A lot of kids have grown up on crime thrillers or mystery novels written for kids and teens like Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton’s popular series Famous Five and Secret Seven and scores of other books. Tons of Indian kids have also been hooked by these writers and their young detectives. There are many Indian writers also who write detective stories for children as well yet they don’t seem to be very popular as compared to the ones written by the foreign writers.  Not many know that one of India’s best film maker, Satyajit Ray, also penned a number of detective stories and created one of his own sleuths, the famous Feluda who would go around solving mysteries with his nephew Tapesh and later on Lalmohan Ganguli.

Satyajit Ray began writing these stories for the Bengali children’s magazine, Sandesh. The first story was titled Danger In Darjeeling and was published in 1965. Thereafter, there was no looking back. Feluda became very popular with its young Bengali readers and Ray wrote at least one story every year. In all, 35 Feluda stories were published from 1965-1996.

Enough about facts, now down to the review. The Penguin Publications came out in 2004 with a definitive two volume edition, The Complete Adventures of Feluda which contains all the stories. So whether you were hooked on to these stories as a kid and want to relive them now or simply love detective stories, these volumes are a must have. Translated from Bengali by Gopa Majumdar, they are chronologically arranged and show the progress of Feluda as a detective along with the marked progress in Ray’s writing too. The initial stories are simple and childish but later on the plots become more dangerous, complex and twisted. The characters become more fully etched and we come to learn more about this beloved detective’s personality-that he is a knowledgeable person, a voracious reader and a very talented man.

The detective’s real name is Pradosh C. Mitter and his nickname is Felu. His nephew’s name is Tapesh who Felu lovingly called Topshe. The suffix ‘da’ is used as a mark of respect when addressing an elder brother. The first volume has 16 stories which are very entertaining and exciting. It is a treat for any fan of crime fiction. Ray’s language is simple and lucid and keeping in mind the primary audience for his stories, he kept them clean and with minimal violence. Reading the Feluda stories doesn’t just proffer its readers dollops of thrill and fun but also a tour of India and an insight into the life the Indian people in those decades. In Volume 1 itself, the trio travelled from Jaisalmer to Lucknow, from big cities like Bombay to small places like Gosiapur, from Shimla to Gangtok and many more places. These stories do not just tell a tale of adventure and crime but take the reader on a journey across India.

Narrated by Feluda’s own Watson-Topshe, these stories connected easily with its teenage audience. Ray was a self professed lover of crime fiction and had read all the Sherlock Holmes story. It is therefore no wonder that those stories provided an inspiration to him and became a reference point for the format and style of his own detective stories. We see a little bit of Ray reflected in Feluda’s personality as well. Often his views are similar to those of the great film maker.

These stories are a great read and quite informative as well. They are a wholesome read for everyone.

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Amidst the hullabaloo of Edward Snowden’s revelations of the US government snooping on its own citizens and those of foreign countries, George Orwell’s 1984 has been mentioned countless times and how he was right in predicting the government’s role of the Big Brother. Another author depicted a dystopian future wherein the government had a different sort of control over you-controlling your violent instincts. While the government spying on one’s phone calls, emails, social networking data is not a comforting feeling, the government actually controlling how you behave is even more disconcerting.

Clockwork Orange, a novel by Anthony Burgess, explores precisely this aspect of control. Alex, the anti-hero of the novel, is a the narrator and refers to himself as “Your Humble Narrator.” He narrates his and his pals’ violent escapades in a nameless town where such violence by teens is rampant. They engage in brutal violence-assaulting, stealing, beating and sexual violence during the night. On one such escapade, Alex and his gang decide to rob a single woman living with dozens of cats. However, the plan goes awry as Alex’s usual ruse of acting like a wounded boy and fooling the woman to open the door fails. He then goes through the window and threatens her but the old woman isn’t frightened so easily. She seems to get time to call the police and eventually in a fight, Alex gives a fatal blow. The police picks him up and he is shunted to the prison for a good 14 years. It is here Alex learns of a miraculous technique that will reform him quickly and let him get out of jail in no time. The prison chaplain, the only decent person around, warns of this so-called-miraculous Ludovico Technique and of its ethical ambiguity. Due to a turn of events, Alex is eventually subjected to this technique which is torturous in its own way and has terrible consequences for our Humble Narrator.

Written in the “Nadsat” language, which is the lingo used by the teens of that world, Clockwork Orange is a gruesome look at the politics of control and surveillance and raises questions about the need for an individual to have a choice in the way s/he behaves. Ludovico Technique essentially conditions Alex to have sickening feelings for anything related to violence. It ‘cures’ him of his bad behaviour by leaving him with no choice but to be good because being bad or even thinking of violence entails a rising of aversion in him. Burgess cleverly shows how the government’s method of reducing crime by relying on such ethically questionable techniques is not a foolproof method but only raises more problems rather than resolving them. For example, if Alex is faced with a situation where he has to defend himself he is absolutely helpless since he cannot resort to violence as he has been conditioned to be averse to it.

To complicate the plot further, Alex after being ‘cured’ is used by certain individuals for their own personal gains-namely to show that the present government is using such brutal techniques in the reduction of crime. Alex becomes a trophy prize over which politically motivated parties and individuals tussle, leaving behind the core of the problem-if the Ludovico Technique is not morally correct and the usual punishment of imprisonment also fails, then how exactly to reduce the rate of crime and violence in a world where youngsters are increasingly setting up sub cultures of crime and violence.

Clockwork Orange doesn’t answer those questions outright. Instead the story explores the ideas of the nature of evil and if it is really possible for the government to control the individual’s violent inclinations and urges through conditioning techniques. The book shows how the government treats people like machines, like ‘clockworks’ that can be tweaked to make a better, crime-free society. We have already seen in the 20th and 21st centuries how the media has been effectively used to tweak people’s way of thinking and getting their support on certain politically important matters (For eg, it is thanks to the relentless media proclamations of US’ war on terror that the entire globe sees the Middle East as merely a part of the world crawling with terrorists out to attack America while completely disregarding their own unique culture. Closer home, the media is often used in India to mobilise people’s opinion for the ambiguous notions of ”development” and “growth” while cleverly trying to put down all those who clash against these ideas). It is not just the media alone, mainstream culture-whether it is books, movies or art-all are effectively used by the government to mould people’s opinions for or against something. Therefore, it is perhaps not far away that the governments all over the world will be able to control its citzens’ behaviour. And that would indeed be a scary prospect.

Though small in size, Clockwork Orange may not be a breeze to read thanks to the “nadsat” words that Burgess uses which can be understood only by referring to the glossary every once in a while. It can be frustrating because while you want to get on with the story(which moves at a good pace), you have to pause and find out the meanings first but be patient and it will definitely be worth it. It will take time to accustom yourself to the language but once you are attuned to it, it will be an easy and enlightening read. Try and read this one-it is relevant and will always be because no government has come close to curbing violence among its people. So while you figure out what “droog”, “carmen”, “chasha,” malchick,” ‘mesto” etc mean, don’t forget to also ponder over the subtexts of the story.

‘Orlando’ may not be Woolf’s most famous novel but it certainly is her most fun and playful novel. While her other works can be tough to peruse, require a lot of concentration and have been viewed as tedious and heavy reads, ‘Orlando’ is an enjoyable read. It seems as if Woolf was taking a break from all her other ‘heavy’ novels to write something ‘light’ and so she penned Orlando. This however does not entail that the novel is a mere story with nothing in terms of depth and meaning. On the contrary Woolf uses her story to make comments on a number of aspects of her society. First and foremost, the novel was written to underline the issue of how the female sex was denied any rights of inheritance. Her friend and lover, Vita Sackville West, who came from a prestigious lineage was denied the inheritance of her ancestral Knole House on account of her being a woman. Woolf highlights this and several other aspects in her novel.

Orlando is the name of the protagonist of the novel and many critics have asserted that Orlando is modeled after Vita herself who at the end of the story is able to inherit his lands. The novel is truly modernist in its approach as it uses the idea of the fluidity of time which is the main crux of the novel. Modernists were fascinated with deconstructing the notions of time and its linearity. Consequently, ‘Orlando’ spans four centuries with the protagonist living through various time periods. The time periods are also distinctly described in terms of literary periods. The story starts in the Elizabethan Age with Orlando, a man, who owns vast lands and a huge house and has the privilege of gaining an audience with the Queen herself and ends in 1928. In the four centuries, Orlando falls in love with a Russian princess, becomes a successful Ambassador in Constantinople, writes a novel-Oak Tree, gets it published, meets his literary idols in cafes and undergoes one important change (which if revealed can be a spoiler) that Woolf uses to state the ideas of bisexuality and also gets married among other things. For literature fans, the novel is a fun ride through the various ages, like studying the background of English Literature but in a cool way rather than in a the drab manner of reading up a Daiches or Boris Ford volume. It gives a sweeping survey of the literary periods of English literature but also critiques them simultaneously. The quirky character, Nick Greene, is an author but also a pompous critic who Orlando meets in the Elizabethan Age and then in the Victorian Age but his manner of appreciating the older works rather than the contemporary ones does not change over the centuries. For example, in the Elizabethan Age, he mocked Shakespeare and Marlowe while extolling the Greek writers and their works. He termed the latter as ‘great’ and the former as just a shadow of the latter’s greatness. However, in the Victoria Age, he calls the Elizabethan Age as having produced great literature and the Victorian Age as being wishy washy in the literature it produces. Woolf uses Nick Greene cleverly to prick the hallowed literary canon and to show that what constitutes ‘great’ works is rather subjective and fickle.

Apart from contradicting ideas of male inheritance and taking a jibe at literary tradition, Woolf’s ‘Orlando’ is also very English in its essence. The importance of home, one’s roots, one’s land is highlighted in subtle ways. The work that Orlando writes, ‘Oak Tree’ is itself a symbol of that. Moreover, his sense of Englishness comes through when he is ambassador in Constantinople where he adores the foreign and exotic but also longs for English landscapes. The novel does have hues of the English pride and a respect for British imperialism.

Overall, ‘Orlando’ is a cheerful and lively read and even if you have a love-hate relationship with Virginia Woolf or hate her outright, this novel should not be given a miss.

Today, Mumbai is obsessed with skyscrapers. The illusion among officials running the city is that high rises (that like its name also have high prices) with kitschy colours or made of crystal clear glass will help the city achieve that elusive status of ‘world class.’ No matter that half the population still lives without access to basic amenities like clean drinking water, proper toilets etc; as long as the city has the veneer of being world class, the have nots be damned. Redevelopment is the norm nowadays and a redevelopment of Dharavi is also on the cards; now whether this move is truly to uplift the people and give them better homes or just a ruse to make available vast tracts of land for greedy land developers is for the experts to decide. What is being missed out in this race for constructing tall buildings in the hope of emulating the Western ‘world class’ cities (remember the program of transforming Mumbai into Shanghai?), is that Mumbai is also home to numerous clusters of chawls, bungalows, smaller buildings, heritage areas that are being slowly effaced from the face of the city.

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, when the fad of high rises was still a distant dream, it was the chawls that dominated the topography of the city with just a few multi storeys towering over them. Kiran Nagarkar’s novel,’Ravan and Eddie‘ capture that time of Bombay by chronicling the story of the two boys of the title who grow up in the Central Works Department (CWD) chawls in Byculla. Set in the 1950s, the novel is a tongue-in-cheek tale that traces the two boys’ growth as they try and overcome the hurdles of living in the chawls and their own set of familial troubles.

The No.17 CWD chawl in which the two boys reside are themselves neatly divided on the basis of religion: on one floor live the Hindus and the other the Roman Catholics. The novel starts with the dramatic birth of Eddie Coutinho with his mother, Violet, in the ambulance just minutes after she lost her husband, Victor, whose only claim to fame in the novel was being infatuated by Parvatibai, Ravan’s mother and dying while trying to save him. Thus Eddie is born fatherless but with Father Agnelo by his side at the time of his birth. The novel then meanders its way snidely and gradually as both the boys grow up hating each other;one accusing the other of killing his father, the other believing in the truth of the accusation and finally convincing himself to be a killer. From Eddie’s dabbling in Hinduism, to Ravan’s tiffs with her mother, from Eddie selling black tickets of ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ to Ravan receiving letters requesting him to kill some irascible person in their lives, from the unending work of Parvatibai to Violet’s mum acting matchmaker for her, from Father Agnelo’s constant reprimands to Eddie to Ravan’s dad, Shankar’s unemployment, from the saga of the nine Sarang girls to the saga of Ravan’s mysterious lecherous aunt, ‘Ravan and Eddie‘ is a hilarious, bawdy post-colonial novel that will transport the reader to the very corridors of the chawls that have been so vividly recreated in the story

As much as, ‘Ravan and Eddie‘ is about the two boys, it is also about the life in the chawls and moreover, a subtle critique of the condition of independent India’s urban areas. The numerous digressions that interrupt the imaginative narrative are telling comments on the tough life of the people there. Kiran Nagarkar captures both the joviality of their lives along with their hardships with the digressions such as, ‘The Great Water Wars’ and ‘A Harangue on Poverty’ breaking the illusion of a problem free, happy, independent India. There are several other digressions that talk about other quintessential aspects of Indian life and don’t necessarily try and burst the safe bubble of independent India. What they have in common is a sarcastic and snarky tone that succeeds in making a point.

The overall tone of the entire novel is cheeky and sarcastic. Nagarkar’s writing is concise, to the point and doesn’t wander away unnecessarily. Like the hustle and bustle of the city and its chawls, ‘Ravan and Eddie‘ is also a bustle of incidents that are crammed into 330 odd pages that leave you in a huff and puff as you try and take in all the delights, adventures and troubles of the variety of people populating the story.

Go grab a copy and immerse yourself in a world where high rises just don’t exist and where chawls were not an eyesore but a living, breathing microcosm of the city.

What do you do when your life’s story cannot be told within the confines of the autobiographical genre? Its simple, you create a complete new genre to depict your life. Genres are anyway just constructed categories to arbitrarily fit works of literature into water tight compartments leaving no room for them to be seen as fluid, independent works.

ZamiAudre Lorde did the exact same thing when she wrote, ‘Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name.’ It is an autobiographical text. But she coined the term, ‘biomythography’ to describe the book. In an interview, Lorde herself defined the term as having, ‘the elements of biography and history of myth. In other words, it’s fiction built from many sources. This is one way of expanding our vision.’ Further, Ted Warburton defined it as, ‘the weaving together of myth, history and biography in epic narrative form, a style of composition that represents all the ways in which we perceive the world.’ These two definitions are the best ways to define the ‘genre’ of ‘Zami: A…’

In the book, Lorde examines her life with all its ups and downs by intertwining incidents of her life with elements of the world around her. It is not just a retelling of a life, but a close examination of the life while also intermingling the historical aspects that might have affected her life. ‘Zami: A..” tells the story of a young Lorde who is a child of hard working black immigrants from Granada, living in New York in the 1940s/50s.. The earlier part of the book focuses on her childhood  and teenage years. The book is not the usual run of the mill bildungsroman type but rather a book that fuses the elements of poetry, fiction, autobiography, history and myth to tell an intricate story of her life in New York, in Harlem and later on when she moves to other places like Mexico. Throughout the narrative, Lorde has  juxtaposed the events in her life with significant events of American history such as the Great Depression, the World War II, the independence struggle of the British colonies, McCarthyism, the black freedom struggle etc. It gives you a sense of the larger world and a minute history lesson as well. It enables the reader to put the time frame in perspective. Through the lens of the broader events, Lorde reflects on her life, rethinks her political awakening, her understanding and acceptance of her sexuality, her femininity and her position as a minority in America. Her marginalisation creates in her a political impulse, a need to confront the mainstream hegemony on her own terms. Lorde chronicles her relationship with her family, their growing differences ideologically and otherwise, her numerous relationships with various women, her life in poverty, her life of constant struggle and pain, her close knit group of friends, the close sisterhood she developed as a student which enabled her to become independent and many other things.

Lorde admits in the book that is tough to be a coloured immigrant in Harlem, tougher to be a woman and even tougher to be a Black woman immigrant lesbian. She is a minority in all senses but throughout the book she never allows this to marginalise her further. She finds ways to deal with them and the best way is to accept her individuality. Instead of moping around about her minority status, Audre finds hope in many ways and one of the ways is through her community of female friends, companions, girlfriends, other politically like minded people etc. She never allows any of her pain to close herself to the world but rather reaches out to the world to find people like her and find solace and comfort which helps her to assuage her pain.

‘Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name’ is a tender yet tough look at the trials and tribulations Lorde faces as she grows up and comes into her own.

To read an e-version of the book, click here. 

Sources:

1) http://biomyth.wordpress.com/about/

2)http://www.queerculturalcenter.org/Pages/Gomez/GomezIntr.html

Image:

1)http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/395220.Zami

 

Some of the toughest questions in life remain unanswered. No matter how much you brood over them, twist and twirl them in your head, they just don’t seem to get solved. What’s worse is that they can get even more complicated and entangle your little head deeper and deeper into its mystery. Many real life people have broken their heads pondering over these tough questions. But this scenario is true of many literary characters as well-the most famous of them being Hamlet. He is ridden with thoughts of revenge but also conflicted with how to execute this task. And we will all unanimously agree that the question of revenge is undeniably a tough one. Revenge can prick your conscience, corrupt your soul, foster evil etc, but if your father’s ghost orders you to do it, then what can one do but carry out the task? Poor Hamlet was indeed in one problematic quandary.

For those who are not in the know, ‘Hamlet‘ by William Shakespeare is considered one of the greatest tragedies written by him. The play begins with a couple of guards on the night duty watch who come across a mysterious ghostly apparition while on duty. The latter doesn’t talk to them, doesn’t reveal anything to them. Horatio, one of Hamlet’s loyal friends, who witnesses this scene with the guards, then decides to inform Hamlet about the ghost. Till now, Hamlet is gravely mourning his father’s death and is greatly perturbed by his mother, Gertrude’s marriage to his uncle, Claudius, who is now the King of Denmark. Hamlet’s disgust with this incestuous relationship reveals itself in his first, masterfully delivered soliloquy. But when Horatio informs him about the ghost and Hamlet decides to see for himself what the apparition is, the play takes a turn because the ghost is none other than Hamlet’s father who tells him about the actual cause of his death(which was murder) and also instructs Hamlet to take revenge of his death. So now Hamlet is not just grief stricken but also burdened by an immense task and a knowledge of a murder that few are aware of. It is not easy to take revenge against a King who is comfortably on the throne with public support. Murdering the King would amount to treason and further, Hamlet himself is worried about the moral implications on his soul if he does commit the crime. Hamlet is thus very much alone in his dilemma. Everyone in the court (with the exception of Horatio) seems against him or plotting against him. Though he is swift in establishing the guilt of Claudius by staging the  play,The Murder of Gonzago, that also has a murder of the King by his brother by similar means, his inaction in carrying out revenge says a lot about his conflicted attitude towards the whole business of revenge. Does he finally carry out the task his father’s ghost set out for him? Or does he simply ruminate over it throughout the play without any conclusive answers being revealed to him? Now these are questions that can be solved if you read the whole play. If only Hamlet could have had such an easy way out of his conundrum.

Hamlet‘ is a thoroughly enjoyable play to read. Hamlet himself is a complex, many layered character. However, the entire play itself is constructed with much ingenuity to create Hamlet’s complexity of character. His inactivity is contrasted with both Laertes and Prince Fortinbras’ hot blooded desire to take revenge. The play has many sub plots as well-Hamlet’s love for Ophelia, Ophelia’s eventual madness, Polonius’ assumption about Hamlet’s madness, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s guise of friendship to get Hamlet to reveal his plans to them, the plot to kill Hamlet etc. ‘Hamlet ‘ is not a regular revenge tragedy which had flooded the Elizabethan and Jacobean literary periods. Instead, Shakespeare uses the themes of this genre to create a play that goes beyond the normative to create a character study, to show the influence of a corrupting society and court of Denmark on an individual, to show the politics and construction of power and many other aspects.

Melancholy and tragedies and brooding protagonists may not appeal to you any more in the 21st century, but ‘Hamlet’ has a universality in its story and themes that makes the play such an enjoyable and intellectually stimulating read. And here’s another reason to read the play: you can then boast about having read the oft quoted soliloquy, ‘to be or not to be,’ the famous fatherly advice by Polonius to his son, Laertes; Ophelia’s suicide which has been the subject of many paintings etc. and then pretend to be an intellectual.

Imagine living a particular way of life for quite some time and then gradually realising how you are actually quite dissatisfied with it. What’s worse is that no one else feels that you should be dissatisfied with that life at all. This discontent seems absurd to everyone else except you. No one quite understands your plight. This dilemma was faced by Edna Pontillier, the protagonist of Kate Chopin’s novel, ‘The Awakening.’ In the novel, she realises that she is nothing other than a role in the patriarchal society of the 1890s’ American South. This perturbs her as she desires to be viewed as something more than just a wife and a mother, but as an individual as well.

‘The Awakening’ was written in 1899 and is therefore a pre-feminist text which means that it was written in an era when the feminist impulse was not as strong as in the feminist era of the 1960s.’ It was therefore quite revolutionary to portray Edna as a woman discontented with her position in a privileged society. Edna is the wife of Mr. Leonce Pontillier who owns plantations and is a wealthy man who leads a life of privilege and luxury which also extends to Edna.  She leads a comfortable life with her children and husband in a friendly neighbourhood of New Orleans. On the surface, there shouldn’t be any problems in the privileged world of the Pontellier. Leonce is the bread winner as he should be and Edna is the care giver as is expected of her. All is going fine according to the dominant patriarchal discourse that clearly demarcates the roles for men and women. However, scratch the surface and Chopin gradually peels away the normalcy of the situation to expose the seeds of doubt and discontent that grows in Edna as a result of a number of incidents in the novel. She comes to realise her individuality and how she is more than a role and a possession. She sees all social ties as confining her to the prescribed roles. To perhaps escape this discontent she tries falling in love with Robert Lebrun, a friend of Mr. Pontellier. However, he is too conventional for Edna’s revolutionary thoughts and rebelliousness. He cannot help her get out of the despondency she faces over her dilemma to break free from her typical roles. Moreover, none of the women characters like Adele Ratignolle, Mademoiselle Reisz etc.  share her sense of discontent. They believe that is absurd to feel that way when one has all the comforts one needs in life. Edna can think of no solution to get past her curiously unique dilemma except one. To find out what it is, go pick up the book and enjoy.

‘The Awakening’ is remarkable in portraying a questioning, rebellious female protagonist who defies the strict norms and rules to chalk her own path out. It is truly commendable given the time period in which it was written to write about a woman’s ‘awakening.’ However, precisely because of that, the novel received a lot of flak from critics which forced Chopin to apologise and this huge mass of negative criticism also crushed her morale to a large extent.

Recently, the novel has been castigated for depicting the ‘awakening’ of only a white privileged woman and ignoring the plight of the countless, nameless coloured working women who made it possible for Edna to lead a privileged life. Edna does not view them as being fellow oppressed women but only as mere servants. They are not even visible to her as individuals. The critics have thus pointed out that the novel is from a white woman’s perspective only and cannot be viewed as representing the plight of all women.

Despite its flaws and its racial bias, ‘The Awakening’ is a worthwhile read which will give the reader a glimpse into the constricted lives of white women in the South at the time.  It is a short read which will hopefully make you appreciate the bold step Edna took in defying the societal norms. It is definitely worth one shot.

 

Teenage years have been stereotyped and clichéd by the media so much so that being a teenager means to have a strict set of homogeneous experiences which completely undermines the capacity of teens to be so much more. Books have long fed into this fascinating stereotyped teenage experience-they have from time to time talked about teenage love, teenage angst, teenage rebellion etc.  ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky cannot be classified as just another book about teens as it uniquely reinforces as well as breaks many teen related stereotypes.

The most striking part of ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is the epistolary style of the book. Who associates teens with letter writing any more?  Or even diary entries for that matter! But in a not so distant past of the 1990s’ when internet revolution had not yet occurred, letters and diaries weren’t seen as abnormal.

Jumping now to the story, ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is about Charlie-a shy introverted boy-who is entering high school with a lot of trepidation of being able to fit in and find the right friends along with other issues of his own. Charlie narrates his experiences through letters which he writes to an anonymous friend. He eventually is able to strike up a conversation with Patrick, a guy from his shop class, during a football game and Patrick introduces Charlie to the rest of his gang-Sam, Mary Elizabeth, Bob, Dave etc. Soon he is part of that gang and partying, doing drugs, dating-all the things the world thinks teens usually are up to all the time. Along with his good social circle, Charlie is also good in his English class and his teacher, Bill, gives him books to read outside of the syllabus. It becomes one mixed adventure for Charlie as he charts out his way through one year of high school with his friends and also comes to terms with the idiosyncrasies of his family and also his past. The story thoroughly relates the anguish of teens to meet the expectations of the experiences that they should necessarily have. The story talks of how those very experiences are good to have but there is so much more to a teenage life than that. It’s more about discovering who you are and the moments, no matter how fleeting they might be, that will be memorable and the friends and classmates that you would remember.

Charlie’s language in his letters is very simple and intimate. His statements are at times so facile yet so profound. They make you sit up and acknowledge the things you take for granted. There have been speculations that Charlie is an autistic in the novel which might explain his simplistic, emotional understanding of everything around him and his emotional responses as well. ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ also has this ability to touch upon the mundane and every day, daily activities in such a way as to show that it is these little things that make life worthwhile and meaningful. The time in which it is set is the 1990s’. It is thus refreshing to see teenagers who aren’t obsessed with their Facebook profiles or addicted to their cell phones. The 1990s’ was a time of cassettes, letters, typewriters and good music which is showcased brilliantly in the novel.  The other characters particularly Patrick, Sam and Mary Elizabeth are well etched out and have their own quirks and unique personalities. The novel also highlights that it is perfectly normal to be different and to have different experiences in your teenage years.

A let down of the book is the one-dimensional aspect of Charlie and his limited responses to every situation of his life.  For every good thing, he simple feels ‘happy’ never ‘joyous’, or ‘ecstatic’ or anything other than ‘happy’ and for every bad thing, he feels like crying. It is hard to reconcile with such neutral responses from such an apparently intelligent mind. Another negative aspect of the book is that it tries to cram in a lot of issues and concerns without any concrete resolutions for them. It talks about familial fragmentation, sibling rivalry, child sexual abuse, homosexual love, depression etc. all together. These are all floating around with nothing to tie them together with.

The film version of the same name which came out in 2011 is equally engaging and stays true to the plot and story perhaps because it is directed by the author himself. The actors have done a commendable job to bring the characters to life along with the book’s focus on the lasting impression the teenage years have on the self- discovery. The setting of the 1990s’ has also been wonderfully captured by the film.

The final verdict would definitely be to buy the book and catch the movie and perhaps it will make you rethink your teenage life or make you relive it.

Moliere is a 17th century French writer known for his satiric comedy plays. His plays-be it Tartuffe, The Misanthrope or The School for

Husbands-predominantly look at the French society of the time with a satiric lens.  In his Preface to the play Tartuffe, Moliere has specifically outlined that the function of comedy is to correct men and society’s faults. This was the prevailing view of comedy’s function among Western writers of the time.

The Misanthrope is also a much layered play which brings into question the hypocrisies of the artificial upper classes of 17th century French society. The play is about Alceste, who detests contemporary society and its ways and manners, and his love for the beautiful widowed Celimene. Alceste does not wish to follow any superficial manners and believes them to be a waste of time and anyone who blindly follows them always elicit bursts of anger and hatred from Alceste. Celimene, on the other hand, believes that it is important to follow the social conventions for one’s own gain. This creates a lot of tension between the two extraordinary lovers who are as different as fire and ice. Alceste’s friend, Philinte, tries his best to diffuse the tension and to make Alceste understand that being in constant argument with the social world and with mankind is detrimental. With this main plot, Moliere explores several questions-whether Alceste is really a misanthrope or is it someone else and if he is the former, then it is rather paradoxical that a misanthrope is in love with Celimene; whether it is worth to struggle with social norms and not accept them at all and several others. There are several sub plots as well such as the nascent love between Philinte and Eliante; the simmering relationship between Celimene and Arsinoe; Oronte’s sonnets and his suit against Alceste who insulted the former’s writing abilities etc.. Within these several layers are revealed the minute workings of the aristocratic class, their hypocrisies regarding human relations, their vanity, the position and status of women etc.

The Misanthrope is a fun play to read as it provides an acute analysis of the malaise of the times, which Alceste detested, in a light, comic manner. All the characters are colourful and rounded with their unique viewpoints. Their dialogues and mannerisms give the reader a glimpse into their personalities and ways of thinking.  Moliere is a master of satiric comedy and he invests The Misanthrope with several lines of thought and meaning which the reader can ponder over. Many critics have pointed out that Alceste’s character is based on Moliere himself and that his deteriorating relationship with Armande Bejart was the basis for Alceste’s relationship with Celimene. We can never know the truth, but only speculate. And while you speculate, do try and relate the play to our own contemporary hypocrisies as well. Happy reading!

No other person in Indian English literature is as closely associated and identified with the Partition as Sadat Hasan Manto. He has to his credits a novel, radio plays, essays, film scripts but he is synonymous with the Partition short stories he penned.

Penguin Books has recently come out with a collection of cheaply priced books-Penguin Evergreens. The few books in this collection are mostly (not necessarily) short stories by numerous Indian authors.  It also includes stories by Manto . The collection is titled-‘Toba Tek Singh: Stories by Sadat Hasan Manto, Translation by Khalid Hasan.’ It is quite commendable that Penguin has come out with easily affordable collection of short stories by renowned authors. This will hopefully make the Indian readers take up short stories by Indian writers.

There is a good variety of stories in this collection and are not confined only to the Partition. They deal with many subjects-Partition being one of them, human nature being another subject etc. His most famous stories like Toba Tek Singh, Colder Then Ice, The Dog Of Titwal etc., are included in this collection. Others may not be well known but are equally well written and give a startling glimpse into tender human moments or into the twisted human mind. The great advantage of short stories is that it can capture the boldest, the most essential and deliver it with a bang in a few words which immediately hits the reader. This advantage Manto exploited thoroughly to make his point to the readers. Toba Tek Singh is a brilliant example of how Manto comments on the issues of nationality and the futility of constructing them arbitrarily. Odour captures Randhir’s wistful reminiscences of a girl he met on a rainy day and how the peculiar odour she exuded completely enchanted him and how he searches for that in his bride. The Gift borders on the comic as it narrates the story of Shankar and how he cleverly dupes two prostitutes by giving them gifts that belonged to each other. Bitter Harvest is a poignant story of the manner in which hatred and violence can consume the best of friends leaving only animals raging with vengeance. A Woman For All Seasons is about the vagaries of fame and fate from the point of view of an actress. There are in all fifteen stories that will surely give you a fleeting glimpse of a range of societal mores and characters. These stories depict how Manto wrote about all subjects, all sorts of people-whether the hight, middle, low class etc. There shines an honesty and an ache for humanity in his stories. His approach to writing his not selective as he wrote about everything under the sun be it taboo subjects like sex, prostitution or sensitive topics like the Partition.

This Penguin Evergreen is sure to delight everyone. What may not be delightful is the simplistic translation by Khalid Hasan. It is too banal and often fails to capture the mood and feel of the story with the same bitterness that Manto suffuses them with. The only stories that felt like a good translation were Odour and The Dog Of Titwal. Others had something or the other lacking in them. They didn’t make you sit up and feel shocked. They somehow lulled you into numbness which is not a reaction to be elicited when reading a Manto story. The latter always makes you think and imposes on you a new idea, a new viewpoint that you are compelled to ponder over. This translation fails to do that. The reader will only be able to take a momentary pleasure from them and not a sustained, lingering and fresh perspective. I don’t have any other recommendations to read other translations as I have forgotten the translators’ names of whatever few stories I have read in different collections.  Recently in 2012 a collection, ‘Manto: Selected Short Stories’ was released and it is translated by Aatish Taseer. How good it is is yet to be ascertained. But it is worth giving it a shot.

Despite the translation flaws in ‘Toba Tek Singh: Stories by Sadat Hasan Manto’, it is worth picking it up (and not just because it’s cheap) as it will acquaint any reader with some of Manto’s works and his style of writing. Hopefully, this book will generate more interest in Manto’s writings.

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