Category Archives: growing up

Not goodbye

As we grow older the number of friends we make decreases and sadly so does the number who 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 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 real basis in reality and only conspires to bring me down.

People who only look after their agendas and if your agenda matches with them fine else 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 would 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

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I Capture the Castle

While reading I Capture the Castle I thought it could be adapted into a very good play because the antics of the characters would have people laughing out loud. And Google told me that it has already been done. I recently saw the movie after reading the book and here I talk about them both. You have been warned!

I wish I had read this book as a teen, I would have been bowled over by it. The book is a tad wordy (I only felt that when she was describing the castle too much). No wonder she admired Julian Barnes’ masterful economy of words.

The Mortmains are a crazy bunch. The writer and father James Mortmain’s creative juices seem to have run out after one successful book. The family lives in genteel poverty in the hope that one day he will produce another masterpiece. Topaz, is his loyal wife, and eccentric but beautiful stepmother to his three children. She communes with nature to keep her sanity and needs to be a muse to exist. They live with their daughters, Rose and Cassandra, and their little brother, the studious Thomas. They are joined by Stephen, the son of their dead housekeeper who does chores around the house.

Cassandra, the younger sister, is like Elizabeth Bennet in the sense that her mind is not on matrimony unlike older sister Rose. Like Austen, her mind is on literary pursuits. She dreams of becoming a writer like her father which one would think is surprising because of the example he has set. So she writes diary entries for practice to sharpen her claws prose.

Poverty doesn’t bother Cassandra as much as it bothers Rose. Cassandra takes refuge in writing and hence she is saner (she believes that). Even though Rose is the elder sister, it is she who is childish in her ways, demanding things that she knows are impossible.

In spite of her father’s example Cassandra wants to be a writer (natural proclivity?) like her father. Both the sisters don’t do any housework – it is shared by Topaz and Stephen. The onus of earning money is on the menfolk. Published in 1934, the book appears dated because of the time period it is set in. The men and women were defined by set roles, rigid and fixed by society.

There’s talk of Bennets (from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) in the beginning, and Rose is hell bent on marrying the first rich suitor that comes a-knocking to get out of poverty even if she doesn’t love him. And that is where Simon Cotton comes in.

Cassandra is a precocious narrator (I would never call her ‘consciously naïve because I don’t know what it means!), who wants to be a writer and is always recording things that happen in her life in a notebook. This was at a time when paper is scarce, and there was no electricity in the castle, mind you. She lives in her head (like most writers) which some times makes her miserable, and she has no understanding of how the world works that adds to the ensuing drama.

The way the story is narrated (Aren’t epistolary narratives the best?) by Cassandra through her journal entries, it puts us right in her shoes.

They live on the castle on a lease and haven’t paid the rent in a long time. It is when the owners arrive, the Cottons from America, the story takes a different turn.

A few pages in I knew why I Capture the Castle is a cult classic. It seems like a fairytale in the beginning with very good dialogue, and the setting but the ending is ambiguous and quite realistic, open ended which is quite a departure for books written in those times, especially for the kind of story it told.

The book will give you a bad case of the giggles, whether you are reading in public or in private. I tried to keep the wide grin off my face to appear respectable (read not look like a complete idiot in the park where I have maintained over the years a very serious no nonsense persona) but the narration by Cassandra is such that you will fail.

A story where the women decide who, where, and when they want to end up with someone (if at all), and choose to walk out of marriages when it doesn’t work the way they want it to – it would have been groundbreaking for the time it was written in.

So many things have been talked about in this book without being self conscious, which would have otherwise made reading it a tedious affair. It touches on poverty, nudism, religion, psychoanalysis, distinction between the classes, and a very real portrait of a marriage and family. Also shows us a portrait of an eccentric writer, artistic expression and the way genius works (or doesn’t work) and what the people living with him have to put up with.

The book destroys many idealistic notions of love. The teens reading it will have a realistic idea about consent, love, longing, heartbreak and infatuation; they are different things whose boundaries sometimes overlap. The book drives home the message that it is okay to make mistakes. And most importantly it is okay not to find the love of your life the first time around.

The social observations  the book makes and the way Cassandra views the world, it is true what another reviewer said and what I had felt from the beginning – it’s Austen for the 20th century. Continue reading I Capture the Castle

School Days by Paro Anand

Even though I am a grown woman a school girl still resides in me somewhere. It is wonderful to get into a child’s head and see how they view the world and hope some of the innocence rubs off on you. So years ago when I spotted Paro Anand’s School Days in the book fair I pounced on it. It was a tattered old copy but all the pages were there. I know I have come a long way from reading only pristine undamaged books (read new books). What can I say poverty teaches you many things.

It has eight not so short stories with different settings and situations. They are guaranteed to make both children and adults laugh. Your attention won’t waver even once (unless you aren’t a reader) as the stories are delightfully crisp.

Center of attraction

The girl in Centre Stage is competing with Malati , her classmate, to be centre stage in some kind of a gymnastic event. She has to do a headstand to guarantee her place in it. But for some reason she’s unable to pull it off even after trying many times. Help comes from unexpected quarters, from a person who exists only for her. Confidence is the message here. 

Settling in a new place

New Blue was hilarious and had me laughing out loud in a public place. Immersion into a new culture is never easy. Being the new girl in not only a new school, but a new country in a culture Parvati’s not familiar with is too much. Making friends isn’t easy when people can’t even pronounce your name. (Read Parvati becomes Poverty). How we perceive things to be true without really knowing the facts and fitting in, are what the story deals with.

Stammering through a play

​To Play a P-p-part is about a girl who stammers. ​Gitali desperately wants to take part in a play in school which is about Savitri and Satyavan. How will she make that happen? Most people in her class make fun of her but her teachers start to hope when she shows initiative and suggests a play, Children of a Lesser God, of her own accord. It has a deaf and mute girl in its lead. Since she won’t have to open her mouth the stammering won’t be a problem. Clever, but there is one problem. The movie is a romance with intimate moments and not suitable for children. Comedic moments are done well and it so real you think it is all unfolding before your eyes. Evading a problem isn’t going to make it go away. To deal with the truth you have to face it head on. These stories have a lesson or two for us world weary adults too.

Who’s a bully?

In Bullies, a fat kid who is a good student is spoilt rotten by his parents because they finally got a son after 3 girls. Hail patriarchy! He is bullied because of his flab. It talks about a very important issue that affects so many people at so many levels, not only kids. Either you have been teased or you have done the teasing or you know someone who has been teased because of his/her weight. The story is about learning to deal with body image issues and being comfortable in your own skin. Continue reading School Days by Paro Anand

Silence

People say words hurt. I say silences hurt more. Long empty silences devoid of any gesture or sign, their capacity for hurt and damage is far reaching and many pronged, like an instrument designed for torture. Silence is invisible, so is the damage it causes.  They come out of nowhere, hit you with soundless bullets and the soundless scream that emerges can be heard by no one, as if in vacuum (Sound needs a medium to travel, it’s basic physics!).

Some silences are easy like the warmth of solitude. But too much of it and you risk becoming melancholic. What once lit up your being will now begin to choke you. Some silences are uneasy and gloomy like the loneliness imposed on you by the absence of a loved one or a long stay at home cut off from the world due to illness. But the thing is, they are interconvertible. One moment you are basking in solitude, and in the next, you are lonely. You might be out with friends and loneliness might descend on you without any preamble, far away from the company of friends, silence weighing heavily on your mind. Solitude can be found in the midst of people. You are in a bubble surveying what is happening without taking part, happy to just be an observer and a little while later you are somewhere else altogether.

The annoying bee like buzzing of thoughts has lessened with time. It is now the pleasant whir of a summer fan, not the onslaught of waves, lashing and battering rocks repeatedly. Now I am embracing the silence(s) instead of fighting it (beats the restlessness any day). One of the many effects of growing older (or is it growing up?) I guess.

Speak

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 their 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. I am going to discuss both the book and the movie so you have been warned. Spoiler ahead!

I always follow this rule of reading the book first if I can help it. Like 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 (I had to wait for a long period to read Speak) and 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. 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. Book snobs! They deal with real things in a real and sometimes not so grim manner, and do not put people to sleep so that their target audience actually does read and understand it. I was absolutely bowled over by Speak. 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, and would have lost herself but for her art teacher who gives her something to look forward to, hence something to live for and she stays in the land of living day after day.

It was first published in 1999 and five years later the movie followed in 2004. At first look the movie appears to tread familiar ground because we have seen so many high school movies but it couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

The book cover had intrigued me for a long time and I took some time to be convinced about the story – I did not want to read about another victim who had thrown her life away. I liked Laurie Halse Anderson’s website, read her blog, bought the book and absolutely fell in love with the cover again, one of the most beautiful covers ever and waited. I believe every book finds you at just the right time. Another way of saying it unless I feel compelled to read something I don’t read it. I read it and it was literally life altering. The author interview at the back gave me some background to the book and the furore it created after its release.

She deliberately goes mute, chooses not to say a word, because when she tries to speak out nobody listens. It gnaws at her inside and she changes from a girl who lived life to just existing. Finally she is the one who helps herself climb out from the horrific past and begins the process of acceptance. She tells herself that denial is futile because she is never going to forget it. The best way to deal with it is to confront it head on, which would someday eventually lead to healing.

The book is a must read. How come it doesn’t top favourite lists here isn’t exactly a surprise to me, it is because of the themes it deals with. I highly recommend it. Speak the book is more powerful than the movie. I will be talking about the book again soon. It’s been calling out to me again. Time for a reread.

You have to know what you stand for, not just what you stand against.

You can’t speak up about your rights and be silent.

You need to  visit the mind of a great one- Picasso who saw the truth and ripped it from the earth with two angry hands. If something is eating at you, you have gotta find a way to use it.

A revolutionary is only as good as his analysis. Why? We should be able to shout out how things can be better.

What’s the plan?

What do you to say to someone, who is a new acquaintance and has no idea where you come from, and thinks that she sees you as you are (how is a conversation or two enough to know a person that I will never know but yes there are exceptions), sees so much potential in you that you wonder if you know yourself at all (lasts for one shaky moment and then it passes as quickly as it had come), and wonders out loud (while you are standing right there) about what are you doing with your life. What’s the plan now? I am sick of this question and I suppose people are sick of waiting for me to figure things out.

It is in everyone’s best interest to shrug it off and run as fast from the conversation and the person in question. I will run as fast as my hypermobile joints will carry me and as long as I don’t end up in a hospital, it should be fine. On a completely unrelated note, it’s true the sure thing boat does not take you anywhere and even if you can’t run your own life, you can at least run away from it, and wallow in self pity. Till life smacks you back into place and drills some sense into your stubborn skull, beyond which there is hopefully a receptive and working brain.

An acquaintance was shocked  when I said that I had decided not to work in the field I was interested in at the moment and she took it to mean forever. Why are people so quick to jump to conclusions and worse, they think they have all the facts? It is difficult to explain the present as it is, forget about the past. It has taken years (basically all my life) to become the person I am today.

How do you explain the many false starts and disappointments? How being ill played spoilsport and took away even the will to live? They cannot be so casually dismissed and taken so lightly as people do. Words fail to communicate where and when they are needed the most.

Keeping mum is the only thing to do here since explanations will always fall short. Trust me, I have tried explaining and it serves no purpose other than making me look like a babbling idiot, frothing slightly at the mouth with a glint in my eyes (She is gone bonkers is what they believe and I do nothing to convince them otherwise). Total radio silence is sometimes the best thing.

But if you can bask in the glory of nothingness and be at peace with where you are in life, and proclaim it gleefully to the world then there is nothing better than that. Sit back and enjoy the puzzled looks on their faces as they try to reconcile what they see with what they know about your situation, and how you should feel.

Finding Violet Park again

I finished reading Finding Violet Park a couple of days ago and I am still thinking about it, which is always a good sign because my memory isn’t as reliable as it is used to be. I think the cover is brilliant (much better than the photograph I have taken) and when I first got the book, I thought someone had actually doodled all over it. I remember thinking I liked it and at the same time wondered how could they sell such a book, even if it is second hand, until I read the blurb. Silly me.
I knew the book as Me, the Missing and the Dead (but I must confess I like the title Finding Violet Park better because it is a title that doesn’t give anything away) as it was released in America. It’s a title I was familiar with since 2010, when I had read Broken Soup (Jenny Valentine’s second book), having noticed it in Pantaloons (when it still housed books) perhaps because it stood out due to its unusual cover.

After reading Broken Soup, I came to know that her first book, Finding Violet Park, won the Guardian children’s fiction prize and I wanted to read it (the stunning cover was the actual reason). Then university happened and I forgot all about it. Recently I saw it on a used book site (thank you Bookchor) and it all came back to me. Jenny Valentine felt like a nom de plume to me but it is indeed her real name (she married her Valentine).

It is odd coming back to an author whose work I had read when I wasn’t as much of a cynic and sullied by the world as I’m now. While reading I felt as if I was reconciling the present and past versions of me, which is weird because it is the first time I am reading this book but my mind associates Finding Violet Park with an earlier time, a pre-university era.

I read a major chunk of the book while awaiting my turn in a long line (which twisted and turned in ways unimaginable) of people waiting for their turn at the registration counter at a hospital. And if my nose wasn’t buried in the book, the two hour wait in the line moving slower than a snail, which ultimately turned out to be for nothing, would have been maddening. If there is anything I have learnt all these years, it is this – Never leave the house without a book.

The book deals with how Lucas, a 16 year old and his family – mother, sister, brother and grandparents, cope after his father goes missing (read ghosting in real life). It’s a book where death has a strong presence since the other lead character Violet Park, is in a urn (as in already dead). Their paths crisscross and what happens then forms the rest of the narrative.

Lucas has been forced to grow up before he hit his teens and never got the chance to be a normal teenager. He is a bit of an oddball and strange for his age but  that is what growing up too early does to you. He talks to himself often. I get you. I really do. When others don’t understand the only option left is oneself. He idolizes his father, who vanished without a trace, leaving behind his pregnant wife, two children and ageing parents. And this breaks my heart because I know the truth won’t be pretty.

Lucas conjures up out of the world scenarios for his father’s disappearance, never believing him to be dead. He believes that one fine day he will be back in their lives. He is unable to face facts or refuses to do so because the world he has so carefully constructed would then crumble and, he would be left with nothing but a gaping hole, where life as he knew it used to be.

Pete, Lucas’s dad, was absent from their lives but is present throughout the book. Lucas was the worst affected by his absence and could not let go of him even as time passed and there was no hope of his returning home. His mom let him be a walking shrine to his dad, thinking it to be a way he could cope with the disappearance though it made moving on very difficult  for others.

Though published by Harper Children in 2007 this is not a children’s book but would belong in the category YA (young adult). The writing is simple but the themes are complex but then YA books have never been traditional and that is what I like about them. Some people think YA books are rubbish and precocious, and isn’t worth the hype. Read the book for the most unexpected pair of protagonists, if not for the themes it addresses – death, alienation, loneliness, assisted suicide, dissolution of a marriage and growing up in a broken family, trials of old age and ravages of dementia all without ever getting heavy handed.

The book is equal parts funny, tender and sad and hopeful though not all at once. And the ending will leave you gobsmacked. I suggest you get your hands on a copy, if YA floats your boat.

It occurs to me all that most people do when they grow up is fix on something impossible and hunger after it.
 I can’t believe how people turn themselves in circles and repeat the mistakes that screwed them over in the first place.
It’s funny when you start thinking about pivotal moments like this in your life, chance happenings that end up meaning everything.
 Maybe Pansy saw him the way I wanted to, half blind, without the cruel light of actual knowledge. 
I don’t know if I said it right or not when I said it to Bob. It’s much easier saying everything you want to say when you are the only one that is listening.
 
…I was thinking how ironic it was, how unfair that I’d been mad for so long at the person who stuck around instead of the one who abandoned me. 
 It’s what you do when you grow up, apparently, face up to things you’d rather not and accept the fact that nobody is who you thought they were, maybe not even close.