Lakshmi Holmstrom’s ‘The Inner Courtyard’

It is an anthology of stories by Indian Women that was published in 1991 and I picked it up around 2000 as a reprint version. Happened to chance on it while rummaging by book collection and re-read it with great enthusiasm.

The writers are all women who trace their roots in the Indian sub-continent though quite a few of them are now settled abroad in the US and UK – part of the celebrated Indian diaspora.Quite a few are also translated versions of vernacular tales.

In a lucid introduction the editor explains some of the constraints that impacted the stories selected for the anthology. In all we have 18 tales and the choice tends to focus more of English writers and writers who seem to have settled abroad. A few translations of vernacular stories are included but they are indeed an exception than the rule. However we must accept that the editor did the best possible of a bad job since many constraints impact such an anthology. It is still quite representative and an Indian reader will have little trouble in discovering the familiar world.

And it is all there – patriarchy, provincialism, paternal attitudes, feudal set ups, the angst of women trapped in situations not of their own choice. And yet the stories are not all that depressing – an exotic range of coping mechanisms evolve. From rebellion to stoicism, our ladies have found devices to manage their circumstances. Indeed in many the male characters are quite in the background and the tale does focus on the fairer sex.

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Sridevi’s ‘English Vinglish’

‘Why India, why not The India? Why The United States of America, why not only United States of America?

Well if the question caught you napping, so it did many viewers who prided themselves on their command of the Queen’s language.

Comebacks are tough and rarely successful. Sridevi proved many people wrong by making a spectacular comeback with ‘English Vinglish’ fifteen years after her last movie. Hindsight makes it easy to spot but she got many things right in her choice – she played her age, played a deglam role and was backed by strong content. And she got lucky with her director, Gauri Shinde, who has great sensibility and an eye for detail.

We meet Sridevi as Shashi – a devoted homemaker and small-time entrepreneur making Ladoos while taking care of her husband busy with his corporate career, her teenage daughter who lacks manners & breeding and her adorable 5-year-old  son who means the world to her. She is aided in her cause by mother in law who is very understanding and supportive.

Shashi finds the going tough when her family pokes fun of her English and her hobby of making Ladoos. Her daughter makes it a habit to target her weak spot whenever she is upset. Shashi gives us the message in dollops – all important conversations happen only in English is it? is one such example. Still it is a mild irritant so long as she is in home environment. Imagine the challenge of having to visit America on her own to help her sister organize her niece’s wedding.

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Of Bulls and Bears

The Financial Crisis of 2008 was yet another unmaking of the small time retail investor in the Indian stock market. He was dazed by the rapid turn of events and bewildered by the sharp downfall that had little to do with domestic factors and valuations.

I don’t say this out of academic interest – I happened to be there and experienced the fall first hand. They say, ‘never try to catch a falling knife’ and yet so many of us rationalized the losses to average our holding price only to be hammered down again.

None of the big market movers too saw it coming but at least they were smart enough to react and make it to the exit door. The common man was too slow to react and was left holding the can.

The signs are back again – there is a marked volatility on the Indian stock markets as well as INR trading rate vis-à-vis the US Dollar. Theories abound and Indians never cease in their ability to pontificate, jargonize and speculate to the point that one feels like it is a case of ‘analysis-paralysis’.

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Le Carre’s ‘A Small Town In Germany’

It is a spy novel that belongs to the Cold War era. And Le Carre is true to his type – the spy is no hero, he does not have a glamorous life and is not even a winner in life. He comes across as a miserable creäture battling odds and depravity. And if he is to survive, he has to come to terms with a very amoral world.

We have seen shades of this before in narratives of Ashenden by Maugham and spy novels by Graham Greene. In sharp contrast to James Bond, Le Carre holds us a mirror to reflect the grim reality of the shady world, warts and all.

it is the late 60s and Bonn seems to be like a scene of pastoral peace. Yet the political temperature is on the rise – a simmering conflict is the emergence of Far Right politician who wants to move Germany away from the Common Market and engage with Russia instead. The British Embassy is working against time to turn the tide in its favour.

Turner from British Foreign Office turns up in Bonn to look for Leo, a middle rung Embassy official, who is said to be on the run along with key secrets of the Crown. He arrives to foggy, cold and misty weather on the island and finds himself caught in the vortex of people issues. Turner is not popular and certainly not adept at engaging with people. Instead he is one of a kind – a bloodhound who is remorseless in his search for reality. He seems lost for a while as the clues take him nowhere and he is part of a mindless routine. Gradually he senses a fellow being in Leo and becomes ambiguous about his feelings for him.

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The melody of Kumar Sanu

A recent movie release from the top production house saw Kumar Sanu’s return to mainstream Hindi movie after quite a while.

Kumar Sanu’s melodies were a rage back in 90s and we all grew up with his music. The songs are popular and certainly on the play list of  middling generation. The Millennials won’t know much about them though and this return provides them an opportunity to discover a singer who mesmerized a generation with his lovely ditties.

Aashiqui was a trendsetter Hindi movie that launched Kumar Sanu’s career and marked a turn towards melody in the industry. All the songs were extremely popular and most of them featured Kumar Sanu. The songs were well placed and added heft to the storyline that was otherwise quite run of the mill.

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Rajni’s ‘Engeyo Ketta Kural’

S P Muthuraman’s movie did not quite set the box office on fire but it was a fairly sober movie in its time. Rajni steals the show with his mellowed persona while Ambika and Radha competently execute their parts.

The story needs to be seen from the prism of a patriarchal and provincial society – man’s social compact ensures a vise like grip on ordinary folks who pay a stiff price if they set about to violate the prevalent social mores in their milieu.

The tale is a simple one in many ways. Set in the rural belt the story revolves around the young Rajni who is a model farmer and a key marriage prospect for two cousins played by Ambika and Radha. Ambika is the elder sister who works in the Landlord’s mansion and wants to escape the rural scene. She is shown to be interested in books and city life with little interest or talent in managing household chores. In contrast Radha is personified as the ‘ideal girl next door’ who will make a great match for an aspiring farmer.

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Nevil Shute’s ‘No Highway’

First impression is the best impression and appearances do matter. That seems to be at the heart of Nevil Shute’s novel, ‘No Highway’. It documents the travails of an eccentric and socially inept scientist who struggles to convince his peers that the newly launched aircraft, popularly known as the ‘Reindeer’ are not safe and could crash dramatically in a matter of minutes on account of destruction of the ‘Tail Wing’ that balances the aircraft.

He is ably backed by his boss, Dr. Scott who is passionate about ensuring customer safety.But undoubtedly it is Honey,the ultimate underdog blessed with a precocious daughter, who is the hero. He even attracts the attractions and amours of two beautiful ladies – the ageing actress, Monica Teasdale, and the young conscientious air hostess, Marjorie Corder.

Aircraft accidents and the technical theory behind them is a dry and technical subject. So it is not easy for any writer to generate enthusiasm among the  readers for the same even if he introduces human drama into it. But Nevil Shute made a rare success of the novel and it was even made into a film.

Sometime during the 1940s is when the action takes place and we need to imagine of a time when the famous Blackbox didn’t even exist and investigation into air crashes were difficult to conduct. It was a battle against the terrain and the conventional mindset.

In Honey we have a perfect underdog to root for – a brilliant but socially inept scientist. Someone who has lost his young wife during the war and aged on account of it. Someone who has a rather precocious daughter (but does not quite seem to know how to harness it). Someone who is forgetful and fails to make a strong impression on the people he meets.

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