Story Of Woe

I am sure everyone and I mean EVERYONE knows about Romeo and Juliet, the famous balcony scene in Verona,their cute, puppy love and their tragic deaths. But how many have actually experienced this renowned story by actually reading the play written by Shakespeare. And, no, reading a summary or a Charles Lamb version does not count as having read the play. In order to really understand these two eternal lovers’ story and cry over their tragic fate, one must read Shakespeare’s play, ‘Romeo And Juliet‘ that has immortalized them and made it one of the greatest love story ever told. No pitiful synopsis can compare reading the actual play.

So if everyone knows the plot of this play, why bother going in details? Nonetheless, there may be some ignorant souls in this world still. So lets enlighten them. Romeo and Juliet belong to the two different, wealthy families in Verona- Montagues and Capulets respectively. Both the families have the same social standing in the city. And both for reasons that Shakespeare does not elaborate hate each other. So once the Montague men crash the Capulet feast and ball wherein Romeo sets eyes on Juliet and falls in love with her. Later the famous balcony scene occurs where both pour out beautiful, lyrical verses to profess their love for each other and Juliet puts the proposition of marriage.Later, both are happily married by Friar Lawrence. However, their family feud is one of the problems in their marriage. Later, Mercutio, one of the Montagues, is killed by Tybalt, who is Juliet’s cousin, in a street brawl. Therefore, Romeo sets out to kill Tybalt and succeeds whereupon he is banished from Verona by the Prince. Another complication is that Juliet’s parents want her to marry a fellow named Paris. They know nothing of her marriage to Romeo and now that he is a killer and is banished(not to mention that he is a Montague), Juliet cannot talk about it either. Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris is not accepted. So now both the lovers are in a pickle. How they try to get themselves out of this mess is for you to find out by reading the whole play.

Quite frankly, ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ does not have much in terms of story. It seems like a game of Fate and a bunch of chance encounters and missed ones that takes the play forward. The tragedy could have been easily averted (but then there wouldn’t be a story, you might rebuff!). What makes the play memorable is the effusive verse with very quotable quotes and not to mention the use of the then popular sonnet tradition. This last feature makes the play quintessentially an Elizabethan romance(although the story existed much before Shakespeare immortalized it).

Like many of his other plays, ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ also have a mixture of comedy and tragedy. Initially, the story is so comic that you would scoff at the thought of it ending tragically. It is only the numerous foreshadowing in terms of the prologue, dreams and visions that the play is peppered with that makes one think otherwise. Only after Mercutio’s death and Romeo’s banishment does the play become wholly serious and gravity of the lovers’ situation becomes apparent. From here onwards, even the lines become more intense with passion and gravity.

Apart from the tragic lovers, there are other unforgettable characters as well, chiefly: Mercutio, Nurse(to Juliet), Friar Lawrence and to some extent the lovers’ parents and Tybalt. Their part in either hastening or stalling the tragedy is also very important.

So, ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ may have a silly, even stupid plot (The play within a play,  ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ staged in ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ can be considered as a parody of ‘Romeo and Juliet’) but stands out because of the wonderfully elegant verse, the splendid imagery, the beautiful depiction of light and dark, and last but not the least: the innocent and fated love of the young Romeo and Juliet.It is a beautiful play, undoubtedly a must read that exalts love and the idea of love.  Watching a good stage adaptation is a bonus and Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version goes a long way to bring the Shakespearean magic on the screen. It is more or less faithful to the plot and uses the cinematic space to its advantage to elaborate many famous scenes of the play. It is an excellent film adaptation. A must watch!

Undying Love

A fragile love flowered in the vast, desolate,empty Yorkshire moors between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. The latter was adopted by Mr. Earnshaw, the master of the manor, Wuthering Heights but was hated and ill treated by his son, Hindley. His daughter, Catherine, on the other hand, soon became friends with him after her father’s death and because of Hindley’s tyrannical transformation thereafter. Heathcliff soon fell in love with her because of the care and affection she bestowed upon him that no one else in the family or neighbourhood ever did. However, Catherine’s reluctance to marry Heathcliff shattered him and turned him into a diabolical man set out to ruin everyone and everything. However, he remained steadfast in his love and even more so in his revenge.

This story told as a flashback  by the housekeeper, Ellen Dean, to the Heights’ new tenant, Mr. Lockwood, is none other than ‘Wuthering Heights’ written by Emily Bronte which is a classic love story

that many, if not all, voracious readers will recognize. Bronte gives the reader a look into the twisted, cruel nature of love which for many readers will be a bitter pill to swallow. The novel does not exalt the emotion of love or the two lovers and does not portray love as a goody-goody thing that magically resolves everything. It provides grim picture of love and a plethora of disturbing characters who are warped in their narrow, small lives. The portrayal of the anti-hero Heathcliff is marvellous. There is also a lovely blend of the surroundings with the story. Its almost as if the nature of the novel’s setting-the moors-seeps into the storyline, making it as sad and desolate as itself.

Emily Bronte’s bold exploration of the dark side of love and the pressures of society on it is commendable. She does not idealize love but rather projects an almost real picture of the misfortunes of falling in love without heed to the norms of status and society. Therein perhaps lies the reason for the book’s popularity till today. Its depiction of the tragic love is surpassed by few authors.

‘Wuthering Heights’ is undoubtedly an unconventional love story with almost nothing positive about it except perhaps Bronte’s style of writing and Heathcliff’s undying love for Catherine.

The Forgotten India

Try and remember the feeling you get when you touch or see a family heirloom,smile at at old,mildewed photos of one’s ancestors,open an antique cupboard stocked with old, hardbound books or turn the fragile yellowing pages of those books. These actions unleash a sense of a bygone era,preserved so remarkably that you can feel it coursing through your very veins by the most mundane of actions like brushing your fingers through your great grandmother’s necklace or running your fingers on the spine of an old book of poetry. For many people, the past is living with them through people or through certain artifacts. For others, it is completely dead and thus doesn’t matter. It represents different things for different people:pleasure, nostalgia,joy, passion,charm,love,heartache,anger,resentment,hatred…the list is exhaustive.

For Attia Hosain,it was meant to be remembered and written about. Her only novel, ‘Sunlight On A Broken Column‘ celebrates the past-a harmonious life in an undivided India. The novel elaborately describes a past which Attia has lived in and talks about the changes that her particular lifestyle experienced. The story reveals the ways of a bygone world which she lived in and through the written word, Attia has managed to preserve it and let the future generation know about it.

The story of ‘Sunlight On A broken Column‘ is set in Lucknow of the pre-independence era. Laila is the protagonist and the reader sees everything through her eyes. Laila belongs to a taluqdar family which is steeped in tradition,customs and religion. Since they belong to the feudal system, her family is undoubtedly rich and is rooted in Indian culture and strives to preserve it. The story begins with Laila’s grandfather, Baba Jan’s death and how it brings about certain changes in their family.

There is a prominent clash among the older and younger generation. The former gives utmost priority to duty to family,respect for elders, honour etc.. Whereas the latter, influenced by the independence movement as well as liberal education always question it. This clash is at its height when close to the independence, their feudal system, the very tradition and culture they rigidly followed for generations and for centuries was threatened.

There is not much of a plot but simply a chronicle of the lifestyle of the feudal system and the general atmosphere of those times. This chronicle is refelcted through Laila’s perception. The reader sees the world then as she saw it-when she was a pre-teen, a teenager, and later on as a wife and a mother.

Hence the mood of the novel is very nostalgic. It tries to resurrect the charm of those good old, undivided days when everything was in its proper place. It can even be called an intricate study in nostalgia. Attia Hossain’s writing is also marvelous. It is utterly delicate,sensitive and very descriptive. The reader also meets myriad,interesting characters from all walks of life.

Since, ‘Sunlight On A Broken Column‘ is very much descriptive, the pace is very slow and the story seems to be going nowhere. Attia Hossain tries to condense all aspects of those times in 300 odd pages which raises the question whether the story or the rambling descriptions take the plot forward.

Despite this, it is quite fascinating to read about life when feudalism existed,when respect and honour were obeyed to death, when Hindus and Muslims lived united  and peacefully, when society depended upon a master/taluqdar and laborer/peasant relationship to survive, when women lived in one part of the house and when traditions and rituals were religiously followed.

Attia Hossain brings to life all these and several more aspects of feudalism. This is perhaps the reason why her novel is titled so. She is trying to put light on a section or column of history that is not only forgotten but also broken.

Elephants and Actresses

The queen of crime strikes again with two easy to read detective novels-‘Elephants Can Remember‘ and ‘Lord Edgware Dies.’ Both are a thrill to read and have trademark Agatha Christie elements and both are Poirot novels. However, the former is rather predictable.Perhaps this comes from having read several Christie novels.

Elephants Can Remember‘ rakes up an old case of a double suicide of the Ravenscrofts. The police had declared that the husband and wife had perhaps entered a suicide pact and either could have killed the other and then oneself.  However, the godmother to their daughter, Mrs. Oliver, an esteemed detective writer herself, is asked by Mrs. Burton Cox at a literary luncheon whether it was the mother or the father that had committed the crime. This query seems initially very trivial and unnecessary but gradually gets Mrs. Oliver’s grey cells rolling as well. She gets her friend Hercule Poirot to help and relies on all her acquaintances who might have known the Ravenscrofts to help her find out what really happened between the doomed couple. The novel looks into the past  and relies on the memories of ‘elephants’ to solve this peculiar case. An interesting aspect of ‘Elephants Can Remember‘ is that Mrs. Oliver is a writer in general and a detective novelist at that. Also, the play on elephants is quite amusing.

Lord Edgware Dies‘ has all the essential things one needs for a mystery-money, love, marriage, the film community, the rich and famous and plenty of motives for murder. One day, Lord Edgware is found murdered and his wife and famous actress, Jane Wilkinson, is suspected because not only did she the night before claim that she would have no qualms about killing him but the butler of the Lord’s house recognized Jane entering the house. In fact, Jane  announced herself and went into Edgware’s room that very night. The police are cocksure about the case being very straightforward. However, the one glitch is that Jane was present at a dinner party that very night. How could she be at two places? The plot begins to boil and thicken with two more murders and a chance remark comes to the rescue of Poirot’s flummoxed grey cells.

Taken from openlibrary.org

They may not be her best work but are a breezy read nonetheless. All Agatha Christie, Poirot and detective novel fans will love them. And if any reader is smart enough, she/he can easily predict the killer in both the books. The suspense is much muted and even though the reader will most probably not be hanging at the edge of their seat, ‘Elephants Can Remember‘ and ‘Lord Edgware Dies‘ are bound to be good reading companions to while away the time or when one has absolutely nothing to do!