.

While reading this book the omnipresent question in my head manifested even more strongly- how much liberty can a writer take? And how many friends walked out of his life in a huff or threatened to kill him, after the book got released?I can never do what he did, writing an expose on people he knew personally and some he called friends.

I read the book in between hospital visits so I can’t be a fair judge of the writing but addictive it definitely was. When I was in the hospital. It promptly lost its charm when I came home. Only to be picked up again when I needed to be distracted.

This is a book from my grandpa’s library but thank goodness he hasn’t read it. He got it as a gift with a magazine subscription. I recently found out that nine sketches were missing from the book when I saw a much fatter book sitting on a shelf in a book store. Honestly you can never trust the freebies that come with a subscription.

Nonfiction which reads like fiction, blurring boundaries. A book which can teach you how to draw different characters while keeping you entertained, with many cringe worthy and is he for real moments, is how I will remember the book.