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Monday, July 30, 2007

' A Suitable Boy' - Review

Well a book with 1474 pages might not be one's ideal idea of light read. When I picked up ' A Suitable Boy' by Vikram Seth from the nearby library, my idea was to read an Indian author's literary work . Another compelling fact was;the library being British I could not make out who 90% of authors were, I had never heard of them. With a bit of effort , I saw some familiar names like Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, Jeffrey Archer, P G Woodehouse, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens to name a few.

I picked up Seth's book and just checked the outer cover to get a glimpse of the story. The story line in a nut shell went ' At the heart , this is essentially a love story , the story of Lata's and her mother's search for a suitable boy..and at the same time the story of a young and newly independent India' . It did appear interesting to me , but the length of the story and the small letters in the book were not an appealing sight. 'Anyways I am sitting at home, why dont I give it a try'- I just thought that and picked up the book.I also picked up 2 more books just in case this was boring.

Little did I knew I had brought home a book which went thru 3 renewals over a period of 9 weeks and an incredible reading experience that was to remain for a life time.
The other 2 books I was sure I could not read along with this one and hence I returned when the first renewal was due in 3 weeks.Sometimes 100 pages at a stretch, some times 10 - I was in a world of magic that Seth had woven so intricately. Ordinary places, ordinary people, ordinary situations , ordinary language -all blended in an extra ordinary piece of literature.

A story set in 1951 -1952 period when India was just independent in a fictional city called Brahmapur , the characters are so vivid, so unique , so real , sometimes I felt their pain, their happiness, their loneliness, their struggles.The language is very plain , no embellishments , so my vocabulary was not put to test each time I read a paragraph. I always believe that connecting with all kinds of audience is important and hence I think the flow of a literary work is more important than the language.Yes language is important, but there is no point having the Oxford dictionary in your book when there is no story.

The story, as the title suggests, is indeed the search for a suitable boy for Lata Mehra, one of the protagonists.Her widowed mother, Rupa Mehra who believes in lineage, caste and religion wants her to be married to a boy of her choice by hook or crook and hence thoroughly disapproves of Lata's affair with a Muslim Boy.The interesting fact is the story is not only Lata's but there is a gamut of characters, the whole of Mehra family of 2 brothers and 2 sisters with an imposing and utterly brash daughter in law and a simple and upright son in law, the Chatterjis, the Kapoors, the Khans, the courtesan Saeda bai, the socialist Rasheed - all characters important or not, big or small have a unique identity and characteristic behaviours. Never once did I confuse between any of the charcters.Its interesting to see how Seth fits the legendary Jawarhal Lal Nehru in the scheme of things.He does make his appearance in the book every now and then and I never felt odd about having a real life character along with other fictional characters.

Another fact that is laudable in the book is the painful recreation of the social, economic, political and cultutral backgrounds during that time. The Zamindari abolition act to give powers to tenant,Hindu Muslim conflicts, first general elections, state of Indian villages plagued with poverty, illiteracy, exploitation and ill treatment of women - all are real life accounts and left me thinking about the India today as we know it. I could relate to the humiliation of the chamars, the pathetic life of shoe makers, minority appeasements of Congress, politicians' hunger for power, women in burqa denied a life outside, caste system and it ills, people still raking in the glory of British rule and looking down on their fellow Indians - doesn't it persist still. Yes lot of things did change, but the spirit of modern India is non existent in many villages today also.I commend Seth's efforts for sticking to facts of the time where the story unfolds.They are very much accurate.

Also what I liked is the introduction to the 19 odd parts of the novel which is each a story in itself. Seth has used his poetic skills to describe each part in a couplet, which I found was good compared to the normal titles we have for parts.

But having said good about this book, I also have to warn about the infinite length that might be a hurdle in peaceful reading.I believe around 200-300 pages of the book could have easily done away with as it containd descriptions that neither help the narrative nor is relevant to the context.I did skip a few parts like the court room scenes on Zamindari bill. This was relevant, but so much of description was not required.The problem is you cant skip too much as you never know when the next character is introduced and hence have to be alert while reading. But I guess Indian authors tend to be descriptive , so this can be forgiven.

I finished reading the book on Friday and was happy to see Lata finally married off , but ever since I have been feeling a sense of loss.I got some other books, but not been able to get Seth's fictional city and its characters out of my mind. I wish this story could go on and on. The last novel which I thoroughly enjoyed was 'Da Vinci code' as it completely mesmerised me. But ' A suitable Boy' with so many different characters and so many different shades of life appeared to be a complete novel for me.

Agree or disagree with me , I thoroughly enjoyed reading ' A suitable Boy' as I could connect to the story and its characters who are painfully real. I think this reading experience is going to last a life time unless I get Amnesia. Period.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Travails of a blogger

This issue has been in the back of my mind for very long and I want to address it atleast now. It has been 2.5 years since I started blogging , when I started off I was intending it as a place to put down some of my so called literary works which I had penned down in the spur of a moment.Anyways somewhere down the lane my blog became a reflection of my social , political and general views.Let me just come to the point than beat around the bush.

Its really difficult having blogging as a hobby especially when you dont have likely minded people around you.There are so many of my friends and of course most of my family who dont even have an iota of idea I have been blogging to glory though I had passed my blog address to them when I started one. But alas! no one has the time or mentality to encourage a budding talent.sob!sob!.It is okay they are forgiven, not everyone might take interest in all such things, we hardly consider writing as a talent. Thats why I had passed around my blog address to only selected few afterwards, who I thought would atleast say ' Its not a bad attempt' and my only source of inspiration to keep my posts alive for such a long time , else the hit rates are so low some times that I used to feel immensly discouraged to continue further.I have to confess this, with so much effort you write an article and then you realise it is given no more importance than a piece of paper in which they wrap pea nuts. Its really heart breaking at times!

I do agree that literature or writing or blogging is not for everyone.Why o why we consider only singing, dancing, arts as the only talent. I have heard people saying 'she sings so well' or 'she dances so well' , 'she makes superb crafts' , but I hardly hear people telling it is written so well. Though writing requires much more of effort and knowledge we hardly consider it as a talent.It just requires a second to thrash a literary work as utter crap though it requires years and years of thorough research and humungous effort to pen one down. I know my posts dont require even one millionth of that effort, but still I cant go around telling people blogging is my hobby because I felt no one really appreciates it.

I really get asked by people what do I do for a hobby and only to people who understand my literary inclinations I say I blog or write, else I simply give the age old past times of reading or listening to music, but I know I enjoy blogging much more than this. It really hurts me when I give people my blog address and they wont even bother to check it once to see what it is all about.So much for my effort put into this!

Now that I have been at home for a while away from work , people ask me how do I pass my time.Again I can't tell I blog and while some of my time because I realise it is a difficult attempt to make people understand what it is all about. Every one asks me to take up stitching or embroidery( thats what a girl's hobby should be!) but except stitching torn clothes it really does not interest me a bit.Some others suggested I take up painting which I used to do pretty well in high school. But it is ages since I did that and to be honest my interest in blogging surpasses that.

But sadly my hidden talent still remains hidden, still shielded from a number of people who know me, what more even from some of my good friends. May be this anonymity is a blessing in disguise, I can freely wield my opinion in this blog space which is a tiny little world in which my thoughts have found an abode.But some times I really wish people understood what my hobby and passion is and took me little more seriously.Perhaps everyone is not capable of doing that.

Anyways I continue to nurture my little talent here in the midst of fellow bloggers and all the anonymous or known visitors who have visited my blog atleast once.Thanks to all ya guys and I hope there will be a day when I can proudly declare that I blog for a hobby.