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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Two States, The story of my marriage - Chetan Bhagat

Book Title Two States
ISBN: 8129115301
First Published: 2009

The story of a North Indian boy falling for a South Indian girl and his struggles in convincing both sides of the family into accepting this relationship.

Simple, Funny

Romance, Drama

The couples live-in together and have sex before marriage. The language, however, is not very profane.

Favorite Quote:
Forgiving doesn’t make the person who hurt you feel better, it makes you feel better.

Two States is the story of a Punjabi boy and a Tamilian girl falling in love, and instead of taking the usual route of eloping to get married, believe in convincing their parents for their union. The book is funny in a simple sort of a way and packs some lessons too – like being Indian instead of being North or South Indian and the importance of forgiving.

The book can be divided into three sections, and these sections evoked different emotions from me: Tolerant, Incredulous and Annoyed.

The language is juvenile. That in itself is not a reason to dislike a book – I loved the writing style of Twilight, Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. I was not expecting a Salman Rushdie from a Chetan Bhagat. However, when a juvenile style of writing is combined with cheesy lines and shallow emotions, more than losing its edge, the book becomes a caricature of bad writing. Consider, for example, the dedications page:
This may be the first time in the history of books, but here goes: 
Dedicated to My In-Laws.* 
*Which does not mean I am henpecked, under her thumb or not man enough.

Ever since the movie Lives of Others, I give a lot of importance to the Dedications page. Considering that this book is inspired from his own marriage, and also that the book makes ample fun of the in-laws (to be), whose positive traits have been conveniently ignored, I found this page to be a very poor joke.
Or maybe not. I am a Tamilian, and as Bhagat mentions in his book:
The Tamil sense of humor, if any, is really an acquired taste.

The book is full of stereotypes. Punjabi and Tamilian stereotypes to be precise. Of course, Bhagat has added this disclaimer in the beginning:
I would also like to tell all South Indians I love them. My better half will vouch for that. I have taken the liberty to have some fun with you just like I have with Punjabis – only because I see you as my own. You only make digs at people you care for.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the stereotypes now:
  • Primarily concerned about food.
  • Usually on the heavy side.
  • Overdressed and with a preference for bling and gaudy jewellery.
  • Love showing off their wealth.
  • Usually outspoken, loud and dramatic.
  • Believe South Indians have a complexion complex.
  • Love to shop.
  • Education is not exactly a priority, especially for a girl.
  • Love the IIT tag and foreign degrees.
  • Eat only Idlis.
  • Almost all of them are black (not dark), and most of them use generous doses of talcum powder.
  • Listen to horrible Carnatic music.
  • Docile, repressed and the only sign of rebellion is talking in Tamil to non-Tamilians.
  • Tamilian men usually have thick glasses and oiled hair, and since they cannot get girlfriends themselves, prefer arranged marriages.
  • Tamilians don’t like to have fun and like to follow the rules. Fun, for them, is usually associated with guilt.
  • They like reading The Hindu, and are comfortable with silences. The dinner is a quiet affair with everyone exchanging dead looks.

To sum it up:
Marble flooring is to a Punjabi what a foreign degree is to a Tamilian. 
When people land at Chennai airport, they exchange smiles and proceed gently to the car park. At Delhi, there is traffic jam of people trying to hug each other to death.
In the beginning of the book, Bhagat through the protagonist Krish, mentions the following reason for wanting to be a writer:
Someone who tells stories that are fun but bring about change too.
Now, what does the author do to serve the bigger cause – vis-à-vis, make inter - state marriages acceptable?
  • Does he finally understand the city and its people or his girlfriend (or vice versa)? No.
  • Does he show the positives of the stereotyped parents and South-Indian (and North-Indian) bosses? No.
  • Does he show some exceptions to the stereotypes – like an educated Punjabi girl, a non-blingy Punjabi parent, a non-gossipy relative, a cool south Indian friend, a drinking and meat-eating Tamilian? No.
  • Does he lie his way through to the girl’s parents' hearts? Yes.
  • Does he expect the girl to lie to his parents and do the household work to impress his mother? Yes.
  • Does he manipulate the brother, the girl’s parents and his mother into accepting for the marriage? Yes.
  • Despite the lofty talks of wanting to bring about change, and constantly putting down a multinational bank like Citi, does he, in the end, resort to the traditional method of flattery to get his job done? Yes.

After all, in his own words:
No matter how accomplished people get, they don’t stop fishing for compliments.
When the parents of the boy and the girl finally meet, the protagonist tells the girl to make her parents buy a lot of gifts for his mother and not let him pay or do any work. He convinces his mother that the girl will be docile and submissive after marriage. The boy’s only defense is that he was lying and trying to get both the sides to like each other. Of course, how a girl's side will like a boy or his mother for forcing them to buy "gifts" is debatable.
Forget the feminist angle, but this looks like a life full of lies and a lot more gifts from the girl’s parents just to let the parents get along. Again, the ever eloquent author, provides this conversation between the boy and a girl as a gist of the issue: 
Girl: “No I want to marry where my parents are treated as equals”
Boy: “You should have been born a boy”.
Girl: “That’s so sexist, I would have hung up if I didn’t care for you”.
To be fair, the girl ought to be smacked too. She assents to marry the guy who didn’t like her wearing shorts, asked her parents to buy gifts and thinks that only a boy can demand equal rights for parents.  
This is not the first book with a manipulative or a non-likeable protagonist. There is Gone with the wind with a raunchy heroine and Fifty Shades of Grey with a sex-starved lead, not to mention all the unreliable narrators. The reason why this was as glaring as it is was because of the promise that the book is about change. If the change in inter-state marriages can be achieved only through lies and manipulations, then the marriage is not worth it.

It is an easy read - the language is simple and easy to follow. Of course, it is light on the pockets. But please read the book with minimal expectations. Bhagat does not disappoint, at least in terms of mediocre writing and shallowness that is expected out of him.

How do you describe fun?

He never drank  or ate meat or smoked (or had fun, by extension)

This is one of the lines in Chetan Bhagat’s book Two States. I don’t think he meant it as an anti-South Indian sentiment, but as a general observation – if you are vegetarian, a non-smoker and a teetotaler, then you don’t have fun.
That made me wonder – when did I have maximum fun? As usual, I have a list:
  • 1.  Snorkeling with dad: Apart from realising that my serious dad could be cool, the parallel underwater universe was breathtaking to behold.
  • 2.   Standing under a waterfall: I don’t know if it can cure insanity, but standing under a waterfall should be a to-do in everyone’s list.
  • 3.   Treks: Not all of the treks have been fun, but two have been unforgettable. I can still vividly recall climbing hills in torrential rains, running from the leeches, watching the fireflies light up a tree and the welcome bonfire in the night.
  • 4.   The Terrace get-togethers and cousin outings: Who cares about the drink and food when the company is awesome?
  • 5.   Goa: We didn't drink in Goa (must be one of the very few couples to do so) – we went to farms, saw waterfalls, para-glided and walked along the beaches.
  • 6.   Watching a play, dance drama or a music concert: Watching a story unfold right in front of your eyes is difficult to describe and heavenly to experience.
  • 7.   Travelling in Mumbai Trains and Chennai buses: I am a sucker for public transport, and can't explain why I enjoy it so much more than autos and taxis.
  • 8.   Reading a book with Cup Noodles: That is my personal piece of heaven on earth.
  • 9.  Playing Catch with Ashwin: All couples have their own stupid games. :D
  • 10.Singing Nursery rhymes: I am not sure if the boy enjoys it, but I sure do – especially if they are the ones with action, like “Wheels on the bus” or “If you happy and you know it”.

None of the ten required drinking, smoking or eating non-vegetarian food. It is this thinking that gets all teenagers muddled up – smoking is cool or drinking is necessary. Not really. While I don’t condone any of the three habits (to each his own and all that jazz), please don’t make it sound like a prerequisite to have fun. In the same book Bhagat mentions the reason for the protagonist to become a writer:
Someone who tells stories that are fun but bring about change too.
In the quest for a larger change (promoting inter-state and inter-caste marriages), he seems to have let all the smaller things go. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

We Yare like thatu Wonly :)

The letters to North Indians by South Indians (and vice versa) seem to be flying back and forth a lot more often nowadays. Sometimes they are defensive, but mostly they are sarcastic, funny and offensive! Spending almost exactly half of my life in Chennai and the rest in North India*, my loyalties lie in the middle. I was initially very antagonistic towards the North Indians hating Chennai - "How dare you? Do you even know where the library is? Do you know how intelligent the women here are? Do you know our rape statistics are way less than yours? Are bars and malls the only way to have fun?" and so on. 

But when I sit down and think about it, I didn't particularly take to Chennai when I came here too. The reasons were manifold:
  1. Language barrier: My Tamil was laughable when I joined college, and since I didn't want to be the butt of all jokes, preferred speaking in English. That in turn got me the name of a snob and show off.
  2. Dressing: I couldn't get the conservative-yet-hep mode right. I didn't know how to handle duppattas, or have enthusiasm to change (or buy!) multi-hued earrings and chappals. I couldn't be conservative-cool, with well-fitted salwar-kameezes and neatly styled hair. I was always a tomboy in collared shirts and stray flying hair. In chennai, I became a mix of all - ill fitted dresses, hair tied back (and then, frustrated, switched to the boy-cut). My classmates took turns to educate me on what's IN and how to dress well conservatively (many many thanks to them).
  3. Crowd: Travelling in buses and even a walk in Ranganathan street is a lesson in being careful. (Despite all that, it was love-at-first-ride with chennai buses for me)
  4. Traffic: Shout all you want, but the road layouts are completely chaotic in Chennai - be it the narrow roads of Virugambakkam, the potholes EVERYWHERE, the jugaad-type highways or the myriad speed bumps. Compare that with Mumbai and its well-planned highways and you'll know what I mean.
None of the four points are minor by any stretch of imagination. I had a daunting task 11 years back of adjusting to the city and its people. My friends and relatives asked, almost as a challenge, if I  liked the city. every time we met. The language especially was usually frowned upon - "How can you be proud of not speaking tamil well?". It was difficult to explain that I was neither proud nor ashamed of the fact - I couldn't help it. My short hair was a sign of my modernism. How could I explain that it was more a sign of frustration?

But within a year, I could convincingly lie that I loved the city, and in another two years, I realised I actually did.
I love Chennai because I finally understood the city.
It was easier to accept the annoying rickshaw-wallahs, the temple-talks, the disdain for Hindi and English (OK, I could never accept that, but I learned to ignore the jibes), the bus-gropings and the traffic. Once the negatives were accepted, the positives started shining through:
  1. Some rickshaw-wallahs are very knowledgeable and compassionate. They talk about the troubled economy, importance of computers, and give free rides to really tired people (true story!).
  2. Education is of paramount importance to everyone here - including the vegetable vendors, conductors and drivers.
  3. Malls are lesser and the ideal getaway is still the beach, park or Mahabalipuram. The idea of unwinding is NOT shopping in a confined space, but walking in pondy bazaar. The Children are not dragged along on escalators, but taken to carnival rides, waterparks and boating.
  4. Though mocked, steamed idlis, pongal, sambars, rasams and south-indian vegetables are the healthiest dishes you can find in India - minimal oil and maximum use of pressure cooker. Just like there are no Sikh beggars, there are no obese south Indians (Generalised of course).
  5. Once you get adjusted to the bus crowd, there is nothing like it. The men get up immediately to offer seats to pregnant or old women, and once, a lady got up to give seat to me because I looked read-to-drop.
  6. Leaving the big names out, Chennai is dotted with small-scale doctors who aren't after your money - for my back pain, instead of asking for an x-ray or MRI, one of the doctors just asked me to take up yoga - worked like a charm. Homeopathy, Ayurvedha, Siddha and Yoga are believed in down south much more than it is in north.

All that said - South India is an acquired taste. We look dark and ugly and It's a customised hell for the guys. To be fair (no pun intended), it is quite a shock to see a shift from gelled/straightened hair, bleached and powdered faces, manicured and pedicured hands all your life and then suddenly move to a city where everyone is black with minimal skin-show and with calloused hands and feet. My sympathies with the men here - we can't help our color -we didn't ask for it, and now, we are not ashamed of it.

A far worse habit of the south Indians is being rude and talking only in the mother tongue despite knowing Hindi and English.Some do it for fun, for it doesn't take much to annoy an already frustrated North Indian (Kindly refer to Chetan bhagat's Two States). Some are aware of the stereotype and want to live up to it. Most are just defensive - a city of humble people does not tolerate superioirty complex well. They do not like a white person (:-) ) coming to the city and whining about the city's lack of night life, healthy and oil-less food and the narrow-mindedness.

We know what makes us bad. Please try to focus on what makes us amazing. This city is a cautious lover and requires one to understand and trust it.

PS: As Dips once pointed out, It should not be North India - it should be North, West and East India. But I didn't want to type that big a phrase every time and took an easier way out. :-)
PPS: I ideally want to say that we shouldn't stereotype people, and that there is no North and South, and we are all brothers and sisters and we are all Indians and so on - but I was aiming for an two-sides-of-a-coin  post and not a gassy one.

Monday, June 18, 2012


The Husband and I finally caught up with the hit tamil movie of 2012, Kadalil Sodhapuvadhu Eppadi? (How to mess up your love life?) yesterday night. (Mini Review: Predominantly a funny film, there are a few "aww" scenes, and all couples, married or otherwise, can identify themselves in it.I think it was intentional, but I could neither understand nor see myself in the female lead. She was incomprehensible, cries at the drop of a hat, demanding, short-tempered (OK, that I can identify with) et al. 

So, after the movie got over, I snuggled up to The Husband, and tried asking in the sweetest voice: "I am not that annoying, am I?"
He: "Umm, Hmm."
Me: " I don't cry much, do I?"
He: (Smiling) No.
Me: (Getting assertive) You are very lucky to have me you know. That's how most girls are. I don't whin......
I would have gone on a rant/self-praise drive, but stopped, for he had grown wide-eyed and was looking at me with wonder. Three years of marriage, and he could still give me THAT look. I smiled blissfully, and was trying to think of a nice mushy line...
When he shouted: GOT IT! AVM!!
Me: Huh?
He: The side-kick. He was my junior in AVM. 

Needless to say, the rest of the night passed in silence.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Dining Table Experiment

Godrej Interio has come up with an interesting furniture called Sizzle Dining Table.

The description reads:
Presenting Godrej Interio's thoughtfully designed Sizzle DIning Table with an inbuilt hot plate. Shuttling between the kitchen and the dining table is now unnecessary as the food stays hot throughout the meal. Go ahead, make every meal a memory.

I like the idea here - very innovative isn't it? The whole boring process of reheating is minimised, especially when all the family members don't eat together.
Of course it raises an important question - Who really shuttles between the kitchen and the dining table "during" a meal?

Anyway, that aside, the tag line for this product ad reads:
This is the only time she'll have to leave the table.
This is followed by a man gently holding the lady, and while the guy looks on lovingly, the lady blushes prettily. 

Aside from the fact that the daintily dressed woman doesn't seem to have just cooked a meal or laid a table, I don't think she will like being told when she'll "have" to leave the table. If the guys don't believe me, kindly try it out at home. I dare you. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Fifty Shades Trilogy - E.L.James

Book Title: Fifty Shades Trilogy

ISBN: 0099580578
First Published in: May 2011, September 2011 and 
January 2012 respectively
Synopsis:A fictional insight into a highly successful man’s leanings towards Bondage, Dominance, Sadism and Masochism (BDSM) relationships will all his female counterparts.

Serious, Witty

Romance, Drama

Very adult language.

Favorite Quote:
Fair Point well Made, Ms.Steele.
(Not one of the best lines, but it was used so many times that I couldn’t get it off my head!)

Fifty Shades of Grey is a three-part book into the enigmatic personality of a business tycoon Christian Grey through the eyes of a college graduate, Anastasia Steele. The initially stifling dominant characteristics of Grey are slowly unravelled to show their more turbulent roots. Steele embarks on an unlikely and unexpected journey to discover, and unintentionally, heal him.
There are many drawbacks in the writing, but one cannot fault the story line – it is dark, disturbing and frankly, unforgettable. Depending on one’s perspectives, there are three way of reviewing this book:
  • Twilight fan book
  • BDSM
  • Language.

The Twilight Fan-Book Perspective
As most of the readers know, the story initially started off as a twilight fan fiction, and later spun off to form a standalone series. For those who didn’t (like me), the connection was not difficult to make. I was incredulous while reading it, and was planning on shouting “plagiarised” before I did a Google.
Take this line from "Fifty Shades of Grey" for example:
“…last to be picked for basketball or volleyball – but I understood that – running and doing something else at the same time like bouncing or throwing a ball is not my thing. I am a serious liability in any sporting field. Romantically, though, I’ve never put myself out there, ever. A lifetime of insecurity – I’m too pale, too skinny, too scruffy, uncoordinated, my long list of faults goes on.”
Compare that with this line from Twilight:
“Instead, I was ivory-skinned, without even the excuse of blue eyes or red hair, despite the constant sunshine. I had always been slender, but soft somehow, obviously not an athlete; I didn't have the necessary hand-eye coordination to play sports without humiliating myself — and harming both myself and anyone else who stood too close.”
This is just one example – of one character. To summarise:

Character Comparison - Fifty Shades Trilogy and Twilight Series
Source: ReadingAftermath 

I believe it is a crime to copy “characters” from another book and use similar names (Come on lady, don’t be so lazy!). This is even more disturbing than usual because of the first-person narrative.  
However, by the second and third book, Ana has been given more character. more spunk and definitely, more weaknesses ( She is nagging to the point of being irritating). She is witty, strong-minded, independent and career-focussed, while Bella remained monochromatic – Paranoid and obsessed with Edward.  To put it in perspective, Ana grew while Bella wanted to be “17 forever”.

The BDSM perspective
I didn’t find the book bold, shocking or more erotic than a normal Sidney Sheldon novel. It may have to do with the fact that I skipped a few of the descriptions –when 70% of the first book is on sex, it gets boring – be it for pleasure, for punishment or for teaching.
The book is borderline clinical in the descriptions and James took an interesting approach to introduce the concept novel to most of us – through a detailed agreement document.  Though I couldn't garner enough interest to google some of the terminologies, I found the approach different and informative! 

The language Perspective:
If you can get past the twilight-similarity (and that can ONLY happen if you haven’t read Twilight before) and the BDSM over-load, the language could be a potential deal breaker. James literally ran short of phrases and ended up using the same ones again.. and again. The few I found particularly irritating have been listed below, with the frequency of their usage in all three books (absolute numbers):
Common phrases Used in Fifty Shades Trilogy              
Source: ReadingAftermath

There were many more, but these were all that I could remember of the top of my head.
The language did have a redeeming quality: an almost effortless flow. Though it is no way on par with the breezy style of twilight and Percy Jackson series (I refer only to the style of writing), and though I wish Ana Steele’s vocabulary was not so limited, the punch lines and dialogue deliveries were smooth.

Little credit has been given to the story which packs a solid punch. That is the only way that a novel with so many sex scenes, plagiarised characters and an average style of writing could have such a deep impact. For every reader who is either OK with BDSM or is willing to skip a few pages, this book is strongly recommended.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Tho Thweet - Not.

This blog has been selected as Tangy Tuesday Pick by Blogadda!

The birth of a baby is a life-changing event - for the baby (He is being born after all, what can be more life-changing than that?) and for the mothers. The seemingly cool and carefree ladies change in the course of the growth of the baby, and frankly, not for the better. Some become paranoid and borderline obsessive, and some, *shudder* become preening peacocks.
Preening peacocks are initially the "I was born to be a mother", "I have too much love to give" and "life is incomplete without babies" kind of ladies. Somehow, in the course of 9 months of trouble and a painful delivery, the end-product, the wrinkly bawling-for-what-its-worth babies achieve a near-Godlike status. They are the Lord's incarnation - his ultimate gift to mankind (Common sense should say that the ultimate gift to mankind cannot be another person, but who cares?). Through their heart-melting smiles and really-cute games, they are admittedly a joy to behold. However these "too-much-love-to-give" mothers don't help matters much by:

  1. Baby bed overload: You'd think that a baby "needs" a lace-and-satin bed with a lot of soft toys in and around it. No. Just, No. All they need are simple and clean cotton sheets, just like the rest of us. The soft toys, though look oh-so-sweet, are a potential SIDS-risk. 
  2. The monochrome: Something about a baby screams fragile (the pink-tipped toes and fingers have a lot to do with it) - but they don't scream whites, pinks and blues. The connection of anything remotely baby-ish to these washed-out colors is so disconcerting. Worse yet, recognizing a mother's weakness, all the baby product manufacturers have gone into unnecessary-but-pretty white product overdrive - feeding pillows, white-velvet horse-rides, cloth wipes, blankets, hanging insects and what not.
  3. The Purchasing power: All the fancy rattles, electronic books and activity tables does not reduce the importance of (or are preferred over) a mechanical monkey beating drums, books, a cricket bat and a tricycle. I don't understand parents who buy all the fischer-price products and miss out on the simpler, local and infinitely more interesting little toys.
  4. The birthday parties: This is a pet peeve of mine. I remember where birthday parties were simple affairs with samosas, chips and a lot of talking. The parents had their get-together, and the kids were screaming all the time. Now, it is a "themed" affair - there are art-and-crafts workshops, face painting, temporary tattoos and a lot of ego building. Not only are the parents opening themselves to a lose-lose situation with these extravaganzas and the resulting comparisons, they are building mutant-egotists out of their children.
  5. Photography: This collective obsession is killing me. I, like thousand others, don't want to see a wrinkly new born on my timeline in Facebook - neither do I want to see blurry images of a baby in 12 various angles at the same time, on the same day and in the same dress.
  6. Baby Talk: Being a mother, I still cannot digest the baby talk. I don't mean talking to your own baby in gibberish - everyone does that. It is when it comes out of that sphere and you start talking in baby-talk to adults that it becomes bizarre - kind of like the cat (kitteh?) language; like a mother responding to a picture saying - " *Insert baby name* says this is so cute". Don't put words in his/her mouth woman!
  7. Baby Pride: Mothers, kindly hold your horses. Please don't start talking about your genius little dumplings until someone asks what the said dumplings are up to. More importantly, never EVER give the phone to them. I don't want to hold awkward one-sided conversations with a suddenly silent-and-sullen child. 
Let the brick-throwing begin.