Thursday, May 30, 2013

Humor in Fiction

What does a humorist do when he runs out of ideas? He can bemoan his lack of ideas and shed copious tears all over a blog post. Been there, done that in the "Lament of a Jester". What other options does he have to keep writing?

Well, if one cannot write humor the next best option is to write about it. After all, hasn't someone said that "If you cannot do it, teach it"? So, there I go talking of the various forms of writing humorous fiction with no more than a reader's perspective of writing.

I have, at least, illustrated the various forms by essaying examples in writing the story of "Troy" humorously. I am sure you will find it funny - either the humor or the fact that I thought this was humor.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Metamorphosis of the Indian Heroine

About the first thing that you probably think is going to be there in this piece is the enormous reduction in consumption of textiles on account of the Indian heroine. You are doomed to disappointment, however, though it is rather difficult to entirely avoid that issue while on the subject of the changing face of the Indian heroine. This piece, however, shall probably concentrate on how most things have come full circle when it comes to the Indian heroine.

There was a time when the heroine could be distinguished from her co-dancers – in one of the inevitable group dance sequences – by the color of her clothing. Everyone in the scene would be decorously clad in yards and yards of saris. Later, the other dancers in the scene used to be more (and more) scantily dressed while the heroine used to be covered by the most yardage (Believe me all those stupid allegations of pandering to the baser tastes were grossly untrue. This was done merely to distinguish them from the heroine!). In a further development, it was found better to distinguish the heroine from the others by having her be the least over-dressed of the lot. Now, however, things have come full circle and, with everyone equally scantily dressed, you again have to identify the heroine only by the color of her dress. In the more up-market versions, you can also identify her by the color of her skin since her co-dancers are normally whites.

In the early days, when the heroine has reason to grieve – either a lost parent or a lost love – all she had to do was weep. Things were not all that easy a shade later, when the heroine had adopted what was called ‘modern dress’. The moment a reason for grief presented itself she had to go out and shop first for the entire ensemble that is required to be worn with a sari – things that had never before had reason to be present in her wardrobe. After all, one has to be dressed appropriately for grieving and whoever had then heard of grieving in anything but a sari? Things have now come full circle again, since it is considered quite possible to be appropriately sorrowful even when dressed in a bikini and, thus, no change in wardrobe is considered essential. Of course the more up-market mode of grief is not to weep copiously but to bury your sorrows in a glass of vodka. That only entails wearing a lost look on your face – a feat that comes easy to the modern heroine, considering the sort of roles she is being offered, since she has that lost look perpetually on her face wondering what she is really doing in the movie anyway.

There are areas, however, where things have changed drastically. There was a time when the heroine was modeled more on the fertility goddess. One cannot go so far as to say that they were positively encouraged to put on poundage around the abdomen but an appearance of pregnancy did not necessarily spell curtains to a career as a heroine nor was it a curtain-raiser for a new career as mother. Now, apparently, the heroine is patterned on the ramp model – not least because scanty dress and excess poundage look really unsightly – and is more arm candy than one who ‘teaches a man what caring and sharing is all about’.

The biggest change, however, has come about in the touching part. The yester-year heroine coldly folded her hands in a Namaste and gave a ‘You Jerk’ look to the man who was rogue enough to put out his hand for a handshake. Later still, a hand-shake was sort of all right but everything else was ‘shaadi ke baad’. Then, she would decorously retire behind a couple of kissing flowers. Now, if the man does not embrace her and “Mwah Mwah” in the vicinity of her ear in the first meeting he gets that cold “You Jerk” look.

Alas! Keeping up with change is nerve-wracking. I have seen too much change within my lifetime and it is very wearing on my nerves. So, the metamorphoses of the comedian, the villain, the baby and the pet dog shall have to wait a long time before they get to be showcased here.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Metamorphosis of the Indian Hero

Change is always traumatic. And we live in a world that is changing every moment. Though all of us suffer through the stress of change I think the bulk of the trauma is being inflicted on the poor Indian heroes – especially the South Indian version. And, perhaps, trauma is inflicted on us by them in turn! 

Was it merely three-fourths of a century back that the Indian hero had to merely loll back in a diwan and watch the heroine dance? At best, he had to sit in front of a harmonium looking soulfully at the distance (NOT to avoid the distress of having to look at the heroine, I assure you) and sing. Later, it became even easier since he had to sit at a piano and bang at the keys – and sitting on a stool is much easier on your knees than squatting on the ground, particularly as you start aging. Later still the poor chap had to put in the effort of striking grand poses or doing PT exercise while the heroine did all the graceful portions of the dancing. Who could have imagined that the hero would need to match steps with the heroine or even over-match her so soon? 

Comes to singing, however, one needs to admit that things have become easier. The heroes originally had to sing themselves and tunefully too. Later they necessarily had to lip-synch most of the song since the directors and cameramen had this unnatural liking for close-ups of the face. Once the camera shifted to the pelvis and the six-pack the need to lip-synch has also been eliminated – so the hero can conveniently ignore the entire song for the most part. (A blessing in disguise for the audience as well since if our heroes also started singing, the one last piece of genuine entertainment in the movies would be effectively destroyed) 

The romantic hero, probably, has more reason to be happy – well, depending on the body odor of the heroine, I suppose. In the bygone days, he could only look on the heroine and moon about her from a distance. Later, it became permissible to actually touch the heroine but an inconvenient pair of flowers always got in the way and kissed when he should have been kissing the heroine. That changed too and he was even permitted even to get in bed with the heroine – but only to save the poor girl from dying of hypothermia. Now, of course, if he does not get in bed with the heroine he cannot be a romantic hero. 

All these are but trifles compared to the metamorphosis of the action hero. Gone are the days when the most action that a hero indulged in was to yell for the police in times of danger. First, he had to get bashed up by the villain; on the verge of unconsciousness recollect all the harm the villain had done him and bash up the villain in berserker rage. Later still the fight was more even with both hero and villain exchanging blows with the hero triumphant at the end. Then, it started seeming too less heroic for the hero to suffer even one blow when he was merely facing one opponent and, thus, it took a gang to even land a blow on him. 

What is an action hero if he cannot even fight off a gang unscathed? If the story, unfortunately, demanded that the hero had to be vanquished it had to be by someone attacking him unawares from behind. But is it not ridiculous to think that the hero could at all be caught unawares? So, now the rampant South Indian hero can face up to a multitude and knock them all over without his body being touched by the proverbial finger-nail. 

That may be all right for the ordinary heroes. The super-hero is made of sterner stuff. How can he do something so commonplace as to merely knock out a multitude of gangsters like any other ordinary mortal? If, unfortunately, he has only a gang to deal with, he either decides to fight them off without using his hands or without allowing them to lay a finger on the heroine whom he considerately places between them and him. If the gangsters had the commonsense to bring their guns along, he shows his prowess in dodging bullets while simultaneously shooting with unerring aim and hitting targets at a distance where ordinary mortals would require a sniper’s rifle to even attempt. 

One can imagine the disdain with which the South-Indian superhero looks on the childish Bollywood attempts to create a hero, who can dodge bullets and overtake speeding trains, by using antediluvian Hollywood concepts like extra-terrestrial origin. With the cutting edge idea of a natural born superhero in their backyard if they need to seek abroad for outdated ideas, it must be only because of a colonial hangover. 

Incidentally, I think that the shedding of clothing by the heroine is also because of this superhero nature of her man. With all the powers he has, she probably assumes he has X-ray vision as well thus rendering clothing ineffective as concealment. With her obsession for the hero, she takes no cognizance of the other ordinary mortals around her and discards clothing as worse than useless. 

A piece of advice for any aspiring hero – if in the earliest of movies you have allowed one single opponent to land a blow on you just forget becoming an action hero. If you have been fighting a gang and one of them even touches you, you have lost your chance of becoming a superhero. We just cannot tolerate a hero who can get injured like any other ordinary mortal, no matter how early in his career. 

Alas! There are still some people in India who do not have the patriotism to recognize the heights of power than can be achieved by Indians. Such traitorous mortals do not belong in India – at least in Indian movie halls.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Once upon the tracks of Mumbai – A Book Review

‘Once upon the tracks of Mumbai’, written by Rishi Vohra and published by Jaico, is the tale of an autistic Babloo Srivastav who is unable to connect with the rest of the world except Vandana. The story revolves around his love for Vandana and his discovery of his self as ‘Rail Man’. 

Despite the super-hero sort of build-up to the Rail Man part of the story, it is a largely a tale of relationships and a coming-of-age tale of Babloo Srivastav. Written for the most part in first person from the point of view of the protagonist, the author succeeds in bringing to life the different mental process of an autistic person – which is a major triumph for him. 

The author has also done a very good job of sketching the relationships between the various characters of the story. It is this ability to bring relationships to life which ensures that the reader can relate to the story more like it were something happening in his vicinity rather than an outlandish tale about unbelievable people. 

In addition, the author not only succeeds in bringing to life the railway colony of Mumbai but also sketches out the typical dilemmas faced by the average Indian woman in the form of his female protagonist Vandana. Both the major protagonists are well etched characters as is the antagonist Sikander. Other than for a slow start, the story is quite fast-paced and a very satisfying read. All the more satisfying to me because jarring usage of Hinglish was near-totally avoided, except where necessary in dialogues. 

The one problem for me was that the other characters were a bit one-dimensional. In a way, it could not have been otherwise since they are presented largely from the view-points of either the male or female protagonist. The author has, however, written portions of the story from various view-points so it seemed like giving dimensionality to other characters could have been worked in – and was probably necessary for a couple of characters to lend more credence to the way they act at the end. 

I also thought that the end of the story could have been more elaborately sketched. Considering that the persona of the tale had different attitudes to each other and there were some simmering tensions, a more detailed end – sketching different reactions of people to the way the relationship between Vandana and Babloo worked out – would have made the story richer. 

There are portions in the story where the author describes Mumbai and the behavior of people in India in general with a preface “Indians are like….” which gives the impression that the book was written primarily with a foreign audience in mind. These references are a minor blemish which could have been avoided at the editing stage when an Indian publisher accepted the book for publication. 

There is a minor editing problem too. The Srivastavs become Yadavs in one minor portion of the story. 

Overall, however, the tale works well and is a very good read.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shopping woes

I hate shopping. Almost everyone who knows me knows that I do. Very few, however, know why I do. Considering that I have burdened my readers with all the secrets of my life, I see no reason why they must be spared this one. After all, by now they have become long-suffering even if they had not started off by being so. 

The problem for me is that I am badly scarred by multiple choice questions. When I go into the mall for picking up what I need, I find myself facing up to multiple choice questions again. Do I pick the toothpaste that will strengthen my gums or the one that will whiten my teeth? Do I pick the one that will help me crack walnuts with my teeth or the one that will salt my teeth and wipe out germs? Or do I go in for the more exotic version that will drag that girl from the other side of the bus to me by her nose? 

I draw on all my knowledge of decision-making under uncertainty – culled from a couple of years of sleeping in a management institute and a decade and a half of management work - and pick the most effective method to make the decision. I close my eyes and, pointing at each brand in turn, intone “Inky Pinky Ponky..” 

Having successfully managed the decision I move on to the next. I need a deodorant – and how badly I need it anyone who has spent time in my vicinity can tell if only he can stop gagging at the memory. Here the problem is not so much in the different ways in which they will help me. The funny thing is that a deodorant is expected to rid you of smell but all deodorants sell on the basis of what they will make you smell like. All of them, however, have the same effect – they draw girls to you like flies. 

Make no mistake. I like girls. The problem is that I cannot really see how too many of them at the same time is an enjoyable experience. It would be much like being caught in the middle of a cat-fight – with the scratches to show for it. But, if you will use a deo, that is an unavoidable side-effect. I use my trusty decision-making tool – closed eyes; “Inky Pinky Ponky..”; yup you got it right in one - and pick a deo. The sound of giggles behind me makes me turn to see a few Pretty Young Things staring at me. Uh! I had hardly picked up a deo and it had started working its magic! 

I walked over to the next rack to pick soaps. This is actually a very unnerving thing to buy for me. Almost all the world and its aunt seemed to have produced a unique brand of soap. That becomes a problem because my decision-making tool stops before I am through a tenth of the available choices. What was the option here then? I cudgel my brains and come up with a brilliant idea. I shall repeat it ten times and pick the one on which my finger stopped. I close my eyes and start. By the time I finish, there is a whisper, “He is such great fun” from behind. I turn around to see that I had managed to quadruple my following of PYTs – all without even using the deo. The problem was that the PYTs seemed to have acquired a male following too. So, my trip to the next rack seemed more like a procession. 

I was into the soft drinks now. Having repeated my usual mantra ten times over at the last rack, it was too boring to use it again. The good thing about my decision-making tool was that any nursery rhyme would do. So, I closed my eyes and started, “Old Mother Hubbard..” 

“But you said he would say ‘Inky Pinky Ponky.’”, came a shrill voice from behind. 


Oh! God! So these PYTs were following me because I was a figure of fun! I dropped my shopping basket and went rushing out of the mall. 

So, now you know why I hate shopping!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Heaven in Hell

“Take care of these nitpicking administrative details without bothering me, He says”, muttered the Gatekeeper with an apprehensive look upwards. “It would be easy enough if these mortals really believed that the ways of the Lord are unfathomable. Unfortunately, they say it and then proceed to try and fathom them. What is worse, they actually believe that they have fathomed them and who is saddled with the job of providing them the Heaven that they think the Lord promised them? Me!”

Sometimes the Gatekeeper envied his nominal subordinate - the Hell Warden. It was so much easier when your job is to keep your charges unhappy – they were much less likely to be very particular about the way in which they were made unhappy. For example, the Hell Warden had no problems about souls refusing to be unhappy because they were being deep-fried in oil rather than roasted in fire. Keeping people happy was near impossible. People – even after death – were so finicky about what would make them happy.

The Gatekeeper sighed. Time was when there were almost as many versions of Heaven as there were people and he had been run ragged trying to satisfy all of them. Providing Valkyries for one lot, houris for another, tournaments for a third and dealing with accusations about differential treatment had been Hell in Heaven for him. That lot of souls had been transported out (and only the Lord knew where – the Gatekeeper made no pretence of having fathomed His Workings) and, now, things had settled between clouds-and-harp, navel-contemplating and houris. He had expected the sinecure to last but now this!

What in Cosmos was an Internet?

* * *

“No Internet here and you call this Heaven?” The voice of the latest soul to enter the Portals of what the souls called Heaven echoed in the Gatekeeper’s mind. Jagannath -call me ‘Jack’ – had just about finished the orientation course and this was his reaction. The Gatekeeper had made the mistake of assuming that he would settle down but his constant complaints and extolling of the virtues of the Internet had created so much discontent that he was now forced to deal with the issue.

“What in Cosmos is an Internet?” asked the Gatekeeper of Jack. Before Jack could even draw in a breath, the Assistant Gatekeeper chimed in.

“Boss! That is the latest craze in Hell! You know the mandatory one hour of fun enforced in Hell? Well! The Hell Warden introduced Hellnet and it has caught on like…” his voice trailed off after he belatedly recognized that the light in the Gatekeeper’s eyes was wrath and not approbation.

“So! Even Hell has the Net but Heaven doesn’t? What sort of inefficient system are you guys running anyway?” asked Jack.

“God save me from eager-beaver subordinates”, thought the Gatekeeper. Now that Hell was known to have what this impetuous soul wanted, there was no choice but to provide one here as well.

‘So be it. You people can put in place a Heaven-Net”, said the Gatekeeper. Somehow, he had the vague feeling that his troubles were just beginning.

* * *

Heaven-Net, 3G mobiles, Apps! The place is abuzz with words that he had never heard of, thought the Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper was complacent, however. From what he understood of the Net, this craze would peter out soon. After all, there was no money and no individual relationships in Heaven, which seemed to negate most of the uses of the Net. Further all knowledge that souls treasured were not applicable or even interesting since there were no nations, no wars and no trade disputes.

The thing that seemed to have taken the place by storm, however, was something called Soulbook. Souls from all over the place were exchanging messages with each other.

“I am so happy today”, said one soul. “So am I” commented another. “I am happy too” said a third.

“Never thought I could play a harp so well”, said a previously tone-deaf soul. “Neither did I” said another.

“Clouds can be truly comfortable to lie on”, said a relaxed soul. “Quite! Fluffy and soft” said another.

Souls exchanged audios and videos of their harp-playing and cavorting on clouds. They exchanged games like Ascending-the-cloud-ladder and Navel-contemplating. The Gatekeeper waited for this craze to peter off.

As indeed it started doing. After all, after you have read the fortieth comment about how happy someone is, heard the sixty-seventh great harp recital and read about the comfort coefficient of the clouds for the zillionth time, it is difficult to raise any enthusiasm to switch on the mobile and start reading the same things all over again. The souls had started to realize that when everyone is happy and equally as good at everything there is actually nothing exciting to communicate.

Before the Gatekeeper could rest on his laurels, however, catastrophe struck! Jack had hacked into Hellnet and, even though their audios, videos and apps would not open or work in Heaven, messages from their Soulbook became available.

Excitement, somehow, seemed more preferable to happiness for these modern souls!

* * *
Jack was back again.

“Look at these messages from Hellnet! “Being sautéed today”! “Beelzebub coming over with a nice salt-and-pepper dressing for my burns”! “Today two imps missed me with their pitchforks! Yippeee!” How much fun they seem to be having! Looks like that is Heaven and this is Hell!”

“Ever heard of gallows-humor?” asked the Gatekeeper, wearily.

Jack seemed not to have heard.

“How about this game - Become Hell-Warden? Seems so interesting. Apparently there are six to seven levels with prizes for completing each level. There are so many comments flying about this game. The games here are pathetic. Why can’t you get that game here?”

“That is not allowed. We cannot have games of violence and unhappiness in Heaven”

“Censorship in Heaven! I would never have believed it. Looks to me like I have to go to the consumer court about this. This place does not live up to its billing”

“I am the only judge here”, said the Gatekeeper nastily. His patience was at an end.

“We will see about it. Let me put out a message on Soulbook and you will have an uprising of souls like you have never seen here before. We will see who the judge here is then.”

The Gatekeeper was aghast. Never had he faced a situation of a Heaven-full of souls in unrest. Something had to be done about this.

“Look, let us be reasonable. You think that Hell will be more pleasant for you than Heaven. I will try to arrange to transfer you to Hell. You, on the other hand, should remain silent about this whole matter”

“Done!” said Jack. After all, why should he not get what he wanted? The other souls seemed content enough with things here unless they were stirred up. Who was to know if the rebellion he stirred up would not peter out if the Gatekeeper was firm or wily enough to procrastinate?

“I give you one last chance to reconsider. Things that are interesting when talked about are not enjoyable when experienced.”

Jack looked at the Gatekeeper disbelievingly.

“All right! I will arrange for you to go to Hell soon. If within a month you choose to come back, you can. Else, you will be a permanent resident there”

“I will never come back!”

Never has more certainty been shown than when one is talking about something that one neither knows nor has any reason to know!

* * *
“What is in it for me?” asked the Hell Warden.

The Gatekeeper was in no pleasant mood. He was irritated with the Hell Warden for having put in place this Hellnet and setting off the whole issue. His assistant, who had accompanied him, was another source of irritation with his ill-advised enthusiasm for the Net.

“Would you like to spend some time as an inmate at your place?” he asked silkily. With a meaningful glance at his assistant, he continued, “I have someone who is eager to take your place.”

Both of them blanched at the thought of what an angry Gatekeeper was suggesting. The Gatekeeper smiled inwardly with satisfaction. Keeping a multitude of souls happy was not a job that you could be happy in and you had to take your satisfaction where you could get it.

Three days of stubbornness was all Jack could manage before he was back in Heaven. No matter how galling the thought of admitting his foolishness, it was not worse than what Hell had done to him in those three days. Playing Becoming Hell-Warden was fun and sending and reading interesting messages was exciting. It was what happened the rest of the time that did not bear contemplation.

“Believe me guys! The only thing Heavenly about Hell is the Net. The rest is sheer torture” said he with a shudder.

The other souls looked at him disbelievingly.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Words and Meanings Again

There are words that did not exist before and have been created since. Then there are words that meant something else in the past whose meanings have morphed beyond all belief over time. When such a change occurs over your own lifetime and the meaning of a word as you learnt it in school no longer applies now it is a very traumatic feeling. This once I mean to share that trauma with you - and no amount of pleading about how reading anything here is traumatic enough is going to help.

There was this nice little word 'gay', which meant happy in the halcyon days of my childhood. Now, apparently, it has been appropriated exclusively to refer to people who prefer their own gender for sexual activities. Things have come to such a pass that English teachers at school have trouble convincing students that when Wordsworth wrote "A poet cannot but be gay" in the 'Daffodils' he was not making any sweeping assumption about the sexual proclivities of poets. In these intolerant times, I am confidently expecting processions of heterosexual poets burning effigies of Wordsworth with shouted slogans of "Gali Gali mein shor hai; Wordsworth gaddar hai" for having ruined their chances with girls by this generalization about their sexual preferences. Simultaneously another procession of the - err is 'differently sexed' the politically correct term? - would indulge in a similar activity vehemently protesting the slur that they were harboring poets within their ranks. The life of words is indeed fraught with a lot of drama.

Attitude, I had always thought, was an attribute of the mind. To me, it meant the way you approached life or certain situations. Wrong, it turns out, in the modern age. Attitude apparently means the way you style your hair - have it stick out like the bristles of a mop; shave the scalp to see a glimpse of how you will look in the future without wigs; make it appear like a freshly plowed field with nicely symmetrical furrows; color it as though you had been painting your house and forgot the turpentine; whatever. It could also mean what you do with your facial hair. Depending on your 'attitude' you could either leave hair on your face where it is anyway difficult to shave off or you could leave it where it makes it difficult for you to shave every day. This rather novel definition of attitude - as something that comes out of the hair-stylist or beauty saloon - was a real shocker to me and I still have not completely digested it.

I really cannot claim that the word 'loser' has changed drastically but the emotional content attached to it has morphed beyond all recognition. A 'loser' in my youth meant a guy who had tried and failed. A 'loser' nowadays means a guy who is a failure. Both seem the same to the guys of today, apparently, but to me there is a world of difference. To illustrate, I once participated in a 100m running race at SPIC - only because I was a trainee then and all participants in the sports events were given the day off. A full day holiday for a mere one minute exertion sounded attractive. The first heats in which I participated all the other contestants had crossed the rope by the time I finished 'running' the first 50 meters. I was summarily called off in order to allow the next heats to progress. I came over to a great sound of laughter and declaimed, "I was the man behind all the victors". That was that! I mean, I lost the race all right but SPIC did not call me the next day and chuck me out of a job for being a 'loser'.

A 'loser' - when used to mean 'a failure' - ought to be applied only to a person who has the wrong attitude and  has lost all gaiety. Huh! Wait a minute! I do not mean to say that a failure is someone who has changed his hair-do and re-aligned his sexual proclivities. Whenever will I master this new lingo?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Crazy Algorithm of Love - A Book Review

'The Crazy Algorithm of Love', published by Frog Books, is a debut novel by Rajrupa Gupta, who is a good blogger friend of mine. I am normally wary of debut novels for a few reasons. The first is that, in a romantic novel such as this, debut authors tend to focus mainly on the central characters and the other characters and relationships are very seldom fleshed out. The second is that the climax that closes out the book appears like a flash of thunder without being presaged by any event in the book. Sometimes the romance itself is sugary enough to give you diabetes.

It was a pleasant surprise to read this book. I did have an idea of Rajrupa's capabilities as a writer in her short stories but it is difficult to estimate the ability of an author to maintain interest over a novel based on her short stories. In that sense, I was delighted to find that she had written a book that was pacy enough to maintain interest from start to finish.

The stand-out facet of the book was the natural manner in which the book describes the one-step-forward two-steps-back nature of the courtship dance between the main protagonists with the mental turbulence of the female protagonist vividly described. The cyber-crime climax of the story is seamlessly weaved in to the rift between the couple and does not come as an unexpected jack-in-the-box kind of surprise. Rajrupa has also brought to life the atmosphere of an IT company as well as fleshed out relationships between the female protagonist and her mother as well as her boyfriend's father quite well. The story, therefore, reads like a description of real life happenings rather than incidents occurring in the life of cardboard characters.

A couple of flaws, however. The first one is probably more a question of my taste. I do not much favor what people have taken to calling Indian English. In this book, since the story is told in the first person from the point of view of the female protagonist, it may be true to life. I, however, feel that proper English does not jar anyone whereas this sort of English does tend to jar - at least for purists like me. It is, maybe, a trend of the times and I may be the outdated person here.

The other flaw is that there is a small portion of the story that is told from the male protagonist's point of view while the rest of the novel is exclusively from the female protagonist's point. It breaks the flow of the novel at that point. It would have been better if the author had found an alternative way to bring in those happenings which happen outside the knowledge of the main point-of-view character.

Those, however, are minor hiccups in an otherwise eminently readable book. If you are looking for a pacy read in the romantic genre, this may be the book for you.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 39; the thirty-ninth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. The theme for the month is "Break"
I do not know if there are very many words in the English language that have evoked so many different emotions in me in comparison to this word 'Break'. From childhood to now, it has been the source of a great many emotions - not all of them pleasant to recollect.

The earliest emotion that this word has evoked in me is fear. "Did you break this?" was a question that has often caused me to break out (there you go again, the word is simply too ubiquitous) into a cold sweat - not least because the answer, if true, had to be 'yes'. My earliest attempts at fiction were made then - "No Mom! It was the wind!" or "No Mom! It was my sister!" It was either the fact that I was too young to realize that fiction had to be believable or that it was an age when fantasy had not gained a strong enough foothold in the world. My Mom simply refused to contemplate the idea of a black wind from Mordor having swept that china jar of pickles off the larder or that my toddler sister had looked at it cross-eyed and caused it to fall by telekinesis. This lamentable lack of belief in fantasy is responsible for many a beating that I could have avoided in the days after Tolkien and Rowling. (And, by the way, I did not even look pregnant then but I loved pickles - don't ask me why)

When school started, that same word was a cause of immense joy. Imagine sitting around in class in a fugue with someone droning about some distant country and suddenly asking you to name its damned capital (I have a sneaking suspicion that countries have capitals merely to make life hell for school children. Very mean of them). Failure to answer could mean having to stand on a bench or kneel in front of the class - neither posture being conducive to getting that lovely nap which is so necessary for a good complexion. So, it is no wonder that the word 'lunch break' or any other such break evoked a sense of freedom and joy almost akin to ecstasy. (I am taking a bit of a liberty here. In my days, they used the word 'Interval' not break)

The entry to the workaday world was also preceded by this same word. "Please give me a break", was a plea to get a job. Now, the problem was that the answer used to be, "Are you a car or something?" thanks to the fact that 'break' and 'brake' sounded almost the same not to mention the fact that this Americanism had not yet caught on. That is the problem with being among the first few to be afflicted by the disease. People are unable to recognize the fact that you are infected by "Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever" or, in this case, "Virulent Americanization". Now, of course, you can hardly think of an alternative phrase to use under similar circumstances.

Where this usage of 'giving a break' was one of pathos for me, it was one of simmering anger for my friend. Blessed with a surname of "Kallingal" and a typist with a reverence for Word's powers to auto-correct, he invariably ended up signing letters as "Killingly", which was Word's auto-correct option for "Kallingal". People have accustomed themselves to 'faithfully', 'sincerely' and all that at the close of a letter but they seemed to draw a line at Killingly. This unnatural antipathy of the recipients of his letters caused him to get wild enough to take his typist to task and, when he had just about started to whistle before really letting off steam, someone intervened and said, "Give the poor guy a break". In his words, he was like a pressure cooker full of steam and about to let go when someone sat heavily on his head and refused the outlet.

I could probably go on and on and on about Break. I mean you break out in song, break out into dance, break out of melancholy and on and on. Why, people even wish you to break a leg when you get on stage. Now that you have had a lecture on 'Break', go take a break before someone else breaks the silence.
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Friday, May 3, 2013

Lament of a Jester

P.G.Wodehouse took grave objection to being called a 'burbling pixie', ‘believing that as such he became a hissing and a by-word among the eggheads. You can't go calling a man a burbling pixie without lowering his morale. He frets. He refuses to eat his cereal. He goes about with his hands in his pockets and his lower lip jutting out, kicking stones. The next thing you know, he is writing thoughtful novels analyzing social conditions, and you are short another humorist.’

I cannot claim to have been called a ‘burbling pixie’. Primarily because the word ‘burbling’ does not seem to be much in use these days and, going by some English experts, anything that is outdated cannot even be called English. As for ‘pixie’, if it has not been given prominence by Tolkien or Rowling, it does not deserve to be considered a legitimate fantasy creature. Still, I have had my lower lip jutting out, I have been kicking stones and, if not thoughtful novels, I have been writing pieces on Social conditions. (By the way, I like the other version of Wodehouse where he says, ‘He grows a beard and writes one of those Russian novels’ - primarily because I have a beard, I suppose!)

What set it all off, then? Nothing specific, really. There are times when the jester’s cap sits heavy on your head and the bells seem to jingle mournfully and you start feeling this urgent need to be taken seriously. Then, you hit upon some brilliant thought that the world has never heard of before and you go out into the market-place and shout, “Hear Ye! The world is round and not flat” only to find that your audience is too busy dickering for its onions to pay any heed to you.

Now what is it that keeps a man dissatisfied with who he is? The jester suddenly develops an appetite for being a social reformer and the serious thoughtful guys feel the pressing need to jest. Ah! The vagaries of human nature!

Actually, I can quite understand why the serious guys feel the need to jest. With almost every woman and her aunt looking for a man with a ‘sense of humor’, it is but a vital necessity for every man to delve into the dark corners of his heart to see if he can find a glimmer of a sense of humor. Though what the ladies really do with this man, I have never yet managed to understand.

I mean, I have seen many a woman snag this elusive man only to spend the rest of their lives saying, ‘Be serious, Bertie”. Now, what is it exactly that they want – a serious person or a jester? It almost seems as if they need a man with a sense of humor only because they can occupy the rest of their time in beating it out of him. Someone without it to start with offers no such entertainment.

Digressions! Digressions! Where was I? Ah! On the need for a jester to turn serious. You see, the issue is that a jester is never taken seriously. If he says, “I have a headache”, people laugh and say, “Go on with you. Always joking” and the headache intensifies in trying to find out exactly what the joke was that you cracked unintentionally. Even on the death-bed, you are expected to come out with a witty line about all the friends that you are going to meet in Hell – when, with all your heart, you are wishing the entirety of your audience in Hell so that you can die in peace without the pressure of having to think up a witty exit line. The serious guys have it easy. They can mope and their audience will be suitably sympathetic.

As long as this morbid mood lasts, wit flies out of the window. But the day will come when the jester’s cap fits snug on the head and the bells ring joyously – for, after all, Bertie can be serious only for so long.