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Step into the world of leukoderma and understand it complexity, problem and the various Indian superstitions revolving around it. Before you groan and go away, let me tell you that this isn’t a book a la ‘Emperor Of Maladies'(though I am told it is a fascinating book) but rather a fictional story of the struggles that a woman suffering leukoderma faces. ‘Mahashweta‘ by Sudha Murthy, from the synopsis at the back and the glittering praise from well established newspapers, promises to be a unique read that delves into the suffering of a disease that afflicts many but doesn’t find its way in the stories. Unfortunately, the novel fails to live up to those promises for which there are many reasons to which we will get back to later on.

Mahashweta‘ is aptly dedicated to women suffering from leukoderma and urges them to fight and not be oppressed by their disease. The story begins on a congratulatory note with the birth of a girl child which is a means to establish the single status of Dr. Anand-the successful, handsome and rich doctor- who helped give birth to the baby girl. Later while at his work, Anand is coaxed into buying a Rs. 1000 ticker for a play he has no idea about by the ‘incomparable’ Anupama. The play is a love story between Mahashweta and Pundalik and is part of the book ‘Kadambari’ written by Bhana Bhatta. Anupama plays the heroine and as expected Dr. Anand is mesmerized by her beauty and acting skills. After a few irrelevant incidents, they both get married(how predictable!) despite the difference in their economic status. It is only after marriage that Anupama develops a white patch and it begins to spread despite her clandestine treatment. When  her mother-in-law realises this, all hell breaks loose. She accuses Anupama of having tricked her son into marrying him and begins to consider her inauspicious because of leukoderma. She eventually returns to her father’s house, disgraced. Her evil stepmother’s taunts and ill treatment just worsens the situation. To top it all, Dr. Anand- being a doctor at least should know that leukoderma is nothing but a disease and not something that turns a person inauspicious-also does not support Anupama and abandons her when she needed him the most. Anupama, however, does not let the circumstances get the better of her. She bravely decides to go to Mumbai, away from her callous family and in-laws, to eke out a living and carve a place of her own free from any pain, stigma and stereotypes. She is quite successful is achieving her dreams and standing proudly on her own two feet.

Mahashweta‘ is a conventional story of the suffering bravely overcoming their difficult trials and tribulations. The only redeeming aspect of the story comes at the end when Anupama decides to remain her own master and be economically independent rather than being bound by someone else’s rules and regulations. Other than this, the novel as a whole is marred by a fragmented narrative, dollops of stereotypes, amateurish writing, no smooth narration and a very soap operatic treatment of the entire story. In fact, I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that ‘Mahashweta‘ is a soap opera in prose style as it has all the prerequisites of one-the constant preoccupation with marriage, the evil mother-in-law and sister-in-law twist, the evil stepmother convention, the too good to be true daughter-in-law who suffers silently, the narrow minded and religious focus of the story at time and the list is endless.

While Sudha Murthy does take up a relatively lesser known disease to tell her story, she does not break any new ground on it as the entire novel is steeped in too many stereotypes particularly about girls and marriage. For eg, on the first page itself, the nurse who assisted in the birth of the girl ponders over how the female child is stronger at birth than the male but later on becomes the one who suffers. The nurse attributes this as being ‘a fact of life’ which is not really true because being feminine or masculine is not a fact of life but rather a cultural construct. The system of patriarchy conditions women to expect suffering in their life. Anything that is exploited or oppressed is associated with the female sex. For eg. it is ‘mother’ earth and never ‘father’ earth. The novel is replete with such redundant stereotypes. Murthy may have wished to challenge them but she does not do a good job as she merely states them with no attempts at challenging them much like any commonplace Indian soap opera.

Moreover,her writing does not have the emotional depth that is perhaps required in such a sensitive story. Most of her attempts at philosophy(through Anupama) are also blunt and shallow.

Although, ‘Mahashweta‘ educates the reader about leukoderma and the debilitating superstitions that even ‘educated’ Indians follow, the novel becomes a drag to read. It reveals the hypocrisy of the Indian society in their attitudes to leukoderma but does not do so in a profound, erudite and  personal manner.

Final Verdict: It is best to skip ‘Mahashweta‘ altogether. If you really want to know more about leukoderma, then contact you nearest dermatologist. Or if you don’t have the time, then just click here to know more!

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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.

Music is the universal language of mankind.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Which is why when it is intertwined with the written word, music helps to express what alone words could not.
Music dripping with the heartache of a rash mistake in love,music bubbling with pure passion and reaching ethereal heights. All this and more defines Vikram Seth’s novel, ‘ An Equal Music.’ It is steeped with Seth’s intense love for music and his love for literature. Both these loves merged splendidly together make this musical novel a beautiful love story of love lost and found and ephemerally cherished.

Though, ‘An Equal Music‘ is a masterful book,the plot is quite conventional. A violinist in his 30s named Michael is part of a string quartet, Maggiore Quartet. He lives in London and one day he accidentally sees Julie,the girl he loved 10 years ago and whom he left back in the days when they were music students in Vienna. This coincidence raises Michael’s hopes for reigniting their love and a string of events-Julie coming to meet Michael after one of his concert performances,she dropping in his apartment, their walks in the park-do just that(much to Michael’s pleasure). However, ten years is too big a gap to fill out by mere walking in the park.There are several changes in their lives that constantly keep altering the love affair they both find themselves in. These anecdotes of love are suffused with fine touches of soft musical notes,fugues and pieces of great musicians like Mozart, Schubert,Bach etc. that defines and even takes their fragile love forward. Apart from this love story, the plot revolves around the music of Maggiore Quartet-their trials and tribulations as well as the lives and relations of its musicians.

Seth’s poignant writing is bound to take the reader on a lovely musical journey as grand as any classical concert itself. However such brilliant writing cannot hide away the predictability of the story at the start. This can be forgiven because of the utter sensitivity,hope,loss and fragmentation that shines through which is not exactly unique but can hardly be called cliched either.
The plot in general tends to peter out and become too self indulgent. and tends to revolve around Michael alone for a large part of the story. This snatches from the novel the accolade of being completely perfect. Another negative aspect is the overuse of music jargon. Seth definitely has a wholesome knowledge of music but throwing a barrage of musical terms on an ignorant reader(like me) can sometimes take away the pleasure of enjoying the music depicted in words rather than increasing it.
Other than that,the novel is pure magic and a divine concert of love. Ending on an exalted note that states the importance of letting love go sometimes, ‘An Equal Music‘ does what most love stories fail to do:end on a bittersweet note with Bach’s glorious music that lingers on even after the cover is closed. Perhaps this lingering memory can create an awareness of the potential and power of keeping love alive without having to constantly assert it and even create an everlasting love for beautiful classical music.
I’ve learned what ‘classical’ means. It means something that sings and dances through sheer joy of existence.
Gustav Holst
Perhaps like Holst, one may learn to appreciate its existence too.

‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ written by Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi is a beautifully conjured novel, a moving tale of singular people and their extraordinary lives.

Taken from scholarswithoutborders.in

The novel begins in the early 1900s’ with Anuradha’s story. She is going from her hometown Udaipur to Mumbai to meet Vardhaman Gandharva, a potential marriage partner. Just when it seems that things may not work out, Vardhaman openly admits his love for her and they predictably get married. Their love blossoms splendidly like a lovely flower. However, later, an unforeseen tragedy strikes them both tearing them asunder and changing Vardhaman irrevocably. Anuradha goes back to Udaipur where she dabbles and masters over the music and the wondrous songs that are an integral part of her soul. In the course of this stay, she meets other extraordinary people like Nandini who is an unusual artist and an even unusual woman having her own tragic tale. Will Anuradha and Vardhaman overcome the tragedy that ripped them apart? Will their love blossom fruitfully once again or will it be lost forever?

‘The Last Song of Dusk’ abounds with comparisons which increases the depth of the emotions, thoughts, situation etc., helps in understanding it better. The novel is replete with romanticized descriptions. Sanghvi has a very flowery style of writing. He infuses great grandeur and oodles of opulence not only in the story’s setting but also in the copious descriptions. Everything in the novel is exquisite. There is great abundance whether it is the character’s emotions, the royal settings of Udaipur or British city of Bombay or just the  physical beauty of a human. Everything is made out to be insanely beautiful and he uses exquisite words and expressions to convey that beauty to the reader. For eg, pashmina of exquisite remembrances. (pg. 80). There are instances of magic realism suffused in the story. Sanghvi has also made music an important part of the story. It is manifested literally in the many songs, symphonies and musical instruments that are described. There is also a certain kind of vibrant and even melancholic musicality in Sanghvi’s writing that is hard to miss or dislike.

There are certain sexist stereotypes that the books has-like Anuradha’a need for marriage, the tiffs between her and her mother-in-law etc.  Granted that the book is set in the 1900s’ where woman were treated inferior but if Anuradha can be bold enough to leave her husband’s house, Sanghvi should have been bold enough to write something more than the overemphasized importance of marriage in a woman’s life.

Leaving that one negative point aside, ‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ is undoubtedly a marvelous debut that spins together a lavish, grand love story that is bound to charm any reader. It is not the usual tale of love and sorrow, of man and a woman being in love, being happy, having troubles and reconciling them. It is much more as it infuses a portrayal of different sides and aspects of that one ubiquitous emotion called love. The novel reflects and gradually reveals layers and layers of that emotion between Anuradha and Vardhaman and other characters too like their son-Shloka or Nandini’s  idea of love and safety etc. The reader, if attentive enough, can easily pick on these ideas, learn that love can have two sides just like anything else and know that it can teach us all one lesson or two.

Its a poignant love story that depends on the stark emotions for its narration; its beauty, its invulnerability, its vulnerability, its magic, its pain and countless other things. It is  painfully beautiful, musical and aptly touches the right chord in the reader’s heart. ‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ is one story that will be in the reader’s heart long after its been perused.

 

‘Love Story’ by Eric Segal is a famous romance bestseller. Its an unusual love story with bouts of unusual romance coupled with a touch of sadness. It is a short book, almost a novella and can be read in no time.

Taken from hachette.com.au

Oliver Barrett IV is a descendant of a rich, old family and he is a Harvard student who wants to pursue a career in law. Oliver falls in love with an ordinary(read no heritage and poor) girl studying in Radcliffe, Jeniffer Cavilleri. They plan to eventually get married which causes Oliver’s father to disinherit him. After marriage, its difficult to earn money but they pull through. However, a tragedy cuts this pretty love story short.

The good thing about ‘Love Story’ is that Eric Segal does not make the two protagonists fall in love in a cliched manner-like love at first sight or the guy doing the most chivalrous things or making disgusting promises to woo the girl. Its a quick romance with a few swear words thrown in(Its amazing how profanity can be romantic in ‘Love Story’). I have never seen a romantic novel where swear words and insulting each other contributes to building up the love between a girl and a guy!

Its written from a male perspective which I think is rare as most love stories have a woman’s point of view or have a woman as the narrator.

The book’s length is an advantage and a disadvantage simultaneously. On one hand ‘Love Story’ makes for a short read. But it is this short length that doubles up as a disadvantage too because it does not allow depth in the story and in the characters. It almost becomes a breezy, unmoving read because there is not much descriptions about either Oliver’s or Jeniffer’s feelings or their relationship.

Too much use of American slang also creates a casual effect, not a deep one . It feels like it is not a profound love story but rather just an ordinary one. The short length and slang usage contribute in diluting the sadness at the end of the novel.

The last word-‘Love Story’ is no doubt a good romantic read but it is definitely not the best. Its only a one time read!

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