Sunday, November 13, 2016

Leave Me (Book Review)

Leave MeLeave Me by Gayle Forman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Life’s about swimming through an ocean of troubles, to reach the shore that soothes.

Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 340
Price: Rs 550

You may also find the review here.

‘So this was how it was. People entered your life. Some would stay. Some would not. Some would drift but would return to you.’

Marriages are those events that get ingrained into one’s mind from the time one is growing up. Girls grow up dreaming about their “happily ever after” while boys about their “princesses”. Even though the dynamics of the same is changing – with girls claiming to be their own superheroes and girls and guys preferring to travel the world rather than settling down with a family of their own – to some “marriage” still means what has often been popularized by popular media: A silhouette of a man and woman walking towards the sunset, holding hands. Troubles before marriage abound and often movies end with the hero and the heroine getting married.

Cut to reality, here’s “overtaxed and over-tired” Maribeth Klein – 44- year-old editor-in-chief of Frap, a new (and well-funded) celebrity lifestyle magazine. Maribeth, an adopted daughter, Jason’s wife, mother of a pair of pre-school going twins, works under Elizabeth, another ‘beth’, her one-time roommate and best friend. Jason left her when he was 22, only to return a decade later to give their story a continuation.

This is not just Maribeth’s tale but also of Jason, Elizabeth, Dr. Stephen, Todd and Sunita. It is a reflection of normal, everyday characters we meet in real life – an overworked mother, a lonely man, students living together to cut costs, little kids demanding time from their parents, a lady afraid of her adopted daughter running away in search of her real mother, a mother who gave away her daughter for some reason (alright, this might not seem too common in known circles) – with their own demons to fight and yet with a great sense of humour.

It is a much-required jolt for every working mother and has a very realistic portrayal of a woman who is so caught up with the details of her life that she finds it difficult to take things slow – even when she winds up on a hospital bed, without realizing that she suffered from a heart attack! Post a double bypass, she arrives back home only to find that her recuperation seemed like a punishment to her family.

Even though physically healing, she finds herself to be drowning. And like what seems to be a great way to end all displeasure that one feels, a tempting fantasy – she escapes, by literally packing a bag and leaving home.

It’s when she is finally away from the demands of a family, a career and an overflowing inbox and after finding neighbors who become friends, a friendly doctor and a revisit to things she loved doing once upon a time, does she finally own up to her innate secrets.

In an ironical manner, from being a woman who can barely kick water with her knees bent in a swimming pool, she manages to swim four laps later (when many other things in her life seem to be falling back in order). It is a reflection of how she tries to swim through her life, irrespective of the water trying to get into her nose, mouth and ears – trying to drown her. However, will she manage to swim and reach the shore of her life which she didn’t even know existed?

This book is a much-needed reality check for all who are continuously running around in life in pursuit of some or the other thing. It makes one want to slow down and actually enjoy things rather than waiting for “the other shoe to drop”.

It’s an alarm clock of sorts – it wakes you up, kicks you right where it hurts most (what else does an alarm clock do but bring you back to reality from your dreams?) and encourages to get one’s life back in order and to not worry if one presently does not seem to have a grip over life, for with time, things do fall in place and it’ll all be fine. (An already established thing, right? That everything is fine in the end, if it isn’t; it’s not the end, yet)

P.S. Being an Indian, the part where Maribeth suffers from an acid reflux post having spicy Indian food, of course thanks to Sunita’s cooking skills, broke my heart. I so wish I could regale Maribeth with some great, authentic Indian food that would only leave her with a craving for more and not a reflux!

-Divya Nambiar
View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

One Indian Girl (Book Review)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So the moment I picked up the book for reading (after beating competition from the receptionist at the workplace as well as a colleague) and reviewing it, I wondered, for the hundredth time, why the euphoria? Why the adrenaline rush in trains among teenagers when they spoke about the book, irrespective of their views about the author being either totally positive or lashing at him for his contribution to bad literature if I may add ‘literature’ at all.

I read it while commuting to and fro my workplace, via the Mumbai Local. It was surprising to find posters of One Indian Girl on a local train. No kidding. In fact, I even attempted to click a picture of it but the train moved and Bhagat blurred away. Mumbai, a cosmopolitan city, thrives because of the variety of people and cultures co-existing here. And yet, Chetan manages to reserve a place for himself so prominently, on the local trains, mind you! Alright, loosening one’s purse strings once in a while does more good than harm and with most of his novels grabbing Bollywood’s attention, it is of little surprise that Bhagat managed to show his face there.

Before you wonder what my take is — Oh, he comes up with his latest crap or he floors the reader, yet again—I would like to contend that I liked One Indian Girl and yet, I disliked it.
Given the curiosity that he manages to create every time he releases a book, he does have a wide readership. In a country like India where light reading was yet to catch up amongst the masses, Bhagat came in handy. If he manages to attract even a non-reader into picking up his book, that definitely means there is something about his writing that engages the reader. He pens down his thoughts in the typical “unpolished Indian English”. He imitates the English used by those who only know the basics and then use it to interact with their fellow beings. After having been a part of such a milieu, I can make some sense of why he is so popular among many Indians. Bhagat’s English is not “threatening” nor does it make one run to fetch a dictionary which spoils the whole reading experience as per a friend who stays away from “my-kind-of-literature” — in his own words. 

Moving to One Indian Girl, it is Bhagat’s attempt to define feminism or break it down to his million readers in simplest terms, albeit explicitly throwing in more stereotypes which feminists (men and women) have been trying to break since sometime now. How else can one justify Radhika Mehta’s constant need to be appreciated or complemented by men in order to find validation in spite of being the Vice President at one of the topmost banks and a paycheck that made a prospective groom cut the call thanks to the gush of inferior air that blew him off? The book is a first person account of Radhika Mehta which begins with her trying to settle a sudden crisis at a five star hotel in Goa, where she has landed for her destination wedding with her family which she is paying for. Her mother scolds her for doing “men’s work” of dealing with the hassles of venue hunting when she should be sitting somewhere for it was her wedding and how could she NOT be a coy bride-to-be?

Thus starts a long tale of trying to break stereotypes while the author himself throws in many more stereotypes – Indian Institute of Management (nerd heaven?), Bengalis ( perennially fish-eating, communist intellectuals?), not just Punjabi, at the reader. So, Radhika Mehta has dated men – one who did not want her to work post having babies and the other who thought she was one of those who wanted her career to shine and not her nest. In a bold move, Bhagat managed to deftly thwart those scenarios.  He has also managed to portray how parents can, if they feel it’s time for their daughters to get married, become expert mission specialists and not tire even if the daughters bubble with anger. And yet, somehow, they can never stop loving those pesky parents!

However, he has also penned her character to be utterly confused at many times, with the “mini-her” providing some humourous getaway. Alright, women, or for that matter even men, can be confused but portraying her as stupid enough to let her sensibilities go out of the window at certain important junctures of her life simply left the reader high and dry.

That apart, has Bhagat’s writing style improved with this one? Did Shinie Antony, the editor, do a better job this time? In many places, I felt so. Or maybe I just got used to his writing style and the bumpy ride smoothed out. All in all, it’s a book that adults may read with prescription from pop-fiction readers and not from literature enthusiasts. However, a little deviation from one’s chosen line of interest won’t hurt. Ouch, did it?

-Divya Nambiar