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‚Äôs 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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Book talk – Normal People by Sally Rooney

wp-15921579591542144702135574400385.jpgNormal People is one of the most uncomfortable books I have read in a while. I simultaneously wanted to stop reading yet wanted to know what would happen next. Sally Rooney’s book is an emotional roller coaster and anxiety inducing. Warning – this is not a romance romance. Trigger warning for abuse, anxiety and depression. Had I known what an intense and disquieting read it would be I wouldn’t have read it now. Who am I kidding! Once I read the excerpt after hearing about the BBC series there was no looking back. I read a few pages of Conversations with Friends (Rooney’s first book) and it’s no beach read either. The last book that caused me to squirm, curl up into a ball and cry was Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. I didn’t cry while reading Normal People but the sense of unease was palpable.

The spotlight is on Connell and Marianne, and the people they are involved with during different times. You could say they are the leads and the rest are supporting characters which come, and go out of focus as per the requirement. We follow them from high school to four years of college but it seems much longer because of the minute way the book observes them.

They without knowing it save each other from their most destructive selves. A lot of tears (most of it hidden from each other), and of words unsaid due to which misunderstandings abound, but in the end they always find a way to be in each other’s lives. I didn’t look at them as a will they won’t they couple because even when they were apart something kept them connected, and that for me is the beauty of the book, and human relationships.

Their wanting everything to be easy but not being entirely comfortable with the arrangement but acting like they are, is the facade that protects them, and devastates them in equal measure. In short, acting insouciant but caring deeply. It takes too much out of them to appear casual when they would just be happy being who they are.

Someone appears calm or put together doesn’t mean they are. Someone appears independent doesn’t mean they are. What we portray to the world is an image that we want the world to see, the idea we want to present of ourselves, and that acts as a carapace to protect our real fragile selves.

I thought I would nod off to sleep as is my wont with audiobooks but the abrupt ending had me sitting upright. It’s a short book but it will linger on your mind.

Possible spoilers ahead.

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