Polite Society by Mahesh Rao

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 to have my bases covered, you see.

Ania Khurana, our desi 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. 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 aunt 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 (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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School of life

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Instead of teaching us geometry and mensuration why were we not taught basic survival skills, when we still had the energy to learn them? How to cope with a bad day or a bad partner (that is if you are lucky to have already chosen one!)? Making a perfect circle with a rounder requires precision but even better is a round roti, if one wants to fit in, I suppose. I don’t know about you but sticking out like a sore thumb is somehow less appealing during the times we are living in. Maybe not better just aesthetically pleasing. Not for me a job well done and all that, but the quiet sound of people other than my mother reaching out for my rotis. Mine turn out to be map-like hence I stick to baking where failure is less easily noticeable (especially if you have a sweet tooth) and you can always blame the elements!

Why weren’t we apprised of the fact that life isn’t neatly divided into past, present and future like the tenses we were so diligently taught in school? Just because you ate tiffin (lunch break it was but lunch it never was) together (okay you ate your friend’s tiffin and your friend ate yours!) and sat together in classes for nearly half a decade doesn’t mean that you will remain friends or even in the periphery of each other’s lives. From seeing each other everyday to now just seeing or liking their posts. If you are lucky that is! Oh yes, hate following is a thing.

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Happily ever after?

img_20190918_164323If you haven’t yet seen the excellent Before Trilogy by Richard Linklater for whatever reason I urge you not to read ahead. Also, mild spoilers for The Littoral Zone by Andrea Barrett. Spoilers ahead.

But both of them remember those days and nights as being almost purely happy. They swam in that odd, indefinite zone where they were more than friends, not yet lovers, still able to deny to themselves that they were headed where they were headed.

In the short story, The Littoral Zone, two married people with children fall for each other and leave their families behind so they could be together. Later they realize that so many things mean something (read everything) only in the moment. Their relationship was complete as it was in the moment but when it was stretched beyond it, the essence was lost. The attraction on the island couldn’t translate into an enduring relationship on the mainland.  Initially I found their behaviour odd. But Jesse and Celine from the Before Trilogy also reunited at a huge personal cost but this was acceptable. Why? Because we are conditioned to believe and root for them because we are shown that they belong together. Does the audience ever think if they are even meant to be together? Imagine something other than what the narrative tells you to and one will see a different story emerge.

Ruby had talked about the littoral zone, that space between high and low watermarks were organisms struggled to adapt to the daily rhythm of immersion and exposure.

In Before Sunrise, the day they spent together in Vienna can never be replicated. It took so much from them. Celine and Jesse never truly recover from that. Their whole life is in the shadow of that perfect day; the way they responded to each other and the way they connected pales in comparison to the reality they are living now.

What if they had let it be and let each other remain only a fond memory and not continued to pursue each other over their lifetimes? We never learn that all good things come with a sell by date. Continue reading “Happily ever after?”

When watching a movie alone isn’t what you bargained for

In the darkness of the movie theatre all my worries fade, the world falls back and fades to black. It’s just me and the story. Or is it?

Of late I have come into my own watching movies alone in the theatre, so I was surprised when I didn’t want to see Fitoor alone. I had asked a friend but she was busy, so here I was. I was embarrassed that I would look like some loser (we might be  losers but we surely don’t want to look like one) because it would be the Valentine’s weekend. The worst time on the planet to be alone, bombarded by mush from all sides (you can only escape it on the moon) and the marketing gimmicks are scaled up to such levels that sometimes I doubt it’s a conspiracy against singletons (Thank you Bridget Jones!). If there was ever a time to declare to the world that I am happy watching movies (romantic or otherwise) alone, then the time is now.

My friend cautioned me not to go see Fitoor on Friday as I am not too fond of crowds. It was a Friday and a holiday so a crowd was expected. On Saraswati Puja, instead of paying obeisance at the feet of the goddess of learning, how was I to know that people will rush to the theatres and bow down at the altar of entertainment.

1146 a.m. A burgeoning crowd outside and the door is yet to open. And here we were irritated because the lift opened at every floor (nobody got in seeing how many people were already crammed inside). I could almost hear the collective sigh of frustration.

1150 a.m. I am in my seat. None of my seat mates (I don’t know what else to call them) have arrived and I wished no one would but it was the first day and the last four rows are always in demand.

I’m not the only one who came alone to watch a romantic movie before the  V-day weekend and this fact fills me with glee. There’s a guy in the row in front of me, who’s sitting alone, nearly in the middle of the row. He will be squished by unknown people on both sides. An uncomfortable proposition. I always take the aisle seat so that one side is always empty. A guy came and sat in the seat next to me and he’s flying solo too. Continue reading “When watching a movie alone isn’t what you bargained for”