Category Archives: Social Commentary

Count of Monte Cristo: A photo diary #atozchallenge

Discovering a set or a house created for a fictional character and visiting a place which inspired a writer to include it in his story is very different. I think I like the latter better. I’ve been to the Sherlock Holmes museum at 221 B Baker Street and I was quite unimpressed. Although the replication from fiction is brilliant. I couldn’t help thinking, well, all these artifacts aren’t real! Holmes really didn’t smoke this pipe or wear that hat did he?

However, Chateau d’If the fortress and then prison which inspired Alexandre Dumas to use it in his book the Count of Monte Cristo, really exists and it really was a prison once a upon a time. It is really a remote and uninhabited island. The only fabrication being, there were no single cells for prisoners originally but, there was one in the book and there is one now to tell the story.

Chateau d'If in the distance.

Chateau d’If in the distance.

The prison cells around the courtyard

The prison cells around the courtyard

DSCN2807

DSCN2810

DSCN2812 DSCN2813 DSCN2824

Advertisements

‘E’ for The Elephant in the room #atozchallenge

Have you had that moment when you were reading an inappropriate book at an pink_elephant1inappropriate time and place? Do you think anything that you deign to read is inappropriate?

How about that time on the tube while you were reading Fifty Shades of Grey and having an erotic interlude in your head and the person behind you or beside you peeped into your book. Maybe they couldn’t help it because it was too crowded. Then, your eyes meet and you both know that he knows what you were reading. The space in the train just got smaller because there’s an elephant in the room and you start counting stops.

A while ago an Indian journalist friend of mine posed a question on social media, ‘would you openly read Fifty Shades of Grey on public transport in India? Or, would you conceal its cover, so that no one knew what you were reading.

I think I would openly read it but, I would conceal it if it had a racy cover. Imagine a train full of people surreptitiously glancing at your reading material. Are they forming opinions about you? Would you mind? I might be too busy reading to bother but, I did have a habit of covering my racy romantic reads in old newspapers once upon a time.

Kolkata or Calcutta is always a dilemma #atozchallenge

Review: Calcutta by Amit Chaudhuri

Summary: Although it appears to be a travelogue or an autobiography, it does not fit perfectly into either of the two genres. Chaudhuri’s succinct and elegiac account of a global city, that tries very hard to hold on to its identity, amidst the rapid globalization of a rising economic power is a mesmeric read as diverse as Calcutta itself.

calcutta-amit-chaudhuri1(1)

This is the cover of the book in the Indian Sub-continent. The one I own was bought in London, UK and has a garish orange cover, which is very unlike Calcutta. Kolkata or Calcutta has moments of flamboyance and high drama but never garish!

Main review text:
To a non-resident Calcutta-n this book will evoke extremes of emotions. Some, like me, will be taken on a nostalgic trip through Calcutta, a city that was British India’s capital until 1911, the dilapidated metropolis, which had once defined India’s future and national identity. Without its freedom fighters, social-reformers, philosophers, scientists and artists, the India as we know today would have been a different place.

Amit Chaudhuri’s social commentary and economic history of Calcutta are interspersed with character sketches of a derelict city and its inhabitants, who are still clinging on to its colonial past. The Ingabanga community, as coined by Chaudhuri, is the remnants of a culturally elite class that after much intellectual turmoil chose the communist ideals and was then crushed mercilessly by India’s government. Bengalis built their history during their relationship with the British Empire. With the departure of British and the decline of its industries, all its connections with the world were severed.

However, politics is not the book’s major concern. Chaudhuri speaks of the aftermath of politics in Calcutta, commenting on the costs incurred in its battle to preserve the connection with the world outside.  On reading Calcutta, I realized that Chaudhuri wants to impress upon us that we are not living in a world very different from Calcutta. Calcutta is just a case study of the aftermath of globalization. Towns and cities culturally destroyed by commercialization – chains of supermarkets and technological highways are all that connect us – just like in Calcutta.

The other cover

The other cover

Chaudhuri discusses the disconnection that Globalization has to offer. An Italian chef in Calcutta expresses his frustration, that people in Calcutta don’t want his fresh olives and tomatoes. Why would they? I wonder, Italian food is what globalization brought to Calcutta, which already had a mature and developed cuisine, which transforms tomatoes into chutneys!
This book is going to enrage a lot of people. However, it is a kind of book that India truly needs. A book sans the glamour of Bollywood, the mysticism of snake charmers, spices and forgotten villages is not quite the usual fare for literature from the sub-continent. Devastating, it may be, but reading Calcutta will give you an insight of the real India that travelogues will not.

Further reading suggestionA Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta by Paul Theroux, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy

Disclaimer for reading suggestions: I haven’t read all of these, but I will read them at some point of time. After careful research they looked like books that are similar in theme or style to Calcutta by Amit Chaudhuri.
 

Review: The Ruby Slippers by Keir Alexander

Ruby slippers

How can a smelly old bag lady change your life? That is exactly what the characters in this social drama thought about their unkempt acquaintance, Rosa. But things changed after her death when a pair of Ruby slippers were found in her possession.

Not unlike Cinderella’s glass shoe and Dorothy’s magic shoes, the shoe metaphor has a pivotal role to play in this urban fairy tale. The Ruby slippers entranced everybody and drew out the good, bad and ugly in everyone. It enticed, teased and gave them new hopes and desperate dreams.

Michael the Grocer goes on a journey of self exploration, where he learns more about his life and his Aunt Rosa’s. Despite the odds and pressure, unlike some others, he remains resolute that the ruby slippers is a sign of beauty and hope in their lives and not a sudden windfall.

Keir Alexander’s debut novel has shown mastery over plot and character building. Creating many multi-dimensional characters in a compelling and convoluted story is no mean feat. Although I found the novel well paced, it might appear slow to some. But I believe the plot and the build up needed the gentle walk-in-the-park treatment quite unlike the mad rush of New York City.

I am a Lovereading review panel member and I received an ARC for my honest and unbiased opinion of the book. Published by Constable and Robinson the book will be available on Amazon and Lovereading.co.uk from 20 March 2014.

Of Vile Bodies and Bright Young Things

Vile BodiesVile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Do you you think that the neediness of seeing and being seen is a particularly human trait? If so, Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies is an embodiment of that trait. The distinguishing feature of the elite of the 1920s society was their shallow frippery and life-is-a-long-party attitude. Waugh’s own comment, ‘I regard writing not as investigation of character but as an exercise in the use of language, and with this I am obsessed. I have no technical psychological interest. It is drama, speech and events that interest me.’ is an example of this shallowness.

Rest assured, Vile Bodies is an enlightening and exciting read. It continued  to shock and amuse me right till the end. ‘…nobody told me there was going to be a war!’ Blissfully oblivious of the real world around them a group of Bright Young Things, led by the perpetually drunken Agatha Runcible, party around London. It is as if, they’ve wilfully decided to enclose themselves in a shroud of frivolity, gossip, costume parties and fun. Many people have died, families and homes lost in the previous war, there is also talk of another war waiting to happen. However, if you don’t talk about it, it does not concern you or affect you. Such is the spirit of the age that Evelyn Waugh comments upon. There is a plot, somewhere, how Nina marries Adam, but its buried under the social cameos, the character sketches that suddenly remind you of someone you know, someone born in the 90s. Yes, that’s a sobering thought indeed!

Vile Bodies

Vile Bodies was adapted into a film, Bright Young Things, by Stephen Fry. Fry’s wit and clever direction manages to make it an entertaining film but fails to copy the bitter and apprehensive taste that Vile Bodies leaves in your mouth. That feeling of self righteous condescension you get while reading a social satire.

Have we learnt any lessons from that age? In this age of Facebook and Twitter  we continue to follow the ideology of seeing and being seen, as a result, forgetting to live our real lives. The gossip in Vile Bodies reminds me of conversations with friends that revolve around Facebook and people I’ve stalked. Hopefully we foray into the world of party and glitterati only occasionally. Halloween balls and costume parties with drunken binges are things we do to entertain ourselves away from the drudgery of real life, rising costs and daily drudgery.

All this because I’ve been invited to a 1920s Prohibition Party by Citysocializer and I’ve been trying to get into the 1920s mood. But I think the present day and age is very like its predecessor so, all I have to do is to dress the part. Flapper and frippery anybody?

Prohibition Party invitation

For more about the party and my thoughts on the 1920s, visit my other blog at driftingtraveller.me