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Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Hunger Games: How I went from sceptic to fan

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The Hunger Games: How I went from sceptic to fan

I’m something of a reading snob. There I said it. If a book is sensationalist, popular and making people exclaim wildly and in bad grammar over 8 million internet forums, there’s a big chance I won’t like it. Many times I’m right (cough Dan Brown cough) and I get to feel smug. Sometimes I’m wrong. Hello, Ms. Rowling.

And other times, well let’s just say, I get Suzanned. The Hunger games trilogy by Suzanne Collins had all the usual symptoms. Many internet forums, chatter about race prejudices, in-depth erudite sounding stories about young adult fiction and of course the series had TBHBT (The big Hollywood blockbuster ticket). I could totally tell where this was going. The jacket of the first book held a gushy fan-girl line from Stephanie Myers. I smirked. Man, it was going to be easy to hate this book.

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or so, The Hunger Game Trilogy takes place in the country of Panem where 12 districts are all governed by the evil Capitol. As punishment for a revolt against the Capitol many years ago, the hunger games is an event where a pair of adolescents, one boy and one girl from each district, get themselves into an arena and fight each other to the death. The whole thing is televised.

The first book, The Hunger Games, went okay but I can’t say I was sold on it. I was a little put off by the short sentences (so pedestrian) but I could deal with it. Besides it had strains of another dystopian novel I liked: Lois Lowry’s The giver. But dystopian novels for young readers follow a pretty standard arc. Oppressor. Confusion. Must overthrow said oppressor.

Let’s move on. The main character Katniss Everdeen was grim and unlikeable but real enough. The love triangle was annoyingly Twilight-ish. Will she go for nice-guy-baker-boy Peeta or stick with badass hunter buddy Gale? Interesting Trivia: the second one shoots and eats squirrels with ghastly relish. The book picked up as fewer tributes remained at the games and at last ended with a cliff-hanger. I could see the appeal but I wasn’t a fan. For one, no humour. And don’t blame the circumstances. Harry Potter was funny and so was Percy Jackson and their plots had them pretty screwed too. Also, is it just me or was there very little dialogue?

I spent time between book one and book two in complete conflict. Did I like it? Did I not?

When Sharanya waved Catching Fire, the second book in the series in front of me, my precise reaction was, “YAAAAAAAAAAAAY. I mean…. cool. Cool, I’ll just take it. I guess. I mean, if you’re done with it. Whatever.”

And I was glad she was. Catching Fire seduced me. A quarter quell, where there’s an upped version of the Hunger Games aka more bloody animalistic murder? Bring it. The Games Arena (spoiler alert) designed like a clock was a small bit of genius. And now there’s political intrigue and a romance that actually adds to the plot? Well done Ms. Collins, well done. Even sullen Katniss was beginning to redeem herself. She was getting tougher, angrier and she dealt with adolescent angst by going out and shooting stuff, a huge improvement on Bella Swan. There still wasn’t much improvement on the jokes. I forgave that. At the end of the second book, I wasn’t in conflict any more. Was I on board with this whole hunger games hysteria? Hell yes.

On to Book three. (This time, I fair snatched it out of Sharanya’s hand). Mockingjay had the stirrings of a bloody war and revolution, plot twists and so much more darkness and despair. Having one of the main characters brain-washed into near-villainy kept things lively.  And finally, oh finally, JOKES! There were funny bits. Mostly through a character called Johanna, who frankly, I’d have loved to see more of. Sarcasm. Wit. Banter. It’s like Suzanne Collins read my mind and gave me everything that was missing in the first book. Am I A Hunger Games fan now? Yes I am.

Six articles that you should have read this fortnight

Six articles that you should have read this fortnight

A portrait of just what happened while a tornado raged outside. Though the story broke last September, it recently won an award for Best Magazine Feature. Via Esquire

““I kept wanting to exclaim, “It sounds like a play.”” Giles Harvey on the revival of Millers Death of a salesman.  Via New Yorker

“You should care about politics. Unless you care about politics too much, in which case please stop caring about politics so much because you’re making everyone tired.” Via Jezebel

Nilanjana Roy lists controversial subjects Indians shouldn’t write about.

We saw Mamta Banerjee lose her mind and call a student a maoist on a news channel. Read the girl, Taniya Bhardwaj’s letter to the CM Via The Telegraph

 Backpfeifengesicht. Meraki. Gigil. 25 Handy Words That Simply Don’t Exist In English

Nitwit. Blubber. Oddment. Tweak: A tribute to JK Rowling

Nitwit. Blubber. Oddment. Tweak: A tribute to JK Rowling

1998. My mother, back from her trip to Flora Fountain handed me a bag of books. It had two Five Find-outers, one Hardy Boys and one book called Harry Potter and the philosopher’s stone.

The synopsis read “Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy until he is rescued by a beetle-eyed giant of a man, enrolls at Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry, learns to play quidditch and even does battle in a deadly duel. The reason: HARRY POTTER IS A WIZARD!”

I rolled my eyes at my mother. I was 9, I wasn’t going to read a book about magic and wizards. Geez.

My grandmum, who, when she visits us reads everything she can get her hands on, read it and used it as a bedtime story for my sister one night. I woke up early the next morning, because I had to know what happens to the boy who lived under the stairs.

Harry Potter is funny, intriguing, exciting, smart, dramatic, sweet, detailed and did, I mention funny? Rowling has a narrative that holds you and won’t let go.

Nothing in recent years has compared to the brilliance of the Potter series. This is an actual conversation .

Me: Oh, you should read The hunger games.

Sheena: Is it as good as Harry Potter?

Me: No.

Me: Read that book..

Sheena:Is it as good as..

Me: No.

Me: Read…

Sheena: Is it…

Me:  No.

Here are 50 things, concepts and people I love about Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling.

  1. Ronald Weasley
  2. Draco Malfoy
  3. Severus Snape
  4. Butterbeer (Butter + Beer. For real)
  5. Moving chess pieces
  6. Rowling is the first person in the world to become a billionaire by writing books.
  7. The clock in the Weasley’s kitchen
  8. The marauder’s map
  9. Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore and his words of wisdom (After all to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.  Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light. It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live)
  10. Rowling’s amazing commencement speech
  11. Luna Lovegood
  12. A Snitch
  13. Fang
  14. The fans (I love Harry Potter fans. There is always conversation. I may not know your full name but we could have long conversations on why I was always on Snape’s side or why no one could be a better Bellatrix Lestrange than Helena Bonham Carter)
  15. Hagrid
  16. Felix Felicis
  17. “I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed – or worse, expelled.”  – Hermione Granger
  18. Cedric Diggory
  19. Professor McGonagall
  20. Books by Gilderoy Lockhart (Break With A Banshee, Gadding With Ghouls, Holidays With Hags, Magical Me, Travel With Trolls, Voyages With Vampires, Wandering With Werewolves, Year With The Yeti)
  21. Peeves (We did it, we bashed them, wee Potter’s the one and Voldy’s gone moldy, so now let’s have fun!)
  22. The Firebolt
  23. Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour
  24. Flourish & Blotts
  25. Fred and George Weasley (I think I wept when they leave Hogwarts to a shower of fireworks)
  26. St. Mungo’s
  27. The deathly hallows
  28. The Knight Bus
  29. The Floo network
  30. Gryffindor common room passwords (abstinence, 
balderdash, banana fritters, caput draconis, dilligrout, fairy lights, flibbertigibbet, fortuna major, Mimbulus mimbletonia, oddsbodikins, quid agis, scurvy cur)
  31. Dobby
  32. Crookshanks
  33. Animagus
  34. Sirius Black (And the tiny detail, that “Sirius Black” is a pun on his Animagus form of a black dog, as the star Sirius is known as the Dog Star, and is the brightest star in Canis Major.)
  35. Daily Prophet
  36. Horcruxes
  37.  Gellert Grindelwald
  38. Dumbledore’s Army
  39. The Sorting hat and the House system (I’d definitely be a Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. That’s kind of sad)
  40. Marvolo Gaunt
  41. Ginny’s song (His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad, His hair is as dark as a blackboard. I wish he was mine, he’s really divine, the hero who conquered the Dark Lord.)
  42. Arabella  Doreen Figg (Oh, god she was squib! Whaaat! The cat lady with the house that smelled of cabbage)
  43. Hogsmeade
  44. Honeydukes Sweetshop
  45. Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes (“Why are you worrying about you-know-who? you should be worrying about u-no-poo. the constipation sensation that’s gripping the nation!”)
  46. Mad-eye Moody
  47. Kingsley Shacklebolt
  48. Polyjuice potion
  49. Patronus
  50. The Goblet of Fire (Best tournament in the history of everything)

– Sharanya

Awkward sex and Aamir Khan: Should you bother?

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Awkward sex and Aamir Khan: Should you bother?

Over the past week, I watched two new shows that have stirred much controversy, Here’s my take on them.

Girls

HBO’s new show Girls is about four girls living in New York City. There is a fat girl with an awful boyfriend, a pretty girl with an overly kind boyfriend, a virgin and a whore. Yup, friend group staples, of course.  Leaving the race and nepotism issues aside (because I don’t care about that), here are 5 reasons you should give HBO’s Girls a chance

1. If you like smart dialogues like “My medium baggage is that I bought four cupcakes and just ate one in your bathroom.” “What I’m having is a physical and inappropriate reaction to my total joy for you and your self discovery.”“I do explore, and right now I’m seeing this guy and sometimes I let him hit me on the side of my body, so…”

2. The characters, sometimes and in some moments, are completely believable.  20-year olds that deal with situations in a very insecure yet defiant fashion. Plus the protagonist is a chubby writer (ding ding ding).

3. If girl-centric shows are your guilty pleasure. (Every week I hate myself for watching New Girl and 2 broke girls, but I watch it anyway. This one’s a much better option.)

4. Lots of awkward sex. Finally, television acknowledges it. Finally.

5. It’s not Sex and the City

Satyameva Jayate

Aamir Khan’s much-awaited, much-debated, show airs on multiple channels in multiple languages. Two episodes down, here are 5 reasons, I watch Satyameva Jayate; you can use your own discretion with this one.

1. The cheesiness of the opening sequence and the overly emotional song at the end, though annoying, don’t take away from some of those stories the people on the show have.

2. We’ve forgotten that television still is a medium to create awareness. We might not care for the format or the set (that brick wall is eyuck) and the show may not change the world, but it might at least spark a thought in the minds of India’s large population.

3. Sure, NGOs and activists have been fighting against female infanticide and child sexual abuse for decades and now, just because a celebrity talks about it, it’s going to make a difference. I agree. But you cannot grudge Aamir Khan for using his ‘celebrity status’. At least he’s trying to do something with it. Bollywood has a major influence on us and sometimes, unfortunate as it is, it takes an Amitabh Bachchan to say “go get polio vaccines” for people to listen.

4. I’m a pseudo-cynic. I hope things will get better, and I hope someone will make it happen and I want to give this show that chance. Sure, many shows before have debated social evils, sure. But for whatever reason (they were English language shows, on channels that didn’t reach the masses, they didn’t have celebrities) they haven’t had an impact the way Satyameva Jayate has had. (I’m talking here, of course, about the Rajashthan government approving a fast track court for female feticide cases). Yes, he gets paid three crores, yes, there are aspects that aren’t focused on (What are the names of these illegal abortion clinics? And what is to be done when the parent is the sexual offender?) but he does get a lot of things right like…

5. The workshop at the end of episode two, where Aamir Khan teaches kids to differentiate good touch from bad, something most parents fail to do…wow.

– Sharanya

The He-who-must-not-be-named of punctuation

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The He-who-must-not-be-named of punctuation

There are several things that I feel strongly about. Matthew Perry wearing a baseball cap backward to portray a younger character. Posers who say, “Silas Marner? Oh yes, lovely book. I don’t remember much of it. I read it when I was four.” People who gobble up the triple word score squares on a scrabble board with words like “quiz.” Yet one thing beats all. Exclamation marks (or depending on how cool you are, exclamation points.)

These things should never have been invented. They’re like that bumptious guy at a party, who thinks he has a great future in stand up comedy and decides to test all his material on you. Fitzgerald said that exclamation points were a way of laughing at your own joke. Writers the world over, heed this man. If you don’t listen to Fitzgerald, who are you going to listen to? Do you like laughing at your own jokes? Do you want to be that guy?

Most feature stories I’ve read use the offending thing at least once, thus managing effectively, to worsen an average-but-bearable story in one fell swoop.

“Everyday Anusha Mikhail wakes up at Four am, packs her kids lunch for school, writes a page of her journal, feeds the cat, does an hour of power yoga and then makes daisies out of sunshine and scattersthem hither and thither. Talk about a superwoman!”

Whenever I encounter a sentence that ends in an exclamation mark, it makes me grind my teeth in fury. My hair, if I may use a Wodehouse, stands on end like quills upon the fretful porcupine. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, that there are other things to live for – More television by Aaron Sorkin, A suitable girl by Vikram Seth, Community season four. I marshal my inner Hyde, shrug and say stoically “whatever. That’s cool.” But the words come out as incoherent snorts.

One exclamation mark is bad enough but there are some chuckleheads who use *shudder* more than one, as in:-

“Gary McDonald sure is a hard taskmaster!!!!!”

Or worse, the kind who sit the fence or try to be ironic with it.

“And there I was, drenched head to toe with undistilled potassium permanganate (!)”

Exclamation marks are a poor cover for bad writing. They’re a lump of cream-based concealer on a throbbing pimple. They hide nothing. They’re sensationalist but unsubstantial. They’re all sizzle, no steak. Keep them away from me. They make me violent.

– Sheena

Six embarrassing songs on our play lists

Six embarrassing songs on our play lists

Karle baby dance wance by Daler Mehndi: The Punjabi-banter ridden conflict of all time. Girls and boys, who will make the rotis and who will give the jhappis? After all, you guys just want a chance wance to have some chai shai and, please, us ladies don’t want to see no dilli shilli, okay? The song manages to keep it current by adding some English lyrics (I need you baby, you drive me crazy, How I miss you, Let me kiss you, Let me kiss you tonight). What’s not to love?

Mysterious Girl by Peter Andre’s: Gulp. It’s true. Yes I know it’s 2012. And yes, I’ve seen the video featuring a scarily hairless chest peeping out from a blinding white shirt flapping in a sea breeze. But you know the bad rap? (Your presence surrounds me like a flowers a bloom/ and I love the smell of your Elizabeth Taylor perfume). Yeah, gets me all the time.

Super bass by Nicki Minaj: I honestly can’t figure out what’s more amusing, the ridiculous lyrics, the sudden British accent that pops up in the middle of the song (oi mean moy moy moy, yu loike pelican floy) or the melodiously heartfelt way she belts out the boom badoom boom bit.

Teenage Dream by Katy Perry: We can be all intellectual, listen to jazz, discuss the influence of Shakespeare on literature and contemporary art over tea, but let’s admit it; Sometimes all a girl wants is to set a boy’s heart racing because of her skin tight jeans. Am I right? Am I right?

That don’t impress me much by Shania Twain: Yes, it’s that ridiculous video where she walks around a desert in a leopard-print outfit, rejecting rocket scientists and Brad Pitt for not having ‘the touch’. She rejected Brad Pitt. If he doesn’t have the touch, who the hell does, Shania? Yes, I’m not too impressed by her grammar either but for some reason the song never goes off my play list.

Rhinestone cowboy by Glenn Campbell: Hey, hey. I grew in a Goan Roman Catholic household, which means there was a frightening amount of country-western music in the early years. I pick this one to be my guilty pleasure song. Why? No pick-up trucks, no mama waitin’ home by a stove and no Lucille pickin’ the right time to leave you. This guy dreams of Broadway. Aspiration. You gotta love it.

“The best writer of his generation”- The Times : A tribute to Vikram Seth

“The best writer of his generation”- The Times : A tribute to Vikram Seth

It was the 4th of November 2011 and I was hopping onto a south-bound Mumbai Local clutching all 1,349 pages of my copy of A suitable boy. Somewhere else in Bombay, the writer of the tome in my hands, was making his way to the same destination- the National Centre for Performing Arts( NCPA) where he was going to talk about his latest release – The Rivered Earth. I highly doubt that he was as excited as I was. If you’re a Vikram Seth fan, occasions such as these, where you can breathe the same air as a legend, are excuse enough to behave like a fevered bunny on good quality cocaine.

How much do I love Vikram Seth? Let me count the ways.

He’s a genius, for one. It’s not everyone who can learn German from scratch in six months flat. I moved to India at the malleable age of eight. I’m twenty four now and friends still laugh openly (and rather cruelly) at my Hindi and Gujarati. He’s well-read and knowledgeable. Which other Economics Major speaks with such ease and familiarity of the poet George Herbert? He’s also a man of wide interests, Schubertian Music, of all things, being one of them.

Braininess aside, he’s ridiculously brisk and lovely in demeanour and bearing. When he strode out from the wings at the NCPA that day, he looked more enthusiastic maths professor less writer and I mean that in a good way, which says a lot, considering I hate math. Through his address, he made himself more endearing with every word. He wagged his finger at the audience; he read out loud in a terrific booming voice, he sprang up from his seat more than once to point things out on the projector, his bald head shone with intelligence. He used delightfully English-sounding phrases like “you lot,” and “oh dear” and my desi soul, reared on a steadfast diet of Enid Blyton revelled in it.

Next, (here, I reference A Suitable Boy) he can flesh out characters from four family trees plus some, cover three Indian cities and countless towns, weave a narrative that is as easy as the circumstances it describes are not and still write a novel that doesn’t lose pace for a single second. It’s testimony to the genius of the book that I cry bitterly all through Mrs Mahesh Kapoors funeral just after I’ve laughed out loud at the antics of the Chatterjee clan. His other work has moved me too. When pangs of homesickness came to my hostel bed at the age of 19, I’d call on from memory, All you who sleep tonight to stop me from missing my mother.

But the reason du jour? As a writer, he doesn’t take the easy way out. It took me a summer holiday to finish A suitable boy which is a ridiculously short time compared to the seven years it took to get written. And why?

“I wanted, of course to tell a good story, but I also wanted to get things right. No matter how well a novel is received by readers and critics in general, if it does not ring true with those people who knew from the inside the world it describes, it is in the final analysis, an artistic failure.”- Vikram Seth, Two Lives.

And so it was that everything in A suitable boy was researched to death, from whether St. Stephens, Delhi had female students in the 1940s to how the credit market for a small shoemaker in Agra would work. All this for fiction.

I stood in line to get my book signed at the NCPA that day and I watched as Seth handled everything like a boss. With the energy of a very young man, he smiled at cameras, talked to the press, made small jokes and signed books all in a blur. My A suitable boy now has an inscription on the front page. “To Sheena, Vikram Seth.” And he meant every word.

–       Sheena

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