Thursday, February 14, 2013

Crime and Punishment

My first tryst with Russian Literature was the novel, One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

 It chronicles a day in the life of Ivan, a prisoner who is serving in a Soviet labour camp. The slim volume was quite evocative, in terms of the prose and the plot.

I moved on to Anna Karenina, the novel by Leo Tolstoy.

I could not make peace with it. Anna Karenina did not appeal to me in the way that it should have - by all accounts it is a great classic. But maybe I think I'll read it after a few days and it will make sense to me.

That is something I have observed. To an immature mind, a great book may seem ridiculous. But when read at the right time, it rises to sublime heights. The first time I read 'Gone with the wind', I hated it. The story was garbled, the characters shallow. But I read the same book three years later and then I saw it in a new light. The circumstances in America and a deeper understanding and acceptance of people allowed me to come to terms with that book.

This year, I embarked on Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

It is undoubtedly a complex novel. A murder, subsequent guilt, the complex and specious logic behind it, other complicated and fractious characters who vacillate between extremes...If I would have read this book a year ago, I would probably have thrown away after reading a few pages. When I started reading it, I struggled through the first few pages. And if I have to admit it, I would have to attribute it to the Russian names.The story picks up pace in the second part but again, peters out towards the end. It is fraught with complications and there is a curious symmetry to the plot. The plot can be described as such:

Rodia is a young ex-student in St. Petersburg. He kills a pawn-broker and her sister. He murders her to test out his hypothesis that there exists a breed of men who can transgress the laws of the society in a bid for utilitarian good. Ultimately, he recognises that he is not of the those men. He often compares his actions with that of Napoleon. Ultimately, he confesses his crime and is sentenced to labour. Of course, the book is not simple enough to be summed up in half a dozen sentences. There are enough sub-plots and symbolism to keep the head turning.

But all in all, I would advise this book only to a serious reader. Others may pass.

Birds of feather

Birds of Feather
flock together

A crow surrounded by peacocks – a deep abyss of darkness coated with the varnish of jealously flits amongst the iridescent eyes of gold, blue, green unblinking and staring.

He crows. They crow along with him. A stray feather plucked off an unsuspecting wing, another surrendered by reverence for the scratchy crows – so simple yet apparently filled with meaning and the secret of life. Rubies, emeralds, gold dust and diamond sparkles on the sharp, black beak and the circlet of holiness on his head.

He pecks the ground. They pretend to find fat, juicy worms, slurp in delight as he closes his eyes in a state of supreme satisfaction. More feathers, more unblinking eyes perch on his short stubby tail.

He flies away one day and they watch him. The long, silken tokens of mental servility hang off his dark tail as he flaps his wings, far above them. They come off as he traverses the miles. Diamonds and dust fall off the slick texture of his wings and the painted adornments remain just on the surface – underneath, still the dark abyss and still the sheen of envy.

A single feather falls in their midst as he takes off. They blink at it, cock their heads and peck it. It gleams and glitters – the trinket of folly and insecurity, glazed by beauty.

Their eyes are heavenward, waiting for the next one like the one who left, to deliver them from their impression of self imposed doom.

Monday, February 11, 2013

First rain

The first rain of the year.

It's not quite surprising for the rain to drop in unexpectedly before the summer. As I write, the drops are pattering away steadily, the smell of the soil permeates the air and I long for things I know not.

 I lean out of the window and the drops fall on me, rolling down my cheeks in a cool embrace of reassurance in the face of the oppressive heat of the day.

 The wind is more playful and he lifts the white and red curtains of my window, and with him, he brings the dreams of the earth.

The smell...I could keep inhaling the smell of the arid, parched soil cooled by the rain. There cannot be a more potent harbinger of optimism...

The scent clings to my body and my hair and will come to me in my dreams and tell me, that after a long, hot day, the rain will come.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Jane Austen and P&P

Pride and Prejudice turned 200 this January. It is hard to imagine that a story set in rural England 200 years ago could have this much sway over the minds of thousands of women, but Pride and Prejudice does just that. I believe that P&P is the original chick-lit, but in a language and a form far superior to those we have today.

(not owned by me)

Pride and Prejudice marries two of my most favourite characteristics in romance novels.
The first is the heroine - Obstinate, headstrong girl, as rightly called by Lady Catherine De Borough.

And the enigmatic, slightly rude hero with a heart of gold.

All in all, it resembles a firangi version of a Bollywood movie. Upper class and lower class protagonists - an excellent conflict if there was one - hatred that blossoms into love - much more entertaining than the sappy stories - and clever quips and biting dialogues. But there is a freshness of the prose that I feel our films can hardly aspire to. But with the changing face of Marathi cinema, I remain hopeful (no hopes from Bollywood for me!)

There have been many versions of Pride and Prejudice on the screen. Most notables:

1. BBC Version

The best of the lot, seriously. I LOVE IT!

It rocks. Colin Firth is the perfect Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle does a stunning job as Elizabeth. The music is beautiful, and right from the opening credits, all 6 parts manage to leave one spellbound.

2. Pride and Prejudice

The movie. Truly speaking, I did not like it. Everyone is far too thin and stylish to be believable.

See what I mean?

3. Bride and Prejudice

I am cringing as I write this.

I did not like the movie. I found the dialogue insipid, lacking the pithy quality of the original. But it is overall a good watch.


Pride and Prejudice has done well in the merchandising department. Following are the items I have been coveting:

Earrings of 'It will not do...' from Etsy.

Bags from Cafepress

Clothbound book from Penguin (I am SO going to buy this):

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Wada pav

There is something to be said about wada-pav. It is the ultimate comfort food for me, right in the line behind pani puri and warm mugacha dali chi khichadi.The crackle of the wada, the hard, crunchy exterior of the pav, the hot steam emanating from its deep yellow interior. The dry garlic chutney and the tamarind paste, the deep fried chillies that have crystals of salt stuck to it like minuscule diamonds...

(Do not own the image!)

There are very few places in Pune which prepare wada pav according to my taste. Joshi Wadewale, the erstwhile eatery famous for its wada pavs has disappointed me quite often with stone cold pavs and lukewarm wadas. No other famous joints have managed to tempt me.

Indeed, there is only one place in Pune which can make my heart sing and bring tears of joy to my eyes. The wada pav is always heavenly and wonderful. Almost always, it is hot. If not, the taste makes up for the temperature.

And that place is (drumroll, please),

Bipin Snacks

It is a tiny tapri across the road from the Karve road Kshetriya Karyalay and next to the Sahyadri Hospital. You will never find it bereft of customers.

So if you want to try out the world's best wada pav, head over to Deccan corner and you'll find yourself going back to Bipin, not only for the wada pav but also for the super awesome items on the menu, like pohey, upit, sabudana khichadi-kakdi, bhel and sandwich.