Category Archives: siblings

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

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Thoughts on Sachin Kundalkar’s Cobalt Blue

 I started Cobalt Blue written by Sachin Kundalkar(of Aiyyaa fame)  in Marathi and translated by Jerry Pinto into English , before going to bed and couldn’t stop till I fell asleep(obviously). In the morning I finished the few pages that were left, wishing with all my heart I had more to go on as the day stretched on. It is a thing of beauty with simple uncluttered prose but heartbreaking since it is, after all, about heartbreak. Not the why, how and when of it, but something more organic.  If you ever had your heart broken or stomped on or ripped out by somebody you will get it.

A paying guest enters into the middle class Joshi household and siblings Tanay and Anuja fall for him, each unaware of the other’s affair with the same person. He vanishes without a trace leaving these young adults heartbroken. How they deal with the memories and come to terms with it forms the story.

The paying guest is a painter, who is very comfortable with his own solitude and bohemian in his approach to life. Tanay was in the need of a friend. And, in walks the painter who Tanay instantly connects with and is drawn to, unlike anyone until now in his short life. Anuja was intrigued by the paying guest who was so different than anybody she ever knew and falls  for him. Being unnamed added to his elusive nature.

The first part of the narrative is by Tanay, who speaks directly as if addressing the paying guest in words written or spoken. He remembers things from their interactions and tries to understand how he was in the dark. And at the same, he is processing his grief at being left so abruptly. The second part of the narrative is by Anuja , who in her diary entries, goes back and forth and tries to make sense of events that happened.

The book raises a lot of questions about what is acceptable in the society and how society impinges on individual freedom curtailing their desires to be sacrificed at the altar of societal normalcy. In the book, Anuja wasn’t permitted to go upstairs where the paying guest lived but nobody minded Tanay practically living with him.There is talk of a homosexual movement and there are meet-ups to discuss and do something about it which was a step ahead at the time the book was published, in 2006.

There were some Marathi words I didn’t know the meanings of and I didn’t Google them while I was reading and I took them to mean whatever it meant in the context and imagined it when I couldn’t get the meaning. I didn’t pause even when things resonated with me. Like, when Anuja is talking about why she puts a date on her diary entries.

In the translator’s note Pinto says reading about the events from Anuja’s  view point of the same events after reading Tanay’s narrative is heartache inducing. Siblings. Do they really know us? They know our daily persona, our habits but do they know about our inner world, our deep seated longings, burning hopes and dashed dreams.  Rarely.  Anyone who has grown up with brothers and sisters(identical twins are exempted of course) this would leave them with deep questions.

As Jerry Pinto points out in  the translator’s note at the end of the book, there are no timelines and no asterisks that demarcate the past from the present. There are no chapter endings; it all flows without chapters to guide you though Anuja has a few diary entries which are in a chronological order.  I realized how accustomed I’m to the breaks that chapters offer.

The book ends abruptly (or so I felt). I found myself wishing I had more details about the mysterious painter.

The quotes that follow spoke to me. There were many passages that need to be discussed but that is for another post.

“I have no tears now. Why should I? No one around me would understand.”
 
“Now I know longer feel like weeping for him. I just wanted to meet him once, to ask why. What explanation? From whom? What will I gain by holding him responsible?”
Anuja has a nervous breakdown for all to see but Tanay breaks down inwardly unable to give an outlet to his grief.In a sense we don’t weep for the other person but ourselves. For what we think we have lost.  After crying comes acceptance in its own sweet time. In the time when we are looking for answers, we want closure and we make the mistake of depending on the other person to give us that when it is up to us. We think answering the whys will clear everything. No, although some admissions do help. One can take a conscious decision to step back but closure occurs of its own accord but yes, it does help if the wounds aren’t being pricked anew when healing.
 
 “Why do we judge relationships only by their age? Why is it that a long-lasting relationship maybe called successful?”
I was devastated when an old friendship broke and I realized then that they had never known the real me and now I no longer fit into their world. Not being on the same page is still okay if we can grow together but that wasn’t the case and it was tough to accept that.  I shunned all friends and refused to have anything to do with the word friend. In spite of my ‘how to lose friends and alienate people routine’ some friends stuck by me and made me see the truth. 
 
“Today when I sat down to write and put the date on the page, I began to wonder: why do I insist on this date business? Why must I put time stamps on everything?”
Why indeed I asked myself, who is a stickler for the date and time so that when I go back and read or edit I know exactly when it was written. What is the purpose one may ask other than the obvious? To place the words in the moment, in relation to what was going on at that point in time and how the words came into existence. But it doesn’t always work, sometimes things have to be explicitly mentioned, time is cruel and mere hints don’t always suffice.
 
“Why aren’t things easy? Or do we make them difficult?”
This is what was zooming in my head and I found myself thinking of the times when I had made a simple situation complex.

Cobalt Blue is a short book and can be finished within a few hours, but one that would linger on your mind for quite a while. Utterly compelling. I cannot recommend it enough.

Update – I had the chance to interact with Jerry Pinto and after getting my copy of Cobalt Blue autographed, I asked him what were his thoughts on the book and he said it’s not my book(I was dismayed that I had offended him due to omitting one word!). Before I could tell him that I knew he was the translator and reframe my question he was swarmed by school kids for autographs.