Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ranjit Lal - Faces in the water

The ancient and rich Diwanchand family is famous for having only sons.  You can sense the horrible secret behind this as you find out that all the children of this family are born in their ancestral farmhouse.  Gurmeet or Gurmi, the only son of one of the Diwanchand brothers,  is sent to live in the farmhouse when his house in Delhi is shut for renovations.  His mother forbids him to step anywhere close to the well that is attached to the farmhouse.

Like any other 15 year old, Gurmeet does exactly what he is forbidden to and unearths the secret behind the unbroken line of Diwanchand family's sons.  The beautiful girls who were lowered into the well to keep the tradition alive are now a series of ghosts, he discovers.

You could be forgiven for thinking this makes the story spooky and gruesome.  It does not.   With a deft and gentle touch, Ranjit Lal turns this story into a fantasy, where the girls show their brother that had they lived, everyone's life would have been much more fun and enriched.

Even as Gurmeet tries to struggle with the enormity of the crime, he is amazed at the calmness with which the girls accept the atrocity and refuse to strike back, despite having some 'ghostly' powers.  Soon, Gurmeet finds he has a bigger problem in hand...

The novel is more YA (young adult) fiction, hence the story is kept simple and sweet.  There are a few plot holes, for instance, if the women were pregnant so often, surely the neighbours remarked on how the women turned up without a child at the end of it.  It could be explained away as a stillborn birth, but so frequently?  If we set aside this, there is nothing to crib about because the story has a beautiful heart, it brings out how much a girl child enriches the lives of the family.
I am a fan of Ranjit Lal's writing.  I loved his book The life and times of Altu Faltu.  His writings on birds appear frequently in magazines.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Christopher Isherwood - Goodbye to Berlin

It helps sometimes to have a To-Be-Read (TBR) list handy as you go book hunting in a library. Just go to the relevant shelves, pick out your book and, zip zap zoom, you are done. I have taken to making a TBR list based on recommendations by people. 

I picked the first two books on my list, Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood and The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott, a few days ago.

I have just finished reading Goodbye to Berlin.

It is an account of the author’s stay in Berlin for a period of time. It was an exciting time, just before Hitler came to power and launched his full scaled pogrom against the Jews.

While we do not get a political commentary on the times, we do get sketches of people who go about their lives, not having any idea about the storm that is headed their way.

The novel is divided into several chapters, A Berlin Diary (Autumn 1930), Sally Bowles, On Rugen Island (Summer 1931), The Nowaks, The Landauers, and finally again, A Berlin Diary (Winter 1932-3)

A Berlin diary is an account of Isherwood's life in Berlin. He profiles his stay in a boarding house there. He writes about Frl. Schroeder, his sweet and caring landlady, his fellow lodgers and their everyday happenings.

The piece de resistance here is undoubtably Sally Bowles. I was struck by the similarity between her and Holly Golightly. I found out from wikipedia that Sally Bowles was indeed the inspiration for Holly. Capote and Isherwood met in New York and happened to talk about this small time night club performer who was a complete degenerate. Unlike Holly, Sally did not get a glamourous 'face' to play her, hence she remained unknown.  

On Reugen Islands examines Otto, a handsome spoiled young man who puts himself out for favors. Holidaying in the Reugen Islands, Isherwood runs into Peter and the young man he has 'befriended', Otto Nowak. The relationship between Peter and Otto soon runs into rough weather, and Isherwood gets a ringside view to their fights. The Nowaks is a sequel to the previous story.  Here Isherwood goes to live with the Nowaks as he has fallen on hard times.  Here we get to look at the sad, poor life that Otto's family leads.

The Landauers is about a rich Jewish family that Isherwood gets introduced to. He soon strikes up a special friendship with their daughter, Natalia, who is a pretty, curious, intelligent young schoolgirl. Isherwood seems to waver on the brink of a relationship with her.

The final chapter is again about his previous landlady and life in the boarding house. Things are getting sinister now, Hitler is almost upon them. He sees life changing around him and he prepares to leave.

The stories are not told in a usual 'fictional' style. They read more like memoirs, and often seem like pointless sketches. But later, you realise that that these are an important record of those times, some
what like snapshots that drop out of an old family album, reminding you of past family events.