Success Can Change People – What Do You Think?

Kriti

Sometimes, it seems like nothing is constant anymore. The plot of land that has been lying unused for five years is suddenly transformed into a multi-speciality hospital in a mere five months. The chaiwallah, who’s been a fixture at the corner of the street since the beginning of time (or so it seems to me, having seen his white-haired head there all my life), is abruptly absent, dwarfed and replaced by a gleaming, brand new, multiple-starred, multi-cuisine restaurant. ‘Change is the only real constant in life’, is what I’ve always heard, but no amount of preparation seems sufficient to harden one’s mind against the shock one feels on encountering the proof of some kinds of change, that were once thought impossible. I felt that incredulous shock as I stood in one of the best hotels of London, staring at Siddharth after fifteen years.

Siddharth

Sometimes, it seems like all I ever do is pretend. Pretend to feel bored and cynical – as those are what make me ‘cool’, or so the herd of people around me informs me. Pretend to be superior to every new person I meet – as if my achievements and fame are enough reason to belittle the worth of everyone else, and raise me to the state of perfection. Pretend like there is nothing new in the world, that I know everything there is to know, and that there’s nothing which I can marvel at, admire or applaud. But the mask of pretence is a flimsy one, for all I think of it as being so securely in place through practice, as I discovered one day in July, when I saw Kriti – fifteen years, eight months, twelve days and five hours after I’d last seen her, and said goodbye.

Kriti

Siddharth. Math genius. IQ 127. Secret life : singer and composer extraordinaire. He was the perfect archetype of a geek – skinny, with big glasses and a pale-complexion. But there’s something about geeks that the common observer doesn’t realize – something more. They’re cleverer, wittier, funnier, more talented, more endearing – than people of the non-geeky variety. At least, that’s what I’ve always thought, having set Siddharth as my definition of the term. As I looked at him, and saw him stare back at me with the same look of shocked wonder that I was sure was on my face, I felt a ball of hurt betrayal lodge in that portion of my heart that still secretly believes in innocence, true friendships and happily-ever-afters. It looked like the world had taken my once-best-friend, and made him over into someone I couldn’t even recognize.

Siddharth

Kriti, my best friend. Junior by two years, but all the more bossy to make up for it. From the first moment I met her – a memorable occasion that occurred when I shifted into the house next door to hers at the precocious age of ten, and accidentally broke her toy kitchen set, earning a scold worthy of a university dean – she’s never failed to keep me on my toes: doling out advice (which was nearly always useful, to my chagrin), defending me behind my back against the taunts of other kids, guessing all my secrets despite all my efforts at concealment. I knew what she would see as she looked at me – the gelled-hair, the two girls with the figures of supermodels – all nearly draped over me, the black Goth clothes, the tattoos. I saw her look of bafflement, and turned away before it could turn to something else. What could I possibly say? In a way, it was because of her that my life had come to this.

Kriti

Can a person change so much so as to not retain a shred of their old personality? I’ve heard that fame and success can go to a person’s head, but that knowledge didn’t keep me from feeling hurt – I’d never even dreamt that Siddharth could change so much that he would allow fame to alienate him from all those whom he’d cared for in the past. Or was his character as I’d known it all a facade, a thin veneer that was torn away once circumstances made him an object of admiration and popularity? I didn’t know what to think. He turned away, and I was left staring at the burial of yet another hope last, another old beloved emotion dead, another step into that mire of cynicism that seems to be a side-effect of adulthood.
I didn’t answer the note that came two hours later – a request to meet him near the London Eye.

Siddharth

I dreaded, and yet longed to talk to her. For a while, it seemed like she wouldn’t agree to meet me; but then, she came. She came in her typical old-sneakers-and-jeans ensemble, looking nearly the same as she had back then, when we were neighbours in a small town in Maharashtra – but with her face leaner, the chubby fat now non-existent, more mature, confident and beautiful. Sometimes, one doesn’t realise the value of what one has, till its loss creates a void: an absence that cannot be filled by anything else. How many times had I thought of Kriti in the past fifteen years, in desperation and longing? Fifteen is a time for crushes and infatuation; one daydreams about actresses and models, not one’s too-perceptive, sometimes-irritating, tomboyish best friend. By the time I realised that what we had shared could have developed into something deeper, it had been too late.

Kriti

He wore sunglasses, and a hooded pullover. What ever happened to the faded jeans and red sweater? Had I thought that it would come to this, back then, when I’d urged him to take up music seriously, convinced his parents, and cheered him on at his first concert at fifteen? I had been proud of my friend, exultant that the world appreciated his talent as he deserved and before the consequences of his success could touch our friendship and taint it with envy, moved away. My father had got transferred to another state, and soon after, had passed away suddenly due to a heart attack. I had been too busy supporting my mother and younger brother to keep in touch with Siddharth, and even when my mind drifted to him, in times of unbearable despair, I had had no means of contact – the Internet not being in vogue then. And yet, I’d heard reports of his journey over the years, as he rose to international success, and had found quiet joy and strength to persevere in thinking of those old days of happiness. When had my memories of him started becoming tinged with an emotion greater than mere fondness? The hope of that something more had sustained me all those years, and the destruction of those dreams now, was unbearable. I just looked at him.
‘Kriti’, he said, ‘I’m sorry.’

Siddharth

I told her about it – how that glittering world took you in and forced you to either follow its rules, or get out. How I’d tried so hard – to find true friendships, genuine feelings in that fickle, glamorous life – and had nearly sunk in disappointment, to the point of depression. How no one could be trusted, how every action, every situation seemed calculated and mercenary, and how like a charade every moment was – the constant spotlight on every move, the rumours that sprung up out of nowhere, the brutal rivalries, the envy, the constant expectation. How I’d begun to act like they did, in order to protect myself, and in acting aloof and arrogant, actually gained acceptance into those circles. How I feared even now, that this act that I put on every day would take away all that I truly was, inside; that I would forget the thin line between reality and pretence, and become who I was pretending to be.  How I had thought of her so constantly over the years, as a reminder of what I truly was, as an assurance, that all was not just shallow glitter and lies in the world. How I’d wanted to meet her, again and again, and put it off, shamed by what I would seem like, in her eyes. How I loved her.

Kriti

Do you know that overwhelming feeling of relief you feel when you wake up after a nightmare and know that it was not for real? That was what I felt, as I listened to Siddharth speak of what life had done to him, and what he had made of it. In this world of changing perspectives and fleeting emotions, is it possible to judge anyone? Does success really change people, or are they all just going around pretending – to conform to the standards of some superficial rulebook? I looked out at the lights of the city, and thought that perhaps, the answer depends, not on what level or kind of fame you achieve, but on the type of person you are inside.

Disclaimer : All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is unintentional and purely coincidental.

Note : The above was a write-up for a creative writing prompt which was – the title of this piece.

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The Deliverance of Dagny Taggart

My entry for the annual Atlas Shrugged Essay contest, on the topic “Choose the scene in Atlas Shrugged that is most meaningful to you. Analyze that scene in terms of the wider themes in the book.”

In one of the final stages of Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart stands before Francisco d’Anconia , and declares : “I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”(1042) This scene, with all its associated implications, particularly in light of all the events that lead to it, is the one I find the most significant in the novel.

The main theme of Atlas Shrugged deals with the struggle faced by every honest, capable man in a dystopian   world: the seemingly-endless fight against an evil which appears invincible, and the secession of those men of ability and action, in protest against the moral code imposed on them by that world. Through the eyes of Dagny Taggart, a representative of the ilk of able, proactive and efficacious persons – “the movers, the providers, the benefactors of mankind”(447) – Ayn Rand seeks to present the battle of the “men of the mind”(570) against the looters – those otiose masses which had lived off their rightful earnings for centuries and had condemned them to suffering for the sake of those very virtues which had enabled them to produce.

In the novel, Dagny Taggart is introduced as being the one “who runs Taggart Transcontinental”(24), one of those persons “who make [things] possible”(53), someone who has always lived only on the merits of her own actions, dictated by her own reasoning mind. Her life is devoted to the railroad, with her work being an expression of her love for her life and a symbolisation of her moral code. The novel revolves around her struggle – against the unworthy enemy which is ineptitude – “a gray spread of cotton that deemed soft and shapeless, that could offer no resistance to anything or anybody, yet managed to be a barrier in her way”(55), against the nameless “destroyer”(353) who seems to be causing the defection of all those men of ability who had built the new industrial world, and finally, against the growing sense of despair that her quest – to find the person with ” a consciousness like her own, who would be the meaning of her world, as she would be of his”(207), to know “[the] feeling that would hold, as their sum, as their final expression, the purpose of all the things she loved on earth”(207) – would end in vain.

In the first part of Atlas Shrugged, the movers are confronted by the “Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule”(75), one of the first policies implemented by the “moochers” in a bid to restrict and control the men capable of production. It leads to Dagny’s battle to build the John Galt line, so named in protest against the the fear and hopelessness with which people seem to face the world – a struggle to build the rail using Hank Rearden’s Metal, in recognition of its superlative quality and defiance against all baseless qualms; a challenge which, once overcome, seems to signify the end of all her struggles – in the form of the beginning of the “second Renaissance” (234) in the industries of Colorado. But this turns out to be a temporary victory, leading to the further issue of constraining directives by the looters, in an attempt to pillage the lawful profits of the producers. Thus begins “the field day of the little fellow”(324), the period when the industrialists begin to renounce their positions, their factories and properties, and vanish – leaving Dagny to struggle to identify the seemingly- incomprehensible reason behind their abdication.

As the plot unfolds, we see that alongside Dagny’s efforts to save the Taggart Transcontinental railroad is her increasingly-desperate crusade to find the inventor of the ruined motor, which she finds at the Twentieth Century Motor Company – “an entirely new type of motor that could have changed the course of all industry.” (303) This quest is shown as a part of her campaign to restore the world to a glory worthy of the men of ability; the absolute unwillingness to leave the world to the hands of the “worshippers of the zero”(937) – reflected in her despairing plea to those equals who surrender to the destroyer; the incessant cry of “Don’t let it go!”(603) – which is her petition to those heroes to stay back and help defend that which is “the best within us.”(14)

Through Dagny’s suffering, Ayn Rand seeks to show the suffering of the best among the heroes who are victims of the looters’ moral code – as she has “too much endurance, courage and consecration to [her] work”(714) to give up too easily. The torment she undergoes is greater than that of all the other strikers, because of her continual failure to accept the unavoidability of renunciation – “[the] total break with the world of [her] past”(979) – as the only solution to the moral crisis. Her capacity for tolerance dismisses all personal suffering as inconsequential, and though, like John Galt, she recognizes the wrongness in the world in the beginning of her career, in the form of the building of the San Sebastian Line, she considers the thought “Get out”(58): the concept of leaving Taggart Transcontinental, as inconceivable, and begins what she thinks is the fight to preserve the railroad, and all it stands for – the hard work and unfailing spirit of her ancestor Nat Taggart, as well as hers – not realising that she is working for his enemies.

The issuing of the “Directive 10-289″(497) acts as the breaking point of her tolerance, and she independently quits her work and begins her period of exile to “learn to live without the railroad—get the pain out of the way.”(560) Her search for answers is fruitless, because of her “certainty that the truth and the right [are] hers—that the enemy [is] the irrational and the unreal—that she [can] not set herself another goal or summon the love to achieve it, while her rightful achievement [has] been lost, not to some superior power, but to a loathsome evil that [conquers] by means of impotence”(563) – and she returns to her work to prevent the destruction of “the man who has an intransigent mind and an unlimited ambition, and is in love with his own life”(584) and to “maintain the last strip of [her world].”(584)

Her pursuit of Quentin Daniels – to stop him from quitting work on building the motor, leads to her accidental discovery of Galt’s Gulch and John Galt. In the latter, she finds the embodiment of all her values and the source of her motive power – “[her] love and [her] hope to reach [him] and [her] wish to be worthy of [him] on the day when [she] would stand before [him] face to face”(582) – and her battle becomes harder to fight, having heard the convictions of the strikers of the valley, but one which she is determined to continue, as she “cannot believe that men can refuse to see, that they can remain blind and deaf to [her] forever, when the truth is [hers] and their lives depend on accepting it.”(740) As a result, she does not take the oath, mentioned in the first paragraph, which is taken by all the strikers in protest against the exploitation they have undergone at the hands of the world, though “[it] has always been [her] own rule of living.”(671)

Having found Galt, the love that is “the greatest reward [she] can earn for the moral qualities [she has] achieved in [her] character and person, the emotional price paid by [her] for the joy [she] receives from the virtues of another”(946), her return to the world of the looters is accompanied by the torment of “the immensity of the hopelessness of finding him—if he did not choose to be found”(782). She continues fighting for her railroad; the thought – “There’s still a chance to win, but let me be the only victim”(916) as the only sustaining litany, when Rearden – her staunchest comrade in the struggle – abdicates, and she is the last of the heroes remaining in the moochers’ employ. It is then that John Galt addresses the world in the radio broadcast, in acknowledgement of his strike, and she unwittingly delivers him into the hands of his enemies.

“A sacrifice is the surrender of a value”(941) says Ayn Rand, through Galt’s speech, and she demonstrates how Dagny is faced with the conflict of having to give up one value for the sake of another – her love for John Galt for the sake of her love for Taggart Transcontinental; a conflict which cannot exist except in the world of contradictions created by the moral code of the looters; a conflict which makes her realise that “the heavy indifference she now [feels] for her railroad [is] hatred”(1017), when she seems to be transporting automatons who have no love for life, at the price of Galt’s life. Then she gives up the burden of slaving for the looters, by taking the oath in the scene mentioned – which represents the end of the unbearable struggle she has had to suffer for the sake of her rectitude, and her freedom and deliverance to the kind of world she deserves.

In terms of the wider themes of the book, Dagny’s defection paves way for the return of the strikers to the world, as she is said to be “the sole hope and future of Taggart Transcontinental”(713) and in her absence, the breaking down of the Taggart Bridge leads to the destruction of New York – which, at long last, signifies the complete success of John Galt’s strike.

Note : Page numbers are marked according to the 50th Anniversary Edition of Atlas Shrugged, published by Signet.

Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

They’ve been made into a movie and video games. There are hundreds of fan sites and paraphernalia built around them. They’ve been compared to the Harry Potter series; an association which seems to have become the greatest accolade for any book, as well as the highest proof of commercial success. In light of all this fame, a review seems superfluous. You must have heard of them. But have you read the books?

There are some bestsellers which I’ve picked up, read a few pages – perhaps a chapter or two – and abandoned, in favour of more interesting reads. Sometimes I go back and finish them, sometimes not. There are other books which I’ve taken up, meaning to just read a paragraph or two, and found myself in the middle of, so badly hooked to what the next word is going to reveal that I start feeling lightheaded before I realize I’ve been holding my breath the whole while. This series is one that belongs to the latter category.

Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire. Harry Potter,The Boy Who Lived. Tweak the prophecy a little: None can live while the others survive. It does seem like the comparison with J.K.R’s work is warranted, doesn’t it? However, while Jo introduced us to the magical world, Suzanne Collins explores the theme of a post-apocalyptic world in which hegemony prevails. Dystopia is a quite popular topic with both authors and film-makers, along with alien invasions and robotic apocalypses. Why did this particular series make such an impression on me, then? Perhaps because it’s the first time I’ve been pulled into reading one on this subject. I’m not a fan of masochistic literature.

If you don’t mind spoilers, you can read a summary of the book here. If you do, I’ll tell you what the books are like. The first book introduces us to the world of Panem, where the city of Capitol rules over twelve districts. Seventy five years ago, the 13th district rebelled against the political system, and was wiped out. The Hunger Games is an annual event to remind the people of how much they are in the power of the Capitol (If this isn’t an invitation to rebellion to a population which isn’t made up of zombies, I don’t know what is. -_- ) Every year each of the 12 districts is supposed to volunteer two ‘tributes’ – a boy and a girl – between the ages of 12 and 18, who will participate in the Games: with the winner being the sole survivor. Yes, the ‘game’ dictates that they should either kill or be killed.

The story unfolds from the point of view of Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year-old living in District 12 with her mother and younger sister. When her sister’s name is called out as one of the tributes for the Games, Katniss volunteers to go forth in her place and what follows is a spine-thrilling account of her experiences, as she battles for survival. The author shows elements of distrust, uncertainty, bonding, loyalty and betrayal quite well, and is to be commended for the gripping plot.

The first book is well worth a read, but the other two books in the trilogy fell rather short of the ideal, in my opinion. Suzanne Collins manages to hold your attention, but the plot turns dark. It’s war. Politics. Confusion. Suffering. Gore. Power. Horrors invented that are guaranteed to give one nightmares, if you’re not the type who enjoys R.L Stine. A character introduced in a chapter is probably killed in the next. Fear. Pain. Suffering. Did I mention that already? But it bears repeating – there’s just so much of it throughout the tale. But the story does end on a note of hope: which is the most attainable form of happily-ever-after that one can expect in real life.

All in all, the trilogy would be more enjoyable if the author spent a little more time on character development and explanation of the plot. However, it is quite effective in showing one the horrors borne of war and dirty politics, as well as the tortures that the human mind is capable of inventing – and if you’re into that sort of reading, you may be pleased with it.

Standing in Another’s Shoes…

…and ‘seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.’ (Alfred Adler)

This, apparently, is all that the word empathy includes, as I discovered when I ran a web search on the above quote. A discussion of human sociability is not what awaits you in this write-up,however, but a dissertation of a humble, much-derided-yet-popular branch of creative writing : fanfiction.

Wait, don’t go to Google, I’ll save you the trouble. Fanfiction is the universe that has been spawned out of the obsession that certain books have aroused in the minds of readers across the globe, and which consists mainly of “stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator.”(Wiki) If you’re more interested in the history of fanfiction, click this. If you want to know what I have to say about it, read on.

I’ve always loved reading. Now, if you’re a bookworm, I don’t have to list out the reasons – you know them; and if you aren’t one – well, nothing I say is going to convince you that I’m not the greatest kind of fool, for preferring a book to nearly everything else in this wide world of ours. So I’ll move on: the natural consequence of my love for reading is my love for writing. It is natural; when the beauty and magnificence of the world have been unveiled before you in the form of words, to express yourself through the same means is instinctual.

A year ago, in an attempt to improve my creative writing skills, I began writing fanfiction. This, I figured, was better than trying to write a full-fledged story right off; I speak from experience, which is attested by the vast number of plots that litter my hard disk, all still in the sad, embryonic stages. Fanfiction, on the other hand, was a safe starting point – the universe was already there, so I could experiment to my heart’s content. How difficult could it be?

Very, it turns out. For what I wanted was to write stories that would be about filling the gaps left in my favourite books, and for that I had to place myself in the proverbial shoes of the author, and do all that which the quote at the beginning of this post implies. What followed was a lot of research into the time periods, lives and trivia surrounding those writers whom I’d idolized from afar,and now, I find myself appreciating those favourite works of mine all the more: for the styles that the authors employed, the subtle observations made, the adroitness with which different issues are presented and human emotions manipulated. It’s awe-inspiring.

As to my writings, I’ve written several small pieces on L.M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, because it’s one of my eternal favourites, and attempted lengthy stories set in the worlds of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and Frances Hodgson Burnett. You can read them here. If you do, drop a review or two, it’ll make my day. 🙂

P.S : The above is the explanation for my laxness in posting on this blog. If you’re frustrated with the pace that the pearls of wisdom  fall from my pen here [Hah, you say. A girl can hope, though, can’t she? 😉 ] ,head over there.

  

A Wilde Story

A Woman Of No Importance

A few weeks back, I discovered Oscar Wilde. As one who strives quite hard to belong to the ranks of the well-read, I agree that it’s indeed shameful to have ignored such a famed author for so long. In self-defence, all I can say is that I had looked him up on Wikipedia long ago, in order to get a list of the books he’s known for, but (*cough*) I thought his style of living may not have produced an oeuvre which I may have been interested to peruse.

Having said that, I found myself downloading his play ‘A Woman Of No Importance’ from the Gutenberg website some time back. (As an aside, I’d like to thank those guys – they’re doing a great, great job. Kudos.) Why? Because the title caught my attention, of course, as it would, of any feminist worth her salt. Outraged sisters of mine, calm down. The absolutely fitting last line of the play is ‘A man of no importance.’ [I wonder whether this will get masculinists on the warpath? ;)] The heading made me forget my prejudices against the author, and for once, I was glad I’d let them go.

A Woman Of No Importance is a play full of the epigrams which Wilde was (apparently) famed for, and being someone who enjoys witticisms and word plays of all kinds, I was delighted with the book. It’s a satire, and though the plot isn’t all that special, (watching it being performed may have been better than reading it, but not by much) the dialogues and quips were so worth the read that I found myself wishing that I’d thought of them. (Yes, I suffer from a bad case of hubris.) It’s a pity that those who seem clever are also shown as being cynical and on the wrong side of the ethical standard; and those with any good feeling – merely earnest. The characters are well represented, though, which leads me to recommend the book to all those with a well-developed sense of the absurd.

Examples of the kind of wisecracks that are a part of the play:
“It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about, nowadays, saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.”
“Nothing spoils a romance so much as a sense of humour in the woman. Or the want of it in the man.”
“But do you believe all that is written in the newspapers?
I do. Nowadays it is only the unreadable that occurs.”

The final verdict: I definitely want to read more Oscar Wilde. The Importance of being Ernest and An Ideal Husband are next on my list, and though I’ve heard of The Picture of Dorian Grey as belonging to the “classics” list of publishers, I’d like to know if the book is worth it’s fame, before delving in. Recommendations, anyone?

Fairy Tale Retellings

Yes, I like fairy tales. They’re idealistic, moralizing, fantastical and strange; and perfect fodder for imagination. Tales of princesses, magicians, witches and sorcerers; legends of intrigue, enchantment, splendour and glory; fables of dragons, voodoo, spells and wishes. Those abbreviated stories heard in childhood, served just to imprint those eternal messages in our minds – Truth always triumphs, Evil never goes unpunished et al. And, of course, the fate of do-gooders – the proverbial ‘happily-ever-after’. But what of the nuances, the plots, the characters of the stories, themselves?

Perhaps that is what makes retellings seem so much more interesting than those anonymous originals. For instance, the Once upon A Time series. You begin, with scant curiosity perhaps, with the confidence gained from knowing the plot beforehand. And yet, you find yourself being surprised – by the style of narration, by the twists in the tale you thought you knew, in the very characters of the protagonists which you had never thought to consider. The stories become new.

Intrigued? Try Cameron Dokey’s Belle (Beauty and The Beast retold), Golden (Rapunzel retold),The Storyteller’s Daughter (The Arabian Nights – Shahrazad’s tale retold),Wild Orchid (Mulan retold) and Beauty Sleep (Sleeping Beauty retold). And then there’s Robin McKinley – Beauty and Rose Daughter(Beauty and The Beast retold) and Spindle’s End (Sleeping Beauty retold).Alex Flinn’s Beastly and A Kiss In Time are modern retellings of the same, and Jessica Day George’s Princess Of The Midnight Ball of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. And Shannon Hale’s The Book Of A Thousand Days is a retelling of Maid Maleen, which scores quite high on humour, so you may want to read it(Even if you’ve never heard of the original.)

Need more encouragement?

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

Albert Einstein said it.
You know what to do.

Reincarnation – Suzanne Weyn

Being a reader in the 21st century burdens one with quite a lot of cynicism, for, if one devotes a considerable quantity of time to reading all the kinds of books there are and have been, it isn’t long before all the genres, plots and styles are traversed. The element of surprise being lost, anticipation dims; and one feels weary of reading the same phrases, descriptions and situations over and over again – and it begins to seem as though all those worlds which had seemed out-of-reach, have already been explored, and there remains nothing new to be seen. [Oh, how bleak the world seems, with these words!]

Having attained the aforementioned state, it came as a pleasant surprise, to find a story – a love story, at that, which did not seem cliche’d. Suzanne Weyn’s Reincarnation is a story about star-crossed lovers, but (before you accuse me of contradicting my own words) what sets it apart from the multitude of other such tales, is the unique style in which it is presented.

The book is about two lovers, caught in the cycle of death and rebirth, right from the beginning of time (The Stone Age, to be precise.) The novel does not contain one story; instead, it’s a series of stories following the lives of the protagonists, threaded together by the bond which spans across lifetimes (No,don’t worry,it actually isn’t as sugary as it sounds.) As they are born into different times and ages, in different races and civilizations, with different names and faces, the reader begins to see the patterns which define them as individuals – for instance, after a few rebirths, one can see that the heroine invariably has a melodious voice in each birth, while the hero has a talent for writing. The story presents quite an interesting challenge to the reader, to pick up the clues subtly sprinkled about – a story which asks you to use your grey cells to get your bearings, and not merely drift along.

All in all, the subject of reincarnation is shown very neatly; though the breaks in the story (whenever they die,before being reborn -_- ) may put off followers of pure romance. For those who’re tired of the usual, however, this would definitely make an interesting read.

Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder

A day dawns; just another day in a series of normal days, all blending into one another, with a thread of mundane reality binding them together. I yawn as I go through the motions of a normal human being; mechanically brushing my teeth, bathing, eating, walking, talking. Sometimes, somewhere during the course of the day, a thought occurs and fades away – a memory of what dreams had been, and a reminder of what they have become.
This day has begun, with another agenda, another deadline, another target to be reached. My life is purposeful, I have work, and I suppose I am happy. Shreeja tells me, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are! A successful job, a beautiful house and such a caring family! I would DIE to be in your place!’ I smile at her; and it is a smile partially in acknowledgement, and in inner amusement at her exaggerated way of talking. Sometimes, the thought strikes me that she is too frivolous for my taste, but I am bound by time – a friendship forged in kindergarten cannot be shaken off for a whim, just because a person has changed beyond recognition.
I’m in my room, when my grandmother comes in. Do you wonder if we are close? What is ‘closeness’, but a relative feeling of intimacy? I share my news with her, talking about the new project that’s coming up, about the book I’m reading, about the problems at work. Having held a high-profile job in the corporate world, she has always been highly ambitious for me. She is my mentor, and yet, my lips are sealed against the thoughts which occur randomly; abstract thoughts which do not need to be thought, which do not have any purpose, and thus, are unnecessary; and yet, those are to which my mind turns to, in times of leisure, when I sit talking with my mother.
Amma and I sit on the veranda, and I say thoughtfully, “Why do you think the sun sets in the west and rises in the east? Why couldn’t it have been the other way around?” She tells me, “Rules exist for a reason. What do you think would have been the state of the world, if that had still been under debate? Sometimes, the word why just causes trouble.” I look at her mischievous expression and burst out laughing – I know, that this is her way of alluding to my love of the realm of fantasy, that she accepts it, and yet, so cleverly brings me back to solid reality.
Another friend of mine, one Roy, tells me, “You always remind me of a dryad or a nymph, Pranati. If one catches you in an unguarded moment, that faraway look in your eyes makes one think of worlds far away from here; someplace where dreams are reality, an eternally unchanging world – where you can do anything you want.” I smile at him, and this is a smile of camaraderie, for Roy is a kindred spirit, a friend truly priceless – one who may not be there whenever I need him, but who shares all those thoughts which make me feel fey at times – thus, standing as a symbol of assurance that I am not all alone in thinking them.
The day passes away, and I find myself at home, being surprised by a party. It’s my twenty fifth birthday, and I spend it with them, overflowing with happiness at the thought of what I must mean to them; for, though one values oneself, the realization that one is loved, and for the right reasons, will always give joy. They are there – Shreeja, with the designer bag she thinks I will like; my neighbour Govind, with one of his beloved plants from his hothouse; my father, with a camera I had wanted for my previous birthday; my grandmother, with a book on time management which she thinks I need;my sister Preethi, with a copy of L.M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, which I’ve always wanted, but forgotten to buy; my mother, with a smile and a heart full of love, and Roy, who has come empty handed. I look at him questioningly.
‘Come with me.’
I follow him outside to the grove of trees where we used to play, as children. We sit down on the grass, and I’m wondering what‘s on his mind, wondering whether he’ll say it now, for we have never needed to acknowledge the bond between us. He speaks, and I find, in truth, that what was in my heart, is reflected in his; and though I have always known, it fills me with joy. I look at his dear face, and we smile at each other, with the full knowledge that love can be quiet, and deep, and unchanging – not like the crescendo of a wave to a height, which dies away; but like the ever-flowing, sweetly tinkling waters of a stream.
The day ends, and I find myself looking into the mirror. Twenty years ago, in a fire that burnt down our house, I suffered from severe burns. I look at the scars on my face, which have never healed, at the burns which make a wistful smile look sinister, and think of all those who love me so much, that they wouldn’t change any part of my appearance, including these scars, for they are a part of what I am.
They say beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. As I drift away to my beloved land of dreams, a fancy flies in and out again, that it is not an object which contains beauty, but the love in the eyes of those observing it, which gives rise to that feeling of admiration in their hearts.

Disclaimer : All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. -_-

Anthony Horowitz – The Diamond Brothers

I recently read Anthony Horowitz’s Three of Diamonds, and as he seems to be known more for his Alex Rider series (which I haven’t read), I decided to write a review on his stories about the Diamond brothers(which I have).Tim Diamond (Real name: Herbert Timothy Simple) is the world’s worst detective at twenty-five, while his younger brother Nick, thirteen, solves what few cases come their way (And narrates the stories, making wisecracks on every other thing they come across, and mostly on his brother).

Suspense and thriller content-wise, the books are pretty good (I’m comparing with the Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle standard.) Murder is, of course, mostly the leitmotif – but even gruesome details are described in such a way as to never seem morbid. Mostly due to the sense of humor employed in the style of writing.

So, yeah, it’s the wit that sparkles through, which really made me like the books. Puns, double-entendre, witty one-liners, funny metaphors – the books are chock full of them. For example,

 My last client had asked me to find out who was stealing supplies from his glue factory, but he’d disappeared and I was beginning to think he must have come to a sticky end.

 Oh, and apparently they compare him to J.K Rowling. (Nah, she’s the best. -_-) Well, anyway they have a Chief Inspector called Snape, with an assistant called Boyle, who aren’t the villains, but aren’t their best friends either.(*rolling her eyes*) Perhaps this was more of the parodying that goes on in the rest of the books.

Basically, you keep chuckling throughout. (If you get the joke, that is.) Don’t get confused by the mixed reviews – these are nice books for light reading, and for laughs. Just read between the lines. (And the actual lines too.   -_-)

Eight Cousins – Louisa May Alcott

I first read Little Women when I was eleven. It was an abridged version, and the story seemed very pleasing to me, full of simple, joyous instances; funny, clean humour; and sensible, beautiful ideals which one would yearn to uphold and follow, so prettily expressed were they.
Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy became close friends, and being a bookworm, I naturally liked Jo the best.
As I grew up, I read the remaining books, the originals, and loved the characters even more, and longed to emulate them – for, which reader, wholly immersed in a book, can remain unaffected by the ideas expressed, which correspond to those thoughts in her own head, maybe unacknowledged, maybe silent, but there all the same?
I liked the simplicity of the storytelling, the portrayals which seemed so real, and the attractive description of such commonplace activities, which led the reader to appreciating her own blessings and living her own reality, instead of distracting the mind by making it long for worlds beyond reach.
Somehow, by chance or by negligence, I never got to read any other book by Louisa May Alcott for quite some time. Little Women is considered among one of the “classics” in most publishers’ lists, and so are the other books in the series, but I hadn’t come across any other work of hers.
Then by some good luck, I found the book Eight Cousins, and its sequel – Rose in Bloom. It seemed like a breath of fresh air, for I’d been immersed in fantasy and popular fiction for so long, that I was beginning to feel quite lost in all those illusions.
The books are about Rose, an orphan, who goes to live with her aunts and uncles, on the death of her father. She has seven boy cousins – a merry, youthful group, who call themselves “The Clan”, and take her into their fold, and help make her a healthy, happy child – under the eyes of her guardian, cheery, boyish Uncle Alec. The characters – Archie “The Chief”, responsible, kind and the oldest, Prince Charlie,charming and full of fun and frolic,Mac,the bookworm, Steve,the Dandy, Will and Geordie,the twin-like little soldiers and Jamie,the baby, make up the brood, along with sweet-voiced Phebe, the poor, orphaned maid who becomes a sister to Rose. And Rose herself –  sweet,generous hearted and strong minded, makes a lovely protagonist. The books follow the adventures they get into, as children; then the tribulations they face as they grow, finding just rewards at the end.
The characters are very likeable, and for those who love L.M Alcott’s writing, this will surely be a treasured read, regardless of whether the readers are young or old; for, though the books talk about children and their doings, there is so much good sense, such good advice spread through them, that I’m sure even “grown-ups” will love the books. 🙂

Georgette Heyer

Sometime back, when I was searching for good books to read, I came across some reviews of Georgette Heyer’s  novels, and full of the Regency craze around that time, I decided to give it a try.

Georgette Heyer was a writer of historical fiction – basically in the romance and mystery genres (Yeah, I know you’d have got this from Wikipedia too) .Her books mostly deal with the descriptions of lives of the gentry and nobility in Regency England. The language used is a bit difficult to follow, if you aren’t used to the expressions used in those times(like I was),the descriptions get tedious and the stories themselves need adjusting to, for only when you wade through a page or two can you understand who the characters are, and even then maybe not clearly.

After reading all that negative criticism, if you’re still reading this review, then you may as well join the ranks of Georgette Heyer fans. For all that’s needed is persistence. The first book of her’s I read, was Arabella ( fortunately, for like all others I too, fall for first impressions, and some other book may have put me off). I found the protagonist ( Arabella, duh) quite fascinating, though my initial impression was that of a birdwitted beauty – _- .

Mind you, I’ve only been reading her romances, for I tried a mystery – Cousin Kate – and found it too monotonous to credit the genre( I’m an ardent fan of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle ,is that a sufficient excuse? ), but what I’ve read, I really liked. The Masqueradors, These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, Sylvester, The Corinthian, The Nonesuch , The Unknown Ajax, The Grand Sophy, Frederica, Friday’s Child, The Talisman Ring, Lady Of Quality, Sprig Muslin, April Lady and The Reluctant Widow are some of my favourites – with intelligent characters, very humorous situations and happy endings ( What more could an aspiring romance want?) . The heroes are manly, the heroines feminine, everyone has sense, and some of the plots are truly masterpieces. The Masqueradors, especially, is an amazing story about a brother and sister who pretend to be each other (i.e a sister and brother) which I strongly recommend you to start off with.

Georgette has a sense of humour which leaves you in stitches, reading the reactions and dialogues of her characters. Altogether a very enjoyable read.

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen


The title of this book is sufficient to hook any Jane Austen fanatic, and I was no exception.I was in such a haste to uncover the story, that I didn’t even consider the obvious truth, that this was fiction.

The author, Syrie James, tells us  in the prologue of this book,

“Chawton Manor House—one of the many homes owned by Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight (who was adopted by his father’s cousins, and inherited many valuable properties)—has been in the Knight family since the late sixteenth century. Jane Austen lived for many years in a cottage in the village nearby and was a frequent visitor.A workman recently employed to repair the roof of the manor house, in an attempt to trap an errant family of mice, discovered an old seaman’s chest bricked up behind a wall in a far corner of the immense, rambling attic. The chest, to the befuddlement of the entire work crew, was filled with what appeared to be old manuscripts. Incongruously, at the bottom of the chest, in a tiny velvet box, lay a delicate gold-and-ruby ring.

The chest, which is the type a seaman might have used to store his gear during the Napoleonic wars, may have belonged to one of Jane Austen’s other brothers, Frank or Charles, both of whom were in the Royal Navy. To the astonishment and exhilaration of the scholars who were first privileged to review its contents (myself included), the numerous documents stored inside appear to have been written during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and have been formally authenticated as being the work of Jane Austen herself.”

and goes on to reason why and how Jane Austen may have set about writing  these memoirs, in those last illness-filled days of hers.

The book follows Jane’s journey through life, her relationship with her family, especially her sister Cassandra, and the person who was the true love of her life.Yes, you heard that right. Jane says,

“People may read what I have written, and wonder: how could this spinster, this woman who, to all appearances, never even courted—who never felt that wondrous connection of mind and spirit between a man and woman, which, inspired by friendship and affection, blooms into something deeper—how could she have had the temerity to write about the revered institutions of love and courtship, having never experienced them herself?

To those few friends and relations who, upon learning of my authorship, have dared to pose a similar question (although, I must admit, in a rather more genteel turn of phrase), I have given the self-same reply: “Is it not conceivable that an active mind and an observant eye and ear, combined with a vivid imagination, might produce a literary work of some merit and amusement, which may, in turn, evoke sentiments and feelings which resemble life itself?”

There is much truth in this observation.

But there are many levels of veracity, are there not, between that truth which we reveal publicly and that which we silently acknowledge, in the privacy of our own thoughts, and perhaps to one or two of our most intimate acquaintances?”

Can you see now, why I was deluded into believing it was Jane who was speaking to me through this book? The style, the narrative(in first person), the humour , are all those which we have seen throughout her other books! Though it does get tedious at times, when we realise that almost all those situations which occur in her books are those Jane found herself in, her love story is different enough to make the book a good novel in its own right.

I definitely recommend this book to all those who love Jane Austen’s works, and who wish they knew more about her. Yes, this book is a work of fiction, but as Syrie James says, through Jane Austen’s nephew James-Edward,“Do you mean to say, that if I believe in your story as you have told it, then it is as good as if it were true?” , I prefer to believe that Jane may truly have lived such a life, and known true love.

I will not disclose any other details about the book, for any summary seems too dry to me, and if I continue including excerpts of the book, I shall soon have copied the whole book onto this post. 🙂 Enjoy reading, and tell me your views!