Ahh…The Glorious Autumn is Here….

I think by now one and all are aware for my love and obsession about Autumn – Winter. Like the true winter child that I am, I thrive in these 6 months, while I wither and die in Spring/Summers. (Yes! I know it’s unnatural to be depressed about spring, but in my mind, it heralds summer, which I CANNOT tolerate!) Therefore I take a break from my bookish musings to scribble some of my all-time favorite poem/film/music/book about autumn. I will do the same exercise in the month of December to celebrate winter. Without further ado, here goeth the list –

  • Poem – I have already mentioned this in one of my posts, but I love the lyricism of William Blake’s To Autumn

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain’d
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

  • Film – ‘Autumn in New York’ is to clichéd, besides, I did not like Winona Ryder in the film, not to mention, I had a lot of difficulty in digesting Richard Gere having a fling with the mother and then many years down line, falling for the daughter!   So my choice is choice and I LOVE this film is Autumn Tale  – a sometime funny and sometime heartwarming tale of widowed 30 something Magali, a lonely winemaker, whose friends secretly set out to find a husband for her. The film has the most breathtaking shots of France in Autumn, especially the acres and acres of vineyards!
  • Music – Simple, classic and elegant…Viva Vivaldi

  • Books – I realized when I was surfing the net, before last week’s post that “Rebecca” is a much looked upon as a perfect autumn novel, why, I sit and question. Anyway, my favorite autumn book is a toss-up between (I know two is cheating, but this is MY game) “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott and “Ann of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery. Classic coming of age books, set at the start of autumn, which till dates teaches us much about courage, kindness and faith!
  • Thing – While this is true for all seasons, the big mug tea and the blanket, aah…that just adds perfection to the book and the bed!

Bs

So what are your Autumn favorites?

P.S. We got some press today for our project – http://www.mid-day.com/articles/reclaiming-a-forgotten-food-culture/15712156. Our website is also up – http://cogitofilmsindia.wix.com/idenityonapalate

I would again urge all to please help us in supporting this project, that will ensure preservation and continuation of a now practically extinct culture – there are many ways to support this cause –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website (The project is called Identity on a Palate)
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

Please do help and Thank You again!

Advertisement

Serching for Truth in Victorian England

I know this review comes a bit late, but I guess better late than never!! I finished reading my second Margaret Kennedy book for Jane’s Margaret Kennedy Week yesterday, but between one thing and the other could not blog about it! So here’s my take on ‘’The Wild Swan” – It is absolutely remarkable! I know all you believe that I begin swooning just by reference to Margaret Kennedy and have lost all discerning abilities, but I cannot help it! She was a wonderful author and I cannot but feel that it’s a crying shame that today not too many people know of her work! Now back to the book!

kennedy-badgeThe Wild Swan opens with Roy Collins, a 25-year-old cynic with immense talent who works for BBB (Blech Bernstein British) as a script writer. He is ambitious and wants to become a director, but knows that the road to that position is not easy and compromises have to be made to reach it. He has developed a style of smooth talking and a sham personality to get along with everyone and get everything done, without any authenticity of character. His current assignment brings him to Bramstock, where he is to assist play right Adelaide Lassiter and critic Alec Mundy put together a script on the life of Dorothea Harding. Dorothea was a Victorian novelist, who wrote prim romantic novels set is historical backdrop which were a great success in her days, but now are complete forgotten! It was believed until about 20 years ago, that she led a completely blameless as well as color less life, until Mundy uncovered some of her poetry and a diary based on which he wrote a book claiming hidden passions and sinful love for her brother-in-law, who was her sister’s husband. Based on this book, Adelaide Lassiter wrote a play about their “affair” and this play was now basis of the film. Dorothea Harding’s current family, the owners of Bramstock, are not particularly interested in how their relation is portrayed as long they can get the money for allowing filming on the estate. Roy himself is not much interested in the work – he has never read any of Dorothea Harding’s work nor is he really concerned with what gets presented on the celluloid, as long as he can get his job done and get back to BBB headquarters and pursue his ambition. However certain incidents and discovery of some new letters, force Roy to realize that not everything is as it seems, and the truth runs deeper than it initially appeared and this one time, it is imperative to bring the truth forward, regardless of the cost – even if it impacts his ultimate dreams!!

The plot is wonderful, you are plunged write into the truth of Dorothea Harding’s life right at the start, but in a distinctive narrative style, it takes a while for the readers to actually put the whole jigsaw puzzle together and the ending, which is so simple, that it becomes extraordinary in a landscape of unreal or fairy tale like climactic endings. The characterizations, which I now realize is Ms. Kennedy’s core strength, blew me away. Dorothea Harding, lovely spirited and free, is woman after my heart. Her hopes and ambitions contradicts the norms of her society and when her plans are thwarted, she still has the moral courage to go on and continue to be good and generous. Roy is absolutely wonderful, a good boy turned jaded soul turned honest man; you feel the triumph of human spirit when he decides to follow the truth, despite all odds! The only character I could not warm up to was Cecilia Harding, but then I think Ms. Kennedy wanted us to feel that way about her and I do understand the frustration of being immensely gifted and not being able to use it because of lack of fund. My favorite character was Adelaide Lassiter – she alone stands for all that is innocent, brave and honest. She may not be the smartest or the wisest, but she knows what is right and never a moment, not even at the very peak of her success, does she lose sight of that! The language as always is wonderful and I could quote lines after lines from the book, but will contend myself with only a few – “Why should I be loaded with luxuries I don’t care for and be denied the one thing for which I crave – my leisure?” “I think she meant that happiness is really a prison and our gaolers are our preferences. We think we like one person or one place better than another. We regret the past, and we fear the future. But to a broken heart, all places are the same, there is the same grief to be encountered everywhere. And time is not important.” Wow!! The book is filled with such che-ching and the coin dropped moments!!

What a joy you are to read Ms. Kennedy!

P.S. In other news, please do remember that I am currently running a crowdfunding project and we need your support to make it happen. Details are found here.

There are a couple of ways to support this cause –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website (The project is called Identity on a Palate)
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

Please do help and Thank You again!

A Plea….

I write to all of you on a matter of a whole different nature from my usual rumblings of books! As you all know, I have a day job – of a Project Manager and a night job of a writer. Recently this avatar of a night job took a twist of faith and I found myself as a writer, researcher and a co-producer of a documentary film. (Don’t ask me how I ended up here, it’s a long story and I am sure I will bore all of you off your socks!!) Anyway, I wanted to share some insights about this film and seek some support!!

In the midnight of August 15th 1947, India declared her independence from the British Empire. However this independence was not without its price; West Punjab and East Bengal were partitioned to create the state of Pakistan. In the shadow of this partition, this drawing of artificial boundaries separating one land into two led to an “Indian Exodus”. The Hindus living in these regions left their traditional lands and homes to cross the now effective borders of the Indian state and to live in India, while many Muslims similarly crossed the border to live in the new state of Pakistan. My family, i.e. my grandparents, along with millions like them, moved from the then East Bengal to re-start their interrupted lives across Ganges to what is now called West Bengal. But the transition was not smooth and after the swell of violence had ended, the angst of displacement remained, and with it came the slow awareness that the East Bengal migrants were slowly but surely losing their identity. East Bengal, the traditional land of this migrant population was/is a rich land, thriving in fisheries, granaries and a host of different kinds of vegetation; naturally identity to these people came from the food they consumed and in which they traded. Special foods for special days of the month, festivals celebrating food and songs rejoicing the many kind of dishes! Needless to say, we were one food obsessed tribe! However this migrant population soon realized that they could not replace their original identity across the border, simply because across the border, the things which defined their identity, the ingredients to their exotic cuisine were no longer available. The succeeding generations brought up on this side of the world, assimilated and while they heard stories of the food and culture of their parents, never really knew what it meant. Today, as a third generation East Bengali, my claim to understanding of this unique food and culture is borderline and bare. On the other hand the first generation of these migrants are a fast thinning crowd-many have ceased to live, while some have degenerated beyond remembrance. This film is an effort to record this dying culture that was defined by foods, an effort to collate what is left and to share with the world a unique story of a population which celebrated their joys, sorrows and life itself through food!

This project till now has been completely self-funded which included travel, cost of equipment, purchase of necessary hardware and software and occasional production crew employment charges. We have conducted extensive research for this project, both from primary and secondary resources. We have also garnered a number of first generation interviews to understand the primary narrative and how to integrate it with our core vision of this film. We have logged and organized about 10 hours of footage by speaking with close friends, family of the first generation migrants. Our next steps would include concluding the production work effort with  more interviews and narratives  from second and third generation East Bengal migrants, belonging to different districts as well some scholars and government official to get a 360* perspective of this phenomena. We would need help of a trained camera crew with sound engineers to make sure professional industry standards of documentary film making. Travel would be a part of this effort to gain diverse perspective and enhance the richness of the narrative. To fund for all and more, we have opened a campaign on Indiegogo and need your support and assistance to make this happen!

There are a couple of things that can be done to make this attempt successful –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website (The project is called Identity on a Palate) or by clicking on this hyperlink –https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/identity-on-a-palate
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

I realize my presumptuousness in imposing this on all of you, but I am also aware of your beliefs in things like freedom, culture and identity and therefore seek your help boldly without any inhibition!!

Please do help and Thank You again!

To end, I leave you with a snippet on one of the interviews series of this project, where the first generation migrants recount their journey across the border, the food that they left behind and the festivals that are now almost forgotten!!

A House on the Hill…

As part of the RIP 2014, The Estella Society organized a Readalong – The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. While I was only planning to take part in Peril the First, but scrolling through Carl’s post I came across this reading event and I just had to be a part of it!!

I had never read any works of Shirley Jackson before and I am usually skeptical of books that belong to the horror/supernatural genre. I am usually very disappointed in the endings of such genre and I do never feel even a twinge of fear and in fact find some plots absolutely laughable. However I had heard some great things about the The Haunting of Hill House and though I had not seen any of the movies based on this book, I knew it was rated very high among 20th century literature. It had been part of my TBD for a long time and the Readalong came as a great opportunity to finish at least one book out of the ever-growing list.

The book opens with a description of the Hill House and Dr. James Montague has undertaken to conduct a study on the supernatural phenomena surrounding the house. He is joined in this investigation by three other members, two of whom he has himself picked – Eleanor Vance and Theodora along with Luke Sanderson who is the heir to the house. Dr. Montague on their first night at the house reveals that The Hill House was built by Hugh Crane who hoped his family would live in the house; however his first wife died while coming up to the house when her carriage crashed in the tree on the driveway and he lost his second and third wife as well. Hugh Crane’s two daughters were brought up in the house and the younger one married and the elder one continued living in the house with a companion, a girl from the village to whom she finally left the house. There were antagonism between the villagers and the younger sister versus the companion on this and soon the companion complained of thieving incidents and other such events in the house, before committing suicide. Since then anyone who has rented the house has never managed to complete the duration of their lease and have always moved away in a hurry. As the four participants settle in, events begin occurring in the house that disturb and threaten them. Soon Eleanor Vance begins to experience phenomena that others are oblivious to and slowly begins to lose grip on reality as she becomes subject to more such episodes. Finally concerned, Dr. Montague forces her to leave the house, though she resists such eviction. As she drives down the driveway, she crashes into the large oak tree.

The characters in the book are minimalistically drawn but are very real. While the author does not spend to many lines in describing her protagonists, their actions bring out the nature of their character far more illustratively. There are some marvelously humorous events that take of some of the stress after the intense action and offer a much-needed relief in the chilling narrative. The star of the book naturally is The House – from the very beginning it dominates the plot line and all the other characters are just supporting this mammoth. It creeps and shudders and laughs and plays and thunders and booms making it well know that the house and the house alone is what matters and no one can tame or ever truly own it. The beauty of the book lies in the fact there is no blood or gore or horrifying monsters; but rather the use of subtle psychology and the feeling of things creeping behind you that makes it a terrifying read. There are no loud incidents, no clutching of throats or ghosts rising from the graveyard, but a far more petrifying phenomena – when one realizes that one alone is being subjected to supernatural things while others continue to live out their lives as normal. The understanding that you are holding the hand of a friend while sleeping only to wake up and realize it’s someone else’s hand or sitting in a room while something thunders and threatens to enter your room, a nameless horror, but never does, and you wait for it to come back again another night is truly terrifying and distressing.

The book is SCARY!!! I am not someone who is usually daunted by supernatural plots, but for the last three nights, I have slept with the lights on!!!!!I am so glad that I read this book finally and I have to agree with Stephen King (whose books by the way I really dislike!) who wrote that this book was one of the finest horror novels of late 20th century!!

Once Upon a time in Puritan New England

As part of the Classic Club Spin # 6, I was to read Nathaniel Hawthorn’s The Scarlett Letter! To the say the least I was not pleased; I am completely fed up with this 20th century obsession with the heroine whose infidelity leads to tumultuous ending. Case to the point are Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; I was done with the heroine trying to seek fulfilment outside an unhappy marriage leading to disastrous results with the only viable option left for our protagonist being death!! This might be fully in keeping with the morality of the age and the writing may be lyrical, majestic etc etc; but the stories left me cold (though I do love Anna Karenina more than any such genre novel; it’s because of its awe-inspiring descriptions of Russia and her society and of course the love story of Levi and Kitty; I must stop this is not after all a review of Anna Karenina!) Therefore with the strongest dislike I began to read this book; thinking of it more a chore than a pleasure! And Surprise! Surprise!

The book from the very beginning grabbed my attention. It begins with the description of the jailhouse from which an adulteress came out to be paraded onto the street and then to be displayed in all her shame with her “misbegotten” child in the town square before all the public; the letter A was emblazoned on her dress, which she would have to wear for the rest of her life in this new Puritan colony of New England. Here it self was a big difference, the story began where the other books had left off and in itself, it made a huge statement about the courage and valor of the heroine – a heroine who was capable enough to commit adultery in the conservative society of 17th century, was brave enough to live through it. The story of Hester Prynne was different because it traced her life and forced her to live after committing adultery. The Scarlett Letter follows her struggle as she is boycotted from the 17th century society and tries to bring up her daughter alone in such circumstances, defying the patriarchs of the colony who pressurize her to name her partner in the adultery. She lives outside the colony settlement and tries to earn her livelihood by doing embroidery and other such work. Her life is harsh and she is ostracized by the society even to the point of the poor who abuse her when she gives them alms  and  the Elders of the society debate whether she is morally fit enough to be a mother and try to take away her daughter from her, until pastor Arthur Dimmesdale, whose parishioner she used to be, intercedes on her behalf and ensures that Pearl, i.e. her daughter stays with her mother. Parallel to Hester Pynne’s tale is the story of this very Arthur Dimmesdale, a promising priest and scholar, who had graduated with a degree from Oxford and had then taken a ship to the Colonies to do his bit in this new community. Since the 7 years, when Hester Prynne was ordered to wear the scarlet letter A, Arthur Dimmesdale had become more and more ill. A new entrant to the New England colony, Roger Chillingworth who was supposed to be a famed doctor takes charge of Arthur Dimmesdale’s health and tries to improve it, but the latter continues to waste away! It is at this point that Hester Prynne intercedes to show the true nature of Roger Chiingworth’s character to Arthur Dimmesdale, leading to the culminating tragedy and revelation before all of New England’s society about the true nature of the scarlett letter. The novel closes with a brief epilogue on the last years of Hester Prynne with a comforting speculation about the well-being and happiness of her daughter Pearl, now a grown woman and ends with the death of the heroine due to old age!

I loved the fact that our adulteress protagonist lived and lived to a ripe old age, where her former sins were forgotten and she was the wise old woman of the society to whom everybody turned to for solace, advice and comfort. This in itself was such a huge shift in paradigm from Hawthorn’s contemporary or successors; it ties in directly with the concept of “Timshel- thou mayest overcome” as written by John Steinbeck 100 years after the publication of The Scarlett Letter. But then the character of Hester Prynne differs from all other competition literary adulteress’s in the fact that Hester never saw her act as a sin – she saw it as an act of love for which she was blessed with Pearl. Here lies the fundamental difference from the other heroines – she did not feel any guilt or vengeance. She did not regret the momentary act of passion, because for her it was borne out of love and it gave her the joy of becoming a mother. While she did regret the scorn and the isolation of her place of and in the society, never did she regret her child. She is a strong, proud woman who takes on the realities of life as it comes and yet retains gentleness, kindness and courage to act once again in complete contradiction of the society laws and norms, if it will be for the good of the people whom she loves. In Hester Prynne, Hawthorn created a character that would endure and win the admiration of her readers because of this endurance!! Arthur Dimmesdale character on the other hand is in paradox to Hester Prynne’s open courage; fearful of the society and yet lacking the moral courage to break free from the rules which he and others like himself impose, he decays from the inside. While Hester draws her strength from her harsh realities filled with adversity, Arthur Dimmesdale degenerates, both in soul and in person, because he is unable to face the reality and is constantly torn by what is perceived and what he knows himself to be! In drawing out the characters and their psychology, Nathaniel Hawthorne not only creates a masterpiece but also probably writes the first psychological novel in the history of literature. The story, so oft-repeated is taken to a wholly new level as the minds and behaviors and not so much action, takes the tale forward. The beautiful description of New England is breath-taking and even more so when the author so cleverly crafts the scenic details of the landscape to match the thinking/mentality of his protagonists. The book is set in 17th century Puritan England was written nearly two hundred years in the future in 1840s is well researched and describes the land, the people, the architecture, and clothes and costumes of that era is correct details. Puritan New England comes out vibrating to life in the pages of The Scarlett Letter.

This is not an easy book to read; you cannot read it overnight though it’s barely 200 pages. It is a book to be read in piece meal so that you can sit back and cast your mind over all that may have truly transpired so many centuries ago!!

A Universal New Zealander…..

I just finished reading Katherine Mansfield’s The Collected Stories and I am sitting in awe….there is no other word except awe! Actually I take that back, I am in awe and at the same time kicking myself for being stupid – why the hell did it take me soooooooooo long to get around reading her work????? I remember trying to read her works, way back as a teenager, and then I do not know what happened!! Where the hell did I pick up the idea that she was of the Kate Chopin (The Awakening makes me want to never ever awake!!) Or my bigger reading albatross Virginia Wool (Shudder! Shudder!! One day I will bravely tread those choppy waters, but not now!) While it is true that Katherine Mansfield did interact with Virginia Woolf and was for a time a believer of Fauvism, her writings are her own – original, poignant and completely realistic.

The Complete Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield is an all-embracing assemblage of her short stories, including – Bliss and Other Stories, The Garden Party and Other Stories, The Dove’s Nest, Something Childish and Other stories and In a German Pension. This collection also contains her unfinished stories. How do I describe out nearly 100 short stories, which are my favorite? I just love them all – I love Bliss for its heart wrenching end, the broken pieces of illusion; I love The Garden Party for it generosity and sensitivity and I felt such sadness for the The Daughters of the Late Colonel, for their servitude, for their devotion and lack of independence. I love all the stories of the German Pension and though Katherine Mansfield called those stories “immature’, I loved the irony and the subtle mockery of mankind and its pretensions. Stories like Je ne parle pas français and The Dolls House made me cry, especially the latter for its brutal portrayal of weakness of men and women and the pain they inflict on innocents because of their own failures! I absolutely admire the way she speaks of children and their loneliness or attachments or fears, whether it’s the Prelude, or How Pearl Button was Kidnapped or The Little Girl! I cannot decide, I like all her works!

How do I define her work? I can only use adjectives …ok maybe some verbs! Her language is sheer poetry, whether describing a new house or the sea. It evokes such wonderful imagery in the reader’s mind and some of my favorite passages are of her nature descriptions, especially of New Zealand. Her stories are however anything but colloquial or restricted in New Zealand; though they are based in as far flung locales as New Zealand, France, England and Germany, her stories are universal. Her portrayal of marriage, both good and bad kind is real and hard-hitting. Despite being a “bluestocking” , she gives a very rational portrait of men and women, though being a woman, she does bring out the various nuances of a woman’s character far more adeptly than her presentation of her men. Her women are all kinds – brilliant, loving, sparkling, lonely, independent, deprived, unkind, courageous and humorous. They are extremely humane. Long back I had read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex where she said that only three female authors have explored ‘the given’ – the disproportionate struggle for women to seek what is given for men – education, economic power, political platform; the three woman who have managed to question this were Emily Bronte, Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield. I now understand what Simone Beauvoir meant; Mansfield through her stories constantly challenged and questioned the unequal struggle that women had to go through for those basic things in life, which men so easily took for granted – independence, economy and security. But to call all Mansfield writing as feminist is a narrow and unidimesional categorization that is absolutely inaccurate; while she wrote a lot about women, she also wrote about things like love, relationships and some marvelously succinct and astute insight into the lives of children. It’s a tragedy that she died so young, for even her unfinished short stories had such promise of richness.

In the end, all I can say is that one cannot truly describe Mansfield and do justice to it. One has to read her work, sit back and savor it and only then does her brilliance completely sink in!

A humongous Thank You to Dr. Joan Bouza Koster, for reintroducing me to Ms Mansfield in the best way possible!!

Awesome Mom’s Some….

I know this might be a bit clichéd but I cannot think of a more proper way to celebrate Mother’s Day that to list some of the most amazing and coolest moms of fiction. Like all our awesome mom’s these moms embody the qualities that makes the them so wonderful – courage, wisdom and patience. So here’s a list of some of greatest mother’s in fiction, dedicated to all the real mothers, in a testimony of art imitating life.

In random order –

  • Mrs. March – I know I have written about her in the past, but she is such a wonderful mother that I have to evoke her example again and again. Left alone to rear 4 daughters with limited funds, while her husband fought for the Union, during the American Civil War, she is tested in every possible way. Strained financial conditions through which she tries to give her daughters a good life and gentle lessons of truth when they turn wayward, she is brave, wise and generous; leading by example and never loosing hope or her faith in the ultimate triumph of good!
  • Molly Weasly – She is perhaps the most unconventional of the great mom’s literature. She yells at her children when they step out of line; she is generous in her love when she adopts an orphaned Harry in her family, caring for him like her own sons and a roaring tigress when anyone harms her brood! (Remember her battle with Bellatrix Lestrange,in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.) She is one fierce woman demonstrating the best of motherhood – pride, kindness and protectiveness.
  • Mrs. Joad – I feel she is one of the most overlooked characters in John Steinbeck’s books, but The Grapes of Wrath stands tall not only because she is the matriarch, but she holds the family together when there is no land left, no job, her favorite son has become a fugitive again and her son-in-law has left her pregnant daughter alone! She practical, strong and brave who faces all the odds, leaving aside her own grief and loss for the greater good of others, even when they are not part of her family, but just people in need!
  • Pelagea Nilovna Vlassovna aka Mother– How can any list be complete without “Mother”. In Pelagea, Maxim Gorky creates a character who from being a scared forever petrified of her husband’s beatings transforms into a brave and independent person because of her love for her son. She becomes part of the revolutionary movement to be useful to her and in the process becomes a strong courageous woman who loses her life for her and her son’s beliefs.
  • Rosa Huberman – She must be the most loud and foul-mouthed mother in the history, but in Rosa, Mark Zusak in The Book Thief created a believable chartecter of a mother trying to do her best in extremely difficult circumstances, who cares for her foster daughter Liesel as her own and is generous even when there is little if anything left to be generous about!

Well….that’s my list!! Happy Mother’s Day to all the great Mommys out there!!

At The Very Source…..

The Source” by James Michener is one of my all-time favorites; it’s a book I go back to after years and years and it embraces me like an old friend who still has more tales to tell, despite my having visited it many times previously! It’s one of my personal bibles and stands up there with my absolute devotion for the likes of Pride and Prejudice, East of Eden and To Kill a Mockingbird. While one can debate whether its literary significance is as profound as the other titles that I listed, there can be no denying that the book does come back again and again with some hard-hitting questions, asking us to question what do we mean when we refer to our “God”, the right and wrongs and the journey of two races born of the same land, caught in a quest of independence over 2000 years.

The Source begins with John Cullinane arriving at Makor, an archeological site in Israel to begin digging ostensibly for a Crusader’s castle but actually to find the very foundation of Makor which in old Hebrew means Source. He is joined here by Dr. Vered Bar-EL, Dr. Ilan Eliav and Jamail Tabari. As the excavations get underway, John tries to better understand the history of Jews and Israel and how both could not be taken as synonymous. With the archeologists finding artifacts after artifacts, the novel reverts through the earliest mankind when the cavemen walked on Makor and the family of Ur began a more settled existence with farms and house of mud replacing hunting and caves. As the family of Ur begins to gain more and more success in their endeavors whether its improvement of crops or weapons, the beginning of the concept of “God” and forces that are beyond man’s control start to take root in the family of Ur, thus beginning not only the way of live that would later evolve to modern world but also the concept of religion and fate, that is to grip mankind’s consciousness forever. The novel, in true Michener style, then moves forward by a couple of centuries and each chapter touches upon some of the greatest event in the history of the region, involving the Hebrews, the Cannans and later the Jews, Christians and Arabs – whether it’s the cult of El Shaddai, in the Bronze age or, the deportation of Jews to Babylon, the rule of King David and Herod, the Muslim conquest and the Crusade and finally the in twilight of the Ottoman Empire. All through the ages, the events are intertwined into the story of family of Ur and his descendants and interplay with the present day and the artifacts that are discovered at the site. The novel takes a sweeping look at the rise and fall of fortunes of the family of Ur as they struggled, converted, dispersed and again came together in land of Makor.

To begin with it is a powerful story – in just over 1100 pages, Michener tries to tell the history of the torn land of Palestine/Israel from the point of view of the common man who lived through various ages of cathartic and tumultuous change. The book tries to explain Jewish history and at the same time clearly enunciate that to see Israel through the Jewish prism alone is a mistake, since this land has always been shared by the “Other” – Canaanites, Romans, Christians and Muslims. It is the blending of the two cultures that make the land so special and that is one of main thrusts of the tale. Besides being a sweeping historical saga, it also a very good yarn; each chapter is a complete capsule in itself that tell a gripping tale of not only religion but of everyday men and women, of their courage which may be overt or concealed and the choices they have to make, even the harshest ones for the greater good. The book shows men and women in all their glory, strength, and caprice and constantly touches upon the infinite ability of men to survive even when all hope is gone. What is perhaps an absolute marvel and a characteristic that goes to show the kind of caliber Michener had as a writer is the lack of judgment despite all the follies and failures of all the religions and cultures and the men and women, the book is written with great empathy and understanding – never pointing finger and always showing the white, black and the grey shades of lives as is, without any embellishments. Written in simple language, it is a massive read with several references to Jewish philosophy and a wholly new perspective on the Arab history during the crusades. Despite its volume, it is an easy read, because the tale just grips you right at the start and never lets you go.

If I sound like lunatic ranting on, read the book and you will know what I mean!

All The Grand Ladies….Please Stand Up!

I know March is the month of well…so many things (Remember Ides of March!!). It is also a month that celebrates Women and their empowerment. Yup! I am talking about March 8th – International Women’s Day. Now I am not a bluestocking feminist, though I have read all my Simone de Beauvoir and Gloria Steinem; but I am somebody who is inherently conscious of the fact that all the privileges that I enjoy and things that I take for granted are there for me because, many years ago, many women and a significant number of men stood up and said – hold it! That’s wrong and we need to change it! There were innumerable sacrifices along the way and many suffered so that I and all of us could breathe freely. While the glass ceiling continues to exist and each day a woman has to fight to protect herself – physically, emotionally and mentally; there is no getting away from the fact that we are in much better place than our grandmothers or even mothers! Whether it is education abroad or a tour of duty to a violent war-torn location or even a night out with the girls, we are able to do this and much more because, in our past there were women who stood and fought so that their daughters could have better lives.

Therefore for the month of March, I propose something unique; I would urge all my readers to share with other and me, stories from their families, of men and women who rebelled and went against the then social norms so that our lives would be vastly improved. It could be your grandmother or your teacher or your neighbor or just somebody you had heard off. The unsung heroes who did their share and more, but were never recorded in the history books; yet as their inheritors we know, the battles they must have fought and won!

I would request all my readers to go back and search their family troves for tales which would show us how small actions lead to big results. This is part of our history, our identity and we owe it to all our ancestral warriors to not only keep their memory but also share it to make the world a better place.

Please send your stories to cirtncee01@yahoo.com, along with a brief on yourself and I will publish the same on my blog with your credits the very next day. This is an event that I plan to host through this month, so send me your entries! The idea is to share and make people and ourselves aware of the change that so many had people sought around the world!

Do not worry too much over the length (either long or short) of the entry; the story and not the paragraph is important.

I will kick-start this event by sharing a tale from my own family trove, which I will post in my next post.

Until then, I leave you with anthem from my mother and aunt’s graduate school days, which they said inspired them and which they played for me when I barely of an age to understood what it meant!!!  But now, I have to agree with them is the best anthem ever for all women, all over the world!

 

 

Copyright : You Tube and Helen Reddy

And Now For Some More Inspirations….

I have been planning to write this for a while, but there have been so many things to write about lately, this kind of got late, but I guess better late than never. This month’s The Classic Club Meme was provided by Ruth and is again one of those questions, that one has to write about those –

Which character from classic literature is most important or influential to you and why? Or which character do you most despise and why?

I could somehow never really despise a fictional character, maybe because I knew they were fictitious and my hope was and is that art here is stranger than reality and mankind is capable of far more goodness than despicable actions. Though to quote Jane Austen, “The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.” But one cannot help but hope that good will triumph over evil and therefore I always remember characters who inspire me more than the ones I find despicable.

I know I have talked about this in the past and that too several times, but one cannot help but talk about this again and again, because the character is such. No character has had a more significant or profound impact on me than Atticus Finch. When Ms. Lee wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird”, she knew what she was writing about; for here was a character who was actually asked to stand up for the values that he professed – honor, integrity, truth, equality, and justice.  There are so many times when in our lives we stand at those crossroads, where there are really two paths – one that is simple and easier to take and the other which has more hardships that one can count, but it is also the path that defines who you are. Atticus Finch is a beacon of light and inspiration for all us who have or will be at such junctures; if you don’t speak up when you should and do not act to what you profess , well then you are not what you are who you think you are! And like I said before Mr. Finch taught at a very young age and Thank God, I learnt this lesson early, that unless I can look myself in the eye, nothing is worth it!

But when you read so much, there are other characters who stand tall and inspire you and while I can write a whole 100 page of them, neither time nor cyber space memory will allow me such liberties, so U restrict myself to only three –

Mrs. March, Jo March and Beth March – Yes I know they are three characters and no they are not “the three” but I club them in one category because they are progeny of one book, the seminal bible of all independent young women Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”.  To begin with Mrs. March, who I think is often overlooked among the glamour or aura or squabbling of her four daughters.  We forget that here is a gentlewoman who is no longer in the comfortable circumstances she was originally born or married to, yet she tries her best to single handedly bring up four,  albeit difficult daughters, manage a household with diminishing funds, and yet instil joy and faith among all. It requires a lot of courage, what I call quiet courage to face the world everyday alone bravely. She is first single mother of modern literature and by far the most intelligent, kind and strongest of them all. Jo March I think almost all of us relate to while growing up, fierce in temper, independent of thought, extremely intelligent and emotional to the T….she is as human as one can get. Most importantly, in the lines of Jane Austin’s Elizabeth Bennett, she refuses to marry for the sake of convenience and though Laurie is much better candidate than Mr. Collins, the logic is the same – marriage for equality and companionship and most importantly love and not for material or other escapist gains. Call me idealistic, call me foolish (in the light of recent events, trust me foolishness is a strong emotion I feel these days!) however marriage should be because of love and for no other reason. Jo March, in the lines of Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse, stands as one of the first feminist of modern literature. Beth March I realize I bore much more affinity to as I grew older and re-read “Little Women” and though I cannot profess to 1/10th of her goodness, nor do I have her gentleness, shyness or lack of character flaws, I do find a lot of joy in the simple domesticity of lives, where there is such joy in doing things for others that your own self does not matter.

Larry from The Razor’s Edge is yet another character who inspires me; he convinces me that there is more to life than acquiring a house, a car and a million dollars. While money is important and necessary in today’s life, one cannot be a slave to it and one has to find one’s identity and belief to really enjoy  and find meaning in life and that no money, no wealth can provide as was evident with Isabel’s meaningless wealth and her uncle’s lonely death.

The one final character who inspires precisely because, like all human beings I struggle to achieve and become a better individual and at times even succumb to the softer options is Andrew Manson from The Citadel by A.J. Cronin .  The book starts off with an idealistic Dr. Andrew Manson who is eager to help the people of small Scottish mining town and is sensitive enough to understand their wretched conditions and wants to elevate them. His research and subsequent success takes him away from his original plans of helping the less fortunate and follow a life of luxury and only a tragedy makes him realize what is truly more important. He returns to his plans of helping others and overlook the immediate selfish gains. This struggle to leave behind softer options for a greater good and its ultimate triumph is something that makes me go on day after day when all things that are more lucrative in short terms is also mundane and mind numbing and temporary and drives focus on what is truly important.