Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review : The Wedding Trousseau

i was a tad bit late in doing what primarily i could've done even in my washroom...that is to read a simple small book possessing 129 of very readable pages that had arrived two or maybe three months back.
Yeah it is funny and for some people sacrilegious. This reading in the toilet part. But i guess the habit had developed from school days when i would be cramming stuff while attending to nature's call.
The fact of the matter being that 'The Wedding Trousseau' the book, a collection of short stories was delivered by post to me and inside those words that book had apart from short stories was a responsibility...a serious one. To write a review.

And now after having read those 128 plus one page i feel relieved but the anxiety is still what i possess.
Will i be doing my review to a labor of love for writing.
Writing which in itself is complicated but that which also gives joy to the writer. Joy for a labor of the love of expressing in black and white the swamp of ocean like emotions that clutter our thought process the moment we start expressing.
i sure am a bit nervous too.

The least i can do in order to rid myself of the anxiety is to try. And i am trying for this actually is my first book review.
Holding the book in my hand and looking at the covers trying to take in the designing and what the back cover had of the book just ruffling through those comfortable fonts of those pages i felt at once that Ankita Sharma the author of those short stories is a neat, uncomplicated and a sensitive human being. i love the font size. It is so important for a bespectacled me.

i admired the book first for the design and the comfortable font size that it had. The mind shifting from the mundane act of just leafing through to reverence at the page where we find the dedication.
i couldn't help but bow my head in reverence to whom the book was dedicated to.
Shiva the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer, the Supreme Yogi " The Auspicious One " and Shakti the active feminine energy of Shiva " The Great Divine Mother " who represents the primordial cosmic energy that sustains the entire universe according to that which is rather a way of life.

Since the days of " Call no man a foe, but never love a stranger" from ' A Stone for Danny Fisher' i love reading the preface of the book. (That really was also the first book which made me cry a river.)
Don't know if others do it too cause i really never have asked any voracious reader if they do what i do while reading the preface.
i sometimes nod in acknowledgement and other times feel as surprised as a mouth- opened in wonder wide- eyed child who was just shown a new magic trick.

Here too while reading the preface i smiled and nodded as if in acknowledgement. Seemed like Ankita is speaking to me only with all her honesty and simplicity.
Those simple words what i would use when and if i come out with a book of my own.
i felt instantaneously that i was about to read experiences that probably have had but lacked the necessary consistency required to turn experiences into neat and straight forward stories.

The contents page then informed me why the book is called The Wedding Trousseau. i must confess though that the urge to read the sixth story aka the title of the book was suppressed by the frivolous mind and i started out with the first story ' The Pink Card' with little less enthusiasm than i should have had.
The Pink Card saw me feeling pink with realization. First for my needlessly abated excitement and then of the reality of the story. It hit me straight for i cannot deny not having witnessed such scenarios.
i have been a privy to situations such as those depicted in the story. A facade of self righteousness that we keep donning all the time when we have to condemn the weak and the not so privileged poor beings who assist us in our daily lives. And i wonder why do we do that. What is there to gain in being narrow- minded ly moralistic.
Then shamelessly go on with our lives having no regrets as to those useless words uttered and damage done mostly of our own. Words bombarded over nothing at all. And finally who then has the last laugh...after all is done and said. Can we get rid of the hypocrisy mixed with superiority ever i just wonder.

i carried on suspecting the least that the second story might be something i have known too, maybe condemned inwardly but on being aware having done nothing about it actually.  'One More Bite' and the pink was seeping into the ears making it feel hot with shame and embarrassment. i felt bitten and stung with another about our own kids who turn eventually into brats. Who then is responsible for propagating shallow values devoid of any sensitivity, empathy or pathos ? The tantrum throwing brats are not born spoilt are they ?
As parents what kind of Sanskaar are we imparting to our children? By humiliating another tortured and abused starved child and exploiting his poverty as cheap labor to do kitchen work or any kind of domestic odd jobs !. What values are we inculcating in our own PRECIOUS ones. One More Bite was just more than a single for the aftertaste kept me grumpy and sullen for sometime as i proceeded. For not only was the truth bitter but also the story lashed out. The disdain we have and our own callousness in imparting true but substantial meaningful values to our own kids. The values which should sustain and not get dissipated by the tides of time. And these kids today will be the insufferable society tomorrow.

i certainly felt a faint smile wanting to turn into a full- throat laughter in ' Leaves' the next story. But why did the laughter not emerge. Because the truth in this story felt stranger than the fiction it was built upon. What caught my fancy was the dream of the poor protagonist young boy.  In the story he had probably seen aliens and nobody believed his sighting instead the girl friend even assumed he was doing drugs and hence had hallucinated. And when in slumber he has a dream. The dream felt more real than the aliens that he had seen at that knoll. So much of literacy, education and all kinds of empowerment but we still have strange beliefs and myths. The strangest one rather stranger than having even seen UFO or aliens is the belief of most Indians about marriage. That marriage is some cosmic panacea of all evils. All evils that plague the youth starting with "...haywire hormones'' and many others including "...bad Karma".
i feel compelled to use Ankita's words (used in a different context) myself simply because it fits.  My own thoughts about marriage thus, "...patterns on the sooty walls...cocooned minds.''

Then while ' Curse ' dealt with the same unctuousness in which a mother is consoling her drunk good for nothing incorrigible son whose wife has just left him and gone for good ; ' Courtesy' dealt with the snobbish behavior of  the upper middle class. Nowadays they are here, there and everywhere thanks to the so called development. Development yes but not much growth. These who have neither the time nor the inclination to hone their own soft skills rather prefer to gloat and swim in their own fake and shallow waters of development over stuff and objects for hours or even days. What is worse is the fact that this class apart from being snobbish are opportunists to the core who believe strongly in worshiping as spineless sycophants all those that they deem to be the rising sun / suns. Courtesy's family is also very well known to me and i hope my analysis is not trashed as an exaggerated statement of facts.

i thus arrive at The Wedding Trousseau somewhat fully aware of what i am about to view from behind the descriptive stacks of expensive silks, chiffons, pashminas and those shimmering beads of the lehnga. i saw what i knew i was about to see and felt deeply for the girl who fussed over her wedding trousseau just to realize after the wedding that dreams die first and a man with money is just a bonus not a ladder to upgrade. i wandered in the "blank silence'' which one roams with having a cow of a husband for company. For money can't buy happiness but it can buy a cow which is pretty much the same thing. i got reminded of that one by Coco Chanel, " The best things in life are free; the second best are expensive."

The next story 'The Site Visit' gave me some goose pimples when i questioned myself after finishing the story as to how i would react if i had to visit such a flat for renting. The kind in which a gory homicidal murder had taken place after which the murderer had hanged himself. Tell you the truth i would not be able to run away as my legs would freeze and all i could possibly do would be to scream in horror my guts out if i found a somebody behind me standing in a room which was erstwhile locked and supposedly vacant.

' The Fresh Stock' made me think of the strict adoption laws that i have been seeing while watching Hollywood movies but i really am not sure how orphanages in India operate. Do they bother even to check the credentials of the ready for adoption parents?  What are the questions that need to be answered substantially by the willing to adopt a child couple? Who then certifies that the adopting parents are mentally healthy enough to be qualified as fit to adopt and take care of the child like it was one of their own?  For those who see orphans or castaway children as ' Stocks' should strictly be dealt with some punitive measures. Pathetic is the word that comes to the mind for such moneyed people who in the garb of doing sincere charity donate handsome sums to orphanages and then treat children as objects/ commodities. Like a flash of lightening it struck me about the possibilities if it were possible that is. That if it could be possible they would further want manufactured beautiful babies...those that have fair skin, blue eyes, pink chubby cheeks probably a dimpled smile and to top it all definitely those curly like maggi noodles soft lustrous hair....
What was best about this story was that despite everything that seems to be going wrong in our upwardly mobile society in which childless couples are seen living in condos and gated communities having no time to chill out what to talk of thinking about starting a family with kids and all that jazz that goes with it, the story still ends with a fresh hope of bringing in the so very much desired rather needed positive change.

Having to deal with a loss of a dear departed one is quite painful and it takes time. The loss is irreparable and i guess it comes naturally to people who come to console you to say that in time you should be able to overcome the loss. The fact of the matter being we console ourselves in ways we can to deal with the loss although the absence of the dear one is never ever dealt with. The absence stays and keeps resurfacing from time to time. Guilt about having to lose maybe because of one's own bad karma and other dissecting theories/ analysis keep haunting from time to time. Also the hopelessness of the unknowable fact if the loss could have been prevented. Those what if's never completely go away.
'The Solitary Mound' deals with such a loss where a mother talks to her dead child sitting next to the mound where the infant is buried. i was very much enlightened myself by the thoughtful and sensible explanation that the husband of the grieving mother had to deliver to those who thought that the poor lady perhaps needed psychiatric help.
The acid test of any relationship is loss; a body part or a dear member of the family or even an infant child...
Who do we turn to, whom to trust. And here was in this story an entity...ever understanding, all forgiving, non-judgmental. The husband of the grieving woman.
It is hurtful rather painful to be in that world which behaves oddly itself when one is in mourning and grieving. The world is too much with us and does not give us enough space even to grieve in peace.

There are bosses and then there are those Hari Sadu type of painful bosses. And Mr. Kapoor is one such boss in the story ' I Forgive You'. True it is then there are dire situations when you face conundrum. How to deliver oneself from the evil that calls you ' beti ' and yet continues to harass you at the drop of a hat. One has no choice then but to stay put and forgive the poor pathetic Hari Sadu soul. The survival kit of a woman who has lost her husband in this not so easy on widow world has tons and tons of forgiveness for everyone. The relentless boss being just one on whom this great virtue is lavished.

The eleventh and the final story is all about this perfect mania fever that keeps gripping us from time to time. As if perfect couple, skin, body, family and even home or gardens is not enough now we even want perfect pets. When Ankita writes about perfection in her story i am reminded of Robert Mugabe's speech on racism. This speech of which i really haven't done any Google search appeals to me and i am really not very sure if it was delivered by President Mugabe either. i am reminded of the speech because it has enthusiastically been doing rounds on social media. Be it on Facebook or Whatts App. Thus after completing it's rounds it arrives to me as a new poster once in a while. This one...
1. Racism will never end as long as white cars are still using black tires.
2. Racism Will never end as long as we still wash first white clothes, then other colors later.
3. Racism will never end if people still use black to symbolize bad luck and WHITE
for peace.
4. Racism will never end if people still wear white clothes at weddings and black clothes at funerals
5. Racism will never end as long as those who don’t pay their bills are blacklisted not White listed.

6. Even when playing the pool (snooker), you haven’t won until you sink the black ball, and the white ball must remain on the field.  
Ankita has thus rightly said in her story as the voice of Rahul who apparently is the only sensible/ sensitive and genuinely kind person in that particular family to adopt an abused- badly- dog as a pet from an NGO. 
" Perfection keeps shifting like a mirage. We are obsessed with anything that is perfect but the standards shift every minute: they are not fixed. We refuse to accept and agree with anything that fails to fit inside our moulds of excellence. If fair is beautiful, everything having a dark surface, be it a dog or a human, will be ruthlessly tagged ugly. If X is considered nice, anything different from X will be ugly: this list is virtually endless."
And i totally agree with the author when through her story she tries to convey that love and acceptance has no relation to the concept called ' PERFECT'. Love surpasses every criteria set for perfection.
i kept wishing if the whole world becomes like Rahul what a wonderful world it would be then. 
i kept weaving Utopian fantasy threads in my thoughts for sometime. What if no one was considered 'fat' or 'dark' or 'short' or ...
Actually how would we all be if that word ' UGLY' is erased from our hearts and minds. Won't then ' PERFECT' also cease to exist... 

Eleven short stories that show us what we really don't want to see or if we do see them the best that we do is to turn a blinds eye.

i appreciate the joy of compiling experiences into short stories. And i am sure Ankita has expressed herself well in the best possible way that she could. Barring a couple of stories that sounded like leisurely story telling over a cup of coffee between friends i could feel the urgent whispers in the rest. And the Keep it Simple language makes the deciphering of those whispers all the more easy. Each story shows us our own particular side because we ourselves are so wily, with shifting loyalties that in the end we are what we call people.
To me her collection was like a mirror. Revealing the slightest scars that we deceitfully hide. And for showing us this mirror all i can say is that i am grateful indeed to the writer for giving me this opportunity to know more of the unknowable and wary of others ME THE PEOPLE.