Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thus Spake the Lady

Rachana Sivadasan
See Paris for Me
Priti Aisola
Penguin Books India
Rs 299; Pages 289

This is romance, no doubt, right from the word go. Yet, the term love takes a backseat. Priti Aisola, the rising start of literary ‘fictionista’, has a knack for telling stories; and she does cater to the innards of the female mind: the traditional female in India that is. Oh, ahem, a book that suits ‘Indianness’ when it comes to the institution of marriage, so to say.
Sadhavi, the protagonist, could be any normal Indian women displaced in Paris for a short time span. She dilly-dallies with normal life and, voila, soon the “few years itch” sets in. The story isn’t much to rave about: lady loves man; man loves lady; lady backs out; man does, too; and, ahem, life goes on. And that’s all to it.
Nevertheless, the lines in between are highly poetic and the author seems to have a way with describing buildings and flowers in tango with her various emotional states. The subtle touch the author lends to the entire story envelopes the reader in a safe haven of pure clarity of living. The simplicity of the family of Raghav, and so also Sadhavi’s and her friends, gives the reader the impression that this particular story is a bit far-flung from the realities of real life drama.
There’s not a soul in the book that crosses a limit. Everyone has a steady mind and it seems that if life was so, then not a soul would stumble in life. None would deviate or even try to peep into the world of intense passions that drive women to have flings or husbands to even look at other women. It’s a new way of living, the Aisola-way of life-the-age-old-way of life; no, it’s a brand-new way of life, say.
Raghav is the epitome of patience, the ideal husband. Kanav, the lover boy, is the eternal pinup lover boy. Advika is the friend you can only dream of having. Sadhavi, hence, is the heroine of the olden times.
What is outstanding about this story is how the author has been able to stretch a short theme into something so voluble without making a total bore of it. The little bits of additional information, be it the roads of Paris, various landmarks or the hordes of flowers she seems to be ensnared by… are all neatly woven in to form a neat patchwork of the ruminations of a single woman’s search for some lost portion of her soul.
There isn’t more to it all than a romance nipped in the bud. Read it if you are a married woman, who are about to have a fling. Yes, a must-read for all married women who need answers to questions that you may ask some Agony Aunt. Ms Priti Aisola has some answers.
A voice to hear for.
-- Sahara Time

Sex and Retribution

Rachana Sivadasan
A Pack of Lies
Urmila Deshpande
Price: 295; Pages: 291

First and foremost, you do not feel like touching the book. It is too wet, oops, slimy to say. The colour the reviewer meant, dummy. The you stand vindicated, when the writing is mostly crosses the delicate barrier of pornography and erotica. Oh, well, is it another tale of a nymphomaniac’s account, warts and all? Oh, again, read through, bet. Not the book. This review.
Since this review is written from a women’s point of view, here it goes: A man would like the first half for its salacious details; and a woman would like it for the second half for its escape and facing life. Ooohm, ha. Now here it goes, the continual virtue of the uninvited.
The story revolves around Virginia, or rather Ginny, and her view of the world, first through the cunt (a favourite word she uses all through and where she came from) and then through a well-meaning head-upon-stronger shoulders, whatever you make out to be. It takes the reader lightly, or headily, yet held very close, always bosom-like, through the tumultuous story of childhood lost and never found, tiresome they most of them all.
A circle of friends who stays with them all, with the protagonist throughout her very disturbing growth, whatever it accounts to. Ginny belongs to that great world of glamour and fashion, but, subtly, the author keeps the reader tethered, far away, from the arc lights, treating us, yes us, instead to a myriad flashbacks and events of a heart-wrenching quality, of uselessness, we are not sure.
It’s an oft-repeated tale of lost childhood and a broken family, and trying hard to regain that loss, which loss is not anyone’s prerogative. What holds true is this very simple story together, put together, is Ms Urmila Deshpande’s use of the language, which is simple, you know… filling the gap for the reader and to make the reader, for, for the protagonist.
The storyline meanders along like the 80’s obsession with Anglo-Indian (or is Anglo-Saxon?) themes, were alcoholism was a common vice and young girls got carried away with sexual interludes and almost ruin their lives. If you have watched the movie Julie, the one with the south Indian actress Lakshmi doing the honours, well, then, you have a little bit of a background with a bit of Fashion thrown in.
Character sketches are done with a lot of detail; good. There’s the creepy old man of a photographer who almost messes with Ginny’s life, taking her under his wing. The loyal man-buddy, Roy, and Bree that close girlfriend without whom no girl is complete. Millie and Simi, the half-sisters, come out clear and there is no extra frill to highlight any nuance of their natures. The author deserves due credit for economy of melodrama when it could have been stretched out to fill another hundred pages.
Definitely a woman’s world dissected for study, Ginny is never described in complete detail. The reader is left clueless, looking for meaning (or insights?) into the fact that she has fizzy hair, of all the things, aha, and she never feels comfortable in her skin, thanks to the ugly duckling syndrome, ahem.
A mix of Mills and Boons, should we say, and an emotional pot-boiler, at its best, A Pack of Lies makes sure that the reader gets the required amount of the thrills in just about every sphere; well, barring science fiction and history. Good to keep you for a day-long train journey — you know, if you are a woman or a man, not necessarily in that order, curious about the ‘womanly torments’; which the author is in full command of.
-- Sahara Time

Live Life Pintsize

By Sunil K Poolani
Arrack in the Afternoon
Mathew Vincent Menacherry
Price: 350; Pages: 315

A disclosure: As a reader, reviewer, publisher, and a Keralite to boot, there is one thing I really dread: A work of fiction in English which has Kerala as its principal subject. I say this from experience. For you could, even before turning the first page of most novels in this genre , expect a melange of clich├ęs — backwaters, communism and promiscuous NRI wives to name a few — smarmy sentimentality and pretentious ruminations, everything marinated in stilted prose.
So, it was with much trepidation that I began to read the novel in question, expecting the usual antics from those who savour kappa and karimeen and write about them, too. However, I was in for a pleasant surprise as what Menacherry had to offer was not the predictable spiciness of aviyal but the heady spirits of bootlegger stuff.
The hero of the novel is Verghese Konnikara, a loser-alcoholic, whose life takes a miraculous turn right when it sinks to the lowest point in the abyss. The turnaround begins when he tries to give up his life by jumping in front of a speeding truck on the highway. He survives. Even better, his exceptional ‘jump’ gets noticed by an ‘entrepreneur’, Karan, who becomes his guardian spirit from then onwards.
Karan, naturally, is that wily Bombay businessman; he literally turns Verghese into a circus animal: making him jump in front of trucks and charging the public for it. What both did not anticipate was that Verghese’s performances would soon put him on a pedestal as a saint who can perform ‘miracles’. In a short span, he becomes the most-sought-after godman in the city, country and worldwide: he gives sermons to ever-increasing, gullible masses with verve and mesmerising them with both word and gaze. He becomes a Page 3 fixture (due mainly to the famous editor Sabu Joseph of Mumbai Masala) every day, is invited to the parties of the biggest industrialists in the country and also — since most bored, rich wives find him sexy — he gets to fornicate them often. What more can a desperate maverick alcoholic hope in life?
But all good things have to come to an end. Karan milks him like there is no tomorrow and Verghese is drinking and abusing his body like Armageddon awaits at sundown. Verghese, steered by Karan, is increasingly drawn into the high-life of society (including his sojourn in America), but in the process he alienates his old friends: Patricia, his lover-sex-object who runs a liquor shop, and the neighbourhood shopkeeper Pillaichan, both of whom stood by him when he was in the pits. One day he decides enough is enough and just walks on to the road, in front of his followers, and jumps, for the last time, in front of a speeding truck, with inevitable results.
Menacherry’s craft is charmingly simple, without gimmicks and he seems to have studiously kept away a thesaurus while writing. My only quarrel is that he ‘namedrops’ a lot: you can easily figure out the Bachchans, the Ambanis, Thackeray, party animals, and even the biggest rag-sheet in the city. The recognisable characters walk into Verghese’s life like in a cheap Ram Gopal Varma flick. Was there a need for that? Well, the only plausible reason one can arrive at is that Menacherry hopes his book would be made into a movie, one day — and why not, by Varma himself?
Despite this shortcoming, Menacherry’s is a voice worth waiting for, especially since nothing much is known about his background except that he lives in Mumbai and is an entrepreneur. No baggage or distractions there. Somewhat like Verghese’s unassuming nature.
-- Sunday DNA / 7 February 2010