Eternal Robin

Since conversations recently have been all about governments reducing taxes for the rich and for corporates and burdening everyone else, the mind automatically veers towards Robin Hood who did the opposite. That too with panache.

Of course, taking from the rich and giving to the poor is only one part of Robin Hood’s timeless appeal. But one wonders what it is about his myth (If he was a myth. Could have been real) that endures in the popular imagination and lends itself to so many retellings and interpretations. Over time there have been numerous books, movies and TV series that have made each successive generation fall under his charm.

PS: Just look at Ivanhoe, though he was the eponymous hero, Robin Hood was the one who saves the day. As a reader one waits for his character to come on the page.
LL: It’s also because in most of the retellings, Robin is a wisecracking and flippant character with hidden depths to his nature and dark undertones to his story. He isn’t two dimensional.
PS: There is always a degree of unpredictability attached to him. One never knows what he is going to do in a story, only that he will end up saving the day. I think part of the charm is that he is always a reluctant hero. He never set out to become a leader but in the process of surviving, he found himself unable to abandon others like himself.
LL: Then there are the other people around him who each have their own clear backstories which instead of detracting, only add to Robin Hood’s story somehow.
PS: A lot of the appeal also comes from the bad boy, rebel image. The constant challenging of authority has its own fascination.
LL: Perhaps he was the first socialist. I wonder which of his stories inspired Karl Marx. The best part is that though each book or TV series has interpreted him so differently, intrinsically his character retains the same ethos.
PS: Other than Ivanhoe which for most people is their first introduction to Robin Hood, I really enjoyed Robin McKinley’s Outlaws of Sherwood.
LL: And there was Hood, the first book in the King Raven trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead. It was a lot darker and had more magical elements than just the clever and good hearted outlaw story.
PS: Speaking of magical elements, how can we not mention the Robin of Sherwood TV series from the 80’s, there was quite a bit of magic in that one and I don’t just mean the charms of Michael Praed (who acted as Robin Hood).  The later BBC series, Robin Hood, was more edgy but with a Robin as incorrigible as a lot of other versions and with wonderful one liners.
We feel this quote from the BBC series pretty much encapsulates Robin’s cheekiness and hence his appeal:
“ I know I behave like I am more intelligent and sophisticated than other people. But the fact that I am aware of my arrogance puts me above others with a superiority complex”
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Thus went 2017

Reading for us is an on going fact of existence but when everyone around you is counting the months gone by and reducing the year to lists, we too are forced to look back on the year in the only way we know – through books.
What made the year different was that we read more e-books than regular books. Sadly. Inspite of our love of the convenience of e-books, we can’t help the lingering feeling that we are letting the side down a little. But we suppose the the tides of change have swept us along with them. Out of all the books we have reviewed this year, only two were read by us in the physical form. And it seems extremely unlikely that our new year resolution will be to read more physical books.
Most of the books that we enjoyed reading during 2017 have already been written about by us. But we got to thinking that if we had to pick just two each out of the books that we read this year(not necessarily ones that were published during the year), to recommend, in both fiction and non fiction it would be the following:

LL: In fiction I would recommend My Grandmother Sends her Regards and Apologises by Fredrick Backman for its amazing and real characters and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for its magic.
PS: Definitely I too would vote for My Grandmother Sends her Regards. It is one of the most endearing books I have read in a long time. The second book for me this year would be The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry for the beautiful way in which it has been written. What about your picks for non fiction?
LL: I think the book that made me think the most would be We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. A book meant both for women and men. For the other book I would pick Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu. It made me relook at the way I do things.
PS: I notice that both are feminist books.
LL: Well, since the Miriam Webster word of the year is feminism, it is entirely appropriate. Which are your picks for non fiction?
PS: I think Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. An amazing look at the journey of human kind from its origins to now. For the second book I would pick The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker. No other book has made me think so much about what I read and how I write.  Of course there is also a flip side to noticing the style of writing as it makes one less tolerant and consequently grumpy with books lacking it.

So, those were our picks of the year. Here’s wishing everyone who reads Mostly Mondays a Merry Christmas and a New Year spent happily getting lost in books.

The art of shopping at Khadi bhandar

Khadi –  Indian hand spun, hand woven natural fibre cloth.

Bhandar – a shop, store, stockroom, warehouse, depository.

Khadi Bhandar – a government run shop, supposedly for stocking and selling khadi products. But we are not quite sure about the selling bit.

Shopping is supposed to be fun and relaxing but we have learnt that this is not always the case. Normal shops by definition exist to ‘sell’ and to this end will do their best to keep their customers happy. One walks in intending to buy A and the shop will do its best to also sell you B and C. Not so at the Khandi Bhandar where even getting into the door is a challenge. Recent experiences have left us gritting our teeth in exasperation. Which is why we decided to compile a list of for and against to warn the unwary.

Against:

  1. A customer has to negotiate the two hour siesta which extends half an hour in each direction, government holidays, weekly off days, biannual stock taking week (sometimes fortnight).
  2. The only clear month that the customer has are the days in October following Gandhi Jayanti, when the shop is open through the day without a break for lunch. To make up for this, the shop employees are doubly unaccommodating and recalcitrant. The customer is likely to be left standing, hoping to catch someone’s attention while the shop ladies discuss the latest scandal in their lives as they shell peas on the counter for their dinner. Numerous “excuse me”s and discreet coughs are ignored, forcing the customer to curb their instincts to scream and storm out.
  3. Upon your obstinate refusal to budge, someone will finally deign to notice you and ask what you want in a tone of voice implying that there are no freebies, you have been categorised as a time waster and possibly a stealer of shelled peas. The reluctance to take anything out of the shelves is almost pathological since customers are well known to unravel bales of cloth with their grubby hands. Not to mention taking up time and space in the shop holding up said bales against themselves in front of the mirror.
  4. Persuasive powers and ingratiatingly smiley faces have no effect on the hardened Khadi Bhandar employee, nor does a display of clean hands and fingernails. If one does manage somehow to cajole them to cut meterage of cloth that catches the eye, it will be hacked viciously and unevenly by the bluntest possible scissors. The lady behind the counter must, till the very end, display her unhappiness at being made to work so hard. It matters not that the shop is empty otherwise.
  5. To top it all, we now have to pay 12% Tax on the fabric. It almost makes one wonder whether it is worth the effort.

For:

  • Therein lies the catch. It is worth it. The Khadi stuff, once one manages to view some, is really great. It is also a very happening fabric right now, popular with high fashion designers and much more reasonably priced at the government outlets as compared to boutique stores. Which means we end up going back time and again, suckers for the total disinterest and disdain meted out to us. Also they probably don’t have an online presence because how do you bring these attitudes to an online store.

So the next time you are brave enough to venture into one of these places, make sure you are not in a rush, keep your temper in check and perhaps wear a tooth guard to prevent from grinding away the enamel on your teeth. Also, it is possibly a great place to work, taking into account the lack of work happening there.

 

 

Traffication

   Every year we think the city has reached rock bottom as far as the roads and traffic go and the following year always proves us overly optimistic. But this year has managed to completely boggle everyone’s minds.

  After the last three years of near drought conditions the rain gods have now freaked out. We have had the highest recorded annual rainfall in 115 years in the last one week. Not surprisingly the city has sprouted numerous waterfalls, unexpected lakes which have submerged houses, raging rivers sweeping away everything in their path and roads have disintegrated and disappeared. Only Google maps seem to know where the roads are; they are certainly not visible to the naked eye.

  Bangalore has always been one of those places where no one ever discusses the weather because we don’t really have to deal with extreme weather conditions. In fact every time one of us goes out of the city we realise how spoilt we are as Bangalorians and how unequipped we are to deal with the climate elsewhere. During lunch in a crowded restaurant today, we noticed that all the tables around us were only discussing the rains, the resultant chaos and the traffic jams. So weather is dominating conversations now. Unfortunately the local authorities and local government live in the same bubble as us and really don’t know how to deal with climate change beyond blaming it on the influx of outsiders, who somehow bring the change with them.

   The city has been gridlocked the last few days and each jam has its own legends developing of how people survived it. People who did not move fifty feet in three hours had to check into nearby hotels just to wait out the jam, leading to a friend coining the term ‘traffication’. There are vacations and staycations but in  Bangalore the populace most needs traffications as respite from the horrendous jams. The city is on all the national news channels for its particular brand of chaos. What is most amazing is that a city which has the highest concentration of engineers is incapable of applying tech know-how for either managing traffic or laying decent roads.

  They say that it never rains where the sinners are, so Bangalore must be full of the most blessed people on earth. Except no one is feeling blessed right now.

Booker Takeover

We are back to the time of the year when the Man Booker Prize shortlist comes out. Shock, horror and surprise, of the six shortlisted novels, three of the authors are American. Now who really thought, when they opened up the prize in 2014 to include American writers, that the Americans would not come to dominate the long and short lists? In fact the three other books are by British writers, although one of them is of Pakistani origin. There goes the Commonwealth nature of the prize, straight out of the window or straight into the trash can as the Americans would say (no dustbins over there). 

Does this mean that the Americans write better than anyone else writing in English? Are their concepts more daring or are they more imaginative or do they push the boundaries of literature and language more than anyone else?   Are the rest of us in the English speaking world still floundering in our colonial rut, merely replicating Rudyard Kipling over and over again? Or is it just a simple case of publishers who make money on the sale of American books are keen to get the publicity and advertising that a place on the shortlist brings about? 

The best part of it is that the Americans are incapable of understanding regular English. This is why the American editions of most novels have to have spellings, words and phrases changed to enable better understanding.  Spellings like ‘colour’ and ‘centre’ tend to leave the Americans floundering in the dark and the rest of the world has to pronounce route as ‘rout’ which until recently had meant a disorderly retreat after defeat, not a way of getting somewhere. JK Rowling has now famously regretted changing the title of the first Harry Potter book from ‘The Philosophers Stone’ to ‘The Sorcerers Stone’ for the American edition. A change that was most perplexing to most of us, it’s not as if the word ‘philosopher’ is somehow more esoteric than the word ‘sorcerer’. Words like car park, roundabout and cinema have to regularly be changed to parking lot, carousel and movie theatre for US editions of books. It doesn’t matter that most people read on a kindle, it would be too difficult to put one’s finger on the word and have the dictionary meaning pop up.

Countries of the Commonwealth have developed different terminologies and manner of speaking English and yet their people not only read but enjoy books written in English from around the world. Ultimately it is about getting the local flavour and colour from the writing. Alexander McCall Smith has a lot of colloquialisms in his books set in Botswana but then it is meant to be Botswana. What would be the point of Mma Ramotswe and Co. sounding like they were living in an American suburb?  So it does seem a little ironic that the Americans, with their blinkered view of the English language are now dominating most of the prestigious literature prizes. We enjoy books by American writers and read them all the time but that is no reason to change the language for their sake or make them eligible for the prizes where they have no business being. 

The best bit of grumble we heard recently was from a twelve year old who had by mistake downloaded an American edition of her favourite book on to her kindle and then complained endlessly that the biscuits which the characters ate had become cookies. For her that was unpalatable. 

 

What makes the money?

Forbes magazine recently came out with another one of its annual lists pertaining to the wealthiest, richest, magnificientest etc. persons. This one was a list of the highest paid authors in the last one year, having sold phenomenal numbers of their books, movie rights and book based merchandise. None of the persons featuring would be considered literary geniuses but, then again, that is not what making money is about.

Not surprisingly J K Rowling topped the list this year, the release of the Cursed Child having placed her there. It is quite another matter that the word ‘cursed’ is an oxymoron when used in conjunction with any book written by JK considering the magic her books have worked on the author’s bank balance. This year she displaced James Patterson who had apparently topped the list for the last three years. He is an author who has somehow never figured on our reading lists. Neither have too many of the others for that matter.

With the exception of John Grisham and Dan Brown and the children’s authors whose popularity with the younger readers comes close to achieving a cult following, the popularity of the others mystifies us. As far as Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson books) go, parents are just grateful that they are getting the children to read. Rick Riordan is largely to be credited for the resurgence in interest in Greek and Egyptian mythology with pre-teens throwing around random bits of information about classical mythology and the Olympians and leaving their parents wide eyed. Had he been an Indian, we can imagine a godman advising him to construct a temple to those gods because of whom he has become so famous (read ‘rich’) leading to a resurgence of dead religions and long forgotten gods. A separate business plan could be constructed around the religious experience thereby bringing further wealth to the writer. We can see thirteen year olds buying Medusa Shampoos and Poseidon bottled water. The Nike sneakers already exist but the Hermes ones would do as well.

So, readers, it would seem, are creatures of habit. They like the authors who are able to churn out their standard formula, at regular intervals. With the exception of Paula Hawkins who has written just two books so far, all the other authors on the list do not believe in deviating too often from their regular style (Dan Brown and John Grisham both deserve honourable mentions here), so much so that they become boring after a while. But it doesn’t matter because it obviously works. After all, what is gained by being on the long or short list of the numerous literary awards around? The Forbes list is the one list to be on. The writers all know whom they are writing for and are able to satisfy their readers year after year. Also, no one is surprised to see EL James on the list. We all know what sells. And so does she.

 

Always Jane

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There is really nothing we can say about Jane Austen that hasn’t already been said. But as fans we couldn’t really meet and not discuss the fact that this year is the 200th anniversary of her death. Around the globe the last one month has had Janeites coming together and organising events to pay homage. These functions have been attended with a good mix of enthusiasm and Regency costumes. So, with a dearth of Austenmania happening locally, we felt the least we could do was raise a cheer and write a blog post.

After numerous movies and television adaptations in various languages, biographies, inspired books, references to her characters and even her face now featuring on bank notes, Jane Austen remains relevant despite the passage of so many years. The fan fiction based on her books probably outstrips any other author’s. Even established authors like PD James (Death comes to Pemberley) and the ones roped in for the Austen project (Joanna Trollop, Val McDiarmid, Alexander McCall Smith and Curtis Sittenfeld) have been at some point or the other, seduced into fan fiction.

People talk about cutting wit and tongue in cheek aspects of Austen’s writing but in fact what it boils down to is the bitchiness of her characters comments, which feel real even today. Many of her characters are people who have transcended time, different cultures and social attitudes. Which just goes to prove that human beings are basically the same no matter which part of the world or which time they come from. Our lives are littered with versions of the opinionated Mr. Collins, the air headed Mrs. Bennetts, the full of themselves Wickhams and Mr. Eltons, the naive Harriets, the resigned Anne Elliots, the know it all Emmas and the numerous social butterflies and climbers that Austen’s books are littered with.

But of course everyone is still searching for ‘dear’ Mr. Darcy! He is still unreal. The best part of it is that when we come across these people in our lives who would ordinarily really irritate us, we find ourselves applying the appropriate Jane Austen quote and laughing them off.  Perhaps therein lies the true appeal of Austen in that she helps us to better deal with others’ foibles by helping us to caricaturise them.

More than anything we can say to explain Jane Austen’s popularity, we feel her writing speaks for itself:

“Better be without sense than misapply it as you do.” (Emma)

“I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible” (Northanger Abbey)

“Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure” (Mansfield Park)

“Eleanor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of  rational opposition” (Sense and Sensibility)

“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.” (Mansfield Park)

“You have no respect for my poor nerves.”                                                                                 “You mistake me my dear, I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least.” (Pride and Prejudice)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (Pride and Prejudice) – This is quite possibly one of the most quoted first lines of a book.

“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” (Sense and Sensibility) – A quote made famous for being paraphrased in the Batman Begins movie. But Jane Austen said it first.

One can go on and on with the quotes but they are, as is to be expected, much better read within the books.