Review of ‘Death In Holy Orders’ by P D James

An interesting murder mystery and James is in top form in serving us a classic whodunnit along with a full-fledged novel with strong characters and an intricate plot.

Set in an unusual locale of a remote theological college on a crumbling coastline, the physical decay and daily battle with sea is like an allegory of the state of affairs of the religion as well in the modern 21st Century. We are provided a bird’s-eye view of alternate voices – an unpopular one of an Archdeacon who views the college to be too elitist and archaic to serve the needs of the new millennium.

Source:Hulton Archive Courtesy: Getty Images

Source:Hulton Archive
Courtesy: Getty Images

The murder mystery is not so engrossing, but the narrative is rich in character and content – the face-off between Archdeacon Crampton and Warden Sebastian Morrell are like ‘David v/s Goliath’. But there is a twist in the tale and James ensures that not many a reader would mourn the brutal death of the Archdeacon.

The tale has an innocuous beginning – Dalgliesh has planned a vacation in Suffolk and doesn’t mind visiting St. Anselm to enquire about a suspicious death of a student. The visit is a mix of business (allaying the concerns of a rich and powerful father who was not good terms with his deceased son) and pleasure (Dalgliesh had spent his vacations as an adolescent in the college and has many happy memories including that of Father Martin).

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Review of Gallup’s ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths’

At school the two approaches that irritated me the most, it seems, were flawed after all. One was the constant focus on ones weakness (attending PTAs was surely dreadful) and the other was trying to make you a more ’rounded’ person (Seems daft to me that you should give up on what makes you unique).

So I always tried to avoid becoming a square peg that had to fit a round hole. I instinctively felt that it made sense to find your strengths and invest in them. With some luck and grace, it would help you lead a fulfilling life at work and home.

Collection:Brand X Pictures Courtesy: Getty Images

Collection:Brand X Pictures
Courtesy: Getty Images

Gallup too thought that this was a great idea and they backed it up with great research to launch the best-seller book and ‘self-assessment’ online test in 2001 when Marcus Buckingham and Donald O Clifton came up with, ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths’

The basic premise of the book is that people and organization will benefit and will be more engaged & energetic so long as they try to leverage on their strengths. Weaknesses cannot be ignored and you need strategies to manage them, but they shouldn’t usurp the pride of place that is to be given to ones ‘Strengths’.

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Prathap Pothan – the teacher with the Guitar

The enduring image of an unconventional hero in Tamil cinema of the early 80s – if one were to slot him as one – was Prathap strumming the Guitar during a school picnic trip in one of the best school romance movies – ‘Panneer Pushpangal’

He comes across as a cool and mature person who guides couple of teenagers through a phase of turbulent adolescence. He went on to do far more quirkier roles as well but this one was a popular and defining image for him

Collection: Moment Courtesy: Getty Images

Collection: Moment
Courtesy: Getty Images

Prathap appeared in the supporting cast of many popular Tamil films – Varamai Niram Sigappu (Kamal-Sridevi pic), Penmani Aval Kanmani (Visu all the way), Azhiyadha Kolangal (Balu Mahendra’s story is the real character), Kudumbam Oru Kadambam (part of an ensemble cast) come readily to mind. He did not mind even playing quirky characters but typically was the one to make you to laugh or at least smile at his antics.

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Balu Mahendra’s Tamil classic, ‘Azhiyadha Kolangal’ (Unforgettable memories)

It is the directorial début movie in Tamil for Balu Mahendra and was released in 1979. The ace cinematographer delivers a rare gem that was not widely known but has gained the status of a ‘cult classic’ now.

A bildungsroman tale set in the boondocks of rural India, the content and context is adapted well to its locale. In terms of transition, it can remind you of other popular tales like Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’, Bennett’s ‘Clayhanger’ and Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’.


The movie begins on a cryptic note – we meet Kamal Hassan as the grown up Gowri Shankar who has the mark of being a successful businessman. He receives a letter from childhood friend Pattabi and asks his secretary to ensure he is not disturbed. The news turns out to be disturbing though – he learns about the death of Indu teacher and we traipse down the memory lane for the rest of the movie.

It marks the rites of passage of 3 youngsters who were in the midst of childhood when an unfortunate accident marks their transition to adulthood. The haunting melody that marks the opening scenes of a placid sunrise echo in true meaning only at the end of the 100 minute movie.

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Memories of Spencer Plaza in Chennai

Spencer Mall in Chennai was the forerunner of the mall culture that became the craze of the nation in the late 90s, as organized retail ramped up rapidly in the boom years before stalling after the 2008 Financial Crisis.

The Chennai landscape is all changed now – for the Millennials there are many other hip alternatives to hang out and spend their weekend. I guess they would regard it to be a stolid old-timer that needs an image makeover to keep up with the modern times.

Indeed one needs to walk down the memory lane to recall the prided place that Spencer’s Plaza occupied in our minds about two decades ago. Organized retail in the Mall format was an altogether new experience even for Chennaites who were otherwise used to the concept of retail chain stores for a variety of their needs such as consumer durables, jewellery, garments to even medicines.

Chennai was indeed leading the way when it came to driving footfalls and improving sales revenue by gunning for the volumes than the margins. Spencer Plaza, launched in 1991 (the year heralding  economic reforms), is possibly the oldest mall in India.

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W Somerset Maugham – the ‘compassionate cynic’!

Somerset Maugham is my favourite writer and I like his work across genres – novels, plays, short stories and non-fictional writing.

He is best known for being a popular short story writer who could follow the conventional form of it having a beginning, a middle and an end (usually with a nice twist)! Anyone who discovers him cannot get enough of his writings.

By: Print Collector Collection: Hulton Archive Courtesy Getty Images

By: Print Collector
Collection: Hulton Archive
Courtesy Getty Images

Known for his naturalism, Maugham never hesitated to call a spade by its name and is wrongly accused of being cynical. Cyril Connolly perhaps paid him the greatest tribute by calling him the ‘compassionate cynic’.

Maugham’s self-assessment was straightforward – ‘But if to look truth in the face and not resent it when it is unpalatable, and take human nature as you find it, smiling when it is absurd and grieved without exaggeration when it is pitiful, is to be cynical, then I suppose I am a Cynic. Mostly human nature is both absurd and pitiful, but if life has taught you tolerance you find in it more to smile at than to weep’.

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Matunga – Southern Surprise in aamchi Mumbai

South Indians who visit the ‘City of Dreams’ for the first time are enchanted by its magic but still hanker for life back at home. Indeed if you look forward to listening to the sweet strains of MS rendition of the Suprabhatam in the morning as you tuck in a nice breakfast of Idli-Vada or Ven Pongal followed by the delightful Kaapi – you need to look no further than visiting Matunga.

It is still the home for many South Indians though older families have started to shift to the suburbs where they can afford bigger homes. And if you are lucky enough to live here, life can go on just as it was at home.

Collection:The India Today Group Credit:India Today Group/Getty Images

Collection:The India Today Group
Credit:India Today Group/Getty Images

The morning scenes are not very different although you are now in the heart of the modern megapolis of Mumbai. Matunga proudly hosts acclaimed schools and colleges and yet the old familiar routines are not lost. You will spot the decorative ‘kolams’ (Rangolis) welcoming you to a South Indian home. Early in the morning, people still visit the nearby Temples for prayers and socializing. Priests are seen going through their morning rituals and planning for the events of the day.

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