Somerset Maugham’s Rain

Rain is probably the best short story written by Somerset Maugham – in its length and characterization it is more like a novella but of course it conforms to Maugham’s formula for a story – it has a beginning, a middle and an end.

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The story’s popularity has sustained over the years as it has been made into movies and plays. Sadie’s role of a prostitute out to have a good time has been portrayed on-screen by Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson and Rita Hayworth. The short story has often been selected for anthologies and is prescribed reading material for students attempting to master modern English literature.

The adventure begins off on simple terms. A ship headed to Apia is stranded near Pago Pago as a Cholera epidemic is suspected and a quarantine enforced to prevent an outbreak. Most of the travellers are ordinary folks headed on business and personal trips.

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Review of Anita Desai’s short story, ‘The Farewell Party’.

‘When you are young you take the kindness people show you as your right’.                                                                                                           W Somerset Maugham, Cakes and Ale.

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The Ramans are moving on in life as the husband has been promoted and the family needs to adjust to the new reality. An occasion to celebrate success should surely be all fun and games right. But Anita Desai plans to make us think and despair about the human bondage that binds us all. That we are social creatures is a given since Aristotle spoke about it but that high society can be snobbish and malicious is no figment of anyone’s imagination. Continue reading “Review of Anita Desai’s short story, ‘The Farewell Party’.”

Boring and Bizarre – The Osterman Weekend by Robert Ludlum.

I happened to a free weekend when I was travelling to home town. Having time to kill during the trip I picked up the old novel from the roadside vendor. Robert Ludlum, Alistair MacLean, and Robin Cook were my favourites during college days and I had vague memories of having read the novel.

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Published in 1982, the content is obviously dated now but even for pulp fiction the book turned out to be a disappointment.

You are a programming head of leading television channel covering serious political news and uncovering scams & incompetence as means to earn your daily bread. Imagine you are called in by the central investigative agency to be told that one or more of your friends is a traitor and a Russian spy. The spy organization code-named ‘Omega’ had been dormant for long as they wait strategically for an opportune moment to strike. Further they are planning to pull in some action over the coming weekend when the 4 families get together to have what is called, ‘The Osterman Weekend’.

Continue reading “Boring and Bizarre – The Osterman Weekend by Robert Ludlum.”

Review of R K Narayan’s ‘The World of Nagaraj’

Familiarity breeds contempt. One of later novels of Narayan that is not quite as popular as his other tales. Obviously we feel a bit jaded about visiting the good ol’ Malgudi to survey the life of ordinary folks.

The World of Nagaraj

Nagaraj is nothing new – we have seen various versions of him in Narayan’s earlier novels. Weak as water and self-effacing to the point of an apology, thankfully Nagaraj does not have to dwell in real life. Shorn of any responsibilities he keeps dreaming about writing an epic piece of Narada and we know that his comical efforts will bear no fruit. It is another version of ‘Mungerilal ke haseen sapne …’. For variety we have a Nagaraj’s wife etched more strongly and at least we remember Sita by her name at the end of the novel. His irresponsible nephew Tim is yet again a paler version of Mali from Narayan’s ‘Vendor of Sweets’. Continue reading “Review of R K Narayan’s ‘The World of Nagaraj’”

Review of ‘Irrfan & Parvathy’ movie ‘Qarib Qarib Singlle’.

You might have missed watching this movie that was billed to be a mature romcom. It had a modest budget and proved to be successful on the box office too. But it was not marketed at a scale of a typical Bollywood release so reason enough to have not seen it at the theatres.

It scores on realism, strong actors playing unconventional leads and lovely locales. It misses a few points by being predictable about the climax, by not exploring Irrfan’s back-story enough and by force-fitting a ‘sleeping-pill’ induced emotional atyachaar episode featuring Parvathy.

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The opening sequence is relatable and funny at times. A desperate Parvathy (now in her mid-30s and one who lost her husband over a decade ago) seeks a soul mate. Having failed to find one in real life she is forced to turn to an online dating service to look for interesting men. After a barrage of weirdos and trolls, she spots a sensible reply from Irrfan. They meet at a Cafe but Irrfan turns out to be a colorful third-grade shayar. Continue reading “Review of ‘Irrfan & Parvathy’ movie ‘Qarib Qarib Singlle’.”

Gulzar’s take on relationships – ‘Ijaazat’.

If Facebook had existed in the 80s, Mahender would have posted his relationship status as, ‘It’s complicated’. Torn between his fidelity to his wife (Rekha) and his affectionate concern for his ex (Anuradha Patel) he lands up in no man’s land. The debate may focus of patriarchy and an anti-feminist mindset but at the nub of it is Mahender’s inability to communicate well with the two women who matter the most in his life.

Ijaazat

The movie struck a fine chord on its commercial elements while remaining rooted in parallel cinema. Naseer was a torch-bearer of ‘Art’ films while Rekha was a popular leading lady. Anuradha Patel turned out to be a surprise package playing the ‘Woman – Child’ with elan. Gulzar’s  charming lyrics were turned into soulful melodies by R D Burman and Asha Bhosle rendered them picture-perfect. ‘Mera Kuch Samaan Tumhare Paas Pada Hai’ remains an evergreen favorite. Lovely locales including Panchgani, Wai, a quaint little unknown railway station are backed with engaging screenplay. Continue reading “Gulzar’s take on relationships – ‘Ijaazat’.”

John Le Carre’s ‘The Little Drummer Girl’

Can ends ever justify the means? Do two wrongs make a right? Moral questions and shades of grey in the world of spying and espionage have been the mainstay of Le Carre’s novels. But post exhausting the potential of the ‘Smiley – Karla’ face off, Le Carre shifts his attention to the real world of terrorism and counter-terrorism.

He has chosen the complex theatre in the Middle East and managed a deft balancing act in not sympathizing blatantly with either of the parties. Unfortunately his protagonist, Charlie, can’t manage to remain unaffected by the mind bender though the novel still ends on a note of optimism for her.

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Le Carre unveils the plot at a leisurely pace – he takes about 100 pages to establish the bare skeleton that will drive the chase to its inevitable conclusion. Charlie is a struggling promiscuous Brit actress who has shown sympathies for radicals battling the System and the established world order. It is rather convenient for her to be recruited to fight the cause but such leaps of faith are to be expected as the novel is more of a character sketch than a thriller. Continue reading “John Le Carre’s ‘The Little Drummer Girl’”

Arthur Hailey’s ‘The Moneychangers’

The year was 1975 and Arthur Hailey chose to showcase the dynamics of  the Banking industry at the cusp of technological changes and learn the pitfalls of subprime lending and stagflation. The ubiquitous ATM was a rare species in those days and computers were still to replace the paperwork that is at the core of banking.

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I first read the book during my college days in the late 90s when the MNC banks had just started to change the banking scene in India as well. The first wave of LPG (liberalization, privatization & globalization) was battering our moribund systems and the retail banking space was finally finding its space in the sky. As an MBA student I first experienced the convenience of a Credit Card & Debit Card that ushered in the ATM into my life. To tell such tales to the millennials seems to make us sound so ancient and antiquated.

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Akshaye Khanna’s thriller, ‘Ittefaq’

The thriller saw a low-key release sans any major promotions hoopla and the box office revenues may have just made enough profit to encourage such movies that are not really in the commercial framework (no songs, no punch dialogues, and lead cast isn’t rated as ‘A’ listers) not and often fail to justify the producer’s investments.

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Thrillers have not been the popular genre in recent times and one that doesn’t insult your intelligence and has a narrative that is cohesive enough to make sense is surely a rarity. The premise is quite simple – one needn’t have the original inspiration that was released in 1969 – and the 100 minute narrative does it a fair justice as well. Continue reading “Akshaye Khanna’s thriller, ‘Ittefaq’”

Anita Desai’s ‘Clear Light of Day’

It was the first of the three books written by Anita Desai that were nominated for the Booker Prize. It was her second novel and showcases all that we know about Anita Desai’s  signature style – angst of the educated middle classes, feminism, loneliness, stoicism and the defiant human spirit to battle the odds one faces in our lives.

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It’s interesting to note that the writer has acknowledged that this novel is the most autobiographical among her works. Obviously it is not a narrative based on her immediate family but the autobiographical elements are about Old Delhi and growing up in the tumultuous period of Partition. It’s easy to spot that the chief narrator and protagonist Bim ( Bimala) is modeled on the writer as she is fiercely individualistic and willing to pay the price of her choices.

The Das family is clearly dysfunctional though they seemed to be comfortably middle class. A set of four children left to fend for themselves while the parents are busy clubbing. And the parents don’t have a happy life either – the mother is chronically ill and passes away. The father is a remote and standoffish personality who too dies in a car accident. The loving but ineffectual Aunt Tara is tasked with the job of raising the children. She contributes her mite by trying to protect their childhood and being around to spend time with the kids. Continue reading “Anita Desai’s ‘Clear Light of Day’”

John Le Carre’s ‘A Perfect Spy’

Exactly what makes John Le Carre tick? How is he able to create a fantastic face off between Smiley and Karla that resulted in a captivating trilogy? How has he been such a prolific narrator of spy tales of varied nature from ‘The Spy Who Came In From The Cold’ to ‘The Russia House’? And a single word of advice – ‘Don’t read this book till you have explored Le Carre’s novels till the early 90s. This book will be really savored by folks who know Smiley, Karla, Jerry Westerby, Bill Haydon, Alec Leamas, Leo Harting, Alan Turner Barley Blair et al’.

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A Perfect Spy may hold some clues as it is autobiographical in nature and deals with the core driver element of spying – an acute sense of betrayal and dualism that enables the individual to double-cross his friends and get triple-crossed in return as just desserts for his own perfidy. Paranoia and mental disintegration awaits anyone who doesn’t play it as per the rules of this game. Continue reading “John Le Carre’s ‘A Perfect Spy’”