Book Review: Bhima Lone Warrior

Bhima Lone Warrior
Bhima Lone Warrior by M.T. Vasudevan Nair
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If there’s one thing I’ve realised after reading M.T.Vasudevan Nair’s Randamoozham (English translation by Gita Krishnankutty) is that there is no one interpretation of the Mahabharata. There have been numerous re-tellings so far, from the PoV of so many characters and yet, every time I read it I come away with a different feeling and a different understanding of the characters. Like MT says in the Epilogue, the credit goes to the original author, Sage Vyasa – not just for what he said, but also for what he didn’t. The ‘silences he maintained’ in some parts were the places that future authors could interpret in their own way. And I can see now how it is that the same story can be told in so many different ways and still not sound repetitive. If anything, it only makes me want to read more versions of it.

Like all books translated from a language I know (Tamil, Telugu, Hindi or Malayalam), this one also started off with me feeling I’m getting a raw deal, to not be reading the original. The first few  chapters I struggled a little bit to shut out the constant comparison of the English words to the equivalent in Malayalam. But once I did that, I enjoyed the book immensely. The translator has done some justice to the work, without losing out too much of the poetry that would’ve been MT’s Malayalam version.

Bhima is a strange choice for a protagonist. The popular retellings do not pay too much attention to him – he’s overshadowed by Arjuna in terms of prowess and Yudhishtira with his claim to the throne. This is probably why Bhima’s PoV is a bit refreshing from the usual stories we read. Yudhishtira is shown in a completely different light and to an extent, so is Draupadi. But the surprising part was the portrayal of Krishna. MT has stripped off all traces of divinity from this retelling. Everyone is human. Mortal. Krishna, included. There is no flowing saree covering Draupadi’s shame during her disrobing by Dussasana. During the war, Krishna does not use his discus to block the sun, to bring Jarasandha out in the open. Not just that, Karna is not depicted with any permanent kavacha-kundalam. So the book comes off as a regular narrative, stripped off it’s divine and fantastical connotations. I guess this is what makes it a unique read, compared to the other versions of Mahabharatha.

I really would’ve loved to read this in Malayalam – maybe when the husband is in a good mood, I can coax him into reading out the good parts! ;-)

P.S.: Planning to read Prem Panicker’s translation soon.

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Bāhubali

Bahubali

Image courtesy – Google image search

Once in a long while there comes a movie that will take your breath away. That will have you tied up, heart and soul, in the narrative so much that when it ends and the lights come on, there’s a moment of complete disorientation and you wonder where the heck you are. You keep playing the scenes over and over again in your head and it feels real, every single time. To me, Bāhubali was THAT kind of a movie.

Let’s get some things out first which might have a bearing on my experience –
(a) I set foot in a movie theater yesterday after almost 3 years. [Yes, when a child happens, some other things don’t happen.]

(b) I have a thing for Prabhas and Rana [yep, both].

And (c) I’m a sucker for period films with all the silks and crowns and royalty and macho looking kings and princes. [I’m a living stereotype, eh?]

Now, I went for the movie with moderate expectations – my husband had seen it already and he wasn’t all amazed, so I knew better than to expect the sky and heavens above. But I loved it! Yes, there were some inconsistencies and imperfections. Yes, there are a lot of scenes that require turning off the logic and reason button in your brain. But hey, that’s what entertainment is to me. For the umpteenth time (on this blog), I don’t like to go watch a movie only to see reality there – I have enough of it in my real life. If we go with that attitude, this movie is such a treat.

On to the details (oh so many details!)

[SPOILER ALERT – I’ve laid bare almost all the good scenes and the general story line. Consider yourself warned of spoilers.]

Cast: Loved Rana. Loved him in ‘Leader’, but after the eye-candy phase ended, I realized he can’t really act. Didn’t watch any of his other movies after that, but much drooling happened over his photos. Prabhas was good too, but he looked a tad old. Maybe all that body building took a toll, who knows. Oh oh, that scene with lifting the Shivalingam? Oh. My. God. I’ll go watch the movie again just for that scene, yo. Anushka didn’t have a lot of screen time in Part 1 (apart from the initial shock-value scene when we first see her face) and I’m assuming they’ve kept her for Part 2. Tamannah – hmm, this one is tricky. She did a good job, but I felt she was the wrong choice for a warrior woman. Her ‘manly’ warrior walks, dialogues and expressions didn’t seem natural and in some places, I kind of felt she was overacting. Maybe a Nithya Menon or Anushka Shetty (the ‘Arundhati’ type role) would’ve been apt. Nasser, Ramya Krishna – class acts, both. Satyaraj – good to see him on screen after a while! He was every bit the Kattappa character and was a joy to watch. Have I got them all? Ok good.

Music: Loved the BGM – it’s the goosebumps inducing kind, especially the part where they show the Mayushmati city/fortress for the first time. The songs themselves were not so memorable. I can’t recollect a single tune or word even from the songs now. Maybe if I hear them again a couple of times? I’ll try. What I felt was the music in the songs ended up being contemporary, rather than match the period in which the movie is set – the instruments and the digital undertones didn’t sit well with the overall theme.

Art/Special effects/Cinematography: Win. Win. Win. You have to see it to believe it. Here’s what I tell everyone to please watch this in a theatre – not on a laptop, not on a tab and not on a TV. In a theatre. Please. You can thank me later.

Costumes: I might have been actually drooling (imagine a gaping mouth and a stunned expression on the face) over the silk and handloom ensembles. All those ikats and pochampallis and raw silks – I died and went to costume heaven. There’s this item song with 3 item girls – oh their ikat harem pants! Beautiful! It’s all I saw (stop sniggering, yo). And Prabhas’ waist coat type thingie too. Much deep sighing happened. Also, I hate my wardrobe (rather, what passes for one these days).

That said, there were some inconsistencies with the costume in the first half – when Prabhas scales the mountain, he reaches a place that’s snow covered. But the people living there are wearing cotton! Fail. Rajamouli could’ve used some leather for equally good effect (the colors were anyway browns and reds). Small thing, yes, but this kind of attention to detail is what makes a movie perfect.

Story: Let’s face it – it’s a formula film. Son separated from mother at birth, grows up as commoner and then comes back to save mommy and take the throne. We saw MGR do it in Adimai Penn, a million years ago. But I’m willing to ignore that fact because of the way it’s taken. And the reasons above.

Direction: Fairly good, in short. Like I said earlier, there are some little slips here and there that could’ve been done better. There’s an overall lack of attention to detail, I felt. And we really could’ve done without that ‘romantic’ bit where Prabhas is giving Tamanna an impromptu makeover – there are a lot of ways to show a man wooing a woman and this was a bit creepy, with the disrobing, tearing, etc. And at the end of the song she’s instantly in love with him? Yeah. But hey, suspension of disbelief. So, ok.

I enjoyed the movie more than I expected to. I’m not a big fan of war scenes, so I found the last 20 mins a bit of a bore – there’s only so much killing you can see in a movie, no? [I didn’t enjoy the Whitewalker-Crows battle in GoT Season 5 either!] And the big suspense in the last scene – yeah, I saw that last week in some idiot’s FB or Whatsapp update (if I remember who you are, you better run and hide in a cave across the seven seas!), so slightly bummed.

So, all said and done, I’d love to watch it a second time! :-) Those 3 hours inside, I was not on this Earth. That’s the kind of entertainment I love.

Now waiting for Part 2 in 2016. Not very happy, but what choice do we have eh? Add this to the ever-growing list of sequels (books and movies, both) that I’m forever waiting for.

The second snip

My son started nursery school 2 weeks ago. The first week was orientation and I was present with him throughout. He was fine. The second week he had to sit through 3 hours of school without me. He bawled his eyes out for the first 30 min every day. But he was ok. This week – yesterday was the same clinging-to-Amma’s-legs-and-crying routine. Today? Today he walked in like he owned the place, kept his bag in its place, looked at me and said, “Will you come back later, Ma?”. And when I said, “Yes, baby! I’ll come pick you up at 12!”, he turned and walked away to his friends and toys. Not another glance. His class teacher and I were gaping at each other wondering what the heck just happened.

And on the drive back home, I realized what just happened – the second snip on the umbilical cord. He’s spending a part of his time on his own, without me. Without his parents or his home. His first few tentative steps towards being himself.

Even though technically the cord is cut at birth, the way I see it, the first real snip was when I stopped nursing him. When my body no longer nourished his. When he had to eat and drink on his own, to nourish himself. His body and mine were no longer connected in any way. If I ate, that does not mean he got the nutrition anymore. The first few days I was actually apprehensive – is he getting enough food? Is that formula any good? What if he loses weight? You get the drift. But then I adapted (yes, me and not him). And before I knew it, there were a whole new bunch of challenges to face and milestones to celebrate. Like weaning him off the bottle. Like the first time he recited the entire Gruffalo book to an awestruck mother and father. And then came school.

After breaking our heads on a million different parameters and planning which banks to rob, we decided on a school and got the admission done. I was more nervous than him, trust me. Nervous mostly on how he would adjust without me. And then I looked at my husband and realized the poor man was even more terrified. The 5 minutes when a teacher took him to participate in an activity (while we listened to the Orientation demo), his attention was entirely on the son and I’m sure he would’ve sprained his neck trying to see where he was and what he was doing. It’s another story that the little guy came back in 5 min saying he wanted us. Yeah, well.

So now looks like he’s all set in school. Yes, there will be days when he still might cry and refuse to go. But I think he knows by now that school is going to be a big part of his life hereafter. Once he makes friends and finds activities he loves doing, he might actually love school.

Well, I hope he adjusts well and adjusts soon. I’m already all adjusted with the 4 hours of ‘freedom’ I’m getting, 5 days a week. I’m planning to catch up with all my friends over breakfast and if that’s not enough, I’m going to make new friends and catch up with THEM over breakfast. Yeah, baby. Because I can. Because I don’t have a toddler hanging off my legs anymore. Well, he does get home by 12, so I have a curfew after that, but still. 4 hours, yo. So many bookstores and supermarkets to get familiar with. So much ‘adult’ time. Please stop me before I sound too desperate and lame over 4 measly hours. What? Too late? Ok.

It’s 5 PM now. And he’s here, eating my brains with his ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘where’. Another couple of years and there will be a change in the communication. I’ll probably be running to Google every hour to answer him then, but hey, it’s good progress! As before, there will be new challenges, new beginnings and a lot of more memories. I guess the next milestone I’m looking forward to is to have a diaper-less handbag for myself (yes, my bag will always always have a diaper – I might forget keys or even my phone, but good God, I won’t forget the damn diaper).

There will be many more after that, the little steps from being a baby to a little boy to a teenager to a grown man. Some good ones, some that will make you realize how fast time flies, some that might even break your heart a little bit. For now, I can probably take heart with the fact that there is still a long time for the third and final snip – when he flies the nest, armed with whatever we have taught him, chasing his dreams and all I am is a contact on his phone that says ‘Amma’.
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Idli for President!

The first 20 years of my life, I hated idli. Oh, for my international readers, this is idli. Idli is to a south Indian what toast is to most Caucasians. Anyway, I hated it. What’s there to like – it’s bland, it’s a boring white, it’s not crispy, there’s no oil involved! Boh-ring!

And then I got a job and moved cities. From home, I went straight to this city called Hyderabad where the nearest idli was at least 20 km from where I lived. When you’re a single girl, on your own in a big city for the first time, dependent on public transport, it might as well have been 2000 km. For almost a year, I didn’t eat good idli. The ones I did eat were not even in the same food group as idli. I missed the buggers!

Then wedding happened. And hey, my mother bought me this wet grinder to make my very own batter and all my idli fantasies took flight again. Heaven.

Without further ado, here’s my idli journal. These were made in the course of the last month or so. See. And enjoy.

Idli, with Sambar and chutney. The Holy Grail of South Indian breakfast.

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Idli, with Chicken curry. Typical breakfast fare in a Telugu household when the son-in-law is visiting.

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Idli, with Peanut chutney. This is my childhood, at my maternal grandmother’s house, on a plate.

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Idli, with Pappulusu. Rayalseema fare. Comfort food when you miss Mommy.

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Idli, with Kurma. This is my humble idli making the most of a parotta-chapati invasion from the North.

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Idli, with Kumbakonam kadapa. Native of Tamilnadu but very joyously adopted into a Telugu household!

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Idli, made with oats, with Tomato pachadi. This is my idli adapting to the health conscious 21st century.

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These are just the ones I made and had the patience to take a photo of before stuffing my face. There are countless other accompaniments and variations of the idli, it’s actually ridiculous.

So, let’s raise a mug of sambar and a spoon of chutney to this most humble, unassuming of breakfasts – to the humble idli, which let’s the accompaniment take all the credit, while silently being the rock (not literally, mind you) on which they all flow.

Idli for President!

Book Review: The Wildings

The Wildings
The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked up this book solely because of the author – I’ve read her journalistic work and found them engaging and good. And I also had just finished another book by a journalist (Jerry Pinto) and was completely wow’ed by it. But the similarity between ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ and ‘The Wildings’ ends right there. While the former is a prose-lover’s paradise, the latter comes off as young-adult popular fiction and not really a great novel. Nothing wrong with being YA or popular fic – just that it wasn’t what I had in mind when I picked it up.

The idea of a cat world, where humans are just the props in the narrative, is genius. I read the blurb and I instantly bought and started reading it. I liked the attention to detail in terms of the ‘lifestyle’ and habits of all the animals involved in the plot – it was well researched (I can iamgine the author stalking cats to figure out how they lived and it’s not easy!) and well thought-out. The characters were good, too – cats, cheels, birds, people – all of them. But…but.. :-)

…just a few pages into the book, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying the book as much as I expected to because the words were merely words – there was no vivid imagery, no playful hide and seek between the author and reader, nothing that made me stop and imagine for a second what the words were hinting at. If I wanted to read a tree being described as just a tree, I wouldn’t read fiction; I’d read an encyclopaedia, no? So that was my problem (because I’m a sucker for good prose, to the extent I can put up with a lousy story if the underlying prose is like poetry!) and it was more pronounced in the first half where the story was meandering around to the big set up and the wild, albeit expected, climax.

I also had to contend with Roy’s style of changing PoV midway in a paragraph. One line we’re seeing through Beraal’s eyes and a fullstop later, it’s through Mara. I found that a bit distracting because it doesn’t let us get comfortable enough with a character, to empathize more. It’s not bad writing, it’s just a very jumbled way of going through feelings and somehow it didn’t sit well with me.

After a point, I gave up on the prose and just read for the sake of the story – not my most favorite thing to do, but it was all I could because I didn’t want to give up on the story, per se. And I quite enjoyed the plot, mind you. So, by the time I finished, I guess I was generally ok with the book.

Am I nitpicking? Maybe. Because it’s such a letdown. It could have been so much more because the underlying seed of the story is a great one. But, alas, the curse of lackluster prose.

By the way, if you are a cat person, you should definitely pick this up!

The last few lines may be a spoiler – be warned! :-)

P.S: For some reason, this book reminded me a lot about Harry Potter :-D. Similar circumstances, similar good-cat, bad-cat, teacher-cat thing going on and the big ‘war’ at the end, with the good-cats almost losing and then, thanks to the ‘hero’, winning. But that’s ok, I guess. Harry Potter is a great story! :-)

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A penny for two thoughts?

A couple of thoughts that got processed over the past few days, interestingly both related to books in a way –

I was reading a book review (this one) and it made me realize that motherhood has made me weak-hearted in some ways. It’s another matter that I’ve become brave on certain other fronts, but let’s leave that for another day. So this book –  from the review, I could imagine it would be a nightmarish read. The kind that would twist your insides and make you want to curl up in a corner and die. And I’m almost sure it wouldn’t have been so if it weren’t for the mother part in me. Because, and I’ve been noticing this very often, every time there’s a person in pain, I end up seeing my son’s face.

Those child beggars at the traffic stop that we’re so used to seeing that it’s part of the scenery now? I notice them more. And I can’t bear it. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling. The closest description would be someone holding your heart and squeezing it till you feel nothing but an emptiness there. Slowly, that emptiness travels to your gut and there are some moments of weightlessness, like just before a fall. You’re this close to breaking down and then the light turns green, you drive off and remember to breathe.

I don’t recollect being like this before my son was born. It’s a bit like the character May in Sue Monk Kidd’s ‘The secret life of bees’ – she takes empathy to an extreme level wherein she starts to feel sad as if she herself were enduring the pain, even if it was actually happening to somebody else.

So, yeah, to quote what I had written as a comment on the book review, my tolerance for pain or sadness has gone down a lot. It’s probably because of this feeling of helplessness that after that moment when he came out of the birth canal, my son is on his own. Yes, I’m here for him but I can no longer shield his body with my body. I can no longer nourish him with mine. He’s another person – OUTSIDE of me. And he can be in pain, all on his lonesome. And THAT, by far, is the most scariest thing ever for me.

Sentimental, much? Ok, I’m stopping.

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The other one is on this article, about those weirdo children’s books we reading-parents come across all the time. I say ‘weirdo’ because, even though the language is fine, the books themselves are an empty read – there’s nothing to remember or learn, other than the actual act of reading to the little person in your lap. I could identify so much with what’s written in the article! Like this bit –

The problem is that young children have terrible taste and enjoy garbage. Another problem, which compounds the first problem, is that they want to hear the same books hundreds of times in a row. So for all the joys that storytime can offer, it frequently entails a kind of dismal self-abnegation that’s too excruciating even to describe as tedium—an actively painful sense of my precious time on earth being torn from my chest and tossed into a furnace.

It’s so so true. And I also agree with the part that we tend to buy books that we remember from our childhood – but the thing is we’ve forgotten what the book is about and we only have the nostalgia of seeing that book when we were kids. And, honestly, when we come across the stories now, my first response is usually ‘What the heck?!’. Like the one about the goat kids and the wolf – the wolf eats up the kids but the Mother Goat then goes and cuts up the wolf’s belly, takes out the kids and sews it back up, with stones inside. Say what?! I had to change that entire bit to say the wolf stole the kids in a bag and the Mother Goat saved them by tearing open the bag. Why couldn’t the story have used bag instead of belly? Which kindergartner needs that kind of gore?! And how am I to explain to him later that you can’t just cut open stomachs and sew them back up with stones stuffed inside? As if I don’t have enough tough questions to answer as it is.

That said, I feel we shouldn’t THINK too much about the content, as long as it is written in a coherent manner, with tasteful illustrations and without any general bias or prejudice. Just like those umpteen nursery rhymes about old men being thrown down the stairs or little boys indulging in eve teasing (yep, those are rhymes. See this.). The article refers to ‘The little engine that could’ as one of those ‘terrible’ books – I don’t agree! :-) It’s a story about how an engine breaks down and the toys in the train try to hail some other engine to pull them up the hill. Most engines give some reason or the other and go away without helping. And along comes a little engine which hasn’t really pulled a big train but is willing to help and try! It’s a bit adorable, actually. I’ve read it many times to my son and recently, in a different context about helping me with chores, he just said, “Like the little engine helps, Amma. I help.”. What more do you want of a children’s book, eh? So, yeah. Let’s just screen the books for language and child-friendly content and let the kids have some fun without worrying about morals and lessons and what not. They have their entire life ahead to deal with that!

Review: One Part Woman

One Part Woman
One Part Woman by பெருமாள் முருகன் [Perumal Murugan]

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I first heard about this book when its author declared that the writer in him is dead. The book raked up some controversy in Tamil Nadu about some of the events being derogatory to some caste-based community or whatever. Lot of noise later, Perumal Murugan comes out and says he’s done with writing. So, of course I had to read such a controversial book.

And I did.

It has been 3 days since I finished the book and I still don’t know which part was controversial. I looked that up on old news later and apparently it was the part about the ceremony that used to happen (pre-Independence, mind you!) when any consenting man and woman can end up having sex on a certain day, irrespective of their marital vows. So they can have children. You know, when there was no IVF or fertility treatments, not even proper hospitals for childbirth. I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s fiction. Who bloody cares? Well, looks like some nitwits do.

Anyway, history aside, the book was very average. Probably more poignant and real in its original Tamil, I’m assuming. In the English version, the prose is nothing to write home about. The plot is new, yes, but the build-up towards it gets very repetitive after a point. That said, I did enjoy the images the author conjured about Thiruchengode and the villages around. But that’s pretty much it. These are times when I wish I could read Tamil fluently enough (I can read, but not fluent enough to read an entire novel! More like skim through news headlines and read political posters on Chennai roads!) because I can sense the poetry the words might have had. Example, there’s a scene where Kali’s mother is lamenting about his childlessness and the English word used is ‘dirge’ – with my limited Tamil knowledge, I’m guessing the Tamil word would have been ‘oppari’. Now, dirge is the very literal translation of ‘oppari’ – what we hear in a funeral. But I feel ‘lament’ would have been a better word here, given the context. Yeah, small things like that do get lost in the translation. Pity.

Bottom line, if it weren’t for the controversy, it’s a pretty average book in its English avatar. In it’s Tamil version though – would’ve been a tad bit more enjoyable because the point of this book is the prose, not the plot (we know the plot from the blurb already!).

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