Story of a lost journalist

July 1, 2017

Five children

Filed under: Books — Cris @ 23:07

The last few books I read, really coincidentally, have been of child narrators or protagonists. First in the list was Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Hahaha, then my dear pen pal Khyrunnisa’s Run! It’s Butterfingers Again, after that everyone’s recent favourite Anees Salim’s Small Town Sea. There’s two more, I thought there should be a gap or a list would get boring. So after that was Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and now, Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones. I should have gotten here sooner, only the last read is always fresh in my mind, so it is now difficult to draw parallels.

Let me try, though. I need these books to stay in my head, or be at a place I could come and restore. Cause I enjoyed all of them. I have always been fond of children’s books and movies. I still can’t get enough of them. But these were not the typical made-for-children types, except dear Butterfingers. He had always been endearing and this time, like Khyrunnisa’s last book, it came as a collection of stories. I laughed aloud many times imagining the helpless and troubled expressions of those around Butterfingers. You can’t get annoyed with him cause he always means good. He is not trying pranks, he is not being ‘naughty’ like some horrible child characters in some horrible movies which I will not name. If I had written this sooner, I could have recalled the exact moments I laughed aloud and the names of those stories. But I recounted one to the dear author when she called once. It’s when Jagmohan, the poor school principal who has to deal with this bunch of troublemakers every day, says grandfather for grandmaster. Hahahaha, hahaha. Well, you had to be there to know.

Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke and Anees Salim’s boy narrator (who remains unnamed) seemed to know each other. I should probably write ‘similar’ but I don’t wish to. I really wish I wrote of Paddy sooner, he has now faded a little with all the other books after him. I remember really loving him. There is none of the forced childhood material that makes you cringe. None of his pain described in mushy detail, no self-pitying lines. Though he could have used a lot of it. He suffers, even without telling us so. The words he uses are instead of the random and quick-changing thoughts of a child as he sleeps in a room with his little brother Sinbad, listening to the exchanges between his mother and dad. And tries to stay awake because like a child, like all of us when we were children, he believes in changing things just by being awake. If he won’t sleep, they won’t fight. I used to think that if I would go everywhere my mother did, then nothing could happen to her when she has to go away. I still do. So I loved Paddy. He doesn’t say how sad he is. That’s not how children work. I know from once being a child. So I loved Roddy for Paddy.

Anees’s boy is not really similar to Paddy. There’s only one incident they both share, one night when they didn’t sleep. Paddy for the reason I just wrote above. And Anees’s boy to listen to the midnight chat between his mom and grandmom. The next day one faints and the other falls asleep. Boy (I will call him that) comes to his dad’s old town, it is actually Varkala but Anees wouldn’t name it, reluctantly from the port city of Kochi, Anees wouldn’t name that either. He makes a friend in Bilal. His dad is ill, his mom quiet. His dad’s old friends from his old life come to the new. But they are not really important, they are just there. What’s important is after all that, when his mother has to choose between Boy and another life. I forgot, there is adorable Little, Boy’s younger sister. There are many sad bits to pick from Boy’s life but what made me most sad is the Bilal part of it. Like Paddy, Boy doesn’t really talk about his miseries, but sometimes you could catch his tears passing by casually.

With Jean Brodie, we cross to another gender. Girls, mostly Sandy, remembering the days when they were 10 and 11 and 12, sitting with a teacher who calls those days her prime. She is unconventional, talks not of the lessons in the syllabus, but her own life and its romances and many things else. There are six girls called the Brodie gang, girls of different beauties and intellect but the focus is on Sandy. I don’t like Sandy. Or Jean Brodie. But I like the book. I can’t explain why. It’s different but you don’t have to like everything that’s different. It’s different in an admirable way, even without giving you a favourite character to think of the book by.

After all that detachment, I came very close with Matilda, the girl who narrates the story of Mister Pip. More than her, she endears her Mister Watts to you. He is the sole white man in an island of blacks, choosing to stay behind when the ‘others’ went away. He becomes the teacher the children do not have. And most importantly he becomes the man who introduces them to Great Expectations. Charles Dickens’ greatest work is not a book anymore, it is a world to a bunch of children who have no other place to escape to. Matilda’s relationship with the Pip in the book and the Pip outside of it, gives you a heaviness you carry with you for a long time. If I had power I would go back to that page when, well to avoid spoilers, when it all goes wrong. That is actually being unjust to the beautiful book, full of pretty lines, to write it so plain. But I want the world inside the book to end there, to the last day when hopes were all high and all would end well. I know, that would be fairytalish and not expected of a real book. It was so real I turned to look at the author, expecting a black smart woman called Matilda and seeing instead a white Lloyd. So you are Watts, then. No problem. No. No. You are not. Watts is on a higher level, bigger to me than the author who created him. How’s that?

August 9, 2015

Where is the word lesbian in Fried Green Tomatoes?

Filed under: Books — Cris @ 18:34

Lesbianism is never mentioned in the book. No ‘queers’, ‘gays’ or ‘homosexuals’. It simply says two young women who are in love with each other start living together, running a cafe, raising a child. One raises hell when the other gets married. One is a tomboy, again an unmentioned word. But then there is the very clear mention of racism, many many episodes of white against black. This is the 1920s n 30s. I am talking about ‘Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe’ by Fannie Flag.

My fingers stop at this book on the Blossoms Fiction Floor in Bangalore, I admit, only because of the beautiful grey cover of an old house in some strange land. And then on habit, I turn to the first page, like the writing, look at the back, like the summary and reviews. There is a line from Harper Lee, she thought it loverly. Those perhaps were not her exact words but so to say.

And I was only expecting an old time story, switching between now and then, now being 1986 and then the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. But then there comes Idgie, in an unnoticeable paragraph, one of the many Threadgoode characters an old lady keeps talking about. Ninny, that’s our old lady. The nice old one with lots of tales, looking like, I imagine, the granny in Tweety cartoons.

Ninny says Idgie was looking wonderful in an organdie dress one day and just stands up and declares she won’t wear another dress again. She becomes a boy, in her dressing, in her manners, in her doings. And loves a beautiful girl called Ruth. Being used to the ways of fiction as I am, I keep looking for the word ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’, some sort of confirmation to make sure that’s what was happening between these two. But nothing, not even the mention of a kiss. Only their words, emotional moments and the easy love that didn’t need to be expressed tell you they belong to each other. I read someone writing about it, that he felt happy to see no explicit tags, because being gay was seen normal, nothing to be pointed out.

But this was the 1930s. Like I said there are the black and white differences that make you angry. A sick little child who couldn’t go to see an elephant because blacks were not allowed in – but who gets to see it anyway thanks to Do-it-all Idgie who brings the mountain to Muhammad. The elephant to her. And yet no one – neither in Idgie’s big family of oldfashioned lives, nor their many friends or even the locals – says anything about the relationship between the girls. Shure, I like it that it was considered as normal as a boy liking a girl. But it was not how 1930s was, it is not even how 2015 is. And when it is not a fantasy set in no man’s land, it is real. It is still in the world where two world wars and a 1929 depression happened. Fannie talks of all that, why skip this?

She could ask, why not? It’s her book, her story, why can’t she happily avoid that little scenario that is frustratingly real in real life. Why not wish it away in her creation of a world?

October 18, 2012

Manu Joseph and Unni Chacko

Filed under: Books — Cris @ 12:54

How different things become with the first hint of sunlight – a sunlight I generously hate with all my hatred most days, but waited for in the darkness of my room at 5am last night. I’d open my eyes every few minutes expecting to see a young boy of 17 calmly smiling at me or an older man of gray hairs who created him. Manu Joseph’s Illicit Happiness and his Unni Chacko gave me the creeps. And I loved it :-).

Serious Men was not quite my type. I read it when Sabin lent it to me last year. That one was green cover, this one was yellow. That’s what I first thought when I saw the new book on Manu’s wall. A friend then flipkarts it to me and I start reading it just like that. I am turning pages, I am taking a pencil to write to Manu on the thin sides what I thought of when I read. This was not at all Serious Men. This was mystery without drama and humor without effort and emotion without mush and literature without ten-letter words. My type oh yea. I could sink in so easily. No wonder it started getting creepy when more and more of Unni Chacko came out. That’s who Manu is writing about, a boy called Unni that his father tries to find out about.

There are no ghosts about. There really isn’t room for grief when the big tragedy has been set in the first pages. But that doesn’t make anything less close. The one I liked most is Mariamma Chacko, Unni’s mother. I wouldn’t want to describe any of the characters – Unni’s little bro Thoma or next door girl Mythily or his friends. So emm, this is no review. I was just happy I could be within a book so easily. Feels nice, thanks Manu :-).


August 25, 2011

Brothers Karamazov and Ajayan Sir

Filed under: Books,Personal — Cris @ 00:30

“Where are you?” Ajayan Sir, in his long jubba and trying-to-look-serious eyes peering above his specs, would ask every morning when we meet in office. I smile and reply “Alyosha had a long talk with Ivan.”

Ajayan Sir’s eyes would lose all the seriousness it mustered and brighten up. “What a scene! And Dmitry… what a character don’t you think?”

Yes I do.

It was one of the most wonderful gifts I got. Brothers Karamazov. Ajayan Sir, who kept showering praises on the book and rebuked me for not having read it, one day placed it on my hands. I first gathered he was lending it. But then he said he bought a copy to gift me. But alas if I were half as expressive as Dostoyevsky I could have told him what it meant to me. And what it meant to be talking about it everyday. He’d tell me “I ask my daughter the same question. Where are you? And her mother has no idea what we are talking about.”

The book took me into it for all the three long weeks I have been with it. This is the problem with big novels and storylines. We are in the midst of it for so long it is difficult to fathom we are not anymore. I can still feel surrounded by the Karamazov brothers on all sides, different scenes flashing across my eyes… the crazy and funny father running around, making a mess of everything… the innocent but violent Mitya, the indifferent but thoughtful Ivan, the all too angelic (too good for my taste) Alyosha…. And the other characters. I was disappointed with both the women characters – Grushenka and Katya. They were represented as strong characters but I could not see any character in either of them. Sad. My liking for a book – biased as it may be – depends a whole lot on women characters. But here, the women though play a vital role did not somehow come into the crust. Even Smerdyakov (I never thought I will get his spelling right) – the man servant at the father’s house has a stronger impact in fewer scenes. And Ilyosha… oh dear, when Ajayan Sir said it made him cry, I had no clue. But little Ilyosha, his miserable dad and mom and sisters and all those boys… gloom!

Well I didn’t plan to write anything on the book except that the whole thing was special to me. It being gifted most unexpectedly, the three weeks of reading it, the inevitable discussions next morning… I will remember this book forever for more reason than one.

February 27, 2010

Partner in depression

Filed under: Books — Cris @ 00:28

I was never that fond of Sidney Sheldon. I had read 4 or 5 books and decided he was not my type. But now I have decided I really like this guy. I have just read his autobiography ‘The Other Side Of Me’. And I am an instant convert. He is my type. Definitely so.

When his Dad told him at 17 “Life is like a novel. You have no idea what is going to happen until you turn the page” he had no idea Sidney’s life was one of the best novels you could read. He wrote this book at 88 and I don’t think there has been a single day in his life that was not worth talking about. Things were always happening. There is not a single page in this book you get bored about. He must have had a hard time fitting it all in here.

The best thing I like is, he started writing novels after 60. Woah that is definitely an inspiration. I was worried that I was getting too old to start.

But that is trivial. Other things – I cant really explain the book. I will end up using too many adjectives. From the really tough, no-penny days to where he is now (I cant believe he is not there anymore) – Sidney’s journey is more touching than amazing. The ups and downs keep coming. He calls it the elevator – up at times, down a lot more.

The back problem, the manic depression (hmm I claim I have it too) it is all just – it just makes me feel this was a guy I really knew. In fact now I can only picture him as the young fellow who went to New York to try his luck in song writing and then to Hollywood, struggling to make ends meet. I love him.

I didn’t feel sad when I read about his death. But now, two years later, I mourn. I wish I read this when he was alive. Although what I could have done about it, I don’t know. Maybe write to him? I don’t mind it that celebrities may often be too busy to actually read their fan mail. I have the satisfaction of writing to them. That is good enough for me. But now I am left with no address, email or postal, to write to. Hoping these words would travel back in time and be taken to his ears: Sidney, we’ve got to meet some day. After all we are both suffering from manic depression (one of us a self-proclaimed case). And we both got a writing problem and we both are starting penniless (in my case though this status may last longer). Too many connections if you ask me Sidney. Don’t you think it is vital that we meet?

(On Feb 26, 2010, my blog turned 4 years old. Time doth fly!)

October 24, 2009

2 states: typical Chetan Bhagat

Filed under: Books — Cris @ 04:53

2 states is another typical Chetan Bhagat. I know that is a meaningless statement. PG Wodehouse was always PG Wodehouse, so why cant Bhagat be Bhagat. But I don’t know, I get the feeling I am reading the same novel for the fourth time.

You can hand it to the guy, he makes book reading an easy process. Page 1 to page last is like a not-boring movie you watch. You don’t need breaks in between, you are eager to watch the next scene.

This time, he knocked me off my chair a few times too. No I didn’t faint. I meant the humour. He better get more of that into the book, a lot more and I will add him to my favourite list.

And I don’t like his heroines. 5 point someone was too long ago so I cant remember how bad the lady in it was. But in the other 3, the heroines come with bad attitude. Before this, I read the call centre one and I hated the girl so much! I hated the ending too! Here, Ananya was almost coming up as a decent one and he spoiled her towards the last half. Hmph. Always the guys are nice! I think he does it on purpose.

And I would be happy if he made the heroine ugly for a change. Ok at least not so beautiful. Maybe I am not fair. Most authors have this habit of turning out tall and pretty ladies in their books. They may come poor, they may come dumb, but they are all gifted with tons of beauty.

There was a bit of drama too. I will just point out one instance – 4 rings! For the sake of future readers, I am not elaborating.

One bit of ahem – personal connection – I was wearing a blue n white salwar as I started reading and the heroine appears in the same outfit. Plus she has a mole below her lower lip. Not sure if my black spot at the same position is quite a mole but well it was fun reading it. Lost all fun when the girl turned out to be in IIM-A. Sheesh. Now, that is definitely not my idea of fun. Quit a job, walk around jobless, curse the whole world for losing job – thats fun. But IIM-A, naa.

Hmm I thought I had more to write, but cant remember now. Anyway I don’t intend to put down Chetan too much. After all, I too wanted to grab his book as soon as I heard about it (Thanks Sribro for lending it :-)). And I will possibly rush to get my hands on his fifth too.

October 3, 2009

Miss Peggy – by John Strange Winter

Filed under: Books — Cris @ 17:26

I will do a fast account of Miss Peggy, the story of a very modern girl, a novel by John Strange Winter.
And before you start wondering whichever male could possibly write a “modern girl’s” story, no fear, it’s a lady.0020002000200020030030 0020

If you are wondering what those digits mean, I was wondering it myself till I discovered it was done when I pressed Alt+X. It doesn’t work on starting a paragraph. But put it next to any other character and you get the – err Unicode equivalent? Well its probably a long known fact and we are not talking about keyboard shortcuts here.

So back to Peggy. One term you will need to know if you are reading Peggy is “flapper”. I will admit I was hearing it for the first time and so was my dictionary. Wikipedia says it was a term used for a new breed of young women in 1920s who did all those funny things people called characteristic of “modern women”.

Anyway little Peggy here is a teenager and a flapper or so she calls herself on every other page of the book. She justifies all her behaviours and mood changes and mad ideas, saying but she was only a flapper and I understood a flapper means a dumbo who has a license to be dumb.

No no, Peggy is not an idiot whom we won’t like. In fact it is no difficult to remember your Peggy-days in case you are a woman. Or maybe women don’t stop being flappers – err I don’t mean dumb here. I mean the kind of things Peggy does – thinking the way she does – finding reasons to like or not like someone when in fact you may not like that person at all or the other way around. A sort of make-believe thing which happens when we really cant understand what we really have in mind. Yeah yeah men said all the while women were too complicated to understand. Now women are saying the same too. Its not our fault the mind decides to take strange routes not familiar to the brain.

And well Peggy has a lot of “her boys” to jump between. But then this was early 20th century so we could watch the restrictions that ruled women about going out alone etc etc which I guess is not so difficult to observe in Kerala even today 🙂

And the story goes on and on in this way. It’s a first person narrative which I am a sucker for. Girl narrators are always the best. Even if they lived a century ago.
The book moves on, and its not entirely a waste of time unless of course you are expecting anything intellectual.

And oh boy the book I took was so worn out and old I simply loved it! I have this crazy adoration for really old books. Sigh!

One last thing before I wind up. Seems Peggy was Winter girl’s last novel and the book was published posthumously one year after her death. Sigh again!

September 25, 2009

Charlie, a novel – by George Mikes

Filed under: Books — Cris @ 12:02

Charlie. I don’t know what got me to take this book. I didn’t know old George Mikes was a funny guy who wrote humour. If I did, I would have taken it without bothering to read the extracts in the back page or the language in the first page.

But on page 2 is this line: “It may sound strange but there was a time when I loved my father; and stranger still, there was a time when my father loved me. A pretty unnatural state of things as old Sigmund Freud might observe.”

That shook away all my would-this-be-a-waste-of-time concerns. It wouldn’t, my intelligence told me. My intelligence was right.

Only catch was it had a lot of politics in it, and I wasn’t expecting that. I should have read the extract carefully – it says this is his first political novel – Mikes’.
But it wont be much a of a trouble that you don’t know anything about politics. Cause you see, Charlie doesn’t either. So we get to learn together.

But all the while, no matter how much we go into politics – and politics cant be all that drab if it happened the Charlie way – there is a good lot of the rofl stuff that I badly yearn for in every novel.
So when the prime minister greets Charlie as “Good old Jack” the novel goes “Before Charlie could say anything (and of course he did not mean to embarrass the great man with such a triviality as the fact that his name wasn’t Jack)…”

But the best part was Charlie’s maiden speech at “The House”. After his disastrous start he goes on: “I love animals. We all love animals. All animals. But not the Minister of Agriculture.”
Charlie “quickly realizes” where the misunderstanding lay. He says “I mean the Minister of Agriculture does not seem to like animals and not that the Minister of Agriculture is the only animal I dislike.”

Sigh ok it looks like I have quoted more form the book than I have talked about it. But then it should say better than my words, how Charlie was written. It’s an entertainer 🙂

September 16, 2009

Vertigo by Ashok Banker

Filed under: Books — Cris @ 15:50

On an attempt to restart blogging I decided to write about a book I finished recently. Finished reading that is (writing one still remains a distant dream). Vertigo by Ashok Banker.

Mumbai. Early 1982 to 1984. Jayesh Mehta in his early 20s, caught in the rat race. Plus he has got an alcoholic mother and an ever-demanding girl friend.

After reading nearly 400 pages of tiny font, I am left wondering what was really there in all these pages. Really, couldn’t it have been written in less than 10 pages?

It was easy reading no doubt about it. But it doesn’t really move. I felt the book ended the same place it started at. You could have told the story without moving through all these pages. Predictability is not a problem. I mean, it could have been a little different – it could have moved in a different direction. But then maybe it is just 2-3 years of a normal everyday person, like me. There wasn’t supposed to be any big surprises, any supernatural effects – it is just an ordinary life of an ordinary individual – a troubled individual at that.

Still, somehow I am left unsatisfied. I couldn’t say what exactly is missing, but it just feels incomplete – heck it feels like I just read chapter 1. And there is a lot more to go.

Anyway, the book is written in simple easy-to-read language and that’s what attracted me in the first place. And maybe it is not about moving things in the life of Jayesh Mehta. It is just about the fast and furious life in Mumbai, about how people live there, about what happens… about what does not happen.

May 30, 2008

Chetan Bhagat – The 3 Mistakes of My Life

Filed under: Books — Cris @ 17:47

I am not good with reviews. In the past I wrote the whole story when I tried movie reviews. Trying again, this time with a book, since reviewing is a major writer-task expected out of any writer (yes I consider myself a future prospective writer; only I am not sure how good!).
The book – The 3 Mistakes of My Life, the author – Chetan Bhagat.

It was only by coincidence I visited my library the exact same day the book happened to be there. Normally my library would always have given out new books I wanted to read first hand. This time I never heard of a third book coming from this author. I have read his first, but it was too long ago. The story is vague to me now but I remembered the narration appealed to me a lot. That’s what I look for in books. I like them mostly by how they are written, more than what story actually comes out of it. Probably not the right way to go about it, but well, people are different.

So going back to the original purpose, book review. I had skipped the prologue, in the preconception it would give out some story line. I liked keeping myself in suspense. I am the kind who never skipped lines and pages to reach the climax pages even in hyper-tense situations. I held on to each line more closely not wanting to miss the slightest detail while my mind tried to rush me.

This book started off like a good humored pastime I could read munching potato chips without worrying about the next pages. It was simple; it was plain ordinary everyday life, the kind I live. 3 regular friends of different interests, that’s simple. A business aspirant, that’s normal; a cricket aspirant, quite common in India; and a third friend who liked to hang out with the business aspirant and the cricket aspirant, again nothing rare.

And if nature and the people around them just left them alone to mind their own business, they would have continued being simple, ordinary, everyday life leading people. Well maybe even a little more. They might have not struggled so hard through business and cricket and friendship.

But these things do happen. You live with them wherever you go. Nature and people around you are an unavoidable part of life. Sometimes they disrupt your life, but then again, they make it wonderful too. They make it complete.

It is all part of the book. The simple everyday lives going through different stages of life and realities and tense moments that are no ordinary thing. CB has appealed to me with his narration skills again. This guy knew to write like one talked person to person. That’s kind of easy to connect. And there was a real story line attached to the narration. Lot of cricket in too. It will sell in India. But people who didn’t know cricket might find it a little trying. And then again there is a whole lot of politics. People well up with their newspapers could relate to what he is talking about. Its an everyday happening in India. And politics sometimes mixed with religion, another newspaper thing.

So far I haven’t heard any opinions about the book, so this comes as a totally unprejudiced, unbiased opinion. Reading it won’t be a waste of time. Obviously, I am not good with compliments and appreciations and book promotions.

Some part of the book I felt was so unnatural I almost started cursing CB. But well considering it is real life there is not much he could do about it. But no wonder people made that saying long ago. Real life is gigantically stranger than fiction.

Maybe I should just stick to my regular blogging. Reviews are beyond me.

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