Wolf Hall

One would think that panels of judges are folks with a serious outlook on life. They may be with or without glasses, but all of them with formidable stares. So, to be entrusted with a task as serious as deciding the best book of the year is no mean task.

I do not think that a senior Assistant Commissioner of Police would burst a balloon under your chair and laugh heartily over your dilemma for example.  In the same vein, I expected an excellent book to win the Booker every year. It is not as if there is a dearth of books.

Yet, I cannot help thinking that the 2010 panel of judges for the Booker Prize were a fun-loving lot. They seemed to think that having had to read Wolf Hall themselves, why not inflict the same on the rest of the world? The judges idea of a practical joke. I sound harsh, but there are very few books I have left mid way through. I love reading and any author who has spent many hours coming up with something readable, I laud them. Pretty broad-minded what? This broad minded view, however, I was forced to shelve with Wolf Hall.

At first, I thought I was not concentrating and rapped myself hard on the knuckles and sat down to study. I studiously went back to get the characters names and their relationship to one another. One time, I was thoroughly piqued to find that the character, who had hitherto been mentioned somewhere along with the many Annes and Liz-es, was a member of the domestic staff in either the protagonist’s sister’s family or the king’s lover’s family, and had no relevance to the plot whatsoever.

I suppose some folks call it style – as for me, I call it bad writing. I look to fiction with a view to enjoying my time. If, while doing so, I also pick up a thing or two about History and the Medieval Ages, I am all for it. But 65% of the book later, if I am still struggling to find the plot, I question the existence of one.

Sometimes I would be bounding along thinking Thomas is saying something and he also did this, only to realise that midway through the sentence, the “he” had shifted to the Cardinal, who due to unforeseen circumstances (beyond the control of the writer) was unable to actually be among those physically present. A fair bit of dialogue happens in one’s imagination – the protaganist’s imagination I mean.

I am all for imagination, and actually thought I had to come up with the rest of the story by myself. After the first chapter, the book failed to grip and once it had lost its hold on me, it continued on its path, and I on my own, only to find myself drooling on the story.

There is one sequel I will not be reading.

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Couscous

Every so often, we are treated to the look that the parents reserve for the pitiable. There is no scorn, no anger, just a sense of deep feeling. Given that it is their children it is being directed at, the eyes also fill with an unspeakable sorrow. The first time this look was given was when we declared we like eating brown rice and actually went ahead with the montrosity of eating it in front of them. The mother thought it looked and tasted like a mixture of husk and bran and remarked that it is the kind of stuff they feed horses and cows in their village. She would stealthily boil some white rice on the side, and say, “This is for getting a good taste at the very end.”

Buffaloes, however queue up to take training from us, and we saunter on merely laughing at these jabs. In fact, I keep pushing different “healthy grains” just to see the reaction – both with the parents and the parents-in-law. This time, the grain of the day was Couscous. Couscous is easy to make and is absolutely bulging with fibre. I love Couscous and rasam.

To drive home the point, I require folks to carry out a simple test: ask a hard core South Indian, who has preferably not studied in one of the fancier schools and ask them to say 1-S-1-L (onu ess onu ellu) they’d say. In fact, they’d call you a loosu for that.  You notice the subtle ‘u’ addition to the letters? Well, that can be a particularly trying thing when one is eating Cous Cous and teaching them to pronounce the thing.

“Kusu-Kusu-vaa?” (‘Kusu’ for the Tamil challenged is the word for the burp that lost its way and made it out through the rear of the body). Folks will agree with me here when I say that it is not one of the more pleasant things to be reminded of when wolfing down heavenly rasam and Cous-Cous.

This follows an argument about kusu-kusu being samba rava, and I think to myself that samba rava does not sound as unpalateable as kusu-kusu, and let things be. They are all a variant of wheat – why nitpick?

Friggatriskaidekaphobia?

Friggatriskaidekaphobia? I don’t think so. If anything, I suffer from Friggamoria. Friggatriskaidekaphobia, is the fear of Friday the 13th. As for me, 13th or no, I love Fridays. In fact, if the day can summon enough ghosts to have declared holidays, all the better is my notion.

As teenagers, we often outdid one another in extra-ordinary ways (the euphemism for dumb). One time, we got it into our heads that the one thing that would make us all invincible was if we summoned a ghost. Yes…a ghost. I am not sure whose idea it was exactly, for we were clearly not very bright. Once we’d decided to summon the ghosts, all that was left for us was to decide which one. Some ghastly research later, we agreed that it had to be someone who had an untimely death – somebody who would have to have some reason to lurk around. Some unfinished business and someone famous.

If you are going to go through the trouble of inviting a ghost, it might as well be someone you can get an autograph from.

I don’t know whether you have summoned a ghost before, so let me walk you through the process.

Required:
– Some gullible teens
– A candle
– A matchbox
– A solitary stool
– A white sheet (You need to give the ghost an illusion of company – duh!)
– A corridor nearby (required for the time when you run shrieking like a demented banshee)

Preferred Date & Time: Friday, the 13th. Night (around midnight is perfect for this exercise)

You dim out the lights – the moonlight, streaming in through the open windows, should be just enough to throw eerie shadows. Place the candle on a solitary stool, away from other furniture. (This point is life-saving when you knock the candle out and run screaming) Leave the windows slightly open, so there is a mild breeze. Nobody talks, nobody smirks. The quietness in the room is constricting to the point that the cool air from the open windows brings in not shivers, but profuse sweating. Then, one of you drapes the white sheet over yourself and the chanting begins.

Slowly, everybody enters a sort of trance. Sit facing the candle and concentrate with all your might on the tip of your nose thinking about the name of the person whose ghost you are summoning. All is quiet for a few minutes.

Be patient.

Be patient.

Suddenly, there is a distinct flicker of white – the candlelight almost dies out with that speck of white. A loud gasp from all assembled. The concentration on the tip of the nose breaks, and the white disappears only to have the piano start playing by itself.

After this, there is not much to record. The hearts raced and prodded the legs on to run as fast as possible. The corridor was filled with shrieking violets, who put a rampaging herd of bisons to shame. Nobody knew whether they were holding their own hands, or the ghosts hand, or their hearts in their hands. JUST RUN!

PS: It turns out that one person got bored with staring at her nose and sneaked off to play the piano.

PPS: Part Fiction

The Hindi Rupee

I have often trumped up the many achievements of my better half on this blog. Rightfully so – he is an admirable man in many ways, but when it comes to Hindi, he falls flat. He is useless at Hindi. At this statement, he would rise up indignantly, puff out his chest and tell you that he is a Prathmic first class.

I shall save the deplorable state of examinations and education in India for another blog. Let us suffice to say, I do not agree with this assessment. I have witnessed his performance in Hindi for several years now, and feel that there was an examiner who, in an enormously benevolent mood after a full breakfast of parathas with ghee, corrected the papers.

I have tried conversing with him in Hindi. Just as an experiment: I have tried conversing with the ducks on a lake in Hindi. I have a tried conversing with the trees under the twinkling stars in Hindi. The ducks come first, followed by a large gap where the trees and the husband come panting in neck to neck in the conversation race. The ducks quack back, the trees stand there as though nothing happened, and the husband looks puzzled. When prodded, he cracks a joke about my Hindi not being Prathmic First Class standard.

I do not blame him – it is his circumstances. Always blame the circumstances. You see, in TamilNadu especially Chennai, there is a distinct indifference towards Hindi. A calculated ignorance. “IF I don’t know that Hindi is the national language, then Hindi is not the national language” mentality that I am sure the rest of India finds extremely trying.

On an unrelated note, Tamilians as a race are rather proud of their famous offspring. Every person from Kumbakonam will tell you all about Ramanujam. Of course, if he is old enough, the story becomes Ramanujam and he as buddies goofing off near the big temple. The Abdul Kalaams and P.Chidambarams of the World, are spoken of as their own sons. We are a welcoming race that way.

Well, here is the crux. The Indian rupee is now officially going to have a symbol. No more do we have to write ‘R’ and then an ‘s’, all we have to do now is this:

The symbol was adjudged a winner from thousands of entries and guess what? The winner was from Tamil Nadu. One would have thought that the rest of the country would be bored stiff with the boasting about how Tamil Nadu produces people who can come up with rupee symbols. I thought he was all set to go down in history as one of those tales grandmothers tell their grandchildren.

But alas, I will have to take you back to the beginning of this article and show you how Tamilians are allergic to Hindi. Apparently, this symbol resembles the Hindi ‘Ra’. The whole state is in a state of emotional uproar about how a Tamilian worth his salts, having bathed in the Cauvery river and played on its earth could come up with a Hindi symbol.

The fact that this man, Udayakumar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D_Udaya_Kumar), is a  Professor of Design at the Indian Institute of Technology is forgotten as Tamil Nadu marches its way to progress.