Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How men dominate. The inside scoop.

I just finished reading what turned out to be an extraordinary novel. It’s Dancing with Kali (Niyogi Books, Delhi, 2010) written by the erudite architect, Lalita Das. She sure had me fooled. Because it started off like one of those simple social novels that used to be published in the Diwali issues of Marathi magazines in the late forties and early fifties. What it gradually evolved into, though, was a cogent and lucid exposition of how the Indian patriarchal system works. No serious sociological tome could have explained the subject better. The chief protagonist is the matriarch of a North Goan Hindu joint family. Once she realises the nature of the beast and helplessly watches her only daughter being sacrificed on the altar of family honour, she concocts a rather fiendish plan to take over the reins of the family in order to bring up her granddaughter as a free bird. In my humble opinion, this novel deserves to be read widely instead of the trash that passes off as good reads. It is also my wish that a film director with social conscience makes a movie out of it. The story-telling is very visual and can easily be adapted for the silver screen. The novel also deals with a lot of Hindu beliefs like karma in a simple language. All in all, a remarkably rewarding read.   

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

VRI: Hum Aapke Hein Kaun?

Victoria Regina Imperatrix (queen and empress) would have loved the Internet, especially email, sms and chat. Like Gandhi, the Empress of India was an inveterate letter writer. She would probably have hogged the cell phone too. She talked and talked at the drop of a hat … oops, crown. At least, that’s how she comes across in Shrabani Basu’s Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queens’s Closest Confidant. Eerily though, the narrative bears a lot of resemblance to a current-day Indian soap opera as well as a reality show like Big Boss. Abdul Karim, a lowly assistant clerk from Agra went to London to serve as the Royal khidmatgaar (personal attendant) at the time of the Golden Jubilee celebrations and rose to become her closest confidant as well as her Munshi (Hindustani tutor). As he ascended in the Queen’s esteem, he also accumulated a horde of powerful enemies at the Court. They were insanely jealous of his success and his closeness to VRI which he made a point of flaunting in their faces. The Court intrigues that followed read like episodes straight out of Big Boss. The Munshi’s behaviour was undoubtedly far from exemplary. He was overbearing and obnoxious. He also managed to parley his closeness to the Queen into a continuous stream of Page 3 mentions in the European press on both sides of the English Channel. The astounding part was the downright mean-spirited and vicious manœuvres by the snobbish British aristocracy, the Viceroys, including the Keeper of the Royal Exchequer, the Queen’s Personal Physician as well as her own offsprings all behaving no better than common guttersnipes. Victoria tried to shield her Munshi at all cost, accusing his detractors quite perceptively of colour and race prejudice. As the Great Game between Britain and Russia was always afoot on the Afghan border, the conspirators even tried to implicate Abdul’s friend Rafiuddin, a journalist, as an informer to the Afghans but with no success. By the way, one of VRI’s favourite gestures of showing favour was to have the favourite person’s portrait painted by a well-known painter. Both Abdul Karim and Rafiuddin got the treatment. The book is an entertaining read and could well be turned into an absorbing mini-series for television.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Too scared to look.

The recent reports of an asteroid (2005 YU55) http://tinyurl.com/bvodg4t passing too close to the earth for comfort reminded me of a childhood incidence. I must have been four or five years old when there was a report that a comet with a long tail was to be sighted from India. The fool that I was, I denied myself the sight of the century out of fear. There was a distant relative of mine, a kite-flying bum about whom I have written earlier. http://tinyurl.com/7jj5cbn . He spun to me a fantastic yarn about a monstrous comet with a fierce moustache and a fiery tail out to devour little boys. When I cross-checked with my parents , they kind of smiled indulgently and shrugged leaving me thoroughly puzzled. I’m sure they wanted me to be brave all by myself and conquer my fear of the unknown by staring the so-called ogre in the skies right in the eye. But born coward that I was, I slunk to bed early and refused to step out on the terrace http://tinyurl.com/csvd4jl for the next couple of days. My cowardice has not disappeared with age. It has only ripened into a set pattern of behaviour. Even today, I tend to turn my back on the unpleasant, unsightly and unacceptable facts of life. Curiously though, movie monsters don’t scare me. They make me laugh.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Rear Window.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window based on a Cornell Woolrich short story (“It Had to Be Murder”) http://tinyurl.com/5vymtfo hit the US cinema halls in 1954. Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine was launched in 1955. Alfred Hitchcock Presents, produced by his Shamley Productions, was launched on CBS the same year. The first successful TV soap in the US, Search for Tomorrow (CBS), had debuted three years prior to Rear Window’s theatrical release. To Charlotte Chandler who wrote It’s Only A Movie, Hitch described Rear Window as “a movie about a peeping Tom” and likened it to a tabloid (“a kind of peeking”). I wonder, though, if Hitch ever thought of Rear Window as the perfect metaphor for television. He described it as a “close medium” where you had to get “in close as fast as you can” and where you had “to write with the camera” rather than go “photographing dialogue”, i.e., tell the story visually. This does not answer my query. It’s possible that Hitch, living up to his taciturn nature, did not articulate his thoughts about the nature of the medium which had made him “an instantly recognizable celebrity all over the world” like Elvis Presley.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Agatha and Alfred.

Apart from the initial letter of their first given names, they shared a British pedigree, an ability to thrill and mystify – she with her novels, short stories and plays and he with his œuvre in cinema and television – and the curious coincidence of both having only one daughter. Both of them also shared a Victorian-Edwardian outlook by the accident of being born in the last decade of the 19th century. She was his senior by nine years, though. But what struck me as the most astounding coincidence is that both of them have at least one biography celebrating their respective lives which uses a similar literary device to tell the story. In The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie, Charles Osborne unfolds the professional and personal life of the Queen of Crime using her books and plays as the milestones along the way. Charlotte Chandler follows Osborne’s example when she tells the life story of the Master of Suspense in her It’s Only A Movie. Both the books are excellent examples of how to write a biography that takes you close to the subject without slipping into a hagiographic muddle.