Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oh Philippa, where have you been?

Oh Philippa, where have you been all my life? How could I have not come across your delicious books for so many years? Well, now that you have been discovered, the loss will be shortly rectified.

I’ve always loved historical fiction, both Indian and non - Indian, and whether it is a well - researched piece of work (as in the case of William Dalrymple) or light fluffy reading (a la Georgette Heyer), if I come across any piece of historical fiction, you can bet I am going to read it. Last year, on a cruise on the honeymoon, I came across Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Other Queen’ (yes, yes, I read books on my honeymoon) and I was completely bowled over by how much fun the book was, and in my favourite genre too!

When I discovered that Philippa had written a number of books in the genre, and some of them were very popular, I was blown away. Here was a lady who had written numerous books, largely centered around the English royals, across the ages. Her books were extremely fun to read, you want to race through the pages, even though you know very well how it all ended. And so was born a worshipper! I have now made it my mission, my goal, to read all her books, in chronological order (though she is still working on the Plantagenets, so I will have to start from the Tudor dynasty).

I started off with ‘The Constant Princess’ , which traces the life of Katherine of Aragon, from her childhood, till the early years of her marriage with Henry VIII. If you are really interested in the plot, do take a look at the Wikipedia page on Katherine of Aragon. Philippa takes quite a few liberties in the book - she shows that Katherine and Arthur have indeed consummated their marriage, in fact are deeply in love, and Katherine later lies about the consummation of the marriage because she believes it is her destiny to be the Queen of England - but its an interesting take on the inner workings of a beloved and revered queen, and of how she might have been as a young woman.

Of course, in terms of actual writing, there isn’t much to recommend in her books. The writing is awkward, and she has a tendency to repeat the same expression over and over again, (say at the beginning of a speech, mid way though the speech, and again at the end of the speech). I mean, seriously, Philippa, it isn’t children you are writing for, this isn’t literature, we get the point, so get a move on woman! The inner monologues of her heroines are a bore - just because the woman thinks the same thought everyday doesn’t me you have to write those thoughts in every chapter!

She also has this tendency to ramble for the first quarter of the book, and then suddenly jump to an epilogue, which features an important (and maybe concluding scene) of the heroine’s life. it’s a little annoying because here you are, following this woman’s (the heroine’s, not Philippa’s) trials and tribulations closely, and then, in one turn of the page, you jump ahead by 10, 15 years to some sort of a forced conclusion. It wouldn’t be so irritating if it was well done, but it isn’t a smooth transition at all, and it jars, so that when you close the book, you are a little put out, and feel rather cheated.

But for all the criticism about her writing, her books are such fun! Once you start, you’re on a roll, and you don’t want it to end. And for such a light read, her books are fairly well researched. Sure, she takes a number of liberties with historical facts, and assumptions we have no way of verifying (but dude, that’s the point of writing historical fiction - where you don’t know, you put your own spin on it), but in terms of the actual events that take place, and an idea of life in court, its well researched. Mind, the research wouldn’t stand up for a second if it was serious work, but her books are little more than chick - lit, so any research is good.

I think the best part is that they raise in the reader a great curiosity about the people and the time they have been reading about. I am fairly familiar with the Tudors, atleast from Henry VIII up to Elizabeth, though I’m sketchy once James I steps in, but even I was keen to know more about Katherine of Aragon after reading The Constant Princess and did quite a bit of reading up after that, and may even be reading upon some serious historical accounts of her time.

It also makes me wish we had more historical fiction/ mythology in the Indian context. The amount of material at our disposal is incredible, but modern works based on Indian history/ mythology are very limited in India. I didn’t think much of Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series - actually I disliked it intensely, and had a tough time reading it, which is a pity since my mother bought the entire series in hardback (some sort of collectors edition), since I had been so excited about it.

I remember reading somewhere that there is a lot more historical fiction available in regional literature but translation is of course a problem. It also makes me immensely grateful to Amar Chitra Katha for their books on various Indian mythological and historical figures. They has books on even fairly minor characters (such as Sishupala). I owe them my familiarity with and interest in Indian mythology.

Anyway, I’d love to hear recommendations from you on modern works based on Indian history or mythology. Meanwhile, I’m off to spend some time with ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

2009: The Year that Was

Happy New Year! May 2010 be a year filled with good health, love, laughter and happiness for you.

While I am really looking forward to what this year brings for me, 2009 was an incredible year for me, and I am a little sad that it is over. Since I’ve not blogged at all in the past year (and to write more frequently was one of my resolutions!), I decided I’m going to do a brief recap of what happened through the year, so that I don’t forget what a truly momentous year this was for me.

January: The year started off with a bang, with a big family trip to Papikondalu which was…..wait for it…awesome. Soon after, my friends from Hyderabad came to Vizag for a couple of days, and much fun was had. I got to spend a lot of time with family and friends, caught on my gult movie watching, read a lot, ate a lot and in general remember how it is to live and not work.

February: February is always the most important month of the year for me. It was even more so this year because it was my 25th birthday, an important milestone, and I marked it by celebrating a birthday week, so that I did special for the whole week. We also drove down to Chennai for G3’s wedding. And most importantly, the parents fixed the wedding - though I wasn’t happy that they fixed for bang in the middle of a week.

March: March wasn’t a very good month for me. I had a massive workload, made worse by a member of my team suddenly quitting, so I was working late into the night, and on weekends. We had our annual appraisal, and while I received a good review, I didn’t get promoted. Now while I wasn’t expecting a promotion this year, I was surprised to find myself extremely hurt and disappointed and angry. To add salt to the wounds, we only got a nominal bonus and raise. The only silver lining was that we did a girl trip to Chikmagalur one weekend, and much laughter abounded.

April: The workload continued to pile up, and it was made worse by the fact that I was angry with the firm at that time, and felt very de-motivated. Things weren’t great on the personal front either - the wedding made me nervous and testy, and Nike was also peevish and short tempered as he worried about balancing between a job and his website. But I guess all that angst was good for creativity - I joined a creative writing class and wrote a couple of short stories, and Nike shot a mini-movie along with Andy.

May: I wrote the Civil Services Preliminary Exam for a lark, and later regretted it, for it was hot and uncomfortable and I was sure not to pass. Nagesh got married, and while I gained some friends at his wedding, I lost my mobile. Sw got engaged. The story writing and the movie making continued.

June: June was a quiet month when nothing much happened. Lalith visited us. We went for a day trip to Galibore fishing camp, and it was very very nice. I watched marathon sessions of HIMW and Desperate Housewives. I saw an incredible number of movies and a few plays. And I lived and thrived on Lonely Planet.

July: Shilpa finally left for the US, leaving me feeling rather bereft. Then I went on a 9 day trip to Eastern Europe with Samee. It was awesome, awesome awesomely awesome. My memory of any other event that may have happened in July is clouded by the awesomeness of this trip.

August: I got engaged. It was a lovely ceremony at home, attended only by close family and friends, followed by a fabulous lunch. We inaugurated my wedding shopping by going double over budget for the main wedding saree. We planned, booked and paid for our honeymoon. I lived in dreamland.

September: We hosted a rocking house party to celebrate the engagement. This was the first party Nike and I have hosted together, and with home cooked (by Nike) food to boot, so it made us feel all very couple-y, and it made me feel like some grand hostess. I also went on a lovely weekend trip to Hampi, which was a much needed break for me. I also took a big leap, and gave my notice at work - it was something I had been thinking of doing for a very long time, but it took me months to gather the courage and finally actually resign.

October: October was a busy month. I did a day trip to Mysore for Dasara, and had a great time. I went to Hyderabad for Bujji Anna’s engagement, and for some wedding shopping. My last day at work was October 15th. Sigh! L I left the very next day for Vizag, and spent Diwali at home, the first time in many years.

November: November was a whirlwind month. We finished the remaining wedding shopping, and I got fully involved in the wedding work. It was a heady and exciting time. Went to Hyderabad for Anna’s eventful wedding. And started off with our own wedding celebrations on 29th.

December: I got married! It was a whole week of celebrations, family, friends, sleeplessness, madness and being treated like a princess. I loved ever minute of it, even the tired, sleep deprived minutes. This was soon followed by a 2 week honeymoon on a Mediterranean cruise, and my first experience of ‘luxury travel’ - and I found out that it doesn’t come easily to me, I’m a budget traveler at heart - but it was of course a once in a lifetime experience. I returned from the honeymoon to a flurry of lunches and dinners so I can be introduced and I could introduce Nike, and then off we were to Goa, to ring in the New Year.

And that was 2009 for me. It has been a mad, busy, chaotic, fun filled, incredible, AWESOME year. I don’t think any other year in my life is going to be so eventful. I got married. MARRIED! And as if that isn’t enough, I quit my steady, satisfying job so I can figure out what I want to do and where I am headed. For someone like me, that step is enough to make me think of myself as a loose cannon! It was a big step, and a tough step for me to take, and as of now, I am extremely glad I took it.

I turned 25. I crossed an invisible threshold into adulthood. I got to travel extensively last year, both in India and abroad. Enough to keep the wanderlust in me satisfied for while, a long while. I saw a lot of movies. I caught some plays. I read a lot of books. I wrote some stories. I dreamed a lot. I did little. I made some new friends, but I also lost some old ones.

Its been a truly great year for me. Its been awesomely awesome. Thank you 2009!

Now how was 2009 for you?