Picking up Oleander Girl was an obvious after-effect of reading Palace Of Illusions.
Author : Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The engagement of Korobi(Bengali for Oleander, and hence the title) and Rajat sets the stage for a host of complicated situations for each of the characters in the story. Korobi suddenly finds herself faced with the loss of her beloved grandfather and in possession of fragments of a secret about her parents who, she has been brought up to believe, are dead. Rajat comes with the baggage of a reckless past, but having met Korobi, turns a new leaf and strives to be mature and responsible, both professionally and in the relationship. Korobi’s quest for the truth about her roots would take her away to America right after their engagement, the prospect of which stirs misgivings at different levels in Rajat, his parents and Korobi’s grandmother. Meanwhile, Rajat’s parents are also grappling with financial problems and a necessity to remain tight-lipped about their future daughter-in-law’s sudden disappearance to America right before the wedding. Rajat is fighting hard to prove his worth in the family business, fight ghosts from his past and trying to be supportive of Korobi in her mission. How each of them handle their challenges weaves the story.
Personal highs :
- Contemporary fiction generally works well for me, more so when it is a familiar Indian setting.
- Love how different characters take turns to narrate chunks of the story in their voice. It is Korobi for the most part, but Rajat, his mother, the grandmother and the driver Asif voice from time to time, and it is interesting to read the proceedings from their perpective.
- The way the characters are etched out – I think this is the author’s forte. Each character comes with their own inevitable weaknesses. The way they react to situations makes the reader get into the skin of the character and relate to them perfectly.
The not-so highs:
- The writing style and the flow of language, though sufficient for the context, paled a little against the standard she had set in the Palace of Illusions.
- Too many undercurrents in the course of the book – ranging from identity crisis, to worker union problems, to Hindu-Muslim strife, to employer loyalty, to rage of the jilted girlfriend – it seemed as if too many things were thrown in, though they were pretty neatly tied up in the end.
- Though generally a sucker for happy endings, this was toooo much of a happily-ever-after ending for me. Came off as a touch lame.
Recommend? : Yes, at the moment. Might reconsider after reading more of her work.
My introduction to Mahabharata was way back , as a bedtime story narrated in simple terms by Dad and Thatha. The Pandavas were good, the Kauravas evil and goodness won over evil in the Great War. Of course, Krishna , being God, constantly sided the Good and helped them triumph. That was the key take-away from the black and white narrative. Slightly later, when I took to reading on my own and progressed beyond Amar Chitra Kathas, I got my hands on a copy of Dr C Rajagopalachari’s version of the epic. THAT was the book that got me riveted to this epic and has been my go-to resource for Mahabharata related information since then. I used to read it over and over again, never tiring of the engrossing sub plots and schemes. There were shades of grey, weaknesses in the greatest of warriors, deceit, treachery – in short a lot of juice that resonated with basic human character and behaviour. Also, it was quite a detailed chronicling that joined most of the dots that make up this mammoth saga. But that was all it was. An unfolding of events in chronological order where the characters were merely instruments in carrying the story forward. Not to mention, there was always the subtle preach of God siding the good over evil and how He designs to bring the downfall of evil eventually. The faults of the perceived good characters were always justified, and the dark side of the evil characters magnified.
I was quite intrigued when I heard about Palace Of Illusions – Draupadi’s version of the Mahabharata.For starters, I did not even imagine there could be a version of this story from the point of view of one of the characters, or that it could be Draupadi. Pedantically, my idea of Draupadi’s part in the actual scheme of things was restricted to two main areas : her polygamous wedding and her oath in Duryodhan’s court which eventuallyy brought about the war. It was startlingly fresh to revisit the story from the beginning from her view point, right from her birth(an interesting bit that I had no clue about earlier) and stifling girlhood to the famed events leading upto the war and eventually her last journey. Her introduction as the restless girl with a doting, protective elder brother, Dhrishtadyumna(in a strange way, him being addressed as Dhri in the book adds so much more to his character as Draupadi’s brother than just a slayer of Drona) and the overbearing, yet fond Dhai Ma make us instantly get into the flesh of her character. Thereon, her thoughts and feelings take the centre stage completely and the actual events merely propel the narrative forward.
That she might have had such complex feelings for Karna, or that she had so many shades of grey, or that vengeance had turned her into a person for whom all other emotions paled in comparison, or that there could have been such grating friction between her and Kunti and her impression of Kunti as the mother in law with an iron fist over the minds of her sons- these are things that have never crossed my mind earlier, but having read the book , seems very plausible. And at every level, understandable and natural.
The author effectively conveys the influence wielded by the womenfolk(Draupadi, Kunti and Gandhari) and also their helplessness despite their strength of character. Draupadi’s impudence at duryodhan, her complex love for Karna, her indignation at having to take on five husbands, her wrath and thirst for revenge make her character seem less larger than life and identifiable. Also, the depiction of Krishna is brilliant -there is no overt emphasis on the concept of God from her view point. Fate and destiny shape lives and her revelation of Krishna towards the end completes the jigsaw of the turn of events.
But there are a couple of things that rankle: Her love for Karna. You feel pity that she could not wed the man of her choice, you feel sorry for her not being able to redeem herself in Karna’s eyes. At every stage, the author misses no opportunity to keep the Draupadi-Karna flame alive in the reader’s mind, and beyond a point it starts to chafe and get annoying. Hits a peak when at the time of Ghatothkacha’s end, she feels more remorse at Karna’s fate being sealed than the brave warrior’s death. Also, though common as it is for the twin brothers, Nakul and Sahadev to be sidestepped in most versions of the epic, more detail was definitely expected here considering that they were after all her husbands too. But save some unimportant cursory references, they do not play any prominent part.
Love , LOVE the language and her writing style. Some figures of speech were so beautiful that I read those lines multiple times, and now regret not having noted them down somewhere. A couple that I can recollect now – “Draupadi was impatient like mustard seeds spluttering in oil” and “the pendulum of victory swung between the Pandavas and Kauravas every hour of the battle”. Despite being the first book of her’s that I ‘m reading , she goes right up there among my favorite Indian writers. Having said that, the language is far far removed from the style that is normally associated with epics – makes it hard to associate that style with the likes of Krishna and other epic characters, yet makes the characters less larger than life !
Just as I was re-discovering my love for Scrabble after nearly a decade, thanks to the online version of the game, I came across this book put up on BlogAdda. While relationships being forged on the net, sometimes even with complete strangers are becoming quite commonplace, it was quite interesting to see the premise being Scrabble.
The book starts off with just the right amount of apprehension and excitement over a real-life meeting between WordFreak and WordDiva, two scrabble addicts bonded by the game, who are besotted with each other’s online persona, and cant wait to find out what reality holds in store for them. Being charmed by witty word-play and the ensuing engrossing chats seems relatable at many levels and hence provides an interesting start. Alisha, a divorce lawyer, and Aryan, a go-green architect quickly discover that they see nothing less than a perfect partner in each other. But what follows is a choking overdose of idyll that stretches well into more than half of the book. A beautiful, strong willed, independent Alisha. Aryan, with his killer looks, professional success, sensitivity and warmth that could spin a girl’s world. A lot of common sentiments, interests and love that blossoms surely and steadily. A whole bunch of friends, relatives and well-wishers who would just about do anything to make things work between the two of them. A dreamy farm-house and steamy love making. To cut a long story short, a hundred happy, ideal things that could frame the background for a few dozen Bollywood movies. All is well in paradise and you do not want to cynically rain on the parade, but there IS a point when you begin to wonder if all this is leading to anything at all.
And finally the grey spots start appearing when Aryan completely zones out after a squabble with Alisha. Digging deeper, Alisha, in a determined effort to patch up things between them, follows her heart all the way to London, where she slowly uncovers Aryan’s skeletons from his childhood. Amidst yet another too-good-to-be-true English setting, Alisha slowly manages to clear out the cobwebs in Aryan’s head and makes him get over the troubled memories from his past. Parental discord and its impact on children is a touchy ground to tread, and the protagonists of the book are stark examples of how it could shape the child’s psyche. The author has dealt with this part of the book with sensitivity and manages to touch a chord.
The characters are well-etched, and each plays their part to the hilt to stay in the reader’s mind. Almost every aspect of the book, from the language to the flow of the plot is highly romanticized, and if you are not the kind that melts at that, the book may grate a nerve at many points. One of those numerous books that you want to see to its end, but somehow does not manage to leave much of an impact, both while reading and after.
2 years. A very long time for blog dormancy I know. That puts my prospective biographers in a very sticky spot indeed. Imagine, 2 years of undocumented life! It would probably leave a huge section of the world guessing what transpired then. HENCE, being the gracious subject that I am, I have decided to give a quick round up of the last two years to plug this gaping hole.
Did I hear someone grunt ? Haan ? No ? Ok good. I thought not.
So well, the last 2 years, at the risk of sounding extremely cliched, have indeed FLOWN by ! Looking back I realise there were so many things I should have put down then and there, and would have made pretty reading for me at 40, but because of <insert lame reasons here>, I somehow never got around to doing it ! So, as a comeback post, I thought I should put down all that I remember now, and all that need to be remembered, lest old age catches up 😐
1. Got married! Not that I am likely to forget that, but still, since it ranks amongst the most momentous happenings of life, it comes there right on top! Also, simple as it is to say “I got married last year”, the process behind that was extremely long winded(to put it mildly) and took up more than a year of the 2 year hiatus ! From tamilmatrimony.com and numerous jaadagams and conflicting astrologer views and a million phone calls and inquiries, to skepticism, hope, disinterest and apprehension, it seemed to loom out like it would never end, but things took shape and miraculously fell in place in the eleventh hour, and as it so turned out, the quest ended in the office work station next to mine ! 😀 Ah, so all IS well that ends well. Following which were the frenzied wedding preparations. Now it seems like those seven months were just ONE LONGGGGG DAY – nothing else was thought of/spoken about apart from the wedding. Drawing up lists, striking items off them, countless rounds of shopping, arrangement check lists – take it from me, Indian weddings are NOT overrated – they ARE truly truly big ! And then, the move to the husband’s place. (Ok, that sounds wierd even to me, even now. Henceforth, he shall be referred to as K). So the move has been smooth enough. More than I could have hoped for, actually. I ve lived away from home for 4 years of engineering, I am used to it, is what I thought. I was wrong. Living on your own, and living with people whom you suddenly start considering family are two different things. Thankfully, the bouts of homesickness have been few and far apart, thanks to K’s parents.
2. Visited places – quite a few of them. Going to new places came to a pretty abrupt end after campus trips stopped. 2011 brought in a good amount of travel, and my first passport stamping ! Yay !! Srilanka it was, for the record. That apart we visited Alleppey(heaven-ish, really!), Pondy(my first time after 16 years of living in chennai :|), Lonavla(touch and feel clouds) , Pune(dad’s transfer :|), Coorg(the office gang trip), Trichy and a host of temple towns. Missed travelling to the US by a whisker, but thats another story altogether.
3.Watched IPL matches live – 3 of them, with friends from work. On that note, the GAENG at work (comprising of animal planet and a couple of human beings) has been hugely responsible for a lot of laughter and fun over the last couple of years. Yards and yards of chat on Skype(we have concluded that if someone wants to look for something in the chat, the only way to do it would be to data mine it.), eat-outs,food obsession, gossip, cribbing and a whole lot more. 2012 holds a new job/workplace, and not to be pessimistic or anything, but I am quite convinced that workplace is never going to be so much fun as it has been these 3 years.
4. Started watching sitcoms and serials – now this surprises even me. For someone who was not bitten by the F.R.I.E.N.D.S bug even in college, when the whole place was going gaga over it, I have definitely come a long way. I think it just caught up a little late. So now it is Big Bang Theory – check. Dexter – check. HIMYM – on and off. 24 – current fever. Lined up – Prison Break and House. Agreed, I still fall asleep mid-episodes sometimes. But the frequency is coming down 😀
5. Watched more movies in the theatres this year than I have in my entire life. True story. This includes many downright crappy movies that noone in their right minds would even think of downloading, leave alone , watching in the theatres. But the film-buff in K is indomitable. He truly considers it his duty to write off a share of his income to the film industry religiously.
6. The passing away of thatha – by far the most saddening thing ever and shaken up seeing death at such close quarters. It is still way too hard to digest even as I am typing this, and has left a void nobody can possibly imagine to fill. I feel proud and blessed to have shared my childhood with him, have him tell me stories, teach me shlokas and let me see a part of the great life he led. If I had to attribute the word “godly” to a person, it has to be, without doubt,to him. It is an absolute privelege to be addressed as “Venkatesa Iyer pethi“. The way I felt/feel about his greatness is not something that can be expressed in this triviality of a blogpost. Plans are on to write his biography – an attempt to put down the gratitude of the many many lives he has touched by his wisdom, humility and benevolence – I hope I will be able to contribute to that. RIP, thatha.
7. Did a good amount of reading – admist managing home and office, this is a real blessing, thanks to the office drives with K. Nothing like good books and music to lighten up office journeys. The Millenium series and the Shiva trilogy are picks of the lot. Hoping to read more good Indian writing AND translated Tamil works.
8. Acquisitions: A Dell laptop, an Amazon Kindle(Yayy! By far, the bestesttt wedding gift), an XBOX with Kinect(ok, this one too! 😀 ), an IPhone (a hand-me-down phone, but a giant leap from my earlier phone nevertheless, AND my first smartphone), second earring piercings, status elevation to Chitti and Mami(yes :|), LASIK(bye bye soda-buddi and lenses!) and last but not the least, more kilograms of weight than I would have liked 😐
9. Lived the Mylapore life : Despite spending 16 years at Kodambakkam , and currently living in Mambalam, I think Mylai is THE essence of Chennai. The one year and few months of pre-marriage life there are truly memorable. Soaked up in the temples, kacheris, parks, buzz, karpagambal mess, maminess, poshness and the general tam-brahmness of the area !
If you managed to read thus far, I appreciate your patience and would like to test it no further, lest I lose one ardent fan of the blog. Winding up with a whole lot of memories, mostly good of 2010 and 2011, and hoping 2012 brings forth more to write about !
Appy New Year !!
is getting increasingly annoyed at her startling frequency of use of certain phrases (some extremely local and cliched ones at that!). She thinks that if somebody made a dictionary of her day to day vocabulary, they would land at no more than 100-150 words, with the count of the “strictly English” words amongst them being less than half that number. Sigh!
has been reading three men in a boat on her way to work and thinks it is an absolutely delightful book – oh the humor ! 🙂 🙂 She only feels ashamed that she is able to do no more than 2 pages a day of a book that should have rightfully taken just about a couple of hours if read at one go. But she knows ill days have fallen upon this world, so she is not going to try and convince unbelieving people that her work has been SO hectic that save her cab ride to office, she has just not been able to spare time for reading.
Oh! that reminds her – she meant to ask Vikas Swarup something after she finished reading his second book. She has a strong suspicion that VS has turned script writer after the runaway success of SDM. Also, she is almost convinced that Six Suspects has been written for David Dhawan’s next flick – starring namma Vijayakanth and Bollywood head-turner Tushhar Kapoor.(Pssstt .. overheard : Ekta Kapoor has been roped in to oversee proceedings so that the mega serial quotient of the book remains intact!)Well well, this one sure is touted to be next in line for the Aascaars! Mr. VS, are you available for comments?
perfectly knows that she has piles of issues and bugs with fiery red eyes and sharp tentacles awaiting her, to make their breakfast, lunch and dinner out of her – yet she finds the complete inactivity on her blog extremely heart wrenching to say the least and has decided to right royally stage civil disobedience against her work.
PS : If you are wondering why she had to irrelevantly drag Mr. VS into this, let her assure you – it was certainly not to settle any personal score – she carries no vengeance against him. It’s just that her work is apathy personified – all her cynicism and sarcasm are completely lost on it – she needed something more tangible to take it out on. Period.
Different day, different morning, same cab ride to the same office. I was looking out idly, half listening to the “kappi idea” on FM , taking in the lovely sights and spirit that scream “NAMMA CHENNAI” loud and clear – the pullayar kovil, kaiyendhi bhavans that wash out the differences between the top notch corporate and the rickshaw walas, exasperated van drivers honking away to glory at apartment gates waiting for the harried moms to rush out – Tiffin box in one hand and dragging along the sleepy kid who looks like it has no idea why it has to be put thro’ this ordeal of school…
And suddenly a poster caught my eye. What the hell! No it was not of Thatha or Amma. Staring back at me from all roads in West Mambalam was the face of Prasanna- yes, Prassy of Airtel Super Singer. “Ungal Vote Prasanna -vukke!!!” God! Please give me a break! This was supposed to be a “talent” hunt for heaven’s sake. And I thought the talent was restricted to the musical aspect of the word alone. Ten months, countless rounds – grueling ones judged by the who’s who of the music industry- and it all boils down to THIS. This guy just walks up and earns brownie points, err ‘votes’ for “showmanship’ and mass appeal. He is the most “popular” singer on the show. And yes, “popular” does not translate to “best” in terms of quality. What kind of a sham is this in the name of reality shows? Finally is it all only about gathering the maximum votes to get the coveted title – about the number of friends a contestant has plus the number of people each of them can coax into voting for his friend ,multiplied by the number of votes each of them is willing to cast for that contestant. Where does the talent factor figure in this equation? I am probably stretching it a little too far, but I absolutely LOATHE the idea of choosing the winner based on public votes. In some strange way, I feel foolish to have unfailingly watched every episode of this show, when actually it is just a glorified publicity gimmick by the sponsors.
Hmm … the last thing I would have expected 4 days back was DC winning the IPL. Sigh. I was dreaming of a CSK final and that kid from RCB brought it crashing. But I still wish it had been RCB instead of DC. For Kumble. For Dravid. And that kid, Manish Pandey 🙂
What a cric-weekend this has been! 😀 Three matches and a know-it all brother to watch them with – he makes it a point to flaunt MY ignorance at an amazing frequency of 3 spits an over. Yes, I HAVE to yap thro’ out the match and flaunt my own ignorance of the cric-technicalities. Not my fault ok! I tried desperately for some 10 years to understand vague things like mid-off, long -on, deep-gully and blah blah. Finally decided it was just not worth it. I can still root for my team with my heart and soul, scream for a six, howl for an out and enjoy every bit of the game! 🙂
Caught Lagaan this Sunday on Set Max (yeah, my cable operator thiruttuthanamaa relays set max during the IPL season. He better do the same for ESPN from June 5th! ). Man! What a movie! Clearly remember watching it a week after it released- in a non descript theatre called SSR Pankajam in Saligramam(wonder if it still exists! ). That was 8 years back I think. Though every song is on my favorite regular playlist, I have not managed to watch the movie again after that. What casting, what acting! Actually shed tears, despite perfectly knowing that Kachra’s ball would be a no-ball and Aamir would give a grand finish! 🙂
PS: Managed to finish Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup(His second book apparently). If ever any of you manage to lay your hands on that one, please tear it up for me. You would be doing the world a good deed. Period.