Finally Something Lovely…..

It’s been a tiresome troublesome two weeks – I have besieged with challenges, both tangential and non-tangential – Just after my laptop was fixed and I could resume my normal blogging activities, WordPress for some reason decided to send all comments I made to the SPAM folder!! My phone after being fixed went caput again and just when my phone goes on a blinker the entire world has to call me!!!!But my phone could not go caput before I had a rather “distressing” conversation with one of my lesser liked aunts!!! I listened to a long and extremely offending lecture on my life style including what she deemed as important matters of life to which apparently I had an “immature” approach!!! AGRH!!!!! I am so glad I live 2300 kms from her and more of her kind!! Whoever said family is important never met my extended maternal family!! All of this followed by two instances of working for 24 hrs straight…I had heard of working for 24 hrs, and I have done 18 hrs but working for straight 24 hrs not once but twice in one week was just something else….needless to say, it’s not been very good lately!!

Anyway the only bright spot and this one is a considerably big bright spot, in fact it was so bright that I deem it as a bright sun, was to be nominated for a One Lovely Blog Award/Very Inspiring Blogger. While the honor is great and I am absolutely thrilled about it, what makes it even more special was that this came from Stephanie – a person I admire, whose tastes I have the firmest reliance one, whose opinions are always sensitive, a person who inspires me every day to read more, especially things I would have never explored and whose blogging discipline makes me write a post diligently and keep at it!! An awesome person, a wonderful friend and a great mentor all rolled into one!! What could be more joyous than to be recognized by somebody you look up to – there cannot be a greater accolade than this!!

Per the rules, I have to share with the greater world 7 facts about me and nominate 15 other bloggers –

About the 7 facts –

  1. I am extremely short-tempered and I have a TEMPER!! Over the years I have learnt and tried to control it, but there is no getting away that I have a short fuse and it takes very little to light the mental dynamite.
  2. I am FOODIE!!! I mean it…I love food!! The first thing I think off when I wake up is what will I have for breakfast??? Last thought before my close is where we can have dinner tomorrow. I love cooking and besides reading and writing, that is one activity, I spend a lot of time on!!
  3. I am a perfectionist – ask my team at work!!! Even the smallest mistake are highlighted and sent back with a not so nice email. For all my bouncy, optimistic, cheery personality, I am perfectionist and a hard, very hard task master…I drive myself over the edge and so does my team. I am very blessed to have a team which takes all my “perfection driven” idiosyncrasies with good humor and I am truly truly proud to lead them. But they do have to put up with comments like “the right hand margin of the slide 2 of the PPT is 1/4th inch less than the left hand margin”!!
  4. My first true love was when as 7 year olds, my best friend and I discovered a movie released nearly 5 years earlier, called “Top Gun”…No I did not fall in love with Tom Cruise, though my best friend did…instead I lost my heart and never quite gained it back to Val Kilmer . (I know he looks like a whale these days, but true love is beyond the obvious and such shallow things like good looks – though at the age of 7 I doubt I thought in such depths!! But I still hold a candle for that man!!!)
  5. I love and need my morning tea….nothing and no one comes in-between that…otherwise I am one grumpy creature. My other favorite drink is water and I consumer at least 6 liters a day – it’s never a task as I am always thirsty and I always have a bottle of water around me. I also LOVE white wines!!
  6. I am not particularly a movie person. I do watch an odd film now and then, but for me movie watching has to be an event – I do not go to the theater every week (more like once in 5 months) and I consider it a waste of time. However I do get bitten by a bug now and then and I watch back to backs non-stop for days on end, maybe because I like the time period the film was set in (I saw Band of Brothers 7 times, all 10 episodes) or the actor (like when I do my Val Kilmer fests) or country (recently went through Spanish film thingy!!)
  7. I love dancing – I went to a dancing school for more than 14 years and till date love to dance around my house. For some reason or the other, I have developed a strong disinclination for dancing in parties/clubs etc…cannot seem to quite enjoy that!!

Okay!! Glad that the 7 things are over…now for the 15 nominations –

Fleur in her World : Jane is my biggest bookish/bloggish inspiration along with Stephanie. Her reads are always wide ranged and her reviews succinct. I have never gone wrong with her recommendations and she is one of those very few people who have managed to introduce some great authors in my repertoire. If she has liked the book, rest assured, it will go in my TBD. Briar’s posts are absolutely marvelous and comes as an added plus when visiting her blog!!

Eggton : is another of my favorites. Katherine is not only an ex-New York mover shaker lawyer turned cook, but she is also someone with a wonderful sense of humor and with funniest laugh out loud takes on life. You read her blog, when you are down, and I guarantee 100% upliftment of spirits!! The fact that she always posts some awesome recipes that completely blows away the foodie in me, just adds to the brilliance of her posts!!

Flowers and Breezes – Sheen Mam’s take on life, her simple observations that bring home the truths which we forget in our daily lives and her generous nature makes her writing a refreshing read. If you had a bad day, read her posts, before you call it night, they act as a soothing, peaceful and comforting salve to your cumbersome challenging day.

Women, Words, and Wisdom -Dr. Joan Bouza Koster is a scholar, feminist, humanist, historian, author and a connoisseur par excellence of great literature. Her blog brings together all these items and more. Her posts deal with well researched nuggets from women writers from the past, on subjects as wide-ranging as daily working conditions, to memories of childhood to writing etc.

CogitoFilm – I don’t like films too much, but this blog has awesome reviews on both Hollywood and Bollywood film with some really clever observations and wonderful imagery of descriptions.

jaynesbooks : If you love books, you HAVE to love this blog. Her reviews are clever and absolutely in your face. I love her like it-do not like it approach and I tend to find myself almost always in alignment with her thoughts!! Her Top Tens are a treat!!

Brona’s Books : If anyone, anywhere loved books, then Brona is their ideal. Like me she reads practically everything, like me she has an opinion and unlike me her opinions are always well-informed, judicious and sensitive. If she likes an author, I will like it!! Her readings have opened me up to a whole range of authors and I love the bantering we share on every book we read via the Classics Club

The Odd Pantry – humor and good food and some wonderful insights; what more could one ask. Her recipes are as creative as it can get and her musings on life mostly hilarious, but at times extremely thought-provoking.

A Great Book Study : Ruth is again I met someone via the Classic Club. Though she claims that she is no expert and her posts are really her first cut take on classics, her writings and opinions always brings out nuances of books which I have read and though understood completely and her review is always considered and subtle

Breadcrumb Read – Risa has a post graduate degree in English literature and one quick review of her blog will convince you that her education is well utilized every day and though she does not accept awards for her blog, I am nominating her because I want more people to enjoy what I really really enjoy – her bookish talks, her love for classics and all her bookish adventures!!

Biblioglobal : I have only just started following her blog and I lament that I lost out on so much for so long. Reading one book about one country across our globe, she has in a very short span of time really broadened my understanding of literature. She also does some amazing and quirky research that gives you a lot of insight into reading and books related demographics around the world.

A Striped Armchair – Though she replaced her armchair with a lovely couch, her blogs keep up the standards of great review and a thorough and uniform understanding of the context of the book. She is one of the few fellow readers who reads loads of stuff about international relations, ethnicity, religion and identity that is outside of academic requirements.

12 Novels – 12 novels in 12 months, actually 13 novels in 12 months. What could be more inspirational than a struggling writer than to be motivated by this one diligent, fun and honest writer who takes on a new challenge every month, with no other expectation than becoming better in her craft!

A year of reading the world – Similar to Biblioglobal, Ann, a blogger based in London decided when 2012 Olympics came visiting her city, she would celebrate the occasion by reading literature from the 196 nations participating at the games. While Olympics has come and gone, she is still reading some great stuff and writing about them.

Mister G’s Kids – Hilarious, funny and a great take on teaching today filled with irony and rib-tickling laughter and all the highs and lows of being a teacher!!

It’s up to you if you choose to carry this award further, but thank you all for sharing your lives and interests with me and for picking me (virtually!!) especially when the chips are down!!

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!!

Random Notes on Illness, Books and Love…

I have been so ill…for the last two weeks I have been confined to my bed with multiple disorders including a low blood cell count that has led to such weakness that standing on one’s own two feet for more than a minute is risky (On account my loosing balance and falling) I have not been this ill, ever in my adult life – never been this sick to be unable to stand, write or even read. Anything remotely difficult or challenging makes my head ache and eyes water…I mean Shakespearean Sonnets are not even difficult but there, cannot read it!

It is times like this one really misses one’s true blessings – never a very active child (I mean physically! I hated sports, though I was always active enough to run around the house doing all I want!)I was never weak and this past two weeks I am all namby pamby . Make me lift the serving spoon and my arms ache. Make me walk from my bedroom to the drawing-room and my head spins! I hate not having control over my body which in turn impacts how much I have control over my mind and me losing control over my mind – a very very bad thing! But now as I write this post, I miss the strength and the stamina to go on and on. In a brief spell of time, I seem to have become this wishy-washy person who is no longer in charge of her life and this makes feel worse because I never really appreciate good health and stamina as something that makes life better! Now of course, I know better and once I get back to my old self I am going to make sure I never go back down this road again!

What have I been doing these last two weeks – no prizes for guessing: reading? I read Conn Igulden’s War of Roses, I read Arnold Bennett’s The Grand Babylon Hotel,  I read Claire Benson’s Murder at Sissingham Hall, I re-read all the Harry Potters (Trust me there is no better antidote to bad humor or ill health) as well as all the feel good classics – Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Jane Eyre and Little Women. I also started on New Grub Street by George Gissing and am loving it. Somebody should do a study in sick room and reading patters – me thinks it will show a lot about the psychology of the person and may even give correct prognosis about by when the sick person will be healed (I know the last part is a very 19th century, but one never knows! These days I am trying to live with a mind over matter principle, because I would otherwise be unable to get through simple tasks of the day like taking a bath!)

The only upside of this illness is again to make me aware how blessed I am. As you can figure out, I am pretty ill and incapable of simple acts like cooking cleaning etc. My parents are very old and 2500km away from where I stay so dragging them so far is out of question. My sister is in teacher’s conference and out of the country….so who is taking care of me at home (I refuse to be admitted at the hospital; I am sure I will become more sick!!!) My flatmate/my best friend/my mentor all rolled into one. Very rarely does one come across in life a friend who puts his or her life on hold for your sake – well I am truly blessed to have her. She has taken care of my meals, ensures I eat the right stuff at the right time, cooking, cleaning and managing my ill humors when they raise their head! She has been an angle though she hates the comparison and would rather be called a mysterious la elegante damsel. Well damsel or not she was my knight in shining armour and I am so blessed to have her in my life. The doctor said that my body was reacting to some unpleaseant shock which may have happened months ago but to which I did not react properly then and its coming out now. I can think of what happened and now that I think back, I did bounce on my feet very early, perhaps a bit too early! However if betrayal and dishonesty were the root of my illness, surely the love and care of my flatmate, my friends and all my well-wishers (and trust me I have many for I was besieged during this illness with cards, flowers, calls and a genuine wish on everybody’s part to actually help me!!) should serve as the protective shield against any such damage.  May be it’s my illness that’s making me maudlin or too much of Dumbldore’s advice (When you read 7 Harry Potters in two days, Dumbledore is as real as it gets! Besides wisdom is wherever you want to see it) but love does make a person a whole lot better!!!

P.S. I will for sure go back to review of all the books I have read from next week – big time catch up needs to be done!!