Category Archives: wife

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman


I loved Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth and I have come to expect lyrical prose and magical realism in her work. I am not a fan of magical realism as such but hers I gobble up like a plate of hot Top Ramen noodles (read the fragrance of childhood). Poetry, magic, fate everything I have never understood and can’t put into words, Alice Hoffman does it with ease like she has done it all her life, which she has, but it always takes me by surprise.

I usually steer clear of misery or negativity in pop culture unless I think I can handle it. And Alice Hoffman should be read when you can handle her prose. Her words pierce your soul. She wrings out emotions and feelings you never thought you had. The storyline is easy to follow but the themes are weighty. The Ice Queen deals with matters of life and death and everything in between that constitutes the business of living. She writes fairy tales for adults but don’t be fooled into thinking that it would be simple or straightforward.

I took the book with me when I was travelling but somehow I could sense it wasn’t the place for it and I read very little. And I didn’t want to read the book at breakneck speed because I wanted to inhabit the words of this book until I absorbed its essence.

Like many reviewers I agree there isn’t an extra word in The Ice Queen. She covers so much in 211 pages. It is a sentimental tale but the ending is unpredictable. At the centre of the story is an unlikeable protagonist – the unnamed narrator, who is a librarian and a lightning survivor. Something happened when she was a child and and she has allowed it to colour her entire life. Lightning has always fascinated me but this scared me, the damage it can do to your system if you have the misfortune to be struck by it. Her character changes in a fundamental way and she sees herself differently by the time the book ends and so did I. Alice Hoffman makes you feel for her and in spite of everything you root for her. Deep down we are all dreamers.

The Ice Queen is a book about life and death, and about love and hate. It is a book about secrets and their power to define us if we let them.

Secrets are only knowledge that hasn’t yet been uncovered… Therefore, they are not in fact secrets but only unrealized truth.

The Ice Queen is about all kinds of love – love between siblings (blood ties can’t be so easily dismissed), love between people who have survived the same thing, love between people who are married and their lives tied together in ways unimaginable and love that remains even when the object of affection has vanished into thin air. (Not literally true but I wanted to use it because I am feeling theatrical today!)

Feel lucky for what you have when you have it. Isn’t that the point? Happily ever after doesn’t mean happy forever. The ever after, what precisely was that? Your dreams, your life, your death, your everything. Was it the blank space that went on without us? The forever after we were gone?

The Ice Queen tells me things find their own way to fruition if it’s meant to be. And to have an open heart and appreciate the present. Nothing I didn’t know but how many of us actually live fully in the present?

Continue reading The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman


Reflections on reading The Wife’s Letter

Coming home to Tagore is always a revelation. I have probably owned this fine collection of short stories for over a decade now. My aunt had funded it when she saw me lurking in the aisle of the book corridor in Big Bazaar back when it still sold books, along with stationery. How little I must have understood of women’s plight and their predicaments, when I was a teenager if not a child, is dawning on me now. A great story is that which reveals itself anew whenever you pick it up to read. In short something which has repeat value. Tagore is a genius; every sentence has its place and importance in the narrative.

I never pick up Tagore lightly because I can never shrug off his words casually and carry on with my life pretending to be unaltered when the soul has registered change. Reading Tagore needs complete involvement of the brain and the heart, and I need to be on stable ground otherwise it would be tough to balance the emotions when I’m on uneven terrain. The emotions generated on reading the text will overwhelm me and teetering on the edge of a precipice isn’t good for my health.

Reading The Wife’s Letter I had to stop at a few sentences to completely understand them (I am not sure if it is brain fog or ageing in action) and compare it to the real world experience I have had in the last decade. My first hand experience might be very limited but observed or heard second hand experience is so much more. Women talk. Women share. Stories of friends, acquaintances, neighbours, stories from the media. A woman has empathy for all the women of the world (barring duplicitous mother-in-laws and conniving frenemies).

There is no doubt about that Tagore understood the female psyche and portrayed it in his writings better than any man could. I am really looking forward to reading another translation of Chokher Bali soon. Continue reading Reflections on reading The Wife’s Letter

Mrs Funny Bones is a could have been

Mrs Funny Bones by Twinkle Khanna is a lighthearted fun read. Witty observations on life and the world around her. I found it hard to stop once I started. It does not read like a book in the true sense of the word but like a series of (very )short blog posts.

I had read a few of her columns in Times of India, where she took digs at accepted norms in a very pop cultury manner and made them look quite silly. Taking everything not so seriously, that is not always a bad thing, is it? Having said that the book would have found it very hard to achieve what it has, had it not been not written by a star wife and backed by aggressive marketing.

Sometimes she tries too hard to be funny. Sometimes it is all very predictable and you can predict how the sentence would end. But she is funny, and with her pithy observations, you will let loose a giggle or two, like I did. To be funny one has to poke fun at oneself first and not take themselves too seriously, which she does with aplomb. You also have to be a bit brave to poke fun at your fraternity, more so if you are famous.

For me, however, the book will forever be an opportunity wasted. She could have done so much more. This is by no means a tell all account which will give you insights into a star household and like Aarushi, I resisted it for the longest time but then one fine day I decided to take the bait. I’m pretty sure it had to do something with a sale and a friend’s indirect recommendation.

The last two chapters (I find it odd to call them chapters even though they have been named with great care to elicit a laugh or at least a chuckle) were more emotional than silly and a few life lessons were thrown in. I felt like telling her that you don’t have to change your tone just because the book is coming to an end. The illustrations were perhaps supposed to be cute but they missed the mark.

The fun aside there were some things which rankled. She juggles her work with responsibilities at home. How many women claim they are modern but fit into the same age old traditional roles, is a little heartbreaking. She questions traditions but not enough, I felt.

A woman plays so many roles and she shows that it is not always smooth sailing, transitioning from one to the other. Wife to daughter. Wife to daughter-in-law. Wife to mother. Working woman to housewife. She talks about her issues with weight and how they stemmed from being overweight during childhood. There has always been societal pressure on women to conform to invisible rules in every sphere, which is both stifling and damaging. Naturally, breaking free is the only logical option which is what is happening now. I thought this is a book my mother would identify with better and commiserate with the author, so I read out a few snippets to her and she nodded solemnly.

The husband is called the man of the house and son is called the prodigal son. I wondered if she was poking fun at centuries of conditioning or reinforcing it?

Perfect for a few hours of downtime when you want some some light reading, so light it doesn’t feel like reading at all as the movie plays on in your head. I have seen a few movies of Twinkle Khanna and Akshay Kumar as a kid. That certainly helped. I have probably seen their son somewhere (on TV). It was only the baby I had to imagine and I imagined the baby in Baby’s Day Out. Where stupid? Right here, baby.