Book Review — Mrs Rosie and the Priest by Giovanni Boccaccio

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Mrs Rosie and the Priest makes for an interesting accumulation of stories set in Italy. All the 4 tales are unique because they revolve around different themes. While in Andreuccio’s story, we glimpse the treacherous side of society; Patient Griselda depicts the strength and will power of women in those ages. Ricciardo’s misfortune which he brought upon himself is rather funny as is the witty outcome of the Priest’s bet with Rosie. There certainly was a greedy and lusty angle to these stories. Some of which made the comic timing great.

Out of all the Little Black Classics I’ve read, this was one of my favourites. It had good humor, good plots, a great deal of morals. Boccaccio’s stories were great reads but they don’t offer much in terms of cultural insight. Somehow, even the tragedies in his story could be taken lightheartedly. I didn’t have much of a problem with his characterization, except for the fact that I found Griselda to be naive as she repeatedly put her self-worth on the line. It’s commendable that she showed great strength in her demeanor towards the injustice she was facing, but it would have been more realistic had she yelled and cried than dealt with it silently. On the other hand, just when I was starting to feel bad for Andreuccio, he turned out to be a smartass. The book is definitely fun. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and so would recommend it to y’all for quick, humorous reads.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5

Meera

Book Review — How to Use Your Enemies by Baltasar Gracian

How to Use Your Enemies by Baltasar Gracian is a compilation of his blunt suggestions to the reader on how to live life. Gracian goes on to dictate terms of socializing, thinking and thereby presents the reader with the consequence of their changed actions. These opinions, strong as they are in conviction, appear to have arisen from his personal experiences. However, a lot of them are coated with insecurity and point towards the defense mechanism of an individual subdued by the connivery of a progressive world.

Image courtesy of Goodreads.

I’ve read quite a few negative reviews about this book. People seemed to be offended by the fact that Gracian is asking them to “Find everyone’s weak spot.” or “Know how to use your friends”. Even though I did not agree with many of his ideas, I was able to laugh it off as being more humorous (in a sarcastic way) than serious. A lot of the advice could possibly sound rude, selfish and insensitive. But literature is subjective. Gracian’s experiences frame his writing and we are no one to judge him the worst for it. Some of his suggestions are very self-serving (like “Chose your friends”, “Be desired”, “Show yourself off”) but intentionally/not we function that way. It’s psychologically understood that people are motivated by drives that grant them some sort of benefit. Our need for security ensures that we trust selectively; our need for love ensures that we feel included and appreciated. His statements are bold and true. I enjoyed reading this book, not only because I was able to detect slight humor but also because of how honest it is. That being said it got a little bleak towards the end. Also, some of his opinions were a tad bit contradictory. Pick it up, if you wish to read something different, something that challenges you to retrospect.

Ratings – 3 stars on 5.

Meera

Book Review — A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees by Yoshida Kenko

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This collection by Yoshida Kenko marvels us from the start. Filled with musings on different topics, most of which have to do with death, nature or mannerisms, Kenko’s writing is imbued with cultural sensibilities. 51 pages long, it is split into paragraph or page long thoughts about people, their habits and the general course of life. It is astounding to notice that a lot of his observations are applicable in today’s world too.

What sold this book to me was the quote printed on the very first page – “It is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met.” If that doesn’t hint at the quality of his writing, I don’t know what possibly could. Practically every page had something very valuable to offer. He also recounts certain folk tales from ancient times which were rather enjoyable. As far as Japanese Literature goes, I haven’t read a lot, but this definitely paints a good picture. Certain parts of the book were a little too philosophical but I loved the writing so much that it wasn’t a problem. The cultural symbols in the book were enlightening. I am looking forward to reading his other book called “Essays in Idleness”. I would suggest that you give this book a try, if it sounds interesting at all.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5

Meera

Book Review — The Beautiful Cassandra by Jane Austen

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The Beautiful Cassandra is a collection of short stories authored by Jane Austen earlier in her career. While meant for entertainment, these stories bring out nuances of the Victorian lifestyle that we’ve come to enjoy. In the tale Jack and Alice, conflicts of interest coupled with gossip about an eligible bachelor make for a moderately fun story. Others have to do with themes of marriage, wealth, norms of propriety and such. Whereas in another story, short humorous paragraphs convey the adventure that Cassandra embarks on.

Even though I read the book in a sitting, I didn’t love it as much as some of her other works. There was something in every story that kept it alive, but it wasn’t gripping in nature. Most of the stories in the collection had an element of love – be it unrequited or not. The last story was extremely peculiar and unexpected. A majority of the book follows a certain wavelength and then all of a sudden you read the last story which is on a different tangent. Some of the characters in the stories were portrayed villainously. They contributed conflict to the story. I liked Cassandra’s tale best of all. It’s written sort of like a diary entry. Would’ve loved to read more of it. All in all, the book was enjoyable to say the least but it was a little lackluster.

Ratings – 3 stars on 5

Meera

Korean Drama Review — Ddanddara (a.k.a Entertainer)

Disclaimer – All images in this post have been obtained from Google. I do not own any of them. 

Ddanddara is a Korean drama that was aired on SBS, starring Ji Sung and Lee Hye Ri as the leads. The drama follows the lives of those in the entertainment industry, allowing us deeper insight into the struggles that threaten to break these people as well as the bonds that hold them aloft. Shin Suk Ho has been a business minded, arrogant manager for far too long. He, insensitively, mows down anyone who proves to be an obstacle to achieving fame and wealth. But an accident becomes a humbling experience for him when he is jarred by reality. No longer working with KTop, he is forced to start from scratch.

Jo Ha Neul (played by Kang Min Hyuk) has always been passionate about singing, but a death in the family put an end to it. Moreover, he is wrongly convicted for sexual harassment by a friend who ditched him to improve her own future. When he is confronted by Shin Suk Ho, he decides to join a band to continue following his dreams. Their camaraderie carves a path that untangles all the complexities of their lives. Their story is one of retrospection and self-growth. It draws you in, tugs at your heart and leaves you wishing for a second season.

I loved this drama from the start. The obnoxious way that Suk Ho managed his responsibilities; the composed manner in which Ha Neul dealt with his probation and all of Jeong Geu Rin’s (Ha Neul’s namesake sister) supportive, mature sensibilities. The plot, although seemingly rather ordinary, is actually wonderful. It had a unique way of building each character’s story and carrying it forward so that towards the end, we’re satisfied with where each of the story lines ended. Ji Sung is fantastic playing both personalities of Suk Ho. In fact he is so skilled that Suk Ho’s brotherly relations with Jo Sung Hyun, Jo Ha Neul and Jinu were the highlights of the series, for me. Their attachment to each other is so heart warming.

One of the things I wished had been different was Ha Neul and Geu Rin’s equation. Although it was reasonable, it wasn’t necessary to the story. Another thing that irked me was the ending. Up until the 14th episode, the pace of the drama is brilliant. All plot lines are ticked off in due time. But then the last three episodes are so rushed, I felt that they tried to cram too much story in too little time. If they had included 2 more episodes, everything could have been beautifully explored and concluded. Lastly, Suk Ho and Geu Rin’s feelings lacked conviction, as in it remains stagnant, which bothered me a bit. But then again, all dramas don’t need to focus on love. So I guess, it’s alright.

Two of the songs on the OST are absolutely spellbinding – Go Ahead Cry by Jo Bok Rae and Lost Child by Han Seo Yoon. Lee Tae Sun who portrays the character Yun Soo does so very charmingly. I liked the fact that the drama incorporated the “single father” angle and played it out very well. Seldom, do you see such characterization. Jae Hoon and Kyle (other members of the band) were the “cool” ones with a difficult family background. They too gelled well in the story and helped create an enjoyable package. Quite a few times during the episodes, I was a blubbering mess. That is not to say it is entirely sad or sappy. It is equal parts funny and lamentable. This drama is definitely worth watching once, if not more. So do give it a try.


Ratings – 8.5 stars on 10.

Meera

Book Review — Equilibrium by Paras Joshi

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Equilibrium tells the story of 17 year old Arya, who is forced to fend for himself in a world that has turned a blind eye to the less fortunate. Living in the Northern Grid of Carbyn, Arya becomes a part of the corrupt and criminal society. When a robbery spirals out of control and his team members are arrested, Arya gets thrown into a world he didn’t know existed. Complete with elementalists, heroic responsibilities and a battle of good vs evil; Arya finds himself in the company of those who call themselves the Saatvika (essentially, the peace makers). It is upto him to deliver the Ring of Avaasya, that he stole unknowingly, to the Saatvikaalok , lest the balance between two polarized forces would be disrupted and wreck havoc on the human world.

This story had so much potential, particularly because it played with the theme of elemental magic. But somehow, it fell flat for me. Firstly, the characterization wasn’t very convincing or strong. The Elders who possessed so much power appeared to be very passive and mellow. They didn’t exude the kind of authority or power that one would expect. Similar was the case of the King Alexis. He appeared to be submissive and cowardly. Given the circumstances, maybe it’s a little justifiable. However, we don’t even get an inkling that he wanted to stay and fight. Secondly, there are entire chapters that seemed a little purposeless, as in they don’t contribute much to the story except for the fact that we are well assured that Arya is an inquisitive boy. The chapters don’t end with a cliffhanger, so the pace was more constant than not. I wouldn’t say that I hated the book, but I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I would have liked to. The author writes good action sequences. I enjoyed two such sections – one with the execution of the robbery and the other being Ayrof’s fight sequence. They were adequately thrilling and packed with a punch (no pun intended).

What I liked about Arya’s back story is that even though being a protagonist, he is negatively portrayed, we are made to understand what drove him to the extreme. His relations weren’t supportive or affectionate. I didn’t understand the purpose of introducing a new character, i.e Althoran, towards the end. Anyhow, the ending was very good, especially the last page. The author made sure that even those whose interest has been only minutely piqued would await the next book. I don’t know if I would want to read the next one. But the story is promising. And this being the author’s debut book, there’s only more progress that could be reflected in next one.

Ratings – 2 stars on 5.

Meera

Getting Lit @ Under 25’s Bangalore Lit Fest 2016

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The Under 25 Club is a venture that aims to showcase the talent and zeal of the youth, by giving them a platform to be recognized for what they do best. They are a team of enthusiasts trying to make a difference by spreading the word of the youth. So when word got out of a Lit Fest that was brewing, I immediately tuned in. Several posts later, I had bagged a ticket for myself, persuaded by their excellent lineup of speakers. Finally the day had arrived, I was ready with a copy of the schedule, having tick marked all the sessions I wanted to attend. There were two stages where simultaneously sessions were to take place. And with over 400 people, both the rooms were jam packed. Having never been to The Humming Tree before, this was a wonderful first experience.

We were given goodie bags that were filled with bookish content. Their badge and bookmark 20160620_131124[1]couldn’t have been more on point. The event started off on a great note with a Spoken Word workshop by InkWeaver on Stage A. Janet Orlene, who led the workshop was high-spirited and made the audience laugh with her witticisms. Everyone was encouraged to shuffle around and sit with random strangers. A few questions, high fives and swear words later, partners had to come up with 8 lines of poetry each and then would be selected to perform on stage. Not only was this a splendid ice breaker, but a great session on Spoken Word for newbies like myself.

Next, there was a session on Gods & Monsters wherein the importance of mythology was discussed. When asked about the relevance of theses stories in today’s time Sharath Komarraju, renowned for his Hastinapur series replied that relevance is subjective; each era picks up its on relevance from a myth. Drawing a parallel between Greek and Indian mythology, Anuja Chandramouli (author of the recently released Yama’s Lieutenant) says that just as a war was fought over Helen in The Iliad, similarly in Ramayana and Mahabharata, wars were fought over women. Personally, this session was one of my favorites of the day.

While authors like Andaleeb Wajid, Durjoy Dutta, Shinie Antony, Madhuri Banerjee and Nandita Bose led a debate on Love vs. Lust, Stage B featured a session on Heartbreaks and After by Dr. Shyam Bhat. However, this wasn’t the last of the love themed talks for the fest. The element kept cropping up in many other wonderful stories that people had to share. Kommune’s Storytelling 101 was a unique session because of all the varied forms of storytelling that we were witness to. Moreover, the entire day was interspersed with great music by even greater musicians, who had the room swaying to their beat or in one particular case, hopping along with the lyrics (Akhilesh Kumar, thank you. We’re all a little more shameless now!)

The Book Clubs and Community Building talk by Priyanshi Patel showed us that as long as you are passionate about something and are willing to walk the extra mile, people will come together. Her Ahmedabad Book Club is few tens of thousands strong. Two sessions concerning media (Politics in the Age of Social Media and Is Excess News Just Noise?) were rather interesting as we got to listen to people from the field including Shaili Chopra, Aakar Patel, Vasanathi Hariprakash and Roshan Abbas. They had strong opinions about the status quo of journalism and news distribution. When asked if there is too much media in India, Aakar Patel said that there is not enough of media in spaces where they are needed.
Almost an hour long session had us raptly listening to Danish Sait talk about the ups and downs he has faced and how is career progressed to where it is now. Kudos  to you, for persevering and showing us that the grass is truly greener on the other side. The day would not have been complete without giving due credit to the host – Sriram Sullia – whose lively emceeing made the fest all the more enjoyable.

The Lit Fest was a massive gathering of professionals and students alike. Every individual who contributed to the event had something very powerful to say. And we as the audience, definitely brought back home some of the best advice from people who have “been there done that”. Thank you to everyone who took the time to participate and shared their thoughts. Thank you Under 25 Club for such a spectacular event. Hats off.

— Meera

Book Review — Shikhandi And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik

“In the Veda there is a line ‘vikruti evam prakruti’ which can be translated as ‘all things queer are also part of nature’.” – Devdutt Pattanaik.

In Shikhandi And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You, Devdutt Pattanaik brings to the forefront those tales from Indian mythology that point out our previously comfortable stance towards Queerness. He highlights even the most heard of tale in a way so us to grant us better understanding of how accepting we were at a point of time. Stories range from how Lord Krishna transforms into Mohini to how Mandhata was born of no mother. This book surpasses expectations and then some. It is so rich with characters known and worshiped by people from all over India. What’s more is that after every tale, the author presents a literary analysis from the perspective of Queer Theory. This book couldn’t be more appropriate in keeping with the problems of the present time.

I devoured this book in a day. It was so wholesome and fulfilling, particularly because I have learned literary theory in college. We had an entire section titled “Queer Theory” in the curriculum but for some ludicrous reason it was made “self study” and not discussed in class. Some of the stories in this book are ones that we’ve heard from our families like that of Bhasmasura, Shikhandi, Bhagirath, Ahalya etc whereas many others were new to me. The amount of information in this book is overwhelming in its entirety because there are so many names involved and versions to each story.

After a story, the author discusses the origin of the text, how it differs from place to place and even questions it from the queer perspective. But I couldn’t put it down and had to finish it, so a lot of the names may have flown over my head, nevertheless I can always go back and read random stories again. I’m certain I will. The book opens with two sections that are solely about understanding the Queer with examples from all over the world. It historicizes concepts like lesbianism, cross-dressing, hijras to throw light on their prevalence even in the time of Ram Rajya. This book prods us into questioning popular beliefs and not conforming to the society’s condemnation of anything that is beyond normal. It shows us that if Gods and Goddesses are accepting of gender fluidity or queerness than we shouldn’t be criminalizing and looking down upon those who do not identify with the two categories of male and female. I absolutely loved this book from the very beginning and am glad it remained wonderful till the end. Maybe this book should be incorporated into school and university curriculum. If you are the least bit interested in mythology or LGBTQ stories then please please read this book. It is splendid!

Ratings – 5 stars on 5.

Meera

Korean Drama Review — Madame Antoine

Disclaimer – All images in this post have been obtained from Google. I do not own any of the images.

Madame Antoine is the story of conflict between divination and science. Go Hye Rim is a fortune teller who cons people into believing that she can communicate with the deceased Marie Antoinette. Rather, she uses exceptional analytical and observational skills to give readings. Her business is threatened when world renowned psychologist Choi Soo Hyun moves into the office above, and ultimately pinpoints her for being the fraud that she is. Both of their offices are called Madame Antoine which causes even more trouble as their customers wind up getting lost and stumbling into the other. Soo Hyun who is a tad bit insensitive realizes that their bickering relation may soon grow into something more, something he does not quite believe in. Whereas Hye Rim is forced to juggle not only her financial troubles but also the fact that she has to partake in Soo Hyun’s experiment in order to save her cafe.

This drama, with its cross between fortunetelling and psychology, is a unique idea. Sung Joon is a very convincing actor and plays the part of Choi Soo Hyun particularly well. We are persuaded of the fact that he is disbelieving about love and doesn’t really care for much else apart from his research experiment. Birth of a Beauty actress Han Ye Seul is our female protagonist and believably or not, she plays a mother. Although the show doesn’t focus on her daughter all that much, we are just made aware through photographs and phone calls how close their bond is. As mentioned before, the plotline is somewhat different from the usual kdrama, in the sense that its not about the Aegyo but showcases adults and the difficulties they face. However, being a psychology student myself, I felt that some of the information pertaining to psychology was a little misleading. Or maybe just that it wasn’t put across properly. I found that to be one of the minus points for the show.

This drama also plays around with some trite concepts like love triangles, unrequited love etc. But then again I suppose they are very much in keeping with real life experiences that people have so I guess in a way its justified.  Choi Sung Chan and Won Ji Ho help Soo Hyun with his experiment and in doing so end up liking Hye Rim too. I found that a little hard to believe. I mean what are the chances that three men, who barely know this women; are meant to deceive her and yet fall for her? That being said, Ji Ho is a bit of a childish character and doesn’t really grasp what’s happening around him. He doesn’t even get the fact that Yoo Rim has liked him for so long. The dialogues on the other hand are well written, entertaining with a dash of humor. Somehow I didn’t really like the chemistry between Hye Rim and Soo Hyun for a majority of the show. It felt a little forced and not real. Even though, supposedly, she actually liked him the whole time, I didn’t find it genuine up until the last few episodes. She helps him face the troubles of his past, and after that everything sort of falls in place. The soundtrack of this drama is decent – nothing outstanding though. All in all, its definitely an enjoyable drama but we’ve seen better from the lead actors and the writer.

Ratings – 7.5 stars on 10.

Meera

We wait for a better time.

This post concerns all the atrocities and cruel attacks on humanity.  #RIPChristina #StayStrongOrlando #PowerToTheLGBTQCommunity #PowerToTheMinorities

We live in this world as we did in the previous and will do in the next, fulfilling our purpose. Laughing and crying. Protecting and protected. But what of the time when the laws fall short? When no force can prevent the fallen? That which holds us, can divide us. We've placed our faith on a rather elusive power. Since when are we hunted for being different? 

It's sad how you allow such bitterness to taint your actions. Some day our patience will wane. Some day you will unleash onto yourself the wrath of thousands bereaved. How much longer before words aren't our only weapon? Until then, we wait for a better time. Till kingdom come.