Sunday, June 24, 2012

Summer Reading

Somebody here told me they wanted more of my reading lists. The last two years have been rather busy, and I didn't get the time to make a list. Actually, I didn't even read much. But now, I'm free again (albeit only for a short while) and I just started with my summer reading.

1. I started out with the Hunger Games series. The first book in the series is 'The Hunger Games'. Its about a girl, Katniss Everdeen, who replaces her sister in a televised fight until death and ultimately emerges victorious. Katniss, who at the age of sixteen is the breadwinner for her family, is ignorant of the politics involved in the games. It is only when she herself becomes a participant in them that she realizes that the games are not just a cruel, inhumane torture device, but actually a show of power on the part of the rich but evil Capitol. As long as the Games go on and people keep watching their children die on a big screen, the fear in the districts under the control of the Capitol will be too paralyzing for the anybody to rebel against the injustice that prevails. Katniss' rebellious actions in the arena start a fire that spreads through all twelve disctricts, and soon, a rebellion begins.

The second book 'Catching Fire' sees Katniss going into the arena again for the Quarter Quell, another round of the Hunger Games which is organized only for past victors. Of course, victors are a source of hope for the districts, and if all the victors die, hope will be thwarted. Also, since Katniss becomes a face of an upcoming rebellion, the Quarter Quell is a calculated attempt to eliminate her, since other victors are more powerful and better trained than she is. Through this book, we get a glimpse into the ignorance of the residents of the Captol, the dirty politics that goes into controlling a nation, the truth behind reality television and so on. The book ends with the rebellion finally breaking out in full motion and Katniss' home, District 12, being bombed by the Capitol.

The third book outlines the rebellion and how Katniss becomes its face. Katniss feels manipulated by everyone, including the rebels and undergoes a great deal of trauma in the book. The rather depressing ending does have a shred of hope, with Katniss saying in the epilogue that her children take their freedom for granted and only know about the 'Hunger Games' because of history lessons in school. Katniss loses everything even though the rebellion is a success, and that is truly disheartening. But Katniss still manages to get on with her life, and that is truly surprising.

The Hunger Games series offers commentary on everything. For example, Katniss being forced to feign a romantic relationship with her co-victor Peeta (whom she eventually marries) gives a glimpse into how 'real' reality television is. The complicated strategies the Capitol adopts to keep a rebellion at bay, the gruesome torture that rebels have to face, Peeta's eventual psychological breakdown and consequent brainwashing, the moments when Katniss hides underground because of the bombings- if you have ever read a history book, you can't help but compare these things to real historical events such as the Nazi Holocoust, the World War and any fight for freedom. The best part is that even though the series has some disturbing yet fascinating parallels with politics i the real world, it never gets preachy or gets too obvious in drawing its parallels. From beginning to end, it stays a work of fiction.

If you're an adult, don't write off Hunger Games as a children's book. Chances are, you will enjoy it just as much as your kids. But if you're one of those readers who like handsome heroes and damsels in distress in your books, don't read the Hunger Games. Ever!

Check out the trailer for 'Hunger Games', the movie:

2. I read Girl With A Dragon Tattoo. I don't really know what its message is, or if it even has a message, but there were certain reasons for me liking it very much. The first reason is its heroine, Lisbeth Salander. A lot of crime novels reduce women to desirable objects. Sometimes, even if the protagonist is a woman, she is potrayed as a gorgeous lady who is deemed attractive by male company. Its not so in this case. Lisbeth Salander is a delinquent, asocial hacker with uncanny abilities such as a photographic memory. She is not afraid to manipulate or even kill the men in her life if need be and cannot stand if a woman is ever wronged. In the real world, nobody would find Lisbeth Salander attractive. Its not just the fact that she is not conventionally beautiful or nice. Its the fact that she is the complete opposite of all that. And that's what makes her so intriguing.

The second reason was the story in general. Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist being sued for libel, is given the task of solving the mystery behind the disappearance of a millionaire's niece. The story progresses with suspense and intrigue making you turn over to the next page. More shocking than the final discovery is the process which leads to it.

Unfortunately, the last few chapters have nothing to do with the mystery. They revolve around the relationship formed between Blomkvist and Salander and how Blomkvist proves his innocence in the libel case. I was actually into the novel only for the whodunnit, and once that was over, I lost interest.

During the period in which I was reading the book, there was one night when my parents weren't home. I was in bed alone, and I just couldn't fall asleep. Some parts of the book are so disturbing that you will find it hard to digest them. But to the late author's credit, I give this- never does he try to sensationalize, overly dramatize or vulgarize the story, things that a lot of crime novelists do for the sake of sales. Note to all crime writers- if you're trying to be a cut above your peers, stay away from sleaze.

Check out the trailer for the movie version below:

3) The last book I read was The Perks of Being A Wallflower. Its an epistolary novel written by a high-school freshman who goes under the name of Charlie. The letters are addressed to a 'friend' that 'Charlie' has never met in person. After his friend commits suicide, Charlie is left to face high-school alone. Luckily, he finds an English teacher who recognizes his talents and two friends, Sam and Patrick, who don't judge him for being 'weird'. Bill introduces Charlie to good books and movies. On the other hand, Sam and Patrick initiate him to drugs, sex, underground bands, and most importantly, friendship. The novel follows Charlie through his first year in high school.

While reading the book, what caught my attention was Charlie's 'voice'. Charlie is the titular wallflower in the book. He listens and observes, and most of the book is dedicated to what happens to others. On several occasions, Charlie mentions his deceased Aunt Helen, who died in a car crash on her way to buying a birthday present for Charlie. Charlie adores Aunt Helen and calls her his 'favorite person in the world'. He has fond childhood memories from her, and it is hinted that he has psychological conditions because he blames himself for Helen's death. Charlie clearly has special needs, as he tends to be overly emotional or panicky at times, but these needs are never mentioned explicitly. Also, he cries more often than one would consider appropriate for someone his age. Even though Sam and Patrick introduce him to things that might be considered immoral or even illegal, they are never talked about as if they are a bad influence because behind all the smoking and drinking lie good intentions. Many shocking events, such as Charlie's sister's accidental pregnancy, his Aunt Helen's molestation, Patrick's homosexuality and so on, are dealt with subtly and once again, there is no sleaze. There is a romantic subplot, where Charlie is in love with Sam, but its no conventional teen love story. Charlie isn't ruled by his hormones like most kids his age are. He doesn't mind when Sam has another boyfriend and only wants to see Sam happy.

The biggest shock comes in the end, when Charlie realizes that he in fact was molested by his Aunt Helen, and that may be the root cause of his issues.

There is a movie coming out for this book too, but the trailer doesn't look so promising. In an effort to appear 'quirky' and 'funny' it appears to have lost its edge. Check it out anyways.

I just realized that all the books I've read recently have been made into movies. I don't know if its a good thing or a bad thing. I guess if movies are made, the stories can reach people who just cannot get through novels. Maybe next time, I'll do a post on all the movies I've seen recently. I hope you enjoyed this post.

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's (Not) A Small World

In school, I used to feel quite important. It made sense to be preoccupied with all the small things in school- mid-terms, small functions, annual day, the prefectorial body and so on. But now, everything is about to change.

For starters, I might have to start taking trains. The oppressive smell of heated bodies stuffed in one compartment, the squeak and grind of the wheels racing on the track, the incessant rocking, the constant wait for some other passenger to empty his seat- it may all be a part of my morning routine for the four coming years, and I am not sure if I am looking forward to it. Gone are the days when I enjoyed the comfort of the school bus. 

I'll have to make new friends, something I'm not particularly good at. I'm going to a college, which in my mind appears as a place full of unknown faces and places. A place where nobody knows me. It would be like starting my life all over again without the comforting familiarity of people I grew up with. The idea of telling people "I'm Shreyonti" scares me, because when was the last time I really had to introduce myself to anybody?\

I know my old friends will eventually slip away from me. actually, even though it's been just a few short months, most of my friends have slipped away already. If I was ever hoping to take a part of school with me, I now don't know how I'll do it.

I'm learning new things, things that are impossible for school kids to know sometimes. For example, a kind lady on the train taught me that you have to call dibs on seats. If you've been waiting for a place to sit on a crowded train (if you must know, 'crowded' takes on a whole new meaning in Mumbai) for over an hour, nobody will give you their seat. But if you've been on the train for five minutes and alreayd made a deal with someone to give you their seat once they get off, you'll have a place to sit soon enough which actually means a lot. I'm also learning how long queues can be, how many people want to go to the college you want to go to, why adults always complain not having enough time to read and why working people always stay so tired. 

I guess the thing is that I'm learning that it's a big, big world, eith me being a tiny dot on it. I have lots to learn, lots to discover, and most of it is just going to be everyday stuff. All of a sudden, I'm not so important anymore. But I take comfort in what some peoplw who have long left school tell me. The younger adults tell me that at some point I'll realize school was an  entrapment and coming out of it is like being free. The older ones, the ones who already have spouses and kids and spouses, just smile when I try to tell them about this feeling of unimportance. They don't say much and nod and look at me like I'm just a child, which is annoying, but when I look at them, I think they're happy with their mundane lives wherein the highlight of the week is watching with their kids or something. I guess I'm slowly beginning to see that the world really is a very, very big place and my place in it isn't all that big, but I'm just going to have start finding things that make me feel like a bigger person. Things that make me feel...infinite. My writing, for example. When I write things and put them on the Internet, people read them and I feel important. And that feeling is all that counts....

Letter To High Schoolers All Over The World

Don’t diet. That girl from that magazine cover that you want to look like probably has a lot of mean producers/stylists/rich boyfriends telling her she is fat, and even if people tease you about your weight and you’d do anything o look like that girl, my guess is that you’re luckier than her because you can eat. So eat what you like.

Don’t dream about IIT or Harvard or anything like that when you’re still in school. Eventually, you’ll see that these are dreams that don’t leave you heartbroken when they get shattered. Its very likely you’ll go to a normal college with normal people whose IQs don’t fly over the roof, and when that happens, you’ll see its not so bad.

Don’t ever say ‘I hate my life’. There are people in your very school that have it much worse than you. You just don’t know it because they’re not as whiny as you.

Don’t every think of yourself as ‘edgy’. This might seem like stupid advice, but its true. Four years of high school have taught me this much- being edgy isn’t easy. Watching things that have drugs and sleazy violence in them does not make you edgy. Putting on black nail polish and dressing in black from head to toe does not make you edgy. Driving motor bikes really fast definitely does not make you edgy (it makes you stupid). If you really were ‘edgy’ and ‘different’, you wouldn’t have many friends because everybody would think you’re a freak.

Get yourself a real hobby, not just hanging out with your friends. When life gets bad, your hobby will help you deal. Trust me on this one. I know what I am talking about.
In every school, there are people who get talked about all the time. Even my school had those people. What they did was important for everyone to know. Incidentally, I got a chance to interact with some of them and guess what? Even they can’t stop talking about themselves. And they never try to really get to know anybody. Its as if they are addicted to the attention. Steer clear of these people before you turn into one of them.

The bimbo in the other class is going to have a boyfriend before you. The superficial jock who plays football will have a girlfriend before you do. None of these couples will. None of these couples will last.

If you’re a full-grown adult who is reading this, I think you shouldn’t be reading it at all because this post isn’t meant for you. If you’re a parent, I guess it’s good I gave you an idea about what school is like for kids these days. If you’re a kid, then again, you don’t need to read this. But if you really are a clueless teenager from an upper-middle-class family just starting out with high school, remember the things you read here. At the end of four years, you’ll be grateful you did.   

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ladies' Special

I went to modern schools with modern kids, who were repeatedly hammered in the head with the notion of 'girls are just as good as boys'. I was a big supporter of this notion myself. But soon, the ideas of feminism grew  and it wasn't just about girls getting the same educational opportunities as men. It was also about women absolutely having to hold high-profile jobs, transform themselves into career-women. We were taught to  admire Indra Gandhi, Kalpana Chawla, Indra Nooyi, Kiran Majumdar Shaw and even Aishwarya Rai. For us 'modern girls', the picture of the ideal woman was one who was known more for her work and less for her family life. These were the women who needed to be worshipped.

I participated in the heroine-worship myself. I wanted to be the next J.K. Rowling, be famous for my skills. Even the thought of being a home-maker was repulsive to me, and I was quick to judge women who only looked after home and hearth.

But now I have grown up a little more. I have seen more people, learnt of their lives, had time to scrutinize their choices and come up with a rather strange conclusion- the ideas of feminism that are taught to young girls these days are basically teaching us to demean women who work for their families.

Think about it. Don't we judge home-makers? Don't we write them off as women who have no intellect and spend their time watching soap-operas and spreading gossip? Don't we- and by 'we' I mean us young female students- cringe at the very thought of a time when we might have to quit our jobs for a while to raise our kids?

Actually, it's not just limited to what we think. Did you know that Norway's Housewives Association has now renamed itself as the Women and Family Association because the word 'housewive' is not associated with a stigma?

Try this as an experiment- for one day, prepare breakfast, dinner and lunch and only then will you realize the effort that goes into making every meal. Spending hours in the sweltering heat of the kitchen is bound to change your ideas about women who cook. Try to deal with nosy neighbours. Help a few sulky teenaged kids. Make sure everyone in the house is happy. Only at the end of this seemingly simple experiment will you come to understand how much hard work goes into looking after a home. So next time you dismiss a woman as a failure for not having a big job, think about the things she does at her own home.

Recently, I heard one of my friends complain frustratedly about how a certain relative of hers hadn't been able to finish her MD because of pregnancy. I really wanted to point out to my friend where she was going wrong- that she wasn't respecting a choice that was made by a fellow woman. If you expect that nobody ever judges you for not giving your home enough time, you have to be supportive of ladies who choose not to work. Besides, think about people's circumstances. If a brilliant girl from a small town chooses to marry right out of college, it's because that's the only future she's ever been able to picture for herself. her parents might never have exposed her to the kind of feminist ideas that we swallow on a daily basis. Nobody has the right to make any opinions about her based on the choice she made between marriage and career.

Never will I say that we should go back to a time when only men had power and women were reduced to creatures of the household. My own future plans include getting a prestigious, well-paid job. But at the same time, I can tell when a woman becomes the enemy of another woman. A woman who belittles another is just as bad as a male chauvinist. the woman's movement was about choice, and only when women (and girl's) start respecting each other's choices instead of constantly arguing on the 'Should Women Work?' debate will the women's movement be a true success.

Instead of criticizing each other's choices, women should find innovative ways to balance all aspects of their lives. For example, there is a women's group in America with a very good membership. Each woman of the association takes a day off from work every month and takes care of all the children of all the other members. In this way, the usual concerns about regular day-care systems (Do they treat my kid right? How is the environment at day-care?) are also taken care of.

I will do my best to become the career-oriented modern woman I've always dreamed of becoming, but I'll not criticize those who don't do the same. The best I can do is try to put myself in their shoes, and understand what led to their choice.