Monthly Archives: November 2013
The book blurb gave all indications of a chick lit story, the cover picture even more so. In the rush to grab as many books as I could on the last day of the epic 80% off sale at Reliance Time-Out a few months back, I failed to notice that the heroin’s name was the same as that of the author. Not that I am complaining. It took a few pages before it dawned that this is a true story – of Helena’s research to find a cure for the wrinkle on her forehead , the thin lips, small chest, a microscopically large tummy, limp hair and what not.
Her journey starts from the perfectly round, full and pert bottom of her hairdresser. The first stop is at the world renowned Clinique La Prairie in Switzerland, supposedly the best and naturally one of the costliest anti ageing clinics in the world. An experiemnt in 1931 to save the life of a patient who was suffering from the after effects of a thyroid removal surgeries led Dr. Paul Niehans, the fouder of the clinic into some more research on cell therapy. A successful treatment on similar lines for Pope Pius XII in 1953, firmly established the clinic as one of the pioneers and leaders in ‘ cell regenaration’ therapy. And the main ingedient in the ‘CLP Cell Extract’, a revitalising agent the clinic is most famous for? Hold your breath – the liver of unborn lambs. Are you wondering how on earth they extract it? Simple, kill the mother when the foetus is almost fully grown. Yes, the clinic has its own sheep farm as well.
In the course of her research, Helena meets a yogi Frenchman, gets herself treated at the spa in The Ritz Paris (whose clientele boasts of Liz Hurley, Sharon Stone and Jodi Foster), visits the small village of Limone in northern Italy where the people have a genetic abnormality that causes them to live longer, spends a relaxing week of stress releievng treatments at ‘Golden Eye’, Ian Fleming’s old house on the Jamaican Coast, gets younger and younger in New York, meets some typical LA women and even spends a few mornings in Laughter on Laguna Beach.
The book provides an overwhelming amount of data on the deep ocean that the search for eternal youth is. When you remember that she has covered only a small part of this business, and that too the legitimate side, your eyes and mouth might open wide at the billions that women and more increasingly men spend in search for an elixir of life. What did not really surprise me was something that most of us alerady know in our heart of hearts. Acording to one of well known doctors in this business,
“What cream you use doesn’t really make a difference, the main thing is that you moisturize.”
And you thought, the higher the cost, better the product? Here is one for you,
“the only difference between, for example, Nivea and La Prairie is in the packaging. They are even made in the same laboratory. Just like Lancome and L’Oreal.”
Intesesting, isn’t it?
Helena’s experience is an example of how one gets pulled into this maze from which one may never come out. You start with a basic spa treatment, the ‘consultant’ there talks you into that ‘wonderful’ treatment that can oh so subtly change the look of the tiny wrinkle at the corner of your eyes, then another one tells you about the miraculous tummy tuck that can be done during your lunch hour and you get sucked into the cess pool. There is no end, and that is the brilliance of this business. No treatment promises permanent results. You do a lip filling, it needs to be refilled every 3 months, you get a botox done, that has to be redone every 6-9 months, you get a hair infusion, that has to be redone every 6 months, it goes on and on. Once you get into a new look, it is as if you can never be your old self again.
Her narration of the ‘lollipop’ girls with anoerxic figures that are so disproportinately thin as compared to the seemingly large heads, restuarnts with faces that are all lips and the 1661 women – who looks 16 from behind and 61 from the front – are hilarious at first, and patehtically sad once you actually start thinking about it. It is as of you have enetered a mass production factory that churns out women of the same size and features and all of them endowed with luscious hair. By the way, your loved one may never run his fingers lovingly through your tressses anymore, it is all glue in there.
The most ironic fact is what almost each of these specialists recommend for a permanent change – good diet, no sugars, lots of water and sun screen, exercise, stress free life and minimizing enviornmental factors. Now, you tell me who is having the last laugh all the way to their Swiss banks.
The author quotes the palstic surgeon Mr. Ghengis in Fay Weldon’s ‘The Life and Loves of a She Devil’ and this one sentences summarizes it all,
“I can stop you looking old, but you will be old”
Verdict – I would still categorize this as a chick lit, a very interesting one at that.
A few relationships, marriages , two kids , books and an artistic life aside, Kate finds herself at a sort of cross roads in life. She loves Yolo, who she lives with currently, but the nagging feeling of something not being there, haunts her. The recurrent dreams of a dry river only helps to aggravate her longing. And she decides to go on a journey, searching for the river that is missing from her life.
First is a rafting trip down the Colorado with a group of women and then another one down the deep jungles of Amazon in search of a mystical medicine, known as the ‘grandmother’. The first journey helps her in slaying some of the past dragons that had deeply entrenched themselves into her self. As she throws up, it is as if her painful experiences are being ejected out along with the vomit. The conversations with the other women in the group brings out some moments only a group of ladies who has really lived their life can enjoy.
The journey for the mystical medicine is with a group of people, all of whom has some deep hurt that they want to heal. While it is a brutal rape and murder for one, for another it is the injustice that his forefathers brought down on the native Indians , for yet another, it is the cry of the colored people who were systematically dragged into a world of drugs.
Kate’s lover, Yolo, goes on a trip to Hawaii at the same time. Though the intentions of the journey are different, the outcome is similar. The message that the author wants to convey is the same, whether it is down the rushing white waters of the Colorado, or the pristine Hawaiian beaches or the scary jungles of the Amazon. That illness, discontent and pain begins when the nature is forced to be out of balance. How the commercialism of the US of A has forced the natives away from the nature that gave them recluse and relief for generations, how even the food that they eat have turned so alien to their bodies and in turn spoilt their souls as well.
One of Kate’s co-traveler’s story was particularly touching for me. His forefathers had snatched land from native Indians and turned it into a ranch. Every year as the family would gather for Thanksgiving, and Indian would come to his house and wait patiently outside. He would be taken to a remote place in the ranch where there is a small spring that never went dry even in the most severe droughts. Once he brings his grandson along with him , at the spring he can be heard talking to his grandson or the spring itself in a language that the ranch owner could not understand but that the hills and trees and water around could very well do. The area is then sold out for mining and they discover a huge underground lake where the spring once was. The lake dries out soon and they find a grave yard of bones below the lake. I loved the way the author narrated how the old Indian was guided by the spirits of his forefathers to the place where they were buried, how the sheet of water lay hidden as a layer to protect them from the vandals outside.
The book is not an easy read that you can finish at one go. It is more of a journey that you need to take along with Kate and Yolo as they understand their inner serpents and learn to release them and finally find the real happiness they were searching for, with each other. It also makes you aware of and feel the pain of the brutalities that we force on Mother Nature and how the Grandmother is always there to welcome us into her bosom, to nurture us and gently show us the right way.
Verdict – Not for everyone, you will either love or hate it, passionately. If you are the kind who searches for life’s meaning in the shine of the dew drop or the ripples on a silent lake, you should read this one.
Imagine having a brilliant father who allows you to experiment with anything, lets you run around in the wild, explain the moon, the stars and the universe, tells you how things work, brings you hoards of books, and encourages you again and again that you are the best in this whole world and there is nothing you cannot do. And then a mother who paints all day, is a book worm and is of the belief that children should be independent and learn their way about the world as early as possible. Sounds like paragons of parenthood, isn’t it?
Now imagine living in the worst possible dump, where the very same parents do not seem to care whether water is dripping on to you as you sleep on a makeshift bed in freezing winter, steals the hard earned money that you saved for college to get drunk and are not just willing to take responsibility for even putting food in their children’s mouth? Well, that is how shocking this story is. Mind you , it is a real life story.
Born to a brilliant father who dreams big and a free spirited mother, Jeannette and her siblings find their childhood to be a long adventure, moving from one place to another, living out in the wild and doing things other kids cannot even imagine. But as you read about a three year old frying sausages by herself and getting burnt, you know instinctively that something is amiss. The flights from one job to another, the running out of money, the grand dreams and the like brings out the gruesome reality that their irresponsible parenting is.
Rex Walls is in eternal search for gold and his grandiose plans to build a glass castle is something that he shares with his second daughter Jeannette, while his wife is in search for success as an artist and believes it is just around the corner. In between, what both of them seem to conveniently forget is that they are parents to four kids. Once they are forced to settle in one place finally, is when the kids start realizing that they are parenting their father and mother instead of the natural way around.
The tale is deeply disturbing, you often wonder how could such a well read , intelligent couple be so irresponsible. It could be the sense of security that they somehow imbibed in their childhood or the effect of all kinds of books they have been lucky enough to read right from when they were two and three year olds, that sustain the kids through all kind of trials and tribulations. It is heartening to read about how the siblings fight to protect each other from common enemies, how they refuse to give up and how they are willing to go to any length to help themselves. The father seem to be a callous addict whereas the mother comes across as an insensitive and outright selfish woman. it is nothing short of a miracle that the kids feel any love for them at all.
What catches you by the throat is the sheer grit and determination of the elder three kids, how they fight for each other and their thankless parents and their perseverance to get out of the hellhole. The younger two pushes the eldest one Lori out to New York first and she in turn pulls them out. That they could not rescue the youngest one Maureen, remains a constant cause of sadness for the author.
Apart from reiterating as to how resilient and steadfast in their dreams children can be, it was also an eye opener for me to the fact that the ragged, crazy looking guy that I turn my face away from, on the street, could be one of the most brilliant persons I could ever meet in my life.
Last but definitely not the least, the story underlines the immense power that books can have on your life and your outlook to it. That, in fact they could be your salvation.
Verdict : A must read, especially for young adults and those who crib about how their childhood affected them so much that they couldn’t help but being failures. And kids who complain their parents do not buy them the latest gadget that comes out into the market, should be made to read this book at least once a week.
“Your kids read?” I can almost see the skeptical wonder in some people’s eyes as they ask me. The next question comes almost automatically, “But how do you make them read? Mine is so addicted to TV and games.“ And I am reminded of what Anne Fadiman mentioned in her book, ‘Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader’
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The title is what caught my attention, but the content is hardly about Jane Austen or for that matter even about books. What unfolds is the harsh reality of a life under siege, the helplessness and frustration of living under occupation and a stigma that has been imposed on ordinary people for no fault of their own.
Bee, a London mother of three and a producer for BBC World Service Radio, sends an email to May, an English lecturer in American occupied Baghdad, for an interview. What follows is how amazing relationship grows, nurtured through mails and an occasional phone call over a period of three years. While Bee’s letters are more often about her life , husband, kids, her extended family and her work, May’s correspondence opens up a world of hopelessness, frustration , sadness , disappointment and anger at a life that has been thrust on her.
As they correspond with each other, slowly a plan emerges to get May and her husband Ali out of Baghdad and the two become more than just friends. For Bee, it becomes almost a mission, it is as if her own sister is caught in a country from where escape seems almost impossible. The real eye opener is the reality of a normal citizen’s life in what was once a peaceful country. May writes about how one day they woke up suddenly to find their country at war with Iran, a war that continued for eight years. They heaved a sigh of relief as it ended only to find themselves at war again soon, this time with Kuwait. What happened to Iraq after that is known to all, but what many of us may not have realized is how the lives of common people changed. The irony is in the fact that the West raised an embargo on Saddam Hussein to teach him a lesson and his life was the least affected by it.
In spite of being an academic who has spent her initial years in the UK, the stigma of being from Saddam’s country follows May and she shares the depth of helplessness and anger as she writes,
“To be honest, Bee, I’d rather be killed in Baghdad than become a beggar on the doorsteps of other countries. Especially when these countries are the ones who have shattered our lives, exploited our national wealth and put us through all this misery.”
Bee is unwilling to give up and at the same time, exhorts May not too raise her hopes too much. At times, she comes across as a little harsh, but then you realize she is right in doing so, May has to be prepared for the realities and the tough path ahead before she can , if at all emigrate to the UK.
Another aspect that comes out in May’s letters is her relationship with her second husband Ali. But for him, May would have been able to get out of the country relatively easier. But she is sure that Ali’s love is something that she would not be willing to give up , even for the unthinkable freedom she could have out of her home country.
The part where May writes about her students and what she has to teach about is as ironical as the rest of her life. She is met with blank faces as she lectures about human rights and democracy and it takes her some time to understand the reason.
“I realized that it was impossible for these oppressed young females to comprehend that there are freedoms granted to humanity in general. It was like describing colors to the color-blind, I thought to myself.”
May has to face several unforeseen and totally unexpected setbacks before she and Ali can make it to UK, several times she reaches a point of complete breakdown and disappointment. One of her notes to Bee at this stage would be an echo of any ordinary citizen in a ravaged country like Iraq,
“Do you remember, Bee, when in my ‘Apology to Hemingway’ I said that they keep defeating you until you’ll gladly want to destroy yourself? We have never ceased to struggle. It is as if we are living under constant punishment, lasting from the cradle to the grave. Is such a life really worth living? Where are our rights as individuals? Why do other countries assume that we have no feelings?”
The book reiterates some of the questions that even you might have had, “Who or what gives the right to certain countries to decide what is good for others? What makes them think that they are the only ones who know what is right for the world? ”
Verdict : A must read, makes you thankful for even the little things in life that you so take for granted.
More often than not, as your expectation levels increase, the chances of getting disappointed also rise exponentially. Sad to say, the rule has been proved yet again. I could not put down the first two parts of her Taj trilogy and had jumped at the chance of getting a review copy of Indu Sundaresan’s latest novel, based on the mysterious and controversial Kohinoor – The Mountain of Light.
The story starts with Shah Shuja and his wife Wafa Begum imprisoned by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The only thing that can gain them their freedom is the mighty Kohinoor that Wafa Begum has hidden cleverly. The story is supposed to be about how the precious diamond passes on to Ranjit Singh and finally ends up in the hands of the Queen of England. Yes, there is the Maharaja’s heir Dalip Singh, though his character’ growth happened when we are left looking elsewhere. One moment he is an eight year old, next he is old and dying in Paris.
Maybe it was me and the time, I found the story disjointed, and was not able to understand why certain characters like Lord Auckland’s Emily and Fanny Eden, Roshni, Victoria Gouramma and similar others appeared at all. Even the Kohinoor was like a fleeting presence rather than a connecting thread. I think what was missing was a central character that carried the story through.
Verdict – Suffice to say I was sorely disappointed. Have seen some reviews where the readers loved it. So, I guess will leave it to you whether to pick this up or not.