Shades Of Words

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Cirque du Soleil : Zarkana

It’s nice to know that the circus is not dead. “Circus of the Sun” retains the traditional aspects of the ageless crowd puller with a juggler, acrobat, dancer, trapeze artists and tight rope walkers. It does however take it up a notch with fabulous choreography, music and art direction. The use of projectors and laser lighting brings a mystic and ethereal quality to the performance.

It’s pure entertainment for 90 minutes where you can shut off your mind and open your eyes. There are enough jaw dropping acts to keep you “wowed” for the duration and at times there appears to be too much going on at the same time. The clowns are adorable and get the most laughs out of the audience. I am not sure I would say it’s a must watch but I can guarantee that if you watch it you will not regret it


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Read and Forgotton

Over the past one year there are some books that I read and meant to blog about. However, they made so little an impression on me, either good or bad that I never got around to reviewing them. I thought I would just mention them in a single blog post.

Death At the Bar by Ngaio Marsh – Marsh was a New Zealand writer heavily inspired by Agatha Christie.  I have read reviews of her works across several blogs. “Death At the Bar” is my first taste of her writing and it left me totally underwhelmed. It’s an extremely standard run-off-the–mill murder mystery. Her sleuth is interesting enough, the Chief Inspector Alleyn of the Scotland Yard. The murder is neither obvious nor intriguing to hold your interest. The cast of characters are made up of slightly unrealistic vacationers who just don’t stick. I breezed through this novel, just to get to the end and get it over with.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley – It’s very difficult to resist a book by this title.  Instinctively you know it’s a crime story though I don’t know what gives it away. Our detective is a somewhat prodigious eleven year Flavia Sabina de Luce who discovers a dead body in her garden. You would think that such an experience would have sufficient trauma on a child, but Flavia jumps into sleuthing mood and starts investigating. The case is quite personal to her as her father is suspected of murder. Though I found the story entertaining with the charm of the British murder mystery, I just did not develop any fondness for any character. I found the antagonistic relationship between Flavia and her sisters exaggerated.  I am not entirely sure what the target segment of this book is. The mystery is not complex enough to make it an adult novel. However, Flavia appears to be too grown up to appeal to younger readers. While I read the book I was entertained, but it did not make me want to read more of the series.

Hide and Seek by Wilkie Collins – Dare I dismiss a piece of work by Mr. Collins, and that too one of the first ‘mystery’ novels? I don’t know if saying this out loud is a good idea but I was quite bored  by Hide and Seek. For a page turner it was incredibly tedious and I am person who enjoys reading long convoluted prose! I think my main issue with the book was with the characters. They were very one-dimensional – too kind, too innocent, too naïve, too wild, too evil, too mean-spirited- there were all types but all one-dimensional. I could not build any real interest in them. The mystery basically revolves around the identify of a beautiful girl “Madonna” who lives in the household of a reasonable well-off painter. The secret to her birth is a “Hair Bracelet” that the painter has and can lead to her parent’s identity. Now unfortunately, Collins gives away quite a bit of her birth in the beginning so a lot of the suspense is lost. Apart from the main story line, Collins does shed some light on painting as a skill and art but most it just seems to fill the pages rather than add to the storyline.

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 Someone at a Distance is a very real story which is why it’s so heartbreaking. It’s also why the story  of an ordinary upper middle class British family is so gripping. I have not read any other work by Dorothy Whipple so I am not aware of her style of narrative. I did enjoy this from a literary point of view but I found the book oddly regressive to feminism.

Let me start with the plot, which as the blurb indicates is “deceptively  simple”. The Norths are a happy self-contained family of five. There is the mother, Mrs. North and her prodigal son Avery who is married to Ellen. Avery and Ellen have the two perfect children Anne and Hugh. Everyone loves each other as much as would be expected in a reasonable family. Ellen and Avery do have the perfect marriage till Mrs. North’s French companion, Louise Lanier, comes along and strategically wins over the hearts of Mrs. North and then her son. The story follows the after math of the discovery of the affair between Avery and Louise and how it tears apart a happy family.

Whipple’s world is heavily character driven. The prose is not spent on describing places or situations. Instead it’s all about the people. She puts these fictional people in these very real situations and beautifully describes their thoughts, their insecurities and their reactions.

I think one of the more interesting things about this novel is that there is no clear protagonist. You might think it’s Ellen, she is definitely the good to Louise’s evil but I feel Louis is as much the heroine of the book. Louise may be a cold-hearted person and her behavior is not justifiable, but she knows what she has wanted for a very long time and she has worked towards it. A lot of her behavior is also driven by her rejection by her first love. She comes from a small provincial family and it is the fate of her lot to be more practical than logical. With that context, you have to appreciate the economic sense that she applies when she systematically goes through Mrs. North’s belonging’s and determines what can be recycled and what can be thrown. Her behavior towards Hugh and then towards Avery are just actions of a desperate yet calculating woman who needs to create her future. Even though Louis appears to be quite cold and independent, all her life plans are around setting down with a man and getting his attention. It is the 1900s, she can work if she wants. What I truly find unpardonable in her is the way she treats her parents and holds them ransom to her affections.

Ellen is the “virtuous” woman in the novel and I wish my heart bled for her, but it does not. She belongs to the generation of woman who missed the whole “feminism” boat.  These are the women who got married young and whose entire lives revolved around their husband and kids. These are the woman who assumed that because their family was the center of their universe, the sentiment would be reciprocated which in quite a few cases was not. Ellen should have listened when Louise warned her to take care of the way she looked, not that Avery’s straying is justified.  Avery should have given honest feedback when Ellen asked for it.

My main issue with the novel was the fact that the whole break-up of the marriage was focused on protecting Anne, who discovers her father in a compromising position with Louise. I do understand that Anne was a child who adored her father and he had a mighty fall from the pedestal, but it seemed ridiculous that the whole discussion about the marriage became about what Anne would think.

Ellen thinks that she can forgive Avery and can get back with him but only after Anne and Hugh are independent. Avery is not worried about Ellen, but about Anne when he later contemplates his mistakes. I get that when marriages fall apart, children get impacted and have to be protected but in this situation, Avery cheated on his wife. All the discussion had to be between him and his wife. His kids want to protect their mother from him, which is natural but they cannot determine what their parents decide to do. I find this very regressive. I believe children are more accommodating and forgiving than adults. Anne’s entire focus is about her life and about her horse not about the fact her father has left her mother. I feel Ellen is being marginalized by her own daughter even after her whole life falls apart.

The other thing that I take issue with, was the way which the novel ends. It’s a nice and convenient way to tie up the loose ends with Ellen getting a job with Mrs. Beard at the guest house. People are not that lucky, the war has ended and jobs are not that many.

I think this book can provoke a lot of debate and discussion about each character and their behavior, which is what  probably makes it good reading.


India May 2012 – General Observations

Things have changed over the last decade or so in India. There has been development, albeit a little skewed. The situation for people like me has gotten better. Unfortunately, people like me make a very small part of this very large country.

Anyway, I saw better roads, better airports and better malls. I don’t know how important it is to have better malls for the general well-being of the population, but there seems to be a lot of them. They do prove to be a popular tourist destination in most cases. I would like to say that they contribute to the economy but they more likely seem to contribute to traffic congestion in cities. Arguments could be made that they create jobs for people who work in them, but job creation is such a slippery statistic. What about the jobs that could have been created if the money had gone in development of let’s public transport or city parks? What about the jobs taken from people whose land was taken away to create the mall?  Anyway, that’s a different discussion altogether. Malls currently have become the “hang-out” spots for school kids and the unemployed.  As the divide between the haves and have-nots increases in India, I see these as major contentment disrupters.

The countrywide GMR revamping of the airports has been quite impressive. When we landed in Delhi’s T3 at IG International Airport we were quite impressed with the general look and feel. The immigration process was smooth and we were out of the airport fairly quickly.  I really feel that tourism in India can be an inclusive growth industry that boosts the economy at the grass-roots level and making India accessible to the world abroad is a step in that direction.

The roads are better. Travelling in North India, I spent quite some time on NH1 and I was happy to see our driver average at 100 KM/H for most of the way. Also known as the Grand Trunk Road, NH1 is going through major renovation, so we did unfortunately spent some time on the side of the road rather on it, but even then we made good time. To avoid the traffic and the dust on NH1, our driver, opted us to take us through the state highways.  State highways in India typically don’t have road dividers so overtaking is quite life threatening as one always has the chance of being hit by an oncoming truck. Of course, millions of people drive and survive every day so it’s a question of practice.  Even then, when our driver took the detour, I sent up a little prayer. I was again impressed by the condition of the inner roads and the average 80-90KM/H that  our car maintained on the  roads.

Getting “Sarkari” work done is still a pain in India. Ever since I was a kid, I have had this urge to take a mop and broom and sweep the government offices clean. Allegorically and literally. I don’t know why they are so dirty.  It does not matter if it’s a post office, or a registrar’s office or the RTO, the office space is covered in dust, grime, brown files and filled with cheap but durable steel furniture that has been greased and re-greased over the years.  Kapil and I had to register our Hindu wedding and even though we are way over 18 years old (the legal age for getting married in India), the law requires that our parents be present for the registration! Seriously! The entire registration took 2 to 3 hrs in which we filled multiple forms and it got over “so soon” because we knew someone.  The whole attitude of the officers in the Government of India is as if they are doing us a favor and not their jobs. Why is it that way? Why does such little power go to their heads so soon? Don’t they want to get rid of the clutter on their desk and move work efficiently and smoothly?  Why would you want to do a job badly on purpose? Why would you want to be incompetent?  For years, people have argued that these jobs are not well paid and the motivation to do well is not inbred. I say bullshit. These jobs are more secure and better paid then some. There is no excuse for the inefficient.  I am sure if the government employees were to get double the paychecks the attitude towards work would not change. I do hate making these generalist statements but you step into a govt. office and the sense of lethargy hits you and even if there is one hard-working guy he is not going to get noticed in all the rot.

So some things change, and some remain the same. I was afraid that India was going to disappoint me. That I was going to all go “NRI” on it and hop around drinking mineral water and act shocked on how horrible everything is – as if I am seeing it for the first time. I am glad to discover that I had not forgotten anything. I was neither more or less forgiving of the situation in India. It is what it is.

I can either live with it or run from it or change it.